Thursday, June 23, 2016

Random rewatch: Hollywoodland

It took more than three-and-a-half years to complete the first movie in a periodic (very periodic) series I proposed back in 2011.

I'm doing a bit better now. The second movie took just over 15 months.

The series was/is called Random Rewatch, and my intention was to revisit movies I've seen by choosing them from my Flickchart using a random number generator. Really, I think I just wanted to play around with the random number generator.

Back on the 17th of March last year, I finally watched the first movie I drew back in 2011, which was Full Metal Jacket, then #672 on a chart of 3282. As my next choice I drew Hollywoodland, #2838/4098, not having any idea when the occasion to watch it might arise.

And it might not have for a while longer but for three factors conspiring to prioritize it on my schedule:

1) As I wrote about in this post, I've been listening to Karina Longworth's podcast You Must Remember This, which last year ran a series on MGM. One episode was devoted to MGM "fixer" Eddie Mannix and his possible involvement in the death of George Reeves, which was ruled a suicide. Reeves was having an affair with Mannix' wife -- one he knew about and supposedly condoned -- and as Mannix could get away with nearly anything, it was theorized that he had Reeves killed either because of jealousy or because Reeves became engaged to another woman and his wife was actually hurt by that. Either way, listening to that episode whet my appetite to revisit Hollywoodland, which is about this very scandal.

2) I've been doing a bit of RNG-determined random rewatching lately for other reasons. I am running a challenge among the members of my Flickcharters Facebook group in which they sign up for a week sometime in 2016 and watch a movie randomly selected from my chart. Why would they want to do this, you ask? Well, my original inspiration for the series was to take the piss out of the numerous viewing challenges proliferating in that group, in which the person running the challenge receives suggestions from other people. I didn't really want to do that kind of challenge, so I chose one that would be a lot less time-consuming because it would not actually involve me watching any movies. As I said, I did it as kind of a joke, but enough people signed up and were curious about it that it kind of took off. However, at this point in the year, the pool of guinea pigs is starting to dry up, so I decided to insert myself into the weekly schedule. I've already randomly rewatched Serpico, and I have a random rewatch of Wonder Boys coming up this week. (Both highly ranked movies for me, in my top 600.) It felt like I owed it to Hollywoodland to complete the rewatch that has actually been on the table for more than a year.

3) But perhaps the most important reason has to do with the archives of the Filmspotting podcast. I started listening to Filmspotting in 2011, meaning there were six years of podcasts I never caught. As I've been making my way slowly through the archives, I've taken down all of 2005 and gotten up to September of 2006. For a couple weeks now the next podcast has been the one in which they reviewed Hollywoodland, and I decided this was the sign I needed to finally watch it. It'd be a lot more satisfying to listen to that episode if I'd just recently completed my viewing.

Whew. On to the actual movie, shall we?

As that ranking would indicate -- only 31% on my chart at the time -- I didn't think much of Allen Coulter's film at the time I saw it. I seem to recall its chief virtue was being better than the similarly themed Brian De Palma film The Black Dahlia, which hit theaters just a week later and is awful. However, I also remember liking it more than I thought I was going to like it, so the comparatively low ranking seemed curious.

It seemed especially curious as I watched the movie this time around and enjoyed it quite a bit. Perhaps the recently elevated interest in MGM had something to do with it, but I found the mystery so much more captivating this time. In consulting the review I wrote for AllMovie, the word "boring" actually came up in reference to that mystery. Neither do I find the mystery boring now, nor do I find the way the movie addresses the mystery boring.

The movie is constructed as parallel narratives, one following Reeves (Ben Affleck) at various important junctures in the decade prior to his death, the other following a private investigator (Adrien Brody) who is being paid by Reeves' mother to determine if there was an explanation for his death other than suicide. When I first saw the movie, I enjoyed most of the Reeves stuff and very little of the Louis Simo (Brody) stuff. But this time I enjoyed the Simo stuff too, particularly appreciating both the look and the performance of Brody, an actor I find sort of hit-and-miss. I liked the noir trappings of his character and how this movie speaks to other, more successful L.A. noirs that came before it -- movies that are not as much more successful than Hollywoodland as I may have once thought.

It was an interesting time to watch Hollywoodland for another reason. I'd just watched the Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead on Monday, and one of my main problems with it was its quantity of fictitious material. Whole characters are created, as well as seriously ridiculous events involving Davis in shootouts and the like. I considered that not only a poor choice, but irresponsible in some way. Seeing Hollywoodland, in which Simo's character has been invented (something I didn't know when I reviewed it, to my chagrin), made me realize two things: 1) Inventing a character is not a cardinal sin, and can sometimes be a useful way to get at the verifiable, non-fiction elements of the story, but 2) The purpose of creating that character has to be clear, and it has to be used in a way that clearly enhances the story. The Simo character is good as a viewer surrogate, someone trying (and ultimately failing) to piece together a mystery that eludes us to this day, and leaves plenty of us plenty curious.

And there's no doubt that Reeves interested me more this time, indeed probably because I know more about MGM than I did then ... and find it a lot juicier. His is a tragic story of an actor whose career is essentially ruined by the role that defined him and made him famous, that of TV's Superman. Although the outcome is not usually so dramatic, this is a common narrative trajectory for actors who were made famous by a role and then shackled to that role for the rest of their careers. Reeves was both helped by and hurt by being in with the Mannixes -- gaining certain things he couldn't have gained otherwise, and having other doors closed to him to keep him in his place. A fascinating dynamic existed between them, especially if Mannix really did have him killed just for making his wife sad.

Something also occurred to me for the first time: This means Ben Affleck has played both Superman and Batman, possibly making him the only person ever to do that. Someone ought to make a video on Youtube in which Affleck's current incarnation of Batman fights his George Reeves from Hollywoodland. I'd watch it.

And what will I watch next?

Let's consult the RNG ...

It comes out as 2911/4298, only 73 spots off my last draw (out of exactly 200 more films I've added to Flickchart since then). That's Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch (2011), another film I was mixed on (to put it mildly) but might find interesting to revisit for various reasons. That's a funny coincidence, as Snyder was the one who directed Affleck in Batman v. Superman -- a fact I alluded to only moments before drawing my random number.

I'd like to say it might happen soon, but I've got other random rewatches as part of my current Facebook challenge, so maybe we'll be looking at sometime in early 2017.

Then again, you never can tell when opportunity or coincidence will change that priority.

No comments: