a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Posts tagged “Hollywood

Gone girls

screen-shot-2017-05-21-at-9-54-41-pmEllen Page. Shailene Woodley. Anna Paquin. Elle Fanning. Dakota Fanning. Julia Stiles. Jessica Chastain. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Jennifer Connelley. Virginia Madsen. Connie Nielsen. Many others I’ve no doubt forgotten. Female stars in Hollywood have a disturbing tendency to be around for a few films, and then disappear into either minor roles or, at best, franchise series.

Of course this happens to the men too, and there are plenty of hot new leading male stars who have disappeared. But it seems to me the phenomenon is more common with young women.

Women seem to be more dispensable in modern filmmaking. Their parts are often more stock—yes, even if they’re an ass-kicking superhero or supervillain like Scarlett Johansson or Kate Beckinsale or Margot Robbie. Face it, it’s easy to replace one with another. Margot won’t do it, call Charlize Theron.

That makes a great payday but at the same time building a career is tough. How many actresses recently have, after their breakout picture, gone on to varied performances lately, besides Jennifer Lawrence, and that may be only because David O. Russell loves her. A few others come to mind—Michelle Williams, Keira Knightly—but not many.

Some say this is deliberate on the part of studios. It helps keep budgets down. Productions are less inclined to pay $15 million for a Julia Roberts when they can have a current “it” girl for four or five. Though they still spend upwards of $180 million on epic films, they aren’t doing it as often as they once did.

The biggest reason is simply it’s hard to find well-written lead roles for women—roles where they aren’t arm-candy to the male leads, or the damsel who has to be rescued. Sure there are a few bad-assers out there, like Michelle Rodriguez and Daisy Ridley, but those bad-assers have no depth. They’re as two-dimensional as the action figures they help sell.

So every few years we’re treated to a string of new “breakout” talents who take the world by storm with a tremendous performance in what I’m going to controversially call a legitimate film—Jessica Chastain in Zero-Dark-Thirty, Ellen Page in Juno, Shailene Woodley in The Descendants, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby—and then they either don superhero outfits or disappear altogether. Or both in succession.

It’s hard to develop acting talent when that’s your talent pool—superhero characters. It leads to a very infantile set of options for serious artists. And maybe that’s why the stars in Hollywood don’t quite shine as brightly—or as long—as they once did, not long ago. Hollywood today caters to teenagers and overseas box offices. And both are very fickle.

 

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Replay Guest post: From the Front Porch – Interview with John Grabowski

John GrabowskiThis week’s guest for From the Front Porch: Creativity Interviews is John Grabowski. John has been following my blog since the early years (I started it in 2008!), and has been a frequent commenter. We developed an email friendship as he worked on his forthcoming novel, Entertaining Welsey Shaw. On his blog he has some really interesting things to say about the phenomenon of celebrity culture, which he addresses in his novel. John is one of the smartest and well-read people I know. Please welcome him to our Creativity Interviews.

Tell us a little about yourself. Perhaps what do you do for a living and where you live?

I live in Northern California and I’ve been a copywriter, a newswriter, and a novel writer. Right now I’m on the Marketing and Development Committees of the Peninsula Symphony as we are working to attract a broader and more affluent audience to this truly excellent orchestra.

When are you the most creative? (Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing?)

I’m a night owl. That’s when I generally get most of my ideas and do my best writing. Doesn’t matter where, really, as long as I can get my fingers to a keyboard. I tend to like the “white noise” of coffee shops, however.

When are you the least creative? (Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing?)

Mornings. I am not a morning person and never have been. Doesn’t matter how much sleep I get or when I go to bed.

What inspires you and why does it inspire you?

Other great art. Great ideas, different ways of looking at common things.

I don’t write fantasy or escapism. Everything I write is deeply-rooted in reality—often the most mundane reality that most people don’t pay attention to. So when someone can see that reality in a fresh and new way, I am inspired and want to do the same.

Share a favorite quote:

The great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. —Emerson

 What creative project are you working on now or do you hope to work on?

Getting dressed. Seriously, it’s 11am and I haven’t gotten away from the computer yet today.

 Share a photo of something you find beautiful:

My wifeJohn Grabowski's wife

Name one of more of your favorite books. What do you love about them? If they changed your life in any way tell us why.

Of course knowing me as you do you’d expect to see a title by Deborah Eisenberg here. But she writes short stories, though they’ve been collected into books, so we can just assume at least one of these would be one of her titles, probably one of her last two, All Around Atlantis or Twilight of the Superheroes. I think she is the most important fiction writer working today because she is doing things no one else is but at the same time she’s doing it with a vocabulary that wouldn’t stump a high school student and she has probed the fringes of consciousness without resorting to any trendy new writing styles. She shows that direct simplicity can also be complex.

I also enjoy many of Alice Munro’s stories, though I do think Eisenberg should have won the Nobel for her greater breadth and insight. And you, Susan Gabriel, have turned me on to Francine Prose!

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill is probably the best novel I’ve read that’s been written in the last ten years. I also enjoyed his follow-up The Dog, though the critics were pretty luke-warm on that one, for some reason

To The Lighthouse just blew my mind the first time I read it in the way it dealt with the most ordinary events with tremendous depth.

Richard Ford’s Bascombe Trilogy impressed me in similar ways. Or the first two novels did. I thought the third sputtered. There’s now a fourth Frank Bascombe book but I’m not sure if I’m going to read it. I think I’m sort of done with Frank.

Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road is an understated tour-de-force. And I love Milan Kundera, especially The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and José Saramago, especially The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.

Name one or more of your favorite films and tell us what you love about it/them.

In literature I am drawn to realism—you might almost say mundane realism. Robert Altman’s films, or many of them, are of a similar nature. So are Ernst Lubitsch if you want to go really far back, especially the pre-Code ones.

Yet I also love the outsized aspects of Fellini, and 8 ½ and La Dolce Vita are two of my favorite films. They use fantasy to make a bigger point about realism.

So fantasy at the service of realism is fine. Fantasy for fantasy’s sake not so much, even if there’s a “moral” to the story. It’s usually a very simple moral.

Name one or more of your favorite pieces of art (painting, sculpture) and tell us what you love about it/them.

The Milk Maid by Vermeer, though to understand why you’d have to see it in person. The best prints don’t capture the impact. That’s true of any Vermeer.

Rembrandt’s self-portraits, especially the late ones. Same story. They seem to have a history that began before you entered the room to look at them and continue after you leave.

What were you like as a child?

God knows.

Tell us about something you’re proud of having created, participated in, etc. (not your offspring, please! 😉

This is going to seem ridiculously esoteric, but I intuitively figured out the “Circle of Fifths” in music without ever having it explained to me. I also distrusted a scholarly discovery that claimed a section of Beethoven’s music had been edited incorrectly all these years and had to be revised. Turns out I was right—the copyist made the “corrections” and Beethoven considered them wrong—they are!—and put back his original. But for several years some Beethoven scholars thought the “wrong” way was right and it was even recorded this way. I was never fooled, because that’s not how Beethoven thinks; it has nothing to do with taste.

What are you grateful for? (Today or in general.)

My health. A number of friends have had brushes with cancer or other disease and I have nothing to complain about. I am in good shape overall.

From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme:

A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio?  

Hip hop. But really most pop.

A favorite show on television?    

Don’t really have one.

If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be?

The formula for the Unified Field Theory. I’d then win a Nobel in physics and be famous.

A favorite meal?

Sushi.

A talent you wish you had? 

Concert pianist.

What’s on your nightstand? 

Isn’t this a family blog?

What’s something about you that would surprise us?

Same answer.

Check out John’s blog here.

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Please take a moment to let John know what you appreciated about this interview. Be sure and check out the link to his blog, too. If you’re feeling too shy to comment, consider sharing this post with your friends on your favorite social media platform. Thanks! xo

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P.S. A quick note about the title of this series, From the Front Porch:

Here in the South, we love our front porches. They are where we get to know our neighbors and take a load off with our friends. Ideally, I would invite John here to my house, we’d sit with a glass of iced tea, and I’d interview him while a cool breeze moved through the oaks, accompanied by the sound of two rocking chairs squeaking on the floorboards. Instead, I’ll ask you to use your imaginations. I hope you enjoy the breeze!

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Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.


The price of fame: Living your life in public

Britney & paparazzi

The paps, getting a piece of her.

She’s a wildly-famous blonde superstar who’s been in the spotlight since she was a teenager, and she nearly lost her mind because of the relentless scrutiny she found herself under.

But we’re not talking about Welsey Shaw.

Britney Spears could probably identify with my blonde heroine. No matter what you think of her talents, you have to admit she must have stamina to live her life with paparazzi camped outside her door and reporters following her every move.

She recently told the magazine Marie Claire UK that for many years she didn’t know who she was or what she was. She was living a life defined by other people, unable to form her own self.

I can’t justify the craziness of the public eye for Britney’s former irresponsible behavior. She endangered her children, of whom she lost custody (since re-won, at least on a 50/50 basis with her ex, dancer Kevin Federline) and did some truly wacked out things. Shrink-type people said she was crying out for help. Probably true. If she really were suicidal she’d have succeeded.

But I find it interesting how so many stars-since-they-were-children have their childhoods snatched away from them, and make up for it in overdrive later on. How what everyone thinks they would like—fame, fans, riches—can lead to madness, depression, desperation. Interestingly, one of her most well-known comeback songs is “Piece of Me,” and it’s from an album called Blackout.

Critics have criticized Spears’ art for not being deep. That may be true, but I have a feeling she’ll get deeper. When she was younger, she didn’t know much, because she wasn’t allowed to live a life. So she couldn’t have been deep. Her rebellion might have ultimately been the best thing to happen, artistically.

Something has to set childhood stars free. For Britney it was an unlikely bumpy series of events that, after a lot of loss and pain, liberated her—or at least so it seems. For Welsey Shaw, part of it was equally-unlikely, Daniel Ferreira in a Midtown Manhattan Starbucks who lets her discover what real conversation, real people, real experiences and opinions, feel like. The road through fame is filled with twists and turns, and it’s different lengths for everyone.


Jennifer Aniston, moved to tears, still insecure after all these years

Jennifer Aniston gets emotionalJennifer Aniston again.

It may seem hard to believe that people who always appear to be confident are as doubt-filled as the rest of us. Here is Jennifer Aniston responding with surprising candor to a question asked at a film festival in Italy. She was asked by a young girl if she ever woke up in the morning not knowing who she was. You’d think at this stage in her career, her life, such feelings would be far behind her. But not only are they not, but the very question caused the normally guarded Aniston to tear up.

“We’re all human beings at the end of the day, whether we’re a waitress or a baker or a student or whatever we are; at the end of the day, you kind of hit walls and think, I kind of can’t go any farther. Or this is too much. My heart can’t take it or the pain is too great, or am I good enough?”

She says “there are not enough fingers and toes” in the entire room for her to count how many times that has happened to her.

This in a nutshell is what Entertaining Welsey Shaw is about. Everyone thinks they “know” celebrities because they see them in wildly fantastic situations, being treated like royalty, being touted as living lives no one lives.

Of course there’s money and privilege, but one can have that and still be unhappy. But that aside, it’s clear these things don’t make insecurity disappear. Or unhappiness. Welsey tells Daniel near the end of the novel that she spends most of her nights “in here” (her apartment) alone, with the TV for company. Even if your TV is bigger and your apartment nicer, it can be a lonely life. But no one understands. Which only makes it lonelier. So you’re isolated by the very nature of your loneliness, despite the fact that it’s the same feeling anybody else has. Nah, couldn’t be the same.

Which makes it more astonishing that this girl’s simple question made Jennifer shed tears, and blot her eyes with a tissue. I’m trying to remember the last time I’ve seen a celebrity so unguarded in public and failing. And it happened with a celebrity who’s famous for her detached demeanor, her control, her desire to project herself with every hair in place.

“Am I good enough?” It was impressive that she admitted—to the world: to casting agents and fellow actors and the likes of TMZ—that she’s not secure.

 

 


Jennifer Aniston: Victim or Hypocrite?

Jennifer Aniston

Jen and friends

Jennifer Aniston is tired of people judging her by her body.

Her looks.

Her…well, look at the picture.

The perpetually-in-the-news-even-though-she-hasn’t-done-anything-notable-in-decades actress complained recently about all the body shaming that’s going on in Hollywood. She is among a growing number of stars who are angry because they can’t tuck into that bacon cheeseburger, as they have to keep their bodies perfect for the camera.

“The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing. The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general, measured against some warped standard of beauty,” says Aniston.

Sounds reasonable. But Piers Morgan is having none of it.

The British-born celebrity sleuth says the former Friends star has made her fortune off her bodacious bod, and should, basically, STFU, because she’s a hypocrite.

He says she’s reaped as much from the objectification as it’s taken from her. He says she’s helped create the attention by posing for dozens of magazine covers over the years that he says have been airbrushed to improve her looks.

Mr. Morgan continues

You may want to dismount from that high horse at this point, Jennifer.

There’s another reason why the media objectify and scrutinise famous women, and why little girls get confused about beauty and body image.

It’s this: female stars like Jennifer Aniston deliberately perpetuate the myth of ‘perfection’ by posing for endless magazine covers which have been airbrushed so much that in some cases the celebrity is virtually unrecognisable.

Not a sympathetic ear, is he?

But he makes a point. The manipulators benefit from the manipulating.

Welsey Shaw certainly knows how to do this, as do all great celebrities. (And yes, there are “great” celebrities and “not so great” celebrities. Some just can’t handle fame, and whatever their talents they disappear in a tear. Others with no great talents seem to be with us forever.)

She would say it’s fair game, that you use all the tools you have at your disposal, and when you’re in your 20s and 30s, your bodacious bod is one. Aniston has probably made enough dough off her flesh to afford her scrumptious $22 million Bel Air mansion. With that as the reward, being airbrushed doesn’t seem like too much of an indignity, does it?

Mag cover

Alas, most of us will never know.

With people feeling humiliated having to go through TSA screenings, perhaps complaining about a little magazine cheesecake seems a bit whiny.

On the other hand, a lot of stars surely get sick of being asked if they’re pregnant every time they put on ten pounds. Welsey Shaw goes through that experience in my novel too. There are constantly rumors she’s pregnant, and she doesn’t like it one bit.

At another point Morgan says, “I’ve been in numerous Beverly Hills restaurants when she’s walked in, and watched as every table descended into an instant frenzy of elbow-nudging and staged whispers. I suspect the same thing happens wherever she dines in the world.”

He seems to miss the point: she can’t control this and probably doesn’t like it.

Like Welsey.

It gets old really quick.

Here’s Aniston’s entire text.

And here’s Morgan’s entire reply.

Does he have a point? Or is his point of view off-base?