Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Old people = dead people

From Hollywood's point of view, it seems. I say this because "Phil Spector," the best movie I've watched so far this year, couldn't get released there; it's currently playing on HBO.

The movie depicts preparation for a 2007 trial in which Spector was arraigned for the murder of would-be actress Lana Clarkson, who died in his home. Al Pacino gives his best performance in years as the reclusive record producer; Helen Mirren matches him as the sympathetic attorney trying to put the best public face on her famously eccentric client.

Hollywood would have been scared off by the sympathetic take on a man who's now serving a sentence of 19 years to life for second-degree murder, by the talkiness of the drama, by the fact that the main male character stopped being famous around the time Jimmy Carter was president.

But what REALLY would have put people off is old age. Spector is 67 when we see him in the film; Pacino, who wears a series of outrageous wigs, is 72. In fact, everyone involved in a significant way in the production is over 60: co-stars Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor, producer Michael Hausman, executive producer Barry Levinson and writer-director David Mamet.

In Hollywood, two kinds of people are allowed to be stars past 60: ageless women who have been canonized (Meryl Streep, maybe Judi Dench) or perennially juvenile men, who play with guns to show their undiminished testosterone levels (Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger). Older actors are allowed to be supporting characters or co-leads, such as Harrison Ford in the upcoming "42." But a picture entirely about older people -- say, the well-liked "Quartet" -- has to be cheaply made and gets a limited release.

This process fits in with the prevailing attitude in the United States: Eternal youth is not only achievable but desirable. This has countless drawbacks and no advantages, except for plastic surgeons. In Hollywood, it leads to the Botoxing and face-carving of actresses once as fiercely independent as Jane Fonda or Jessica Lange and the marginalization of people who simply want to grow old while looking like ordinary human beings. The mad desire to remain forever young has made America forever childish.


Anonymous said...

You forgot Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood.

Lawrence Toppman said...

I don't think this was as true when Bronson was alive; Hollywood wasn't as age-focused then. Eastwood is kind of a unique case: He still gets roles, but people generally come to see him when he's shooting people ("Gran Torino") and ignore him otherwise ("Trouble With the Curve").

Anonymous said...

Hard to believe Pacino is 72-years-old, isn't it?

About the only thing that doesn't work for me in the film is Helen Mirren's blond hair. She's still a beautiful woman, but it's as if she's trying to be as creepy as Spector was with his wigs and other assorted weirdness.

I'm not sure it's a case of Hollywood not wanting to make the film. Maybe HBO beat them to the rights, who knows? Or maybe it's an original HBO project? Despite HBO's ultra-lame feature film selection they offer viewers, they do come up with some killer films and series on their own. And they've apparently got the funding to pay top-shelf actors to be in them...not just in this film, but in others...not to mention some of their series.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Toppman, Your last paragraph says precisely what I have been thinking and feeling for some time.
As a 57 year old woman, I experience this marginalization frequently. However, I'm comfortable with myself and not chasing an unattainable fountain of youth. It's sad to watch 20 somethings resorting to Botox and various cosmetic procedures to attain perfection. What will they do when they reach middle age?

Lawrence Toppman said...

For the anonymous poster at 3:05:

HBO may indeed have gotten the rights quickly, but my point is that no one in Hollywood would have WANTED those rights: To the kinds of people who can afford to pay Pacino or Mirren (not small indie filmmakers), this movie would seem like a dead weight.