EXCESS HOLLYWOOD:  LAWS, SAUSAGES AND MOVIEMAKING Image

The great band Lard, fronted by ex-Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra, has a song called “Sylvestre Matuschka” on the album “The Last Temptation of Reid.” For those who haven’t heard it, it’s about a man who used various methods to derail trains so that he could m********e as he watched them wreck. (This guy apparently really existed, though I can find little information on him beyond what’s in the song.) Everyone has their fetishes. Some guys like women’s panties. Some are turned on by Asian amputees. Matuschka liked blowing up trestles and watching the cars leave the tracks with a mind-numbing screech of metal.

Yeah, you guessed it. That’s the lead-in for a column on “Project Greenlight.”

I didn’t watch the first two seasons of this television show, and nor did I see the films that came from them. Here’s why: I don’t like watching the product of an all-inclusive contest. I don’t trust the public’s taste at all when it comes to voting. The public, in this case, doesn’t vote for what is artistically sound, but for what seems “cool.” Popularity contests weren’t fun in high school, and I sure as hell am not going to see a movie that was put into production by the same people who took voting for prom queen seriously. That said, I do admire the fact that this contest gives a filmmaker a chance to get known … I just wish it were gone about some other way.

The reason I watched this season’s show, the one that focuses on the making of “Feast,” is because I’m a horror fan. No other reason. That’s it. Personally, I think the film looks bad, and I don’t think this was the best vehicle for director John Gulager, though I think he was the best of the top three directors. The writing team leaves a lot to be desired, too. The quiet guy is fine, but his partner is an idiot who needs less caffeine and a woman.

I watched the show, though, and I think it gave would-be filmmakers out there an excellent taste of what is in store for them if they decide to go with the studio system. For film fans who watched, it provided quite an education. Watching a movie being made sort of brings to mind that old adage about laws and sausages, and I think the public is really seeing that with this Bravo show, which gave one the sense that the film was doomed from the start.

“Feast” appears to be flawed on many different levels. Personally, I hate horror movies with lots of comedy, and I can’t stand the kind of cheap scares this movie seems to be relying on. I want a horror movie that will stick with me for years after I’ve seen it. (“Audition” and the scene with the bag instantly comes to mind.) Anyone can make a person jump. Making a person relive the moment in their head ten years later takes a special kind of skill, and this movie probably won’t cause that to happen to anyone with half a brain.

The biggest flaw, however, is not the weak script or Gulager’s directing skills, as we were led to believe. It’s the fact that this movie was being made for one reason only: to generate revenue. Studios know they can make some money by pushing a horror film on teens and young adults (because they think those people have no taste and are stupid — and the studios tend to be right). Dimension, the studio behind this film, wants it done fast and cheap (like a hooker), and it wants it done a certain way, which all points to higher profits. Screw art. This is commerce.

Watching Gulager, who is socially awkward at best, navigate his way through this minefield was painful. Sure, there were problems he brought on himself, but the main crisis stemmed from the fact that he’s a guy with a vision and Hollywood is the last place for visions … unless they are visions of dollar signs.

And, like Matuschka, I couldn’t stop watching this train wreck.

I didn’t vote in any of the Project Greenlight contests. I abstained for two reasons. One: Since I am an “entertainment journalist” (you can debate that all you want) and critic (again with the debate), I think it would be a bit of a conflict of interests to actually take part in the voting. Two: I think letting the public decide these sorts of things is just kind of stupid. I’d rather see someone’s movie that hasn’t been tampered with by the public. The public can vote afterward, with its dollars or opinions, but not before. DC Comics did a contest years ago where people could call a special number and vote for the fate of the current Robin character. The voting public wanted him to die, and then it was the writer’s job to write that story (though in all honesty I believe both fates of Robin were written ahead of time to keep on schedule). As a fiction writer, I would resent the public telling me how my story must be written, and I can’t help but wonder if Gulager feels the same way. He has to direct a film based on the whims of a small committee, which picks from the top three choices as decided on by the voters — and none of those people have Gulager’s artistic vision in mind.

Yeah, I think “Project Greenlight” is an absolute disaster of a show and filmmaking in general. But I’m also a bit of a voyeur who is not beyond pleasuring himself while watching other people drown in misery. Apparently there are a lot of us out there who feel the same way.

At least it’s just a TV show and not Amtrak.

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