Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Look What the Tide Washed In

Okay, folks, it's been a long, long time. I hope that I haven't lost you all during the time that I've been saving up enough money to buy another book. (Since Cap'n Ahab isn't interested in my wo-manatee's curves, I have to pay his fee in cold, hard cash) This week he swung by and dropped off two books The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman and The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger.


The Star Machine is about Hollywood and the Studio System of the 30's and 40's. It very clearly explains how the major studios created stars like Lana Turner, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn. It did seriously work like a machine. A young wanna-be was signed to a seven year contract by the studio and for those seven years, he or she had no autonomy. Hair color, style of dress, cosmetic surgery, etc were all under the control of the studio bosses. Interview answers were scripted. Movie roles were, of course, chosen by the studio. After being signed, the actor was given a small role in one or two films to test their audience appeal. Then, if the audience noticed the player, there would be a starring role. If the young star balked at any of this, they were put on suspension without pay until they agreed. Since they were bound to that studio and couldn't make movies elsewhere, they were screwed unless they did exactly as the studio said.

Ms. Basinger splits her book into several different sections, each dealing with a different star and a problem they had with the studio system. Errol Flynn, for example, was not happy with his endless swashbuckling, tight-wearing roles. He was from an acting family, had talent and wanted to be an "actor". Plus he had a wild personal life that the studio found hard to keep under wraps. Lana Turner had a similar problem. Deanna Durbin was fed endless kid roles well after she was grown and married. Some stars were destroyed by the Machine, but some (Loretta Young, Irene Dunne)managed to escape the system and still have careers. Given the way stars arise today, reading about Hollywood of this era is like reading about another planet.

The best part of the book, for me, is reading about all the movies I've never watched. I read about Tyrone Power and Netflix "Witness for the Prosecution". I read about Lana Turner and Netflix "The Bad and the Beautiful." This and the tasty tidbits of Hollywood gossip, made this a fun book. If any of you boys need the perfect gift for Grandma this Mother's Day, I hope you'll keep this book in mind.



The other book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down has been a customer favorite over the last few years. I've had my eyes on it for several years as well, being nothing but a customer at heart. It concerns the clash of cultures between the California health care system and the parents of an epileptic Hmong child. I don't know that I can sum things up without making the family sound simple and stupid but Fadiman does a wonderful job of presenting their case. It's obvious that she has a lot of respect for the family and their culture and is wonderful at presenting everyone's side fairly. The reader can feel the distrust the family has toward western medicine as easily as the frustration of the doctors for patients who don't follow their directions.

The child, Lia Lee, had her first epileptic seizure as a young baby, less than a year old if I remember correctly. The Hmong believe epilepsy to be caused by the soul leaving the body. In order to return the soul, one must sacrifice an animal (trading their soul for the errant one) and perform various rituals. The epileptic is consider special and more in touch with the spirit world than the rest of us. We, most of us anyway, believe it to be caused by a neurological fuck-up and can only be helped by drugs, drugs, drugs. This was the course followed by the medical staff involved in Lia's care and it didn't seem to work too well. Lia's family didn't speak or read English, couldn't follow the dosing directions (three different kinds of pills at various times of day, at varying dosages), were completely confused by the doctor's directions, and suspicious of things to begin with. When the doctors performed blood tests they found that the levels of drugs in Lia's system were below the helpful amount and kept changing drugs and dosages trying to make things easier. The Lees saw this as proof that the doctors didn't know what they were doing. My brothers would refer to this whole situation as a clusterfuck.

I'm still reading this fascinating book and therefore don't know the outcome (although I suspect it's not going to be a pleasant one). I think that the thing I'll take away with me is a question Fadiman asks. She talks to several doctors in the area about their experiences dealing with the Hmong patients they see. One simplifies things, giving less than perfect care so that his patients will have some care at all. Others give the same care they would to middle class, English speaking, cultural-Americans and hope that their directions are followed. Fadiman asks "Which would have been more discriminatory, to deprive Lia of the optimal care that another child would have received, or to fail to tailor her treatment in such a way that her family would be most likely to comply with it?" It's a damn fine question.

Steve has provided my with this week's reading (Nah,nah, Cap'n Ahab) The Terror by Dan Simmons and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. More to follow...

27 comments:

steve said...

I say bring back the studio system! It was better for the people who really matter in the whole equation: the movie-going audience. They got to see actors reliably performing to type, and so they were spared the hideous possibility of Errol Flynn trying to be a 'serious' actor.

Just LOOK at all the hideousness movie-going audiences are inflicted with today! Robert DeNiro as a gay pirate? Kevin Spacey as ANYTHING other than a snide (but ultimately harmless) Disney villain? Anybody out there seen James Franco in "City by the Sea"? OMG.

In fact, young creatures like Franco and Tobey Maguire and the like would only BENEFIT by a resumption of some form of the studio system: they'd be in four movies a year (as opposed to the now-customary four movies a decade), and they wouldn't be able to make fools of themselves by trying to 'stretch' as actors. In such a scenario, we'd all have been SPARED Nicholas Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas," Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas," and Sharon Stone in any speaking role.

Just think about today's stars for 30 seconds, and you can come up with exactly the right 'studio system' role for them (there are a few wild cards, performers who actually do seem able to carry off very different kinds of roles, but they're extremely rare). Imagine the SATISFACTION of ALWAYS seeing them in a variation of that role, of ALWAYS knowing it would be done just perfectly.

This idea that every single bankable star has to explore their own creativity and then inflict the results on us is absurd. Warren Beatty has much to answer for.

texasoperastar said...

"...Deanna Durbin was fed endless kid roles well after she was grown and married..."

The above comment is not true. Her last movie before Deanna was married was called NICE GIRL and it wasn't a "kid role" and neither was her very next movie after she was married called IT STARTED WITH EVE and after that THE AMAZING MRS HOLLIDAY.

Alex

www.deannadurbin.org

Sam said...

Alex, the line you cite doesn't say Deanna Durbin was exclusively given kid roles when she was grown, just that she had a lot of them. Is that true, or is Beepy spreading more of her patented libel?

Beepy said...

Wow, someone I don't know has taken exception to something I said. Is this what it is like being Steve?

I did exaggerate a bit. There were the three movies that Alex cites. Until I read this book, I'd barely heard of Miss Durbin and couldn't have told you anything about her life or career. But the book does seem to indicate that the studio was not moving fast enough for her and that she was kicking against it for that reason.

Even if you disagree with the book's premise, Alex, the up side is that I'll be renting some of Miss Durbin's movies after reading about them.

Beepy said...

Steve, I'd like to be spared EVERYTHING that Nicolas Cage has done post "Valley Girl."

By the way, I'd be 100% for bringing back the Studio System if it prevented "Beowulf" from being made. My apartment still smells from the time I rented that one.

steve said...

what's this? somebody picking on Beepy? That job's TAKEN, bub!

steve said...

And no, Beepy, that's not quite what it's like to be Steve - after all, you drew the comment by being in ERROR, which, as you know, never happens to me.

steve said...

'Beowulf' really DID stink, didn't it? And that's ME saying that! We really should turn Brian loose on it - after buying him plenty of alcohol, of course.

brian said...

Steve, I already turned lose on Beowulf. Remember? Lambert. Mitra! Etc. Or, is there another 'Beowulf' you're thinking of?

By the way, Liotta is freaking amazing in 'Goodfellas'.

steve said...

OMG - there is NOTHING of worth in 'goodfellas' .... it's a stinking piece if wannabe garbage ... and furthermore ... wait - what? where am I again? Is this 'An Idle Hour'? Ticknor, are you there?

brian said...

Steve, I think you're confusing 'Goodfellas' with all the "wannabe" garbage that tried to emulate it. How can you not love it for that long tracking shot through the Copocabana alone? Or, the use of Clapton's 'Layla'. Nothing of worth? Wait...a second...Never mind. I forgot who I'm dealing with here?

brian said...

Oh, you're talking about the Zemekis 'Beowulf'? Well, I thought it was great. So there. You guys just need to take your heads out of your asses and enjoy it for what it was. A bloody fucking CARTOON with half naked cartoon broads, a Crispin Gover-ish demon spawn, Angelina Jolie... AND a god damned dragon! What did you expect?

brian said...

Sorry for the use of the f-word. I lost it for a second.

brian said...

I think Sci-Fi Productions (or whatever they're called) has it right. They're constantly re-using the same actors (Dean Cain, Jeff Fahey, Casper, the guy that looks like Richard Grieco). They bring it over the top by actually filming the same story over and over and over again. Just like the studios used to!!

brian said...

By the way, I read 'The Terror' and absolutely loved it. Can't help but think it would make a great picture with none other than Nicholas Cage as Captain Crozier. Some of the action scenes in the book, especially one involving a crew members flight down a mainmast (or one of the masts) are fantastic.

This is my last comment.

elmo said...

And what would Tobey Maguire's typecast be- ass clown?

As for t'other book, my mother has epilepsy, and 'dilantin' has done nothing but fry her brain for twenty-five years. That and booze.

Beepy said...

That, Elmo, was part of the problem that the Lee family had with giving Lia drugs to control the epilepsy. They claimed that it changed her behavior and made her "sick". So sometimes they didn't give her the medicines or gave her less than they should have. At one point (because of this - otherwise they were exemplary parents) Lia was taken away from them and put in foster care because of the "abuse". Luckily she had a good foster family and was eventually reunited with the Lees. It was a horrible situation all the way around.

Beepy said...

Okay, if we are to put ourselves in the position of studio execs, who would we type as a young female actress suitable for light comedies? Comedic actor/romantic lead? Boy next door? Girl next door? Town strumpet?

Enlighten me.

steve said...

town strumpet: Beepy

steve said...

'The Terror' WOULD make a great movie (I'll refuse to rise to the Nicholas Cage bait), with Clive Own in the Crozier role. Beepy could play one of the killer snow-manatees.

steve said...

leading man: Zac Efron.

girl next door: Zac Efron.

villain: a photoshopped Gene Hackman, around when he was 50 (in the latest GQ, he pretty much admits he's retired from acting - going out with 'Welcome to Mooseport,' in other words).

steve said...

I took dilantin for almost a year once, for an inner ear disorder. It made me even sexier. Then when I stopped taking it, THE SEXY STAYED.

Beepy said...

Steve, you are a complete liar! You were born with that Sexy.

elmo said...

I think the sexy came from a can. It was also called Easy Cheese back then.

Beepy said...

Thanks for looking out for me, Steve. Town Strumpet is my dream job, you know.

Elme, Easy Cheese. Sexy in a can. I'm still laughing.

elmo said...

Who the FUCK is "elme"?

Anonymous said...

Thanks :)
--
http://www.miriadafilms.ru/ приобрести кино
для сайта manateeforallseasons.blogspot.com