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Hollywood and Class

by Andy Hoglund

 

Hot off the presses (and I do mean “hot”), this week’s article is inspired by my recent, inexplicable interest in the odd case of Ryan Reynolds' filmography. Either that man’s agent is Ari Gold or he signed his soul to the devil Robert Johnson-style. Sunday night, I found myself alone in my apartment, watching with absolute horror the travesty that is Just Friends. No snob when it comes to romantic comedies (shout out to Take Me Home Tonight - so underrated), or even scatological ones (There’s Something About Mary), I was appalled by the crude travesty of the romance, and the generally grating lead performance offered by Mr. Reynolds. He is, as Stephen Holden sharply puts it in his 2005 review, an actor lacking in “sensitivity and intelligence.” Ouch. Not exactly what one expects from a leading man, especially in a film with romantic underpinnings. And yet, he has crafted a fine niche for himself, including the ability to portray THREE different comic book heroes (two Marvel, one DC) on the big screen. Behold the awesome power of the Hollywood hype machine.

More to the point though, perhaps the biggest stroke of luck that has befallen Mr. Reynolds in his career (besides co-starring in The Proposal with Sandra Bullock), was his marriage to Scarlett Johansson. My only wish in life – outside the usual hackneyed yearnings for family, a fulfilling career, world peace – would to be a fly on the wall during Bill Murray’s unheard whisper at the end of Lost in Translation, warning Scarlett to stay away from no talent assclowns like Reynolds. Especially when it came to matters of the heart.

That is hopeful speculation on my part and obviously Scarlett has gone her own way. Not only has she married (and divorced) Reynolds, but now comes today’s news that has some corners of the Internet absolutely brimming with pleasure. Yes, the Scarlett Johansson nude pictures have leaked. Google it. If I find out she was taking those cell shots for Mr. Crappy Green Lantern, I’m going to stab that guy in the esophagus. One in six in this country are being ravaged by poverty, and this is the life Ryan Reynolds gets to lead. I’m not bitter…I’m crying for my country.

If we could, lets pivot away from today’s Hollywood of forced superhero franchises, witless leading men and hacked cell phones, back to a time where class (seemingly) had a place in the industry (as much as class fits with movie stars). I want to spotlight an autobiography I recently finished while on that luxurious transit, that marvel of transportation ingenuity, the mbta. Those stuttering rides did their best to upset my reading pleasure, but it was to no avail. The memoir, " 'Tis Herself, an Autobiography," reflecting on her time in Hollywood, proved to be most fascinating and a real treat to anyone with even a passing knowledge of names like Ford, Wayne, Flynn, Laughton and, of course, John Candy.

I first came to know Maureen O’Hara when I was four years old. To me, the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame will always stand the test of time as the definitive version of Victor Hugo’s story of injustice and social upheaval in 15th century Paris. Sorry Lon Chaney. Naturally, it goes without saying that O’Hara’s portrayal of Esmeralda trumps Demi Moore’s voice work in the 1996 Disney musical (btw, WHAT?!). Every Saturday morning when I was young, AMC would show a different ‘horror’ film from Universal’s golden era of Monsters.

This period of my life is absolutely critical to my love of movies, and I will probably re-explore this magical universe of horror more in-depth at a later time. Even at four years old, I was struck by the strength and compassion being displayed by a female in this ‘monster’ movie – a genre where normally the women are stock characters, only screaming and the like. But O’Hara’s Esmeralda had a different aura about her. It is amazing she was still a teenager when she shot the film and, according to " 'Tis Herself," performed all of her own stunts (some of which were exceedingly dangerous).

Strength is a common component in many of O’Hara’s characters, perhaps most notably in The Quiet Man. Not just any actress could hold their own against John Wayne, lest of all make their relationship so raw and unflinchingly beautiful. This is The Duke we’re talking about, not Ryan Gosling. Much of this is owed to the brilliance of John Ford and I recommend everyone to read O’Hara’s insights into the making of the film. Still, there is no denying the power of having an actress on screen with equal amounts ability, self-respect and sass. That is a rare formula, one not easily duplicated.

It is here where the contrast might be made to today’s dismal romantic films starring (for the sake of picking on him more) Ryan Reynolds. I am not oblivious that The Quiet Man is in no way compatible to Just Friends in most ways – sensibility, aesthetics, etc. They are different films and should be treated as such, right? However, I am still conscious of the clunky selfishness of the leads in Just Friends. How can these people even be friends? Don’t you have to like someone other than yourself to be friends? Absent is the unfettered whimsy and the desire and the chemistry shown in a film like The Quiet Man.

Yeah, to be sure, not every film can live up to the standards of The Quiet Man, but it would be nice if we at least reminded ourselves once in awhile that our screen stars do not have to put on fat suits to connect with us on an emotional level. And our starlets can be like Maureen O’Hara and own the screen without having to parade themselves out on Perez Hilton or whatever in order to stay relevant (that said, God Bless the Internet, eh eh).

So it is with this book and its honest remembrances that my initial response to Mr. Reynolds undeserved career (look at the box office receipts, folks) and Ms. Johannson’s pics was one of actual disappointment. But, on second thought, I recalled some of the anecdotes shared by Ms. O’Hara, including a vulgar episode with Errol Flynn and countless tales of the bizarre and possibly homosexual John Ford. I am comforted that regardless of the era, human behavior is what it is. What makes today’s world so different is the amplification of these behaviors, and the way it is offered out for mass consumption. And even then, perhaps justifiably so. After all, the entertainment industry has been left unscathed by today’s recession and, in fact, flourishes. So I guess if there is one message that links the studio system inhabited by O’Hara to the modern Hollywood, it is this: money talks.

(Image courtesy of The Hunchblog)

Andy Hoglund has a background in politics, experience in PR and a passion for film. In his free time, Andy serves on the Board of Directors for a summer camp, Camp Jamison, and (woefully) spends an exorbitant amount of time arguing with teenagers on an online rap message board. Contact him at andy.hoglund[at]theinclusive.net