2017 started poorly for the entertainment industry. An unprecedented screwup during the Academy Awards led to the wrong film being named Best Picture. That was bad enough, but the film that was robbed wasn’t just any movie, it was the gay black drug dealers in love movie, and come on—how many of those do you get per year? This was the Academy’s chance to redeem itself for the fact that in 2006 Brokeback Mountain lost to an excremental film about Los Angeles written by a Canadian who visited once and declared himself an expert. But because of a dim-witted PricewaterhouseCoopers exec and his wandering eye, not only were the makers of “Brokecrack” Mountain cheated out of their moment, but two Hollywood “legends,” Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, were humiliated on stage (a fate they probably deserved, as Beatty’s never met a skirt he didn’t chase, and Dunaway’s diva antics are well-documented). Still, one couldn’t help but cringe.
It was a terrible way to start the year, and things would only get worse. Here we are, a week from Christmas, and the town is in its worst shape ever. The list of power players taken out by sexual-misconduct accusations is too long to recite, and more bodies fall every day. Some of the most popular streaming TV shows have lost their leads, and poor old Ridley Scott was forced to reshoot one-third of a completed film in order to cleanse the taint of a disgraced star (imagine if he’d put that much effort into the Alien prequels). In terms of the bottom line, Variety has officially dubbed 2017 “the movie business’ summer of hell,” noting financial losses “all along the food chain—from the studios that make the films to the companies that bring them to consumers.”
And that was written before Justice League became the year’s biggest box office disappointment.
One could argue that Hollywood’s karma bill has come due, that a foul town is finally reaping the rewards of its putridity. And I gotta say, as someone who’s lived and worked here his entire life, the town is undeniably rank. People who criticize Hollywood for its political bias miss the point. This is a business that tends to attract bad people. I can assure you that during my five years with Friends of Abe, the “secret” organization of Hollywood Republicans, I found the percentage of a-holes to be the same as in the business in general. Political bias is but one sore on Tinseltown’s bubonic body. This is one of the reasons Hollywood is so difficult to parody. With so many faults to point out, where does a satirist start? One will occasionally find a satire of “the biz” that really hits the mark, like Robert Altman’s The Player. But more often than not the parodies are either too heavy-handed (1994’s Swimming With Sharks), too gentle (2002’s New Suit), or just inept (1997’s Hijacking Hollywood).
A good Hollywood parody is hard to find, which is why I was very happy to catch the “mockumentary” And the Winner Isn’t last week. This is a film that gets it right, almost certainly because the movie was co-produced by and stars a man who grew up as an insider in this town. Geoffrey Moore is the son of Sir Roger Moore, the iconic actor best known for portraying James Bond. The premise of And the Winner Isn’t is that the younger Moore, who has taken over his late father’s real-life role as goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, is attempting to assemble a “We Are the World”-style star-studded chorus of celebrities to mouth a song he’s written for the organization, while—at the same time—filming his attempts in the hope of being able to get his song nominated for an Oscar (in order to qualify for a nomination, a song must be featured in a motion picture that is released theatrically).
The film, which had a limited-engagement screening in L.A. last week, works well, mainly because it mines its comedy from the minutiae, the scut work that the people who are not Harvey Weinstein have to do in order to actually accomplish anything out here. It’s never 100% clear to what extent Moore is sincere, and to what extent he’s having us on. In the end, he gets his “We Are the World” montage, as a collection of A-listers like J.J. Abrams and Liam Neeson, B-listers like Paris Hilton and Jeff Fahey, and others, like my old friend Ed Asner, belt out his feel-good song. It’s a fun conclusion to a fun film. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the reason And the Winner Isn’t resonated with me as an effective satire is due only in part to the skill of the filmmakers. There was another factor, one that is unique to my own experiences in the business.
And here’s where we reach the limits of parody. Because the makers of And the Winner Isn’t almost certainly didn’t know this, but in real life, Hollywood has already produced something that is far more ridiculous than Geoffrey Moore’s fictional endeavors. As good as his film is at mocking Tinseltown, Tinseltown still manages to be more ludicrous on its own. In other words, Hollywood satire can never beat Hollywood reality when it comes to being laughable.
Ever hear of World Peace One? Of course you haven’t. That honor is reserved for people like me who are—or were (back in my David Stein days)—known around town as “rainmakers,” people with a knack for ferreting out money for needy projects. World Peace One was without question one of the finest scams I’d ever encountered. The “hook” was this: We’ve had a World War One, and a World War Two…it’s now time for World Peace One (get it? See what they did there?). It was to be a global “peace” concert in every time zone during one magnificent 24-hour period. There would be a show in every major city, from L.A. and New York to London, Paris, Moscow, and Beijing, and simply everyone in the music business would take part.
World Peace One was brought to my attention in 2006 by an odd character named Fysche (real name: Veronica Grey), a “published” “author” who gives herself credit for having invented the fact that internet trolls sometimes write “the” as “teh.” Fysche, who I’d known since she was a teenager, wanted to see if I was interested in investing in the project (or finding others to invest). The “concert” was being organized by a fellow I had never heard of—Douglas Ivanovich, who was supposedly the brains behind previous big-ticket charity events like Live Aid and Farm Aid. There was a World Peace One website where “merch” was sold and “donations” accepted, and where visitors could view a running tally of the artists who had agreed to perform (pretty much every A-lister in the music biz), and it was all supposed to go down in August 2007 (“STAY TUNED ON AUGUST 11, 2007, FOR THE WORLD EVENT OF ALL TIMES,” the site blared). Lastly, there was a music video the organizers had cobbled together, featuring stock footage of people of all races wearing suits and high-fiving to images of Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.
The thing about most Hollywood scams is that they’re a bit more nuanced than the average street con. People in this business practice the “stone soup” school of con artistry. “Stone soup” is the old folktale in which two vagrants enter a village where nobody will give them food. To trick the townspeople, they find a small rock and begin boiling it in a pot. This, of course, attracts the attention of the locals, who are told that “stone soup” is a great delicacy, but no one can have any unless they bring something to the pot. Soon enough, every villager has brought an ingredient—meat, vegetables, seasoning—and, indeed, a fine soup results. That’s how the average Hollywood scam works. You take an idea and some fancy talk, and you fill your pot with what the suckers bring you.