Sunday, August 24, 2008

Movies about Movies: The Player

This is part of the Goat Dog "Movies about movies blogathon", check it out at: Goat Dog Blogathon The Player is my favorite Robert Altman film, even surpassing the superb western McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Tim Robbins portrays a film producer looking for that "next major project", who, through an anonymous blackmailer, become involved in a mystery, and his character degenerates into one who may actually stop at nothing to protect his ego and his wallet, and perhaps find love as well; with the always delectable Greta Scacchi in his sights, who could blame him? The mystery begins when he gets the first in a series of threatening postcards, presumably from a writer that Robbins shined on rather than listen to him pitch his script. As the postcards continue, the plot becomes a twisty puzzle, involving blackmail, murder, infidelity, paranoia, guilt - all the games that make Hollywood tick, inside and outside of the films themselves. The film within the film is going to be "a different kind of Hollywood blockbuster, one without stars", as the writers proudly proclaim, and eventually includes both Oscar winners and a perfect parody of Hollywood film endings. The Player is not only peppered with movie references, it begins with an extremely long tracking shot where various studio people discuss everything from classic films to potential projects to the longest tracking shots in film history. An important plot element involves mistaken identity, a favorite Hitchcock device. The circular references don't stop there: the guest list of cameo acting appearances includes something on the magnitude of 16 Oscar winners; the dvd actually includes a special feature allowing the viewer to click any celebrity and bring up that person's scene in the film, even if they're just in the background or walking by. The fact that we may not ultimately care about the fate of these characters is a perfect mirror for an industry that doesn't care about the fate of the characters (or the audience) either, just the amount of revenue that the project may eventually attract. The only really sympathetic character drawn by Altman is perhaps Cynthia Stevenson, in probably her best performance, playing Tim Robbins' studio subordinate and girlfriend, who is apparently more attracted by his power than his less-than-winning personality or commitment. The Player is a perfect modern complement to Sunset Boulevard, as each presents the cynical and parasitic side of Hollywood and its shallow, self-centered denizens. This had to be the most fun Altman had making any movie, sticking the satirical dagger into his own industry, and it's certainly a treat for film fans as we are left to solve the mystery along with the main character. We are all made players in this particular game of Altman's. Other classic films about films include Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and the Beautiful, Singin' in the Rain, The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Day for Night (a French pastry), Fellini's "8 1/2" and the best film about a play, best picture winner All About Eve. Special mention must be made of my favorite Italian film: Cinema Paradiso is a wonderful tribute to the effect of movies on ordinary lives.

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