The Producer and Carmen slugged on after that night for another sixteen months. When Carmen finally became Steve's, she was more radiantly beautiful than ever before for two whole decades, and considering the dangers she'd passed, one could argue that she was still more beautiful inside than out. Nevertheless, her ribs had the consistency of crushed ice, her joints bent in manners no human being should, the simple act of arising from her bed was pain itself. Among those who'd experienced repetitive trauma, it is not uncommon to deal with the constant rebreaking of bones, degenerative disc disease and an eventual lumbar spinal fusion; bone spurs, torn ligaments, degenerative arthritis, staff infections from corrective surgeries. And that's only from the effects from before he started to hit her face.
This is mercifully not a book in which to discuss the particulars of tyrannical behavior which cause such internal horror. This narrator has neither the patience nor nothing like the fortitude to speak in any more than generalities about the abominations perpetrated upon Carmen and he asks your forgiveness for his need to speak any further of these depravities. But if this fictional rendering of a single Hollywood player getting off on the scent of blood has anything like the ring of veracity to you, then he asks you to at least consider how many thousands there may have been over the past century of powerful Hollywood men who've acted precisely like this.
This particular apparition of a Producer knew on the night of this "window dressing" (his charming term for what transpired that dawn) that his days as a respected Hollywood player could be counted with two digits. Don't mind us the circumstances of his ignominy, there were any number of risible cinematic bombs in the late 70's and early 80's which wiped out Hollywood producers, production companies, and whole studios:
There was At Long Last Love, Peter Bogdanovich's trivial homage to 30's movie-musicals, Cole Porter songs, and Ernst Lubitsch romantic comedies - because nothing oozes Golden Age Hollywood class quite like Burt Reynolds, who became a superstar a few years previously when Deliverance allowed us to watch him kill a Georgia hillbilly with a crossbow while the hillbilly sodomized a 300 pound Ned Beatty. There was The Exorcist II: The Heretic, a shameless money grab of a sequel starring a miserable looking Richard Burton during a period when he looked like he was taking parts in horrible movies just so he could pay his astronomical bar tab. There was The Swarm, a horror movie about killer bees that starred Michael Caine, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, and Olivia de Havilland - because what everybody wanted to see in the late 70's was the biggest stars of 1945 in a horror movie with a plot too absurd for Roger Corman to film. There was I Spit On Your Grave - a film that couldn't even find distribution for two years because of its quarter-hour depictions (notice the plural) of gang rape. There was X-rated Caligula, a movie made through the combined talents of literary lion Gore Vidal and Bob Guccione - publisher of Penthouse Magazine, who simply wanted to record a literal rendering of the depraved events within the Roman Emperor Caligula's palace in Tacitus's Annals. Every imaginable degradation seemed to find its way into the script; raping a bride on her wedding day - and her groom, sex shows involving children and the deformed (if you don't believe me, watch it), gladiatorial public execution, and a confusing scene for which poor Helen Mirren has to use what is hopefully a prosthetic vaginal cavity to depict herself giving birth as part of a (literally) execrable performance within all these execrable performances. After seeing the original cut, Guccione decided that audiences weren't getting their money's worth, and insisted on inserting a forty-five minute bisexual orgy near the end which the Roman Senators and their wives are coerced into having.
There was, of course, Heaven's Gate, which lost 30 million dollars, ran to nearly four hours in original cut, deliberately killed a horse with explosives, was yanked from movie theaters after less than a week, and bankrupted United Artists - the greatest of all movie studios - forever. Some swear it's a misunderstood masterpiece, this narrator doesn't want to find out... Of course, it has a ten minute rape scene...
There was Inchon, the B-Movie hagiography for America's Five-Star General in Asia, and for a moment in 1952 America's would-be dictator, Douglas MacArthur. Financed with no expense spared by a combination of the United States Military and world's most infamous cult leader, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, with MacArthur played by the world's greatest actor - the ailing Lord Lawrence Olivier - for a cool million bucks, and directed by Terrance Young, who made the first few James Bond movies. MacArthur's closest confidante was played by Richard Roundtree, the original Shaft. Who'd have conceived that a movie of such disparate parts would come unglued?
There was Tarzan, the Ape Man - in which a mythical White Ape turns out to be a white man raised by apes and therefore must be brought back to civilisation in England where he can be taught proper discourse. Nevertheless, he retains the animal sexual magnetism of Africa, which overwhelms poor proper and prim Jane. Tarzan's character was found offensive by some in the 1910's when he first appeared, imagine the reception by 1981. Yet somehow, there've since been another six Tarzan movies.
And who can, or should, forget George Lucas's Howard the Duck? A PG live-action movie in which a loveable alien duck gets transported through a wormhole to our world. In the course of the movie, he gets dumped by a club bouncer into a hot tub where a couple is having sex, a human that turns out to be an alien who has a tongue seems to extend like an erection in the presence of Lea Thompson, Howard's duckbill attempts to bite the ass of a sixty-something black woman whose onion-like posterior he finds quite stimulating, he excitedly opens Playduck Magazine in which we see a photo of a duck with curves and hair and feathered white nipples (later in the movie we see duck boobies with pink human nipples), the Cleveland Police Department sexually assaults Howard the Duck, and actor Jeffrey Jones (himself now a convicted sex offender) walks in on Lea Thompson seducing Howard the Duck.
And, of course, Ishtar. The only of these risible and bank-busting movies directed by a woman, and the only one whose director never directed a movie again. Perhaps Ishtar was, truly, the last movie of the Old-New Hollywood - directed by Mike Nichols's old comic partner Elaine May, Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty starring, Vittorio Storaro (Coppola and Bertolucci's cinematographer of choice) doing the photography, co-starring New Hollywood luminaries like Tess Harper (Tender Mercies) Charles Grodin (from an Orthodox family), Jack Weston (Weinstein), Carol Kane (Woody's first wife in Annie Hall and an Oscar nominee for a part in Hester Street that she acted in Yiddish), Aharon Ipale (Israeli), Fred Melamed (Sy Ableman in A Serious Man), David Margulies (Hollywood's character actor of choice when you needed a Jew). Is it any wonder that a film bombed that had so many Jews involved whose scenario was in an Arab country?
Something rotted in that air of freedom which made the New Hollywood Golden Age possible. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It was inevitable that the freedom which allowed for realistic depictions of ordinary people with their ugliness intact, with sex, and violence, and emotional turmoil unshielded by a production code, would curdle into freedom's betrayal by making its depictions into something sickeningly exploitative - sometimes freedom's very liberators betrayed it. In the case of Hollywood, what appeared to be a glorious liberation turned out to be merely another swing of the pendulum that landed on equilibrium for a moment before swinging into decadence. Today's Hollywood has a new production code, a code that allows for rivers of blood so long as the violence is confined to an unrealistic genre and its human consequences softpedaled, a code that allows for the naive innocence of children to continue unabated into adulthood with bro comedies about manchildren, a code in which romantic comedies in which love's ugly moments are airbrushed out of existence, a code dominated by action movies in which the stars are the special effects. Just as in the old production code, today's Hollywood movies can still be damn good, but in the opinion of this clearly not humble enough narrator, almost none of them show us ourselves. There are ways around the problem - movies like The Social Network and Her and WALL-E and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which only show us a complex image of the human spirit by showing us how technology may have completely reshaped it; or movies like Boyhood or the Before movies or (believe it or not) Borat, in all of which the experimental gimmick that makes them possible is so radically extreme that they can only be done once and never be copied. There are some very fine and human directors working in Hollywood's orbit if not actually 'in' Hollywood: there are at least two American treasures: Alexander Payne and Richard Linklater, both of whom manage in every movie to say something new and elusive about America. Among the 'tribe', there's Jason Reitman, or at least was, who made three of the great American movies at the beginning of his career with Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up In The Air, all three of which manage to say something new and elusive about America, and there's John Sayles, whom nobody remembers anymore, but twenty years ago was the God of Independent American Film. There's Ang Lee, who isn't even American, but easily beats Americans at their own game. Errol Morris, the documentarian who makes movies so utterly different from everyone else's that you shouldn't even call them movies by the accepted definition.
Other than them, there are, as Woody once called them, the Academy of the Overrated: Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, David Lynch, PT Anderson, Wes Anderson (whom in all fairness seems to be improving), Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufmann, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh (who at least tries to be more ambitious), Sofia Coppola, Peter Jackson, Ken Burns (it takes a rare talent to make the subjects of his documentaries boring), David O Russell, the Wachowskis, Gus Van Sant, Tim Burton, James Cameron...
These are directors so enamored of movies that they jam pack their movies with references to other movies and forget to put references to life in them. Perhaps that statement is unfair, there are exceptions in every one of their outputs, but the exceptions are very few compared to the misfires. There is a kind of ersatz profundity to their movies - movies like The Matrix and Inception and Avatar and I <3 -="" a="" able="" about="" and="" anderson="" are="" arrested="" brothers="" burton="" challenge="" charlie="" coen="" contain="" cookie.="" cynical="" darkness="" david="" development="" fincher="" fit="" font="" for="" fortune="" gravity="" huckabees="" i="" incomprehensibility="" kaufmann="" last="" like="" love="" lynch="" meaning="" messages="" mistake="" movies="" nbsp="" of="" other="" philosophical="" pt="" s="" tarantino="" tedium="" that="" the="" tim="" to="" used="" wes="" which="" whimsy="" within="">therefore perhaps movies against movies. Most alarmingly, and prevalent to nearly all of them, movies that mistake technology for humanity. Even among the directors unaddicted to CGI, there are more breathtaking shots in today's American movies than ever before, but to what end? Today's auteurs have utterly mastered the technical end of filmmaking, and perhaps because we've mastered technique, we've forgotten what the technique is for. 3>
Meanwhile, people who've devoted their whole lives to film tell us that the world is experiencing a cinematic Golden Age of which the United States is the only first world country who remains excluded. As with so many things about Contemporary America - soccer, news, public transit, languages, condoms, history, black humor, cheap health care, gun laws, and vegetables - we have in America have only the dimmest awareness of the feast that often seems to happen in every corner of the globe but ours because we're too busy playing with our toys.
Special effects are the new stars of Hollywood. The highest grossing movies are no longer character based movies like The Godfather or Bonnie and Clyde or Midnight Cowboy or Easy Rider or American Graffiti or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or The Sting or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or MASH or Fiddler on the Roof or Patton. There were plenty of smaller, character driven films during these years that did well, but it was between 1975 and 1990 that technology become the undisputed box office king, and after that came the systematic gutting of movies that portrayed Americans in their natural state in anywhere but independent film and the Miramax ghetto. Just over the other side of 1975 lay the Star Wars Trilogy and Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Indiana Jones and ET and Back to the Future and Roger Rabbit - and how human and full of personality do those early Spielberg and Lucas and Zemeckis movies seem next to the high-grossing movies of our time! Would it surprise anyone that Tom Cruise or Chris Hemsworth or Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson were actually computer programs or robots that only exist on a screen? There was even an Al Pacino movie about that exact notion fifteen years ago called Simone. Maybe Jennifer Lawrence is just an updated Simone, an indication that these computer avatars have improved to the point that seem so like us humans that perhaps humans are indistinguishable now from robots!
This New New Hollywood came into existence because the knowledge that movies like Caligula and I Spit On Your Grave and Heaven's Gate and Howard the Duck gave us of what we were capable of was too terrible. The freedom to create greater and more uplifting spectacles can also give us things too vile and revolting for contemplation. All it took was less than a dozen movies in which the human animal was presented to us undeniably in all its stinking shit, and the movie world's been running away from its truth ever since.
Our dearly beloved Producer could have been working on any of these movies, it doesn't matter which, but by the same time the next year, The Producer hadn't worked on a movie for nine months; nine months during which his fists literally performed an abortion on Carmen. Perhaps it became his sole source of satisfaction and relief, because for six months, no glamorous friend returned a call, relieving him not only of his own glamor but the sycophants who glommed onto it. Friendship is fleeting, love mere folly, but how much more true would that be when living in a place known as the 'Dream Factory?' But five minutes after every time he went off, he begged her not to leave, just you wait, he'll make you happy again, Hollywood can be something better than its ever been, and you'll be its leading lady!
Then there was the time the Producer bruised her father up after her father asked about Carmen's bruises. Two minutes later, he gave her Dad a $10,000 wad of cash, then drove him to the emergency room personally in his 1977 Lamborghini Countach. The moment he got through the door, he took out more wads of cash for the doctor and nurses and the other patients - they saw nothing. And while they were in the ER, Carmen's sister practically kidnapped her to a courthouse to make her get a restraining order. Carmen was unwilling, worried she was about to get killed. If not by her producer, then by the guys he'd pay to keep her quiet. The judge listened very patiently and carefully and evinced great compassion for her suffering, he then excused himself to his chamber for five minutes, came back and refused the restraining order. Twelve minutes later, the Producer was at the courthouse, gave Carmen a huge hug and kiss as she sobbed her tears upon him, took her home and told her over and over again how much he loved her.
Who could turn down the life he promised? This was a man who knew how to turn curvature of the Earth to the precise angle he wanted. He was the best actor in Hollywood. For more than a decade, he dealt with creative geniuses every day of his life, but he was a genius of life itself. Every event, the most glamorous, the most spiritual, the most transcendent, the most intangible, could be picked apart and reduced to a transaction. Nothing in life was a mystery to him, and all he demanded in return was that she be no more complicated to understand than the concierge in Oviedo.