The real tinsel

By David Sturm, Copyright © 1996

Hollywood has always been a metaphor for America itself, an intersection of commerce, sex and the zeitgeist. Movies that capture Hollywood always have a subtext about Anytown, U.S.A. After all, they think up the movies we are compelled to go see. The great movies about Hollywood follow.

"Bombshell" (1933), directed by Victor Fleming, gives us Jean Harlow playing someone quite like herself, a big star who wants to get away from it all and have a normal romance. Hollywood, in the person of the irrepressible Lee Tracy as the press agent from hell, is having none of it.

"Sullivan's Travels" (1941), directed by Preston Sturges, is about a hotshot Hollywood director who decides that only by becoming a hobo can he grasp the truth about America. He becomes the only hobo with an entourage.

"Sunset Blvd." (1950), directed by Billy Wilder, is the cruelest but most satisfying satire of Hollywood ever made. You could wring this movie for a year and wouldn't get an ounce of sentiment.

"The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952), directed by Vincent Minnelli, is the classic stormy behind-the-scenes drama about how Hollywood people really are. A few tons of pulp fiction start right here.

"Contempt" (1963), directed by Jean-Luc Godard, is how the whole Hollywood snake pit looks to a European. The title emotion, naturally, is pitchforked on us in steaming heaps.

"The Day of the Locust" (1975), directed by John Schlesinger, is a powerful and compelling adaptation of Nathanael West's novel about a Hollywood screenwriter and the lowlifes and hangers-on he associates with. The opening night sequence is a classic.

"S.O.B." (1981), directed by Blake Edwards, is a painfully funny farce about movie people trying their best to salvage a bomb by turning it into a nudie scandal. We are shocked-- shocked!--that such things go on.

"The Player" (1992), directed by Robert Altman, is the congenially vicious satire about Hollywood that is all the more convincing because of its outrageousness. It suggests that murder can be a rung on the movie studio ladder of success.

"Ed Wood" (1993). directed by Tim Burton, captures the existential motivation that drove countless losers, has-beens and never-weres to seek fame on Sunset Boulevard. The difference between a horror movie and a science fiction thriller is crucial in this marginal milieu.

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