Forum mulls politics and Hollywood

Panels's gabfest looks at conservatives in the biz

The conservative movement’s status in Hollywood was the topic of Tuesday’s inaugural lunch of the Hollywood Forum, a speaking series designed to foster political discussion in Hollywood.

Before an audience of 50 people, many of them conservative, the spirited and occasionally acrimonious panel discussion provided a cross-section of the Republican Party in Hollywood, a group that appears as restless as ever just six months after President Bush was re-elected.

The event, organized by screenwriter, former Federal Emergency Management Agency worker and conservative activist Steve Finefrock, wasn’t particularly bipartisan.

Held in a dingy Wilshire Boulevard restaurant that panelist Larry Gelbart likened to a meeting place in the former Soviet bloc, the discussion was dominated by a range of familiar Republican bugbears — Michael Moore, Fidel Castro and the Hollywood blacklist among them.

On the right side of the panel were filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd and screenwriter Burt Prelutsky, who lamented the pervasiveness of left-wing politics in Hollywood.

Chetwynd, who offered a few critical words about the Republican majority on Capital Hill, complained, “Too many elements of the Republican Party and the conservative movement preferred to have Hollywood as a punching bag than as an ally.”

Chetwynd called Moore a “living lie,” but added, “I’m grateful to Michael Moore for what he did. He helped us.”

Gelbart, the only left-leaning panelist, suggested political divisions in the entertainment industry weren’t so easy to classify. “Hollywood is a ZIP code,” Gelbart said. “There are so many Hollywoods. Just look at this panel.”

Daily Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart noted that he voted for the GOP’s leading conservative Barry Goldwater four decades ago when the senator ran for president. While working at Paramount in the 1970s, Bart found himself shooting down a number of left-wing message movies — not because of their politics but because they were boring and uncommercial. But Bart criticized several Bush administration policies, calling the war in Iraq a “national tragedy.”

“There’s an important distinction between quiet conservatives like myself and what I call Taliban conservatives,” he said.

The religious tenor of American politics was a recurrent theme, and at one point, a brief shouting match arose over whether “The Passion of the Christ” was anti-Semitic.

“There’s almost a war against Christianity in this country, and it has to stop,” Chetwynd said to spontaneous applause.

Prelutsky added: “A more Christian America is a better America.”

Chetwynd and Prelutsky said politics continues to influence the allocation of work in Hollywood.

“If I were sitting here in the ’80s,” Chetwynd said, “I would give you a list of people who would not hire me because I’m a conservative. A big change (today) is that conservatives in Hollywood have reached critical mass.”

Chetwynd added, without offering any evidence, that among “young people coming to Hollywood, three to one are conservative.”

Bart and Gelbart said that politics has little influence over who gets jobs.

“The internationalization of the film industry has honed down the ideological quirks,” Bart said.

Gelbart groused about the “marketing research, global dumbing-down” of movies. “We are not freelance artists able to express ourselves as we used to be,” he said. “We work for Murdoch, Sony and people at companies we don’t even know. They’re not interested in improving or relieving the lives of our audience. They want sales. They want shock.”

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