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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mr. Hollywood

I have to admit Clooney has a certain je ne sais quoi. He is a gifted actor and I enjoy most of his work. Three Kings for instance. A great film in which the chemical weapons Saddam never had play a significant role. Anyway my fixation on Clooney has at least a little to do with his poster boy qualities. He symbolizes America in a way that makes his anti-American politics especially perplexing. How can a man living the American dream have such distaste for his home? How can someone so priviledged whine and complain as if he's oppressed? How dare he pose as a rebel?

I focus on Clooney so often not so much because I dislike him personally, but because he symbolizes to me that all too common Western elitist mentality, detached from ordinary concerns, that somehow enables the most blessed among us to act as if they are superior. Somehow in their jetting and partying around the world they know better how everything works. On the contrary their pampered lives render them the least qualified to make such judgements. These communist aristocrats who would sell everyone else out to keep themselves looking cool and sauve and chic. "I'm out of touch, and proud of it!" he crows. Well today we need every American on our side. The betrayal of our elites hurts. They should be setting the example that it's cool and sauve and chic to love and be proud of a country that does so much to fight poverty and disease and injustice, not helping to tear it down.

Peggy Noonan has some insightful comments on Hollywood and the Oscars and more than a little to say about Clooney:
Which gets us to George Clooney, and his work. George Clooney is Hollywood now. He is charming and beautiful and cool, but he is not Orson Welles. I know that's like saying of an artist that he's no Rembrandt, but bear with me because I have a point that I think is worth making.

Orson Welles was an artist. George Clooney is a fellow who read an article and now wants to tell us the truth, if we can handle it.

More important, Orson Welles had a canny respect for the audience while maintaining a difficult relationship with studio executives, whom he approached as if they were his intellectual and artistic inferiors. George Clooney has a canny respect for the Hollywood establishment, for its executives and agents, and treats his audience as if it were composed of his intellectual and artistic inferiors. (He is not alone in this. He is only this year's example.)

And because they are his inferiors, he must teach them. He must teach them about racial tolerance and speaking truth to power, etc. He must teach them to be brave. And so in his acceptance speech for best supporting actor the other night he instructed the audience about Hollywood's courage in making movies about AIDS, and recognizing the work of Hattie McDaniel with an Oscar.

Was his speech wholly without merit? No. It was a response and not an attack, and it appears to have been impromptu. Mr. Clooney presumably didn't know Jon Stewart would tease the audience for being out of touch, and he wanted to argue that out of touch isn't all bad. Fair enough. It is hard to think on your feet in front of 38 million people, and most of his critics will never try it or have to. (This is a problem with modern media: Only the doer understands the degree of difficulty.)

But Mr. Clooney's remarks were also part of the tinniness of the age, and of modern Hollywood. I don't think he was being disingenuous in suggesting he was himself somewhat heroic. He doesn't even know he's not heroic. He thinks making a movie in 2005 that said McCarthyism was bad is heroic.

How could he think this? Maybe part of the answer is in this: The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they've experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven't experienced life; they've experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.


Blogger K T Cat said...

I enjoyed Peggy Noonan's column, too. I blogged about it as well. Thanks for sharing this with us.

3/13/2006 06:14:00 AM  
Blogger flippityflopitty said...

I hate comparisons ...

It happens to be a funny one, because Welles was endeavored long after his "masterpieces" failed at the box office. So depressed was Welles that he abandoned the USA and began working in Europe - now there's good ole American spirit. Also, Welles is not remembered as politically vocal but his works are politically supercharged:

" Even in Kane, but especially in Ambersons, the young, brash Orson Welles had imparted to American movies a long overdue intimation of the mortal limits and disillusioning shortcomings of the American Dream. He dared to suggest that even Americans became old and embittered as the inexorable forces of family, capitalism and 'progress' trampled them."

Maybe Clooney is just a vocal and opinionated putz who has the podium and isnt afraid to use it. He came from nothing, stepped in shit and now is living it up.

If this is Noonan's opinion of Clooney, I wonder what she thinks of Gibson's religous preaching from the director's chair.

Peggy Noonan's journalistic opinion carries as much weight for me as Clooney's political opinions - or to quote welles its like "van gogh's ear for music" (said of Donny Osmond's talent).

3/15/2006 02:52:00 PM  

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