Roger L. Simon

Hollywood Asleep

Hollywood box office is off this year by a fairly disastrous nine percent (accounting for ticket price inflation). Marketing people will give dozens of explanations but the reason couldn’t be more obvious: The movies – with a few exceptions – are hugely predictable and unimaginative. In other words, who would want to go?

A secondary explanation is that the coveted 17-year old boy audience is staying home to play computer games. Why wouldn’t they? I don’t play them myself but from what I understand many are far more original than Hollywood pabulum – and they are interactive.

Of course, the other elephant in the room is Hollywood’s lack of response to the world conflagration all around us, especially from a direction that would even hint the US was on the right side (other than Team America from the far-hipper-than-the-boomers South Park crew). This is a far cry from WWII when films from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo to the bizarrely pro-Stalin Mission to Moscow abounded.

And speaking of “Mission,” I am now more than halfway through Ron and Allis Radoshes’ Red Star Over Hollywood in which the film is thoroughly discussed. This book, which is creating a small controversy (dissed by Stefan Kanfer here; praised by Cathy Young here) is riveting for its details of that time. Worth the price of admission alone is the chapter describing the way screenwriter/intellectual Albert Maltz (one of the Hollywood Ten) was forced in Communist Party “struggle sessions” to back down twice and in public from an essay he had written for the New Masses; the essay harmlessly stated that there was more to great writing than what we would today call “political correctness.” Maltz, perhaps suffering from self-loathing from his own démarche, then lashed out at his artistic superior – writer/director Robert Rossen – in a subsequent struggle session. The Party wanted Rossen to reject the film he had just made – All the King’s Men – because they were afraid it might be assumed to be about Stalin rather than about Huey Long. Rossen had the guts to tell Maltz: “Stick the whole Party up your ass!”

Reading this book reminded me how different times are today. Despite their brutally to each other, many of the people then at least had some understanding of the nuances of ideology. Contemporary Hollywood for the most part is populated by political illiterates. It’s the politics of duh!