Video Virgil: Self Portraits
The literary critic Irving Howe was once asked whether the New York literary scene was self-absorbed and incestuous, and he replied, "It only looks that way from the outside." The same could certainly be said of the agglomeration of organizations and individuals who make up Hollywood. They live in a heavily fortified bubble that almost always distorts their view of the society in which the rest of us live.
That's why Hollywood's best social criticism tends to be directed at itself. As a longstanding fan of movies about the movie biz, I recently revisited "The Bad and the Beautiful," directed by Vincent Minelli and starring Lana Turner in what may be her finest role. It views a gifted but ruthless studio head (Kirk Douglas) through the eyes of three people he sucked in and blew out: an alcoholic, going-nowhere-fast actress (Turner); a talented but too diffident director (Barry Sullivan); and a frustrated college-Joe writer (Dick Powell).
Of course, if you prefer your classic studio heads to be the embodiment of philistine evil, then I recommend "The Big Knife," an overwrought study of a matinee idol (Jack Palance) caught between the integrity urged by his wife (Ida Lupino) and the servitude imposed by his boss (Rod Steiger). Steiger is only on the screen for one scene, in which he manipulates the hapless Palance to renew his contract for another seven years. But that one scene is worth the price of admission.
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