"La La Land" will likely take the lion's share of Oscars this Sunday, as the musical is an ode to showbiz of yesteryear. Mia (Emma Stone) passed by a street art, depicting a dim-lit theater filled with the biggest stars of the studio days. Big studio bosses would need to be reminded of the good old years, which could be the reason why three of the last five winners of the Best Picture Oscar were largely about the film industry. But let's not generalize it.
There have been several novels where cinema, arguably the greatest artform of the 20th century, was portrayed in a less positive light. It doesn't mean that novelists like F. Scott Fitzgerald weren't in a less charitable mood, as they got a chance to work in Hollywood. In the case of "The Great Gatsby" author, he had only one movie to his credit. He also penned a series, about a silent-era "structure man" who wanted to make a transition to the talkies. Let's say that his case wasn't far different from Lina Lamont's (of "Singin' in the Rain"). Some won't be convinced about it, citing Aldous Huxley. They may have a point, as he wrote the screenplay of "Pride and Prejudice" (1940). The Englishman cemented his legacy in "A Brave New World", a dystopian novel. His other celebrated works were far from the bright light of showbiz. Huxley might be a lucky fellow.
There were actors and directors who showed a darker side of Hollywood, and it wasn't surprising that these films didn't win the biggest prize during Oscar night. There's no need to state the obvious reasons, but it's hard to pass up this chance. Let's analyze it:
The Player (1992) by Robert Altman. This maverick filmmaker called this film a mild satire, which received Oscar nominations in directing, writing, and editing. A studio executive (Tim Robbins) was tasked with finding out which scripts could be green-lighted for production, and his average would be 12 out of 50,000 submissions every year. It wasn't surprising, then, that someone was sending him death threats. It could be a disgruntled screenwriter wanting a big break, it might be a colleague who was envious of his job. Viewers who were too familiar with showbiz could sense that the executive would get away with it, and what happened was written and filmed a few years later. It was all about money, which would lead to a more puzzling theory. No would ever know what was happening behind closed doors. It wasn't hard to suspect that it must be all about business, so there should be countless scorned artists, a long list of bruised egos, and the never-ending cold encounters. It would be all part of the show, and Altman depicted it as another form of entertainment.
Sullivan's Travels (1941) by Preston Sturges. A filmmaker wanted to make a socially relevant drama, and the only way to do it was to mingle with the less-fortunate citizens in America. John Steinbeck did the same thing, which enabled him to write compelling tales about the Okies. In this case, the director realized that he could do a greater contribution by filming a comedy. Sturges, one of the greatest filmmakers of the studio days, would be alluding to three things. Laughter is the best medicine. If you can't beat the system, then don't rock the boat. Don't worry too much. Nothing seems to poke at the very establishment that turned Sturges into a household name but read between the lines. Could they be leading unfulfilling lives?
Sunset Boulevard (1950) by Billy Wilder. The Austrian-born filmmaker was renowned for his cynical humor, and it was brimming in this film noir. A down-on-his-luck screenwriter, a has-been silent film star, and her manservant acting as her assistant on the film set might be part of a fantastic premise, but Wilder was hinting at many things. A compromise could be compared to Russian roulette, but there won't be any other way. Showbiz was a cruel end to those who lived all their lives on the big screen. And some were happy to play the part. It seemed too familiar in Hollywood, yet it would end up as the latest urban legend in Los Angeles. Actors tend to keep an eye on each other especially if their troubled peer is the real deal. There was little mystery about it several decades later, yet the public obsession about Hollywood remained the same. Watching movies could be a silent comfort to the moviegoers particularly those who don't have much going in their lives. If one will do a headcount, then it can result to a standing-room-only theater.
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