Things Weighty and Trivial
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Like most people here, I know that Hollywood succeeds by maintaining a careful balance between the weighty and the trivial. On the one hand, you have your gripping stories, your serious moral themes, your catastrophic violence. On the other, you have your giggling starlets, your DUI mugshots, your Aruba nuptials covered in detail by Entertainment Tonight.
Each requires the other. Without the weighty, no one would care about the trivial; and without the trivial, no one could bear the weighty. It's a delicate equilibrium, and as anyone in this town can tell you, you can't let either side get the upper hand.
Tonight a red carpet has been unrolled along Wilshire Boulevard. It's chilly, and the Urban Man has come to watch the weighty and the trivial hang beneath the portable lights set up for a premiere. The film concerns returning vets, so I know we will watch many people die, see much post-traumatic stress, and hear several urgent messages.
As I mingle with the papparazzi, I think, "Every now and then, we do get it just right, and like Humphey Bogart in the farewell scene of Casablanca, we turn away from the beauty of an Ingrid Bergman to go fight the good fight, even as we say, 'Here's looking at you, kid.' At such moments, I figure Hollywood performs some vital service for the human soul."
Waiting beside the red carpet, I intend to mention Casablanca to a young woman clutching a tape recorder. She's here on behalf of a giddy magazine: you know, the one that runs its pictures so large you can discern a celebrity's every pore and dimple.
Instead, we discuss her red-carpet strategy. When a star comes into range, she will ask: "If you win an Oscar, who do you want for your Adrien Brody moment?" When I look puzzled, she reminds me that Adrien Brody kissed Halle Berry on the lips at the 2003 Awards. If this question doesn't fly, she will ask, "Tell me, what was the first luxury item you bought when you became a success?"
These days, regular people don't seem to dress up for Hollywood premieres, so no one mistakes the stars when they arrive in their fine clothes. They stand out like bright swans sailing behind their PR agents who, careful not to outshine their clients, have dressed in dumpy jeans and loose sweaters. The agents sidle up and whisper, "I have Miss X. Do you want her?"
"Oh yes," replies the reporter for the giddy magazine, and springs her Adrien Brody question.
Miss X, recognizing the public's deep need to balance the weighty and the trivial, finds the perfect reply. "Johnny Depp," she says without hesitation. "He's a mentor, and besides, he's gorgeous."
Later, up on the screen, people die in horrible ways and the survivors face poignant crises. Still, the Urban Man can't shake the Adrien Brody question. I can't forget that one actor is really a rap singer and I wonder if Mr. X will be paired with Miss Y in the mags. Important issues seem like mere product placement. And little by little, the trivial defeats the weighty in my imagination.
Perhaps it's no one's fault but the Urban Man's. I mean, the director had the most serious of intentions.
At the end of the film, one vet decides to re-enlist so he can re-join his buddies in a terrible war. Yes, he's unnaturally slim and handsome, but this time the script has failed to provide him with the necessary blend of tragedy and style. I wait for him to say something like, "The problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Unfortunately, he can't seem to strike just the right balance or find just the right words.
Copyright © 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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