Politics & Policy

Tofu At The Box Office

Boys, all over Hollywood.

Interviewed recently by the Deseret News, actor-director Robert Redford was asked about rumors that there might be a remake of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to star Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Redford said he found it “depressing.”

It’s not the word I would have chosen. “Sickening” is more like it, just like most of what passes for entertainment coming out of Hollywood these days. “Why do they have to mess with things that were perfect the first time around?” Redford added.

Why? Because a dearth of creativity, originality, and risk-taking makes it easier to rework a previous success than to try producing a new one, which is why we can’t rule out something like a remake of Casablanca starring Ethan Hawke and Paris Hilton. But the possibility of Damon and Affleck in the roles made famous by Redford and Paul Newman opens up a whole topic that Redford did not address.

Most of Hollywood’s former leading men have been replaced by boys. Starring roles that used to feature guy’s guys now go to punks. Damon and Affleck are not worthy to wipe the dust from Butch Cassidy’s bicycle.

As someone who became a teenager in the late 1950s, my movie heroes were larger-than-life figures like John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Robert Mitchum, Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, William Holden, Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, and others of that mold.

Compare that lineup to the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, Heath Ledger, Justin Timberlake, and the aforementioned Damon and Affleck. It’s like sizing up a good steak next to a plate of tofu. And while Tom Hanks has been compared to Jimmy Stewart, as versatile and easy to take as Hanks is, he’s no Stewart.

The old Hollywood stars, above all, were adults. They had a steely maturity and craggy features that made them look like they had lived a life that delivered a few hard blows along the way, just like our dads. Many had served in WWII. And they all looked different from one another.

Today’s breed is made up of kids playing adults. Their faces bear none of that character inflicted by struggle and they appear as though they all emerged from the same muffin tin.

And then there are the voices. The voices of old Hollywood were distinctive, while today’s are entirely forgettable. It’s one of the reasons that impersonators such as Rich Little are virtually never seen on national TV any more. His impressions of the old-timers are considered passé, and how do you imitate the nondescript voices of Kutcher or Pitt, et al? Most of the great Hollywood voices are gone forever. The new ones are as ethereal as a fairy.

Sure, there are still a few old-school actors around, including Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, and Redford and Newman, but they are dinosaurs in contemporary Hollywood. Clint Eastwood is one of the few senior citizens who has managed to remain “cool.”

The rise of the baby-faced “stars” is part of the namby-pambyization of Hollywood, and America, that is also reflected in the crop of movies honored by the Motion Picture Academy this year. Among those receiving Oscar nominations, either as best picture or for acting performances, are Brokeback Mountain (gay cowboys), Good Night and Good Luck (CBS vs. evil Republicans), The Constant Gardener (evil drug companies), Syriana (the evil oil industry), North Country (sexual harassment), and Transamerica (sex-change operation).

These aren’t movies; they’re on-screen therapy sessions. The Oscar should be replaced by a statuette of Dr. Phil. Compare them to such past Hollywood gems as On the Waterfront, The African Queen, High Noon, All About Eve, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Sunset Boulevard, not to mention all-time classics such as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, and The Godfather.

Three of this year’s agenda-driven films–Good Night and Good Luck, North Country, and Syriana–come from Participant Productions, whose vice president, Meredith Blake, has been quoted as saying, “Our product is social change, and the movies are a vehicle for that social change.”

There was a better time when Hollywood’s product was not social propaganda but entertainment, and if its movies made America feel better about itself along the way, so much the better. Too many of today’s movies are just Air America, the liberal radio network, with popcorn.

But there must be a significant number of Americans who yet long for the golden days of Hollywood, when men were men, women were women and everyone knew the difference. A recent poll showed that John Wayne is tied with Harrison Ford as the third most popular movie star, almost 30 years after Wayne’s death.

Every time I think of DiCaprio and other pieces of fluff that currently pass for movie stars, it makes me wish The Duke was still around to show them what Hollywood looked like before it lost its manhood. While Tinseltown is engaging in its touchy-feely fest on Oscar night, I think I’ll take a pass and slip a copy of True Grit into the DVD player.

An expatriate Canadian, California-based Doug Gamble is a former writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He now writes for various politicians and corporate executives.

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