Exposing the dark side of Hollywood on film
David Cronenberg's hotly anticipated satire on the entertainment industry Maps to the Stars has screened in Cannes, and while reactions have been divided, all agree its venom-count is high. Pamela Pianezza, who's covering the festival for Dazed, told us she dug the film (watch this space for her interview with Cronenberg and actress Sarah Gadon). She said: "It's a revenge movie, a mindblowing nightmare that could have been written by Bret Easton Ellis, and is the most gripping portrait of Hollywood since Altman's The Players." We're sold. To mark the film's premiere, here are our other favourite Tinseltown take-downs.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)
This surreal neo-noir from maestro of weird David Lynch stars Naomi Watts as perky, naive actress Betty Elms. Newly arrived in LA and determined to take the town by storm, she befriends a mysterious brunette with amnesia (Laura Elena Henning), and chases a role with a maverick director who’s under casting pressure from mobsters (Justin Theroux). Dire situations, bizarre humour and blurred identity make up this swooning phantasmagoria, sprung from the allure and poisonous illusions of Hollywood and ominously scored by Angelo Badalamenti.
PLAY AS IT LAYS (1972)
“I’m sick of everyone’s sick arrangements,” Tuesday Weld gripes in this adaptation of Joan Didion’s jaded novel of cracking-up decadents in a monstrously nihilistic Hollywood, directed by Frank Perry. She stars as Maria (pronounced "Mariah"), an actress and former model married to casually sadistic director Carter Lang (Adam Roarke), whose acid-rock biker movie she starred in. She channels her numbness into chance sexual encounters and aimless freeway driving in her banana-yellow Corvette.
Sean Penn plays Eddie, a cokehead casting director living in a luxury condominium in the Hollywood Hills to which a morally bankrupt rabble of industry players drop by to share in the self-absorbed dysfunction. The perpetually wired, ranting Eddie reconciles with Darlene (Robin Wright), his stunning but equally solipsistic ex, but inevitably it’s not long before that union’s on the skids again. Adapted from an ‘80s stage play by David Rabe, the film’s talkiness suits a milieu portrayed as all bluster and little substance.
THE PLAYER (1992)
Robert Altman’s satire tells the tale of hotshot Hollywood studio exec Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), who’s been receiving death threats on postcards. He kills an aspiring screenwriter whose pitch he ignored, who he mistakenly believes is to blame – only to find the harassment escalates. Dozens of Tinseltown celebs, from Cher to Susan Sarandon, made cameo appearances in the movie as themselves, showing that despite his good-humoured barbs, Altman still had much of the industry in his pocket.
THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (1975)
John Schlesinger’s gaudy and weird take on ‘30s Hollywood is based on the surreal novel by Nathaniel West, and depicts a weave of desperate outcasts nursing their illusions amid sleaziness, spectacle and wholesale alienation. The love triangle of aspiring but talentless bottle-blonde starlet Faye Greener (Karen Black), who says she “could only love someone criminally handsome”, plays out amid others the industry is only too keen to chew up and spit out, from an obnoxious child actor to an angry dwarf.
Typically off the scale in terms of mindbending brilliance, this collab between writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze dramatises Kaufman’s attempt to adapt Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief, about a Florida rare orchid poacher, into a script. Nic Cage plays Charlie, self-loathing and in the grip of writer’s block, and his twin brother Donald, a sell-out whose script for a clichéd thriller is in high demand in Hollywood – showing that shallow bombast goes a long way in that dollar-driven town.
SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)
In this shadowy, sardonic Billy Wilder noir about broken Hollywood dreams Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star living in her mansion as a recluse, her fan letters now secretly written by her butler to stave off her depressive bouts. Down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) tries to help her make a comeback, as she undergoes rigorous beauty treatments.
BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)
Nothing encapsulates the dark side of Hollywood like LA's porn business, which has sucked in its share of the desperate dreaming of crossing over to mainstream fame. In P.T. Anderson's part-comic, part-tragic depiction of the '70s Golden Age of Porn and its move into the nastier-edged '80s, Mark Wahlberg stars as Dirk Diggler, who rises from naive nightclub dishwasher to adult star then descends to drugged-out has-been. Philip Seymour Hoffman aces one of his most iconic roles as Scotty, the gay boom operator infatuated with Dirk.
THE CANYONS (2013)
Paul Schrader's tawdry erotic thriller about toxic Hollywood Z-listers, scripted by Bret Easton Ellis and starring Lindsay Lohan as the fallen starlet girlfriend of a sinisterly calculating movie producer (played by porn star James Deen), is a movie critics loved to trash. Its on-screen dramas were mirrored in tales of shambolically unreliable diva antics on set that sparked as many newspaper inches as the movie itself – a phenomenon that said it all about the cannibalistic nature of the industry.
MOMMIE DEAREST (1981)
Frank Perry goes all out with hysteria-laced camp horror in this cult classic, based on the tell-all memoir of the long-suffering adopted daughter of Hollywood actress Joan Crawford. Faye Dunaway plays the publicity-hungry Oscar-winner as a hard-drinking control freak prone to hurling glasses of booze and throttling at the least provocation – be it her own fading looks or her daughter Christina's use of cheap wire coat hangers.