Thursday, December 20, 2007

TV Double Feature: Fame Sucks

Yesterday I caught the final season episode of Ricky Gervais' Extras on HBO. It was brutal.
It was also funny. But it was cruel and brutal and terrible. It was depressing and sad and true and appalling (and very well written). Andy Millman finally is famous doing an extraordinarily stupid sitcom and he becomes a monster of vanity and selfishness and obsession with celebrity. Dark, dark, dark. His pal Maggie, the wonderful Ashley Jensen, just goes through such a rough time, it made me cry. The cast is wonderful. Gervais is a brilliant comic and actor. This is not comedy with an edge, it's comedy with a serrated knife twisting in your gut.

Then I saw another story about the price of fame, "A Star is Born" (William Wellman, 1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. I had never seen it before and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dorothy Parker is credited as one of the writers, and I'd like to believe that many of the really smart zingers in this film came from her pen. The film is pretty funny until it gets melodramatic and schmaltzy, but the performances by the two stars are gorgeous. There is more sexiness and smartness in this movie than in any of the vulgar crap we see today. However, the movie is some sort of fantasy where a small town girl goes to Hollywood and doesn't even bother taking acting lessons or having a job and she is discovered by a famous drunken movie star on his way down. Fifteen minutes later she is winning her first Oscar. AS IF. Still, the movie condenses pretty briskly the bitter price of fame. And except for a very schmaltzy turn at the end, (she will sacrifice her career so he can come back from the brink, with a twist), it's pretty hard edged.
I am now officially in love with Fredric March. Problem is, he is dead. He is so damn SEXY in this movie. What a fantastic actor. Very nuanced, not a ham. Super charming. Bring him back!!!!
I found these two nice quotes from him:

"Stardom is just an uneasy seat on top of a tricky toboggan. Being a star is merely perching at the head of the downgrade. A competent featured player can last a lifetime. A star, a year or two. There's all that agony of finding suitable stories, keeping in character, maintaining illusion. Then the undignified position of hanging on while your popularity is declining."

"I have earnestly endeavored to perform my own share without fuss or temperament. An actor has no more right to be temperamental than a bank clerk. Possibly a very sane bringing up as a child has helped me to retain my sense of proportion in these matters."

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