Culture Notes


Issue: "Beijing Marches On," March 15, 1997

Recycling is catching on

With the Star Wars trilogy blowing apart box office records--for movies 20 years old that much of the audience has already seen on video a dozen times--Hollywood is discovering the potential of recycling. Even music has gone retro. In last month's Grammy Awards, the record of the year was Change the World by '60s guitarist Eric Clapton. The two best video awards went to the Beatles. Natalie Cole won another award for another duet with tapes of her late father, Nat King Cole. Prominent winners in a wide range of categories were tribute albums to such luminaries of the past as the recently departed blue-grass legend Bill Monroe, the late blues artist Stevie Ray Vaughn, the late reggae master Bob Marley, and gospel star Andrae Crouch. Andy Griffith actually won the Country Gospel category. Back to the silver screen: The Godfather will soon be re-released on its 25th anniversary, and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind is coming again in September. Now that John Travolta is big again, Hollywood moguls are considering re-runs of Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Re-releases are nothing new. Gone with the Wind and Dr. Zhivago come back to the big screen periodically, and Disney has made a practice of re-releasing its cartoon classics for each new generation of youngsters. What is different is that the new old movies are being updated, using new technology to add special effects, adding footage that had been edited out of the original, and even shooting new scenes in accord with contemporary tastes. For example, moviemakers say they can make Saturday Night Fever "hotter"--presumably by adding more sex. In 1977, the disco saga was considered risque, but it would be mild by today's standards. The lesson, however, is that watching old movies makes one realize how far Hollywood has fallen. One reason Star Wars is blowing away the competition of newly released movies is that its old-fashioned narrative is so refreshing--a straight-ahead plot, a clear-cut theme of good vs. evil with no attempt to make the good characters bad or the bad characters good, and none of the labored, self-conscious irony that has become a tiresome feature of postmodern genre films. What might happen if Cary Grant, John Wayne, and Alfred Hitchcock were returned to the big screen? It would be a healthy development if today's Hollywood is forced to compete with its past.

Unsuitable even for Tinseltown?

The People vs. Larry Flynt, a noxious movie about a noxious pornographer (see WORLD, Feb. 1, 1997), was an early favorite to score big at the Oscars, after five nominations for the Golden Globe, including best picture. But it received only two Academy Award nominations, for director Milos Forman and actor Woody Harrelson. Instrumental in this relative snub was a full-page ad in the trade publication Variety, paid for by a group of Hollywood women who remained anonymous to protect their careers. The ad reprinted an op-ed piece in The New York Times by feminist Gloria Steinem, who pointed out how the film white-washed Mr. Flynt and failed to show that he made his fortune with Hustler magazine's "images of women being beaten, tortured, and raped, women subject to degradations from bestiality to sexual slavery." Not to mention the magazine's cartoon series "Chester the Molester" and allegations against Mr. Flynt of pedophilia and incest. The American Civil Liberties Union--which gave Mr. Forman its 1997 Torch of Liberty Award for making the film--responded with an ad of its own, but Mr. Flynt is making even Hollywood feel queasy.

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