Say Goodbye To Hollywood

published in Third Degree No.1, Sydney, 1984
Scritti Politti - Absolute (1984)

Many a modern wit made cracks about how the 1984 Olympic ceremonies were more directed by Hollywood than they were staged in Los Angeles. Even Channel 10 (in its typically dumb and uncaring style) advertised the opening ceremony as "Only how Hollywood can do it". These kind of statements get the 3 P Award (painful, pitiful and pathetic) for their shallow concepts of what Hollywood was and/or is. The Hollywood of 'today' lying somewhere between the emotionalism of Spielberg, the power of Prince, and the banality of Mel Gibson would never stage a non event like the Olympic closing ceremony of 1984. To say that Hollywood produced such a spectacular facade is having a frightful amount of belief in all the equally shallow tracts and diatribes that have worked to tarnish the glossy image that Hollywood has been polishing for itself for over 70 years now. The place of Hollywood today is certainly a strange one, as Entertainment This Week presents a parade of 'real' people ("I don't like make up"; "I'm into social issues"; "I've got to be me"; etc.) while the movie industry (be it Spielberg or Coppola) continues to search for that elusive photographic equivalent of early Disney featurettes. It forms a love/hate current that carries the paradox of audiences that detest manipulation but love to be seduced. The closing ceremony of the Olympics was trash: blame it on Hollywood. And if it had ended up being a wondrous experience, I'm sure that we all would have been amazed at how 'Los Angeles' was able to present an event as well as Moscow.

Hollywood has definitely engineered and maintained a place for itself in history as an 'effector apparatus' cable of seducing society at large through both its mechanics and its effects. Far from biding its processes with products, each have garnished the one experience. The slow back tracking shot in Anna Karina is just as effectively seductive a figure as the theatrical sweat on Richard Gere's body in Breathless. Hollywood (as a concept) never 'fools' people. That is left to the Herzogs of the world. For us to now celebrate Hollywood as being re born or rediscovered is to misunderstand the ways in which Hollywood has always worked. For us to see Coppola's Rumblefish as stylized and openly artificial is to implicate ourselves as reading Midnight Express as real, either comparatively or essentially.

Just as the cute little baby turns into a smart arse brat before long, what we once called 'texts' have now learnt to speak by and for themselves without our analytic devices. Hollywood mimics itself mercilessly and endlessly to such an extent that centering on the 'real' in film (as a film maker or a film goer) is for now a totally futile activity, whereas once before it might have only been partially futile. This Hollywood of Today is as much a force in rock culture as it is in film culture (and all the space of Pop in between). Rock and Pop music has been exorcising itself of the real for the past five years in this way. Everyone loves to be camp, corny, satirical, artificial, fake anything but real. Even the real gets lost in these rapids of artificiality. The hallowed return of Bruce (Springsteen) rides on anecdotal information (his history as a real singer songwriter from New Jersey) but his presence for a current market rides the conveyor belt of effects for an image addicted audience. When the Face ran its embarrassing image of a torn denim arse as a cover, it wouldn't have taken much then to daydream that Springsteen would pose himself in a similar way, cross referring to the mid Western teenage gas attendant living in an Edward Hopper/Norman Rockwell world. The state of things now is such that Boy George and Bruce Springsteen amount to no more than differing styles of illustration.

Not too long ago, Clint Walker 'reviewed the singles' in Ram. No doubt Clint got a kick out of doing it (who wouldn't?) but what eventuated was the scenario of the worn rock critic, still in search of the real, always on the verge of settling for second best. Today's Pop music just doesn't have it, etc. The point is that today's Pop does have it. In heaps! Clinton Walker stands as a symbol (there are many examples) of someone lost in culture; betrayed by Rock. Born in a period of activity (in this case, Punk '77) but doomed to live in a begotten wasteland, a legacy of impotency. But perhaps we're looking in the wrong places. What happens if commercial AM radio stations are playing better and more interesting and more pleasurable material than the alternative FM stations'? (And believe me, they are.) And what if everything and everyone that positioned themselves away from mainstream culture has started to rot in the shade? Perhaps it's time for a suntan. Like never before, rock culture has become one body, because its myriad of ghettos, cliques, enclaves and scenes simply don't matter in their distance and difference anymore. It is this 'one body' that, I believe, accounts for the air of desperation that characterizes many alternative practices and activities, as well as the swooping engulfing nature that is so typical of the current spread of the more mainstream of rock culture. A style is a style; a gesture is a gesture; a product is a product. Anything anyone can do, anyone can do better. In such a climatic environment, pleasure is gained by riding the samenesses not by searching for the differences. This is why the traditional ethics of rock journalism are woefully out of sync with the times.

When I first saw the film clip to Scritti Politti's Wood Beez (Pray like Aretha Franklin) I took its imagery, related to the cover graphics, as violently esoteric, not unlike the work of Joseph Beuys in its interrelating of fragments. This 'return to the personal' was not much of a surprise coming from Green who after writing songs with titles like Messthetics and Hegemony then talked about the 'soul' in music when The Sweetest Girl was released. Still, its violently esoteric imagery is surely no more or less convoluted than the clip to Culture Club's Miss Me Blind. Through precise direction or ad hoc distribution, meaning always runs rampant. But Scritti Politti pulled out an ace with the film clip to Absolute. At first glance, the clip presents its scene as a club full of dancing bodies. A closer look reveals that this scene is not a 'scene'. It is a midsummer's night dream turned into a sociologist's nightmare: all the bodies are so pregnant with personal style that their individual status does not matter. Everyone is an individual; everyone is a group. This is the style of style. This is the current state of rock culture. A digitally created world represented by a theatre of acoustics: singer/microphone/audience/event. A Shakespearian wealth of emotions that can live as comfortably within its imagery as it can outside of or beneath it, just as the heterogeneous gathering in the club is able to comfortably assimilate itself. Everything defeats itself here as the problematic of distance is no longer an issue because no one was ever close to anything anyway.

If Hollywood was the fake masquerading as the real, then this 'return' to Hollywood, this embracing of Style, is the real masquerading as the fake. A T shirt might have on it Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Boy George or Mr T. but it doesn't matter. Nor does it matter if it's, Bruce Springsteen or Einsturzende Neubauten. Say goodbye to Hollywood. We now have to live the real: the real of what at Hollywood was and what we pretend reality to be.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Scritti Politti.