In case you missed it, HBO and Variety chummed together to give us a bombastic, explosive celebration of film-making in the form of Boffo! Tinseltown’s Bombs and Blockbusters, the cinematic equivalent of a 75-minute commercial for the sentiment, “Aren’t movies cool?”. Yeah, sure, perhaps I should have been a tad, say, forewarned when the title of anything is, well, Boffo!, but the commercials were like walking down the aisle of a 7-11 when you’re really hungry. Suddenly, licorice looks like a viable meal substitute. Yet, unlike that time-honored haven of midnight bingeing, Boffo! does not offer the low-grade nutrition of either a shriveled hot dog or even a tube of Pringles.
Opening up with grandiose music, they pull no punches. Fast-flying clips of Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, and various other classics that “they don’t make anymore” are spliced together to create awe and grandeur. HBO does this better than anyone else. I can’t count the number of times that I have been surfing between their eleven channels for a hook. (You know, the opening scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid so that two hours later I have a reasonable excuse for “what I did last night.” During which I see one of their montages for all their envelope-pushing series with, say, Coldplay in the background and start re-assessing whether I actually do hate Entourage or not.) In the end you wonder how Beethoven can be playing on so many different channels, and One Fine Day starts to look better and better.
In the end, if you DID miss Boffo!, have no fear. If you have HBO it’ll be staggered on and off so many times in the coming month you’ll probably see it in its entirety by complete accident. (Right after trying to second guess your all-too-quick assesment of Weekend at Bernie’s 2...the animated opening credits are a dead giveaway...pardon the pun.)
Then, suddenly, miraculously, we have George Clooney. “George” George of Syriana...George of Good Night and Good Luck. George who aced the Oscars with a sardonic and endearing speech that ‘saved’ the ceremony from mediocrity. Certainly, George will have something of wit or interest to say about the nature of that elusive craft of filmaking. Uh-oh. Why does George look slightly annoyed? Oh no. Why is George regurgitating EVERYTHING he has EVER said in every interview? AND, why does it look like it?
Forgive me here, I am unsure who said this (I may be making this up, even...), but it seems once an actor gets famous the most difficult role they will ever play after that is themselves and pretending to get excited about it. Unfortunately for Boffo! the filmakers -- documentarians...uh, advertisers? -- either didn’t ask the right questions or just chose to ignore any answers that went beyond cliché. A round-up of “some of your favorite people” talking in snippets about the nature of risk in making movies includes Charlize Theron, Morgan Freeman, Stephen Spielberg, Jody Foster, Danny DeVito! (Pardon the last exclamation point...) Included here (spoiler alert) are some of the nuggets of wisdom Boffo! has to offer after years of industry insider hits, misses, and personal losses:
- Making a good movie is hard.
- There are no rules.
- You have to take risks.
- The line between success and failure is razor thin.
- The studio spends a lot of money on movies. They want to make that money back AND...(wait for it)...even MORE
The latter reference is to the documentary, A Decade under the Influence, started by the late Ted Demme and brought to fruition by a gang of like-minded peers and friends (including writer Richard LaGravenese and Denis Leary) about what many consider the true Golden Age of movie-making, the 70s. Here Paul Schrader, Coppolla, Julie Christie, Peter Bogdonovich (also on Boffo!), etc. go on at length about the true nature of defying odds, conventions, and current standards to break through to something true, ambiguous, and daring. It’s long, complex, and thorough...everything Boffo! seems to be afraid of.
Surviving the "Spectacle of the Soundbite" (yes, another title option...), to no surprise, are Morgan Freeman and Richard Dreyfus. Their answers to flash-n-cut self-awe are completely different. Freeman is simply silent and of few words. He almost defies you to cut away. When asked about Bonfire of the Vanities and whether he was surprised it failed he simply shakes his head slowly. Asked if he knew while shooting if there were problems, he slowly nods. Why did it happen? After a moment of contemplation he says dryly, “You know...they say, when a plane crashes...it’s generally not one thing...but a series of events.” Nuff said.
Dreyfus, in contradiction, is very animated in his enacting of his tried-n-true Jaws routines. Yet, when that runs through he begins a more profound point about the nature of storytelling. Something he feels is lacking in the current studio mindset as a priority. Then, he lets slip the one thing that made me realize how this bonanza of self-evidence came into being. He says, “...and THAT’S why people aren’t going to movies.”
Ahh, there it is. The movie industry is in a shake-up period. Home theaters, DVDs, video on demand, Netflix, video games, and iPods have sent a shock wave through Hollywood. People aren’t going to movies in the theaters as much anymore. The Oscars ceremony was practically a sermon to its viewers, chastising them almost with montage after montage of “The importance of watching movies.” Hey, there’s Brando in On the Waterfront...hey, Brando again in The Godfather (sorry, axe to grind about their indifference to his passing the previous year at the ceremony). Even DeVito in Boffo! refers to the movies as a “temple,” a place of worship. I don’t know about you, but if Death To Smoochy is the sermon, I’m an atheist.
The irony of all this self-important talk of “you need us” and “the story is the thing” is that Boffo! lacks exactly that. As I kept waking up and rewinding the DVR to the last cliché, in the end, I was left with the feeling of people saying, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” These were the last sentiments Laurence Olivier passed on to Dustin Hoffman during a night out while shooting the film Marathon Man (a moment of silence, please) when queried on why he ‘does it’ on a recent episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio. Honest. Ironic. A two-hour segment that summed up with passion, humor, and clarity all the insanity, accidents, and inspiration the medium can offer. That’s what the industry needs more than anything. Not a commercial on HBO where the stars are allowed to swear. (Just be careful...the episode after Hoffman's is apparently the œuvre of Rosie O’Donnell.) Man, are we in bad shape.