If all Naked Hollywood did was make movie-industry stars and executives look like jerks, this five-part, British-made documentary wouldn’t be of much use. It’s easy to make fun of Hollywood types — they always seem to be taking escapism much too seriously.
But Naked Hollywood declines to take cheap shots. Early on in the series, director Joe Dante is interviewed, and at first, Dante seems like just another fatuous auteur. He is shown running a scene from his Gremlins 2: The New Batch on a video monitor and saying grimly, ”You have to fight for every frame.” But Naked Hollywood’s creator and producer, Nicolas Kent, keeps the camera on Dante as he breaks into a rueful grin and goes on to say, ”And if you have to fight for every frame of this” — nodding toward a TV screen filled with leering, babbling mechanical gremlins — ”what hope can you have of making serious films?”
That moment spent with Dante suggests the director’s irony and sense of humor, and throughout Kent’s effort to strip Hollywood naked, it is striking how many of the directors, actors, studio heads, screenwriters, and agents interviewed seem to be intelligent and clever, if frighteningly aggressive, people.
Clichés about sun-dried airheads evaporate; no one talks about ”doing” lunch; ruthlessness is the order of the day. ”A big-time agency’s job,” notes agent Jeremy Zimmer, ”is to rape and pillage on behalf of its clients.” Among other things, Naked Hollywood reminds us that Reagan-era philosophy is alive and well (just substitute ”big business” for ”big-time agency” in the quote above and you’ve got it).
Kent provides no narration and establishes his discreet style early on: He places his camera square in the face of his subject and lets that person explain, hype, or hang him- or herself. Despite the come-on of the show’s title, Naked Hollywood isn’t concerned with sex or scandal; it’s interested in letting us hear how the movie industry perceives itself. It’s less Hollywood Babylon than Hollywood Babble On…and on, and on — but in an enlightening, amusing way.
The series’ opening episode, ”The Actor and the Star,” contrasts the careers of James Caan (the ”actor” of the title) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (the ”star”). Kent’s point is banally obvious: He maintains that Caan has tried, for the most part, to do honorable, creative work that challenges both his acting skills and his audience and that Schwarzenegger has tried, almost without exception, to establish himself as a one-dimensional brand name who gives the public what it wants and nothing more. As a result, the moody, difficult Caan is shown to be a fringe figure in the industry (this was filmed before he had a hit with Misery), while the lovable, relentless Arnold is, as he calls himself, ”a supahstah.”
When Kent attempts to set up such dramatic contrasts, Naked Hollywood seems a bit condescending to both its subjects and its viewers. The director does it again in a later segment, ”One Foot In, One Foot Out,” which compares the expensive films of director Sydney Pollack — specifically, the recent bomb Havana — with the shoestring-budget movies made by John Sayles (Eight Men Out, The Brother From Another Planet). We’re supposed to come away thinking Sayles is more of a noble maverick than Pollack, but it doesn’t really work out that way — they both just seem like hardworking fellows who enjoy gabbing at great length about their jobs.
Fortunately, however, Kent doesn’t use this stilted good guy/bad guy structure very often. The series’ best moments are scenes that come out of nowhere, as when Tri-Star Studios script editor Stan Chervin, interviewed at home, suddenly lies down on his bed to demonstrate his ”four-pillow system of script reading.” Apparently, script editors have to read so many scripts, most of them awful, that Chervin has figured out a way to do it with maximum comfort and minimum movement. I think I might try adapting his method for viewing all future TV miniseries.
In Britain, Naked Hollywood was a six-part series with a segment that featured the producing team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, Days of Thunder). But Simpson and Bruckheimer were reportedly displeased by the episode, and Paramount Pictures effectively squelched it here by denying Kent the U.S. broadcast rights to clips from the duo’s films. Simpson and Bruckheimer needn’t have worried — Kent reserves his harshest judgment for the press. An appalling section of this week’s Naked Hollywood was filmed during a press junket for Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop. You will see an array of tough professional journalists herded into a dining room and forced to eat expensive food, ask the supahstah a series of fawning, puffball questions, and suck up to Schwarzenegger by asking after ”Maria” (Shriver, his TV-journalist wife) ”and the baby.”
This show should be mandatory viewing for newspaper and magazine editors all over the country. Here is what happens when you opt for soft features and allow public relations people to dictate your reporters’ access to a star: Naked Press Corps — eeeeek! B+