Dear reader, excluding “XXX,” what was the last good piece of cinema you took in? Think back now — before the summer months. Discard all the disappointing Star Wars installments; toss aside those films that weren’t so much good as they were cool — “Spider-Man,” for instance. Or those films that you wanted to like more than you actually did, and so told everyone you knew how much you liked the film though you actually didn’t — think “Road to Perdition.” Inventory your ticket stubs. Tally your receipts. Dear reader, the last good movie you saw was 1993’s “Schindler’s List.” And even the last 20 minutes of that were pushing it.
For the four or five good films that come out each year, three of which are from Bolivia, there are literally hundreds of films that are so awful that your viewing of them becomes grounds for bragging: “Yeah, I totally saw ‘Summer Catch.’ It had its moments.” The only problem is, for all the congratulations you receive for making it through the 90-minute stomach virus that is “Halloween: Resurrection,” there will remain the question: “Why, exactly, did you pay $9 to see ‘Halloween: Resurrection?'”
It was my mom’s birthday– I was just making out with my girlfriend the whole time– It’s a prerequisite for the EP&E major.
This summer, to enrich my appreciation of the bad film industry, I traveled to Los Angeles (that’s California) to take an internship at a movie company in beautiful Santa Monica. Monica, for those who don’t know, was the patron saint of soft-core porn — the town’s main export.
So much effort goes into the making of a bad movie, I soon learned. From the development stages, in which bad scripts are read and revised — not to make them better, per se, just to make them bad in a more marketable way; to production, when the badness of the script is partnered with the badness of some bad young music video director trying to make his unwelcome leap into motion pictures, not to mention the cast of bad actors. When all the bad filming is complete, it’s time to poorly edit the pieces of poop that have made it out of production, piecing them together crudely into what will soon be a monstrosity of a picture that will recoup its mere $30,000,000 budget in the first weekend of release.
To its benefit, Hollywood didn’t teach me anything about moviemaking that I didn’t already know. You want to know the big secret? It’s all about money! That’s right, the secret’s out! Stop the presses, print the headline: “Men in Black 2 — NOT ART.”
When I wasn’t buying cigarettes for those more important than I, my days in Hollywood were spent reading screenplays for films that will rightfully never be made. Try to imagine all the insultingly stupid movies that come out every weekend across the country. Now, try to imagine all the scripts so terrible that no one will even pay for them to be made into insultingly stupid movies. These are SO horrid, in fact, that producers won’t even read them, and so pass the responsibility on to some unpaid intern, who must suffer with a smile through 120 pages of drivel.
The man who produced “Swimfan” actually once read a script that he put down and said: “Whoa. This does not meet my standards.” Yeah, I read that script too. It had its moments.
For those of you who have never visited soul-searing Los Angeles County, it might surprise you to know that it is actually law that, when in Los Angeles, you must write at least one film script. Failure to do so will result in having nothing to talk about at parties. Not being one to break any law ever, I did undertake a screenplay of my own — the story of a young newspaper columnist and the women who loathed him. I called it: “Lethal Weapon 2.”
If my internship taught me anything as an amateur writer, it was through negative reinforcement. I knew EXACTLY what I did not want to write: no imaginary friends, no werewolves, no quirky aliens. For a while, my pen flowed with ease. In comparison to the schlock I had digested over the summer months, my script was on solid ground. Hell, it wasn’t half bad. At most, it was one-third bad. Four-elevenths, tops.
My streak was short-lived, though, as I made the mistake of picking up a novel I had long planned to read, Nabokov’s “Lolita.” It soon dawned upon me that no matter what I wrote, ever — no matter what art I made, no matter what I tried humbly contributing to this world — what I was capable of would NEVER approach this book. Never in my wildest literary dreams could I make anything of the succinct verbal beauty that “Lolita” sustains for 250 pages. Never could I manipulate the English language as well as Nabokov– Wait, what’s that? He’s RUSSIAN?! English isn’t even his native language?! Oh THAT’S JUST GREAT!
At best, I can hope in my life as a writer to benefit from the Salieri complex: Perhaps one of the people who writes in my lifetime will be so good, that someday far in the future, I will be considered a “contemporary.” My work will be used as grounds for comparison with theirs, only to show students exactly how good that artist’s output was, how advanced, relative to the status quo (me) at the time. At most, I can strive to be the Marlowe to someone’s Shakespeare. The Michael Dudikoff to someone’s Dolph Lundgren. Don’t know who Michael Dudikoff is? Exactly.
In this way, I am endlessly grateful that I attend Yale: the breeding ground for tomorrow’s great minds, or so the admissions brochure tells us. I can take comfort in the hope that one of my friends will be first important artist of the 21st century. I can hitch my name to a star and compliment them all the way to the top, the Ben Affleck to their Matt Damon, the Chong to their Cheech. If I learned anything this summer in Hollywood, it’s that it’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know. So don’t mind me if I won’t shut up about how much I admired your insightful comments today in section. I’m just networking.
Greg Yolen is a junior in Pierson College. He’s currently hitching a ride to the top on Natalie Krinsky’s peacoat-tails. Check out the article about her in the front section of today’s New York Times.