CIRCUS OF BOOKS
Directed by Rachel Mason
Directed by Ryan Murphy
“EVERYBODY comes to Hollywood [and]wants to make it in the neighborhood,” Madonna mused nearly two decades ago, asking: “How can it hurt you when it looks so good?” That paradox—all the glamour and grime of show business—is well depicted in Circus of Books and Hollywood, a documentary and miniseries, respectively. The two share an interest in the margins around Tinseltown, especially its LGBT subculture and what “hustling” means in various forms. They are also the first fruits of that jaw-dropping $300 million contract that writer-director Ryan Murphy scored last year. Having given audiences Glee, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, and the film adaptation of the late Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, the 54-year-old director and renowned workaholic continues to cultivate some of the queerest content on TV.
Colin Carman is an assistant professor of English at Colorado Mesa University. He is currently writing his second book with a focus on happiness in the novels of Jane Austen.
I really enjoyed watching Hollywood. It had style, interesting story lines, excellent acting, brilliant sets, and an insight into the Hollywood “dream” (for which read “nightmare”) factory. In fact, the film is all about whether Hollywood is a dream or a nightmare for the people involved.
This was its strength and weakness. Hollywood was never much good at challenging discrimination, and promoting difference. Producing drama like this that pretends that it did, is frankly, nonsensical. Hollywood was discriminatory, and should be remembered as such. The plethora of minorities ultimately triumphing against all the odds, was nothing short of revisionism. There is an issue about portraying truth underlying the modern – “let’s see things how we would like to see them rather than how they actually were” – leading to false understanding, misrepresentations, and an extremely skewed version of history, that pervades much modern drama.
Picking up fragments from the past, using the names of real actors in scenes which seem to be based on very flimsy evidence or did not happen, is not in my view the best way of understanding or presenting history. Or, for that matter, fair on the real people (but now dead) named in the drama.
Fact and fiction are two distinct and not overlapping categories. To conflate them together does nothing to advance the cause of equality and acceptance.
I have always fought for equality for all, and as a gay man, understand discrimination and how it works. But to revise the highly discriminatory history of Hollywood, for the sake of producing uplifting drama, I found rather distasteful. Yes, I’m sure that there were people in Hollywood working toward the end of discrimination. The historical evidence was that it never became a mainstream movement, more of a step change reflecting social norms rather than producing a new world-view. That was done outside of the dream/nightmare factory. To appropriate the end of discrimination with the actions of Hollywood is an historical travesty.