Reel life

IN HOLLYWOOD, IF YOU SAY SOMETHING often enough, people will believe it. Everybody knows that Sarah Bernhardt was a great actress, that Hollywood was more glamorous in the ’30s, that the ’50s were the Golden Age of Television. And how do we know these things are true? Because everybody says so.

But there are people who are, by nature, perverse — those who are unconvinced that “Citizen Kane” is the best American movie ever made, who think David Letterman is overrated and Catherine O’Hara is underappreciated, and who wonder if Burt and Loni are really as happy as they seem at awards shows.

This column is for them: seven Hollywood truisms, followed by seven rebuttals.

But don’t listen to me, I’m a grumpy cynic who can’t be pleased. I know this is true. Everybody says so.

Colorizing: painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Calm down already. I’m not a fan of colorized movies, but when film preservation is such an issue, at least the colorizers are making new prints. People like to think they’re showing their integrity by bemoaning colorizing, but with TV’s panning and scanning, commercial interruptions, cutting pix for timeslots and cleaning up speech for networks, why make colorizing a whipping boy? (If you want to get worked up, how about digital compositing, in which computers can insert actors into works in which they were never meant to appear, like those Diet Coke ads with Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney — or in which actors could be digitally replaced if perceived as politically undesirable or simply unpopular.) But colorizing? Is anybody honestly concerned that the artistic integrity of the makers of “Wagon Train” and “McHale’s Navy” is being compromised?

The Academy must keep the short subject Oscars. Everyone keeps saying what a valuable training ground short subjects are for filmmakers, but who said Oscars should be given out for training? The Academy board is right to want to scratch the category: Short subjects are shown on cable, but not in theaters. Nobody’s saying people should stopmaking shorts, but maybe Emmys and CableACEs should take care of them. The AMPAS could instead give out Oscars for best coming attractions (“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” would get my vote) or for best credits (“Mr. Saturday Night” or “Final Analysis”).

Robin Williams — comic genius. Every comedian, it’s been said, has two basic jokes; Williams’ two are that he can do a lot of voices, and he can do them fast. It’s manic, it’s frantic, it’s even impressive in a Jerry Lewis sort of way, but is it funny? And if Williams is a comic genius, then what are people like Paula Poundstone, Rick Moranis, Tommy Davidson and Kevin Pollack, who are just as fast and arguably funnier?

Roseanne Arnold is the devil woman incarnate. Screeching out the national anthem, faxing out hate mail to critics, giving her husband a TV series, arguing on the air with Tom Snyder — to hear Hollywood talk, you’d think that no one has ever been more horrible. But in truth, everyone has many stories about other people that are a lot worse. She’s talented, as her series and HBO standup specials prove; the problem is that she’s upfront about being demanding, and makes no bones about being an outsider in Hollywood, and that makes people uncomfortable.

Films must be kicked off with a lavish premiere party. If it’s not a fund-raiser, cut the budget in half and then cut it in half again and give the balance to charity. The people who go to premieres are either there to schmooze or because they didn’t want to pay $ 7.50 to see your film. Why should you be expected to feed these freeloaders? Just put out some Ritz crackers and tell them to shut up.

That Tracy-Hepburn magic. Spencer Tracy was the worst thing that ever happened to Katharine Hepburn. If you want to see real male-female chemistry, check out her work with Cary Grant. In just about every movie Hepburn made with Tracy, he has a scene where he puts her in her place for being so spirited, and she smiles meekly and submits. In the ’30s, Hepburn showed a wild streak in her acting, and had a reputation as a private, independent woman, seeming to not care what anyone thought of her. Starting with her collaborations with Tracy, Hepburn takes on a sentimental, teary aspect that has finally overtaken her work and her life. Now she’s so eager to be loved, she’s writing her autobiography, plugging it on Phil Donahue’s show and narrating documentaries about herself.

There’s no business like show business. This is a phrase repeated by people who want to congratulate themselves for surviving in a business that’s full of massive egos, backstabbing, nepotism, sex, drugs and insecurity. But have you ever worked for an insurance company, a retail store or the government? It’s the same thing, except they don’t have Leeza Gibbons or Jeanne Wolf reporting on their goings-on.

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