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Art & Hollywood:

July 14, 2005 By:
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If you picked up a magazine and saw an article called "Bambi v. Godzilla: Why art loses in Hollywood," what would you expect? I imagined I'd find a vitriolic demolition job on the petty obsessions that rule L.A., especially since the author of the piece was David Mamet. He's penned such viciously rhetorical plays as American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross that little else could be imagined.

Well, think again. "Bambi v. Godzilla," which appeared in the June issue of Harper's, turns out to be all promotion, even though it begins and ends promisingly, echoing its provocative title. It's the middle ground that morphs into another creature altogether.

Mamet begins by quoting Neal Stephenson, who's never identified, but who is reported to have said that everybody misunderstands Hollywood. He called it a bank. "Or, perhaps better, it's a market," writes Mamet. "The studios exist to acquire properties, talent, commodities, at as low a fixed price as possible, and then to flog them for whatever profit they may extort."

Studio executives are likened to "traders on the floor of a mercantile exchange, screaming, making antic gestures to attract attention, and waving slips of paper at one another - these not orders to buy or sell stocks but scripts and the names of talent. All trying to buy low, to sell high, now to outthink the other fellow, now to collude with him, to defraud a third party. Just as in the stock market."

Many another writer has felt raped by Hollywood. Though with the money that writers get out there, belly-aching seems churlish.

Then, within a matter of sentences, Mamet goes from talking about stock to his higher point: "From the pushcart to the multinational corporation, business is gambling, which is to say, a form of combat - the essential question being whether to collude or to compete. …

"Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, compete. Japan outperforms American Industry, collude.

"The first is called War; the second, Trade Agreements or Mergers. The goal of each is continued hegemony, for we are animals first and will, like hyenas, lord it over the jackals and display deference to the lions."

Huh? I guess it was naive to expect to read a discussion about what it's like to write screenplays. Of course, for a certain segment of the population, nothing can just be. It must be a "sign" for something else.

Many others have called Hollywood a squalid reflection of America. But that's not the only thing Mamet's after. He wants to condemn all of American life - and its ideology. Hollywood is corrupt to its core; ditto America. And it's all about Iraq and capitalism.

He ends back in Hollywood: "Tolstoy said there is no tragedy equal to that of the marriage bed. But I have found one, and it is that of the Artist in Hollywood and his sick marriage with the corporation."

Isn't anti-Americanism a wonderfully inventive thing?

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