I'M GLAD I'M NOT Hollywood, that crazy City of Dreams out there on the West Coast. What a life!
First rocketed to Fame and Fortune and Glamour by Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford and Doug Fairbanks, then allowed to muck about with the wrong pharmaceuticals, the wrong guys and the wrong words by Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe and Lenny Bruce, and now pummeled by the sharks of the religious right, the political right and the cinematic right -- and not well defended by whoever's running the show out there these days. (After Michael Ovitz jumped ship for Disney, there's no telling just who the entertainment czar is these days.)
Hollywood, for a while, had such a good life: It could do no wrong. It was where all our dreams started and where all our dreams died. It was Homer and Aesop and Hemingway and Salinger and Cheever rolled into one, along with blacklisting and 3-D and Smell-o-Rama and Cinerama and man-size vats of popcorn and enough ice in your Coke to force the Titanic to make a quick U-turn.
Hollywood was bigger than life; it sustained life; it was life. It was everything we weren't, and everything we wanted to be and everything we would never be. It was beyond us. It was within us. And golly, on some days it was G-rated. Who could ask for anything more?
Yeah! I wanted to be Hollywood, but now Hollywood doesn't know what it wants to be: good girl or bad girl? Tough guy or sweet guy? Why bother being Hollywood if you end up with such an identity crisis? The bills for lying down on some stranger's couch for 50 minutes could wipe you out in a month, even if you were entitled to all the residuals from "Mister Ed."
Why bother being Hollywood if you seem to have no friends? Just a few months ago, Bob Dole, pretending he was Dan Quayle, thundered across the (cultural) Great Divide to the Big Cheeses of the Entertainment World: "You have sold your souls, but must you debase our nation and threaten our children as well?" Mr. Dole resumed his attack about two weeks ago after some Brooklyn thugs mimicked a scene from a new film, "Money Train," by spraying a flammable liquid into a subway token booth and setting on fire an MTA clerk, Harry Kaufman, who died about a week later.
Scolded Mr. Dole: "For those in the entertainment industry who too often engage in the pornography of violence as a way to sell movie tickets, it is time for some serious soul-searching."
Maybe so, but I'd rather look at my soul with just about anyone but Robert Dole, whose idea of soul-searching is telling all on the rubber chicken circuit so he can go home with more PAC dollars. Quite frankly, I don't want to be on anyone's enemies list. I don't like being called (figuratively, at least) a child molester. I know what I stand for and I know where I'm going and I know that where two or more gather in Steven Spielberg's name, there's bound to be another blockbuster.
But Mr. Dole, in his quest for campaign money and a campaign cause, does have a point: Hollywood does have a soul problem, and it is too smitten with violence and smut. I'm no slouch when it comes to going to the movies, but of the many I've seen this year, only three were memorable: "A Little Princess," "Babe" and Toy Story." Call me silly. Call me naive. Call me a ninny. Call me anything but late to the movies. But when the best films in 12 months are about three characters with overactive imaginations -- a spunky girl who conjures up the Ramayana, a pig who thinks he's a sheep dog, and a buff toy named Buzz Lightyear who thinks he's human -- then the federal deficit is risible compared with the deficit of serious social issues being addressed on the screen in a manner that neither exploits nor sexploits.
Yes, I know that Quentin Tarantino awaits, but my stomach turns uncomfortably at pulp (fiction or otherwise). I may be liberal, but I don't like looking over my shoulder with Oliver Stone. (My paranoia evaporated the last time I smoked a joint.) And with the recent death of Louis Malle, and before that of Francois Truffaut, we may not see the like of their rare, dignified films, films that never lacked for healthy conscience and healthy curiosity, for quite a while. So, this weekend, I may return for the second viewing of "Toy Story" (with or without the kids), and I count the days until "Babe" comes out on videotape.
In the meantime, I'll just stay in this burg of mine, an ordinary place with ordinary dreams. Hollywood can go its way -- and I'll go mine. I never really wanted to be a city, anyway. It's tough enough just going to the movies.
Arthur J. Magida's biography of Louis Farrakhan, "Prophet of Rage," will be published in the spring.