BBC Documentary Tries To Puncture Hollywood's Hype

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

OFFICIALLY described as "shocking" and clearly designed as an expose of Hollywood, "where cutthroat business tactics and backstabbing practices have reached Faustian proportions," the BBC's "Naked Hollywood" series goes on the air on the Arts & Entertainment cable network on Sunday, July 28.It is a five-part series of hour-long documentaries, produced by Nicolas Kent and directed by Margy Kinmonth and Alan Lewens. The first program, entitled "The Actor and the Star," contrasts the careers and the charisma of actor James Caan and superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger. Scheduled for subsequent Sundays are "Eighteen Months to Live" (Aug. 4), about the nervous existence of top studio production executives; "Four Million is Cheap" (Aug. 11), about manipulative Hollywood agents; "Funny For Money" (Aug. 18), which deals with screen writers, and "One Foot In, One Foot Out" (Aug. 25), which examines the lot of the movie directors. According to Mr. Kent, it took two years to obtain access to the key Hollywood figures interviewed in the documentaries. The format is unusual in that there is no narrator. The camera focuses on people, events, and clips, and lets them speak for themselves, though there is a determined attempt to introduce symbolism. Slow-motion footage is abundantly used. In the episode dealing with the studio production chiefs, the mood is set by a long-distance runner who, in the end collapses on the ground. Whoever came up with the title "Naked Hollywood" deserves a bonus. It promises sensationalism but hardly delivers it. Based on a preview of the first two episodes, it is difficult to comprehend what is particularly shocking or revealing about "Naked Hollywood." Quoted in a British publication, Kent said he found Hollywood "a company town where the bottom line is making money." There is nothing either dishonorable or particularly new or surprising about that. In fact, had "Naked Hollywood" covered the '30s or '40s, it might have discovered a lot more substance, excitement - and real "dirt." As is, Kent delivers a kind of visual primer about moviemaking, marketing, and the studio system. It's pretty tame stuff compared with some recent books about behind-the-sce nes Hollywood. The first episode, "The Actor and the Star," essentially traces the career of Schwarzenegger, from his physical fitness/pumping iron days to his movie debut, the huge success of "Total Recall,Kindergarten Cop," and his new "Terminator 2." Schwarzenegger seems like a likable fellow, self-effacing, personally playing the publicity game with enthusiasm, and thoroughly aware that his rise to international stardom has been due to a subservient press and eager publicists working overtime to manufacture a star image. The footage is sprinkled with comments from journalists and movie executives who come up with quotes such as "it's indefinable what makes a star." Not exactly "explosive" stuff. Curiously, not much is made of the fact that publicists threatened those who might focus on the report that Schwarzenegger's father was an Austrian Nazi, though the program does find significance in Schwarzenegger's support for President Bush and the Republican Party. Mr. Caan, who, as a personality, appears to be exactly the opposite of the extroverted Schwarzenegger, is given a chance to speak extensively about being an actor, about his desire for privacy, and his poor judgment in picking scripts. Why Kent chose Schwarzenegger and Caan, and totally ignored female actresses and stars, is never explained, though the omission is glaring. The second segment, "Eighteen Months to Live," makes the point that being a movie producer isn't much fun and isn't right for those looking for job security. Former studio production head Dawn Steel asks: "How long can you live on the edge of the precipice?" There are clips of Darryl F. Zanuck and others, but they hardly illustrate anything very sensational. In fact, Kent missed the rich vein of material dealing with the scandalous studio politics of yesteryear. The "Naked Hollywood" series originally consisted of six episodes, but because of Hollywood pressure, US audiences will see only five of them. The sixth program Good Cop, Bad Cop" - dealing with producers, centered around two prominent movie makers, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. They didn't like their ultimate "image" in the segment, nor did they care for the negative comments by film critics. So they asked Paramount Pictures not to supply the BBC with clips from their films, "Top Gun" and "Days of Thunder." Paramount complied, and the whole hour was pulled. "Naked Hollywood" tries hard to look below the surface of moviemaking today. It doesn't deliver what it promises, but it does provide glimpses of a peculiar culture that seems to function in geographical isolation. It is worth watching simply to understand what makes a lot of these people tick, but it could have been a lot more provocative and perceptive.

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