A whole new ballgame for thesps

A new ecumenical spirit seems to be penetrating the ranks of the quarrelsome Hollywood guilds.

Alan Rosenberg, the newly elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, has been meeting with Patric Verrone, the new president of the Writers Guild. There has even been communion with the dreaded Donald Fehr, who heads the Major League Baseball Players Assn. Hollywood’s artists have an apparent desire to find out how Fehr gained his chokehold on the baseball owners.

To be sure, there are some important distinctions between ball players and their Hollywood brethren. The players are rich blue-collar guys who are all working. Hollywood guild members see themselves as artists, most of whom are not working. Indeed, baseball players have more in common with the Directors Guild, whose members are not only working but are also vaguely disdainful of their co-workers in other guilds.

Then there’s the question of management. Donald Fehr negotiates with an amalgam of whacked-out billionaires and rich men’s sons. The Hollywood guilds go up against ferocious multinational corporations like News Corp. and Viacom. George Steinbrenner wants to win ballgames; the media conglomerates like to break balls, especially when the issue comes down to DVD revenues. To the congloms, DVD no longer represents limitless growth, but it’s still the difference between profit and loss. And there’s no other profit propellant on the horizon.

So while the guilds may achieve team harmony, they’ll still find it difficult hitting a home run in their quest for enhanced contracts. And no one — especially the working actors and writers — wants to see a season of unemployment.

‘Capote’ conundrum

The kudos season has barely dawned, but one can already hear the critics’ groups demanding, “How can you not give it up to Philip Seymour Hoffman?”

Hoffman delivers a memorable performance in “Capote,” but that is mainly what the movie is about — Hoffman’s performance.

“Capote” represents a classic example of the distinction between a critics’ picture and an audience picture. The movie is a riveting portrait of a writer at work. The trouble is it’s not very entertaining to watch a writer at work and, further, Truman Capote is depicted (correctly) as a rather distasteful character. Hoffman has his shtick down perfectly — a discomfiting mixture of soaring talent and devious egocentricity.

The mandates that confront commercial filmmakers are ignored in “Capote.” Dramatic tension? The only tension here is: Will Capote ever deliver his book to the ever-patient William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker.

So we watch him talk and type and become increasingly caught up in the saga of his protagonist, who is a murderer. Hoffman performs these scenes brilliantly, insofar as typing and talking can be stirringly performed.

The critics ate it all up and, thus far, audiences have been paying to see the film in its modest release. I hope they continue to do so. But I don’t know whether many filmgoers will lose sleep worrying whether Capote will finish his book; we all know “In Cold Blood” not only was completed, but was also a seminal book of its genre. Indeed, it created a new genre.

I had a personal reason to stay tuned, however. I once worked for a studio that paid Capote a great deal of money to write a screenplay of “The Great Gatsby.” Since Capote was very slow (and very drunk), there was considerable tension over whether he would ever deliver the script.

He did — and he didn’t. What appeared under his name was a retyping of sections of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. When we had a drink together and I asked him why he’d simply typed the novel rather than create a movie, Capote explained that he couldn’t improve on Fitzgerald’s writing, so he decided not to try.

I didn’t pay him for the script, but I appreciated his candor. His delivery would have made Philip Seymour Hoffman proud.

Closing the Doors

The pages of Variety are steeped in stories about product placement and other forms of furtive product plugging. Thus it seems appropriate to enshrine the words of a dissident voice — an unexpected one, at that.

John Densmore was the drummer for the Doors. It was his vote that shot down plans to use songs like “Light My Fire” or “People Are Strange” in TV commercials. Yes, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones rolled over, but the Doors’ aging drummer said, “No.”

His reasoning, reported in the Los Angeles Times, reads like the lyric of a new hit song: “People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music. Kids died in Vietnam listening to this music … On stage when we played these songs, people felt mysterious and magic. That’s not for rent.”

It was a deodorant that wanted to use “Light My Fire,” Densmore said. His decision casts off a refreshing aroma.

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