Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Diversion From My Usual Rantings

Normally, I'll ignore some dumb celebrity's tragedy because a) other people are more interested in it than I and therefore will be either more informative or more entertaining and b) I really, truly, honestly could not care less.
Something about Corey Haim's story resonates with me, however.
I think this story of a child star gone and stayed bad is one that highlights a really despicable part of the business: the way this supposedly "liberal" industry chews up and spits out people.
Mostly actors, of course, but also directors, writers, crew, administrative people and so on.
One of the big reasons I never even tried to become famous was I saw the price fame demanded back in friends who have made it. You lose your soul. You become this 24/7 publicity machine, simultaneously trying to promote yourself (which I find odious enough) while trying to promote a thing, a movie, a film studio, a production company, a director (OK, not so much a thing, but an externality).
Why? That's the deal you make with the devil. One hand washes the other, but neither hand really wants to wipe your ass. So long as you keep scrubbing, you'll get scrubbed and thus have the delusion of keeping clean. So long as you make money, in other words, for the product, you'll be treated like someone.
"I cudda bin a contendah, I cudda bin SOMEbody!" There's not a lot of difference between a prize fighter who throws a fight and an actor who does it for the money. Eventually, you'll be asked to go in the tank for someone else.
This is, where I think, Hollywood gets out of hand and invasive. The lure of stardom, of easy money, is powerful. The studios know this and so can let you peek thru the keyhole if you have even the slightest bit of marketability (talent never comes into it. Never.) but to get the door open, you have to know the Wizard and the only way to know the Wizard is to sell yourself out.
Acting is not hard work.
No, let me rephrase that: most of the acting you see on TV or in movies is not hard work. It should be hard work, but we've settled on a system where the ad campaign will draw people to the box office to see pretty people in extraordinary circumstances and hopefully, they'll feel good enough about what they're shown to tell other people about the movie. This kind of acting, shallow, superficial, cartoonish, that's easay work. Stand on your mark, deliver your lines, and if you're supposed to be funny, you might get a laugh.
The hard work of acting, the painful work, is divesting yourself of your ego and presenting a portrayal of a real person, fleshed out from your own experiences and therefore living your pain. You present your reality through this character by living his life.
That. Hurts.
One of my favorite actresses (you've probably never heard the name, I bet, so I won't embarass her) is also one of my favorite people on the planet. I've worked with her. I've seen the work she puts into a character. She appeared in a trilogy of blockbuster films...which is clue enough. She created a very real character, one who appears on screen and you can pretty much instantly identify her story.
So real, in fact, that I had to be told it was her doing the role. I didn't recognize her, didn't even know she was in the first film until I got an email from my acting teacher.  Oddly enough, she has her life together. Maybe she's a bit neurotic, but you know what? She's one of the most grounded people I know and she's 20 years younger than me. Women my age aren't as put together as she is.
Now, I've never seen a Corey Haim film. I can only presume that he was one of the basically interchangeable actors of the 80s and 90s, pretty faces who could barely recite a line, but was sooooooooo cute they ended up with a teeny bopper fan club. I mean, I've seen Corey Feldman in movies, and I know he's for shit and since they are pretty much equivalent, I can surmise Haim was about that level.
So how does a human being reconcile being bad at what they do with the stardom that is thrust upon them because they were in a cult classic (like Lost Boys) or a teen exploitation film (like License To Drive), both of which earned gobs of money for the studio? How do you go through life knowing that Jason Patrick or Anthony Michael Hall could replace you at a moment's notice in any film and probably do a better job?
In other words, how stressful is your life knowing you're walking a tightrope that only you can walk and the rope is fraying?
The studio system in America sucks dogtails, but worse than that is the damage it causes to people who work in it. Now add to that the fact that most actors start out in the business fresh out of school, because God forbid we have a real movie system that portrays real life situations and drama that involve an ounce of physical maturity, and you have a recipe for repeating disasters. Like Corey Haim. Like Heath Ledger. Like...well, name five actors who died last year of anything other than old age, and I'd bet at least two fit this description.
Sad. Really.