Monday, January 14, 2008


Fearful Symmetry

It's been a long time since I'd seen a new movie--the last was "
Superman Returns"--and I'd compiled a short list in my mind of films I wanted to see, and should, as the Holiday Movie Season was galumphing closer. "Hollywoodland"--another "Superman" movie of sorts--was the first released on the list, and by coincidence it was playing at the Uptown Theater on lower Queen Anne just a couple of blocks from where my business' post office box is.

I'd been following the movie's production process for years.
Kyle McLachlan was attached, then not. It was greenlit, then not. "Snake-bit" was more like it. It was based, supposedly, on the investigation into the George Reeves' (TV's winking "Superman" in the 50's) suicide, which had more than enough "urban legends" attached to it. An interesting idea for a movie. Besides, I liked Reeves. And co-worker's descriptions of him belied the depressed suicide scenario that was the accepted explanation.

But if you're looking for answers, "Hollywoodland" gives you none. What it gives you is a shabby L.A. P.I., late of studio security (nice angle, that), asked by Reeve's mother to investigate her son's death. She doesn't know who did it, but it can't be her shining baby boy. Also, true, supposedly.

At that point, the movie goes awry. As investigator
Adrian Brody (who never really convinces you of "competence") goes over the details of Reeve's life, we are given the usual trope --big break in "Gone with the Wind" that never pans out, "B" movie existence, the dalliances, the affair with the wife of Eddie Mannix, "Superman" and its career-killing effects, the "From Here to Eternity" disappointment (fiction, evidently). Fortunately (and yes, its a surprise to say this), Reeves is embodied terrifically by Ben Affleck, who manages to convey Reeves' "nice guy" casualness with a "bad-boy" swagger that never trashes Reeves, but emphasizes the charm. Affleck becomes Reeves, to the complement of both. If only the rest of the movie did as much research....

Reeves' "Superman" is shown flying with ropes. Didn't happen. Yes, he had accidents, but not like depicted (stage hands hauling a suspended Reeve around a dilapidated studio for flying scenes makes a funny, sad scene but it's just not true). Also, they hedge their bets on the suicide angle by having the "Superman" series cancelled (celebrated by Reeves with a bonfire of the vanities, burning his "Super-suit" on the barbecue--really, they'd let him have that?) when, in fact, "Superman" was about to go back into production with several episodes to be directed by Reeves. Suicide is a bit harder to swallow when a guy's got career possibilities ahead of him. That aside, the movie also starts hedging its bets with the investigator's story--the deeper he digs, the more resistance he gets, the more determined he becomes to find "the answer" (Detective Movie 101), his personal life starts to disintegrate, he starts to drink, and act stupidly--and I began to hear faint echoes that indicated the screenwriter'd been dipping into
Robert Towne's "Chinatown" script. Hmmm.

I could see where this was going--in the course of the detectives backslide, two possible scenarios of Reeves' death are played out as murder, but as the ersatz detective starts to spiral down into depression and drink it's only a matter of screen-time before he inevitably reaches that place where he would see it as natural for Reeves to commit suicide. The only surprise left in the movie being whether he follows Reeves in the death-wish.

Now, earlier in the day, I had gone to a luncheon held by the temp agency I was working for and they gave me a little certificate for exemplary work--I'd been reviewed well and recommended for recognition. It was all very nice, but I couldn't help but dismiss it. This isn't the work I do. It's not work I love. I do it well, but I do it to make money. That's all. And in this sort-of telling of the Reeves story, that's exactly where he was, too. Stuck playing Superman, unable to do anything else because of it--hopelessly typecast and no prospects--in this telling of the story--for the future. I could relate. Too well. And as if to put a sick little bow on the paralleling, I had at this luncheon recieved a tee-shirt from the agency for my service...with a quasi-Superman logo on the chest of it--I was a "Volt Superstar." Huh. It all felt a little too close. And watching the characters on-screen spiral to oblivion wasn't helping much.

I checked my phone. Two calls from my wife and one from a friend. I got up from my chair in the dark and headed for the lobby. I obviously had better things to do with my life and it was best that I get on it with it. I walked out of the theater and outside into the sunshine.

File "Hollywoodland" in your casebook under "Don't Waste Your Life."

No comments: