Brain Dropping #140
“From Here To Inanity!” I’m weary of watching the same movie over and over again – not exactly the same movie but different movies out of Hollywood which are predictably formulaic, repeating the same tedious plots and characters. I’ve labeled these uninspired, insultingly banal flicks “Southern California Movies.” Evidently they are inexpensive to make because the weather is sunny most of the time, the studios with all their technology are at hand, and the actors live in the neighborhood so they can reach the set in minutes.
You know that you’re about to be intellectually insulted when the opening credits roll. They are often superimposed on the broken lines of a highway zipping by from the point-of-view of the driver, setting up a visual rhythm to the voice-over of an adenoidal Dylanesque singer plinkety-plonking on a guitar and mouthing dead-brain lyrics about life, love and hard times. Or, we are sweeping over night-time Los Angeles in a helicopter shot which zooms in on a window, and then to a close-up of a hand shutting off a loud clanging alarm clock.
It’s always sunny, the streets are immaculate, no overturned garbage cans or “Go Fuck Yourself” graffiti – and black homeless folks are conspicuous by their absence. All the characters appear to be well-fed, with jobs with enough free time to complain about the main plot idea. That idea usually revolves around a surly, sexually confused teenager and a lonely, dismayed single mom who works, if we can call it that, at a hoity-toity downtown Los Angeles Art Gallery. The plot can easily be switched from light comedy to stark drama if the husband is an Iraq war veteran with PTSD.
A ubiquitous gay friend is thrown into the mix somewhere. He is always funny, adorable and self-effacing. If the movie has pretensions of being a “film” of import, he will say at one point: “I don’t mind giving blow jobs if I’m treated with respect.” The secondary characters are, in no particular order: a sarcastic divorcee who is pondering lesbianism, played by a woman who is not by Hollywood standards, a beauty – say a Bette Midler or Joan Cusack type. Then, the doofus brother or uncle, played by Randy Quaid, always good for a laugh when things get too heavy. He ends up being very wise, and in a scene of nauseating poignancy, lectures the girl or boy about the true value of life – accompanied by a warm hug and a guitar riff in a minor key.
Meanwhile, the mother has met an unkempt, handsome house painter (Mark Ruffalo) painting the house next door. He too is adrift in the world and can relate to the disaffected teen ager. After several miscommunications the mother and the housepainter hit it off. The teenager is ecstatic. The housepainter turns out to be a very talented artist, and the mother sets up a show at the art gallery. Now, depending on how the film is rated, we have the O.S.S. – the obligatory-sex-scene with flashing breasts and buttocks with a female voice vocalizing softly accompanied by the plinkety-plonk guitar.(Never, ever a glimpse of a penis erectus.) Cut to a sunny day, a high, long view of a convertible driving through Big Sur. The housepainter is driving, the mother is leaning lovingly against him, and the teen ager with his/her new friend beaming in the back. At the beach the sun is setting to the sound of the Dylanesque, pseudo, folksinger singing of the joys of true love as the closing titles roll against a blood-red sky.
I believe these mindless movies, avoiding any semblance of social consciousness, are the end product of the Hollywood blacklist which scared the bejesus out of the studio big-wigs sixty years ago. “Citizen Kane,” “I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Sullivan’s Travels” – were written and directed by socially-conscious lefties like Orson Welles, Albert Maltz, Jules Dassin, Dalton Trumbo, Alvah Bessie, Edward Dmytryk, inspired by the Great Depression. All but Welles were blacklisted and denied their livelihood because of their radical political beliefs. In the age of “American Sniper” and the Great Recession, we need them more than ever.