Monday, April 23, 2012

Atlas Shrugged, Part II (Not Showing at a Theatre Near You)

Yay!!!! Atlas Shrugged, Part II, is filming at this very minute! I can't wait for it to appear in theaters this coming fall so that I can save $14 by not buying a ticket to see it!

The Reason Magazine article linked to above is unintentionally hilarious. Read the following excerpt, especially the statements by co-producer Harmon Kaslow:

“In a move that might prove controversial to fans of Part I, this new movie has been entirely recast—not a single actor reprises their role . . . 'The message of Atlas is greater than any particular actor, so it’s one of those pieces of literature that doesn’t require in our view the interpretation by a singular actor,' Kaslow says. “But just from a practical standpoint when we set out to make Part I we had a ticking clock where if we didn’t start production by a certain date John’s interest in the rights could lapse." 

Wow! LOL! First of all, this is an unbelievably cutting and insulting remark toward the hard-working actors who appeared in Part I ("This movie is bigger than you are, Taylor Schilling! ") Nice one! Actors love hearing that! (We all know how small their egos are!); and then he adds salt to the cut: "Besides, uh, we were in a rush when we cast you. You see, baby, we had this legal deadline we had to beat regarding the option we held  on the novel; so casting you was sort of like . . . like . . . like a shot-gun wedding. We had to do it quickly or not make the movie at all. We really had no choice."

Sure you had a choice. You could have started the project much earlier and given yourself more time to do things right. If it was true that there was "drop-dead" date for the option to run out, the producers could have done a workaround, for example: cast one actor only, let's say, a supporting role such as Eddie Willers. Just shoot some of the scenes requiring Eddie Willers and nothing else: by definition, you've fulfilled the terms of the option (you have, after all, started production) and now you're under less of a time constraint to do the other things right, like casting the right talent for the leads, polishing the screenplay, etc.

No. This workaround is too obvious for them not to have considered it. What imposed a time constraint was not the option deal, but the producers' fat egos: their desire to make a political statement by getting Part I out in time to premiere on April 15, Tax Day. That was the real deadline.

Always the apologist for cult mind-control, Ed Hudgins of The Atlas Society recently blogged this on SOLO regarding the role of his boss, professor David Kelley, in the film's production: 

"David Kelley [h]as spent time in California on the set to make sure the script is consistent with Objectivism."

LOL! Kelley was in California not to ensure that the script was dramatic and exciting and something that would hold an audience's attention; not to ensure that the shooting schedule is maintained; not to ensure that everything is on budget; no, he is there as an ideological, Soviet-era political cadre officer, ensuring compliance with the Objectivist canon.  See the blog post in Around the Randroid Belt titled "Objectivism in One Word."

In the 1950s, producers of certain Hollywood films were concerned about public demonstrations against provocative content (mainly because it would hurt box-office). They therefore willingly submitted their films for review and "vetting" by a Catholic censor board calling itself The Legion of Decency. Stanley Kubrick's excellent early film, "Lolita," with James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, and the young and very seductive Sue Lyon, actually has some opening text — appearing before the title crawl if I remember correctly — that says something like, "This film has been approved by The Legion of Decency."

David Kelley is a one-man compliance officer for the "League of Objectivist Decency." Shame on him for assuming the role of judge and jury.  He should stay off the set and let the people whose job it is to make the movie, do their job of making a movie.

Following the example of "Lolita," perhaps AS-2 should begin with a still frame of text saying "This film has been cleared by The Objectivist League of Decency." (In other words, "It's safe to watch, Randroids. You won't be offended by seeing some personal statement by the director or screenwriter that might deviate from your preconceived expectations regarding a novel you've read 20 times and have memorized.")

The rest of the Reason Magazine article continues in the same unintentionally funny vein, especially the quotes from Harmon Kaslow:

"We didn’t have the luxury at that moment to negotiate future options with the various cast members."

LOL! Wow! Apparently, Harmon Kaslow assumes we all just fell off the turnip truck! Um, Harmon, it isn't solely up to you and the production team  to negotiate future options with the talent. This is Hollywood, remember? All working actors have agents, and it will be up to the agents to make very serious inquiries and proposals regarding future options on behalf of their clients, especially in multi-film projects. That's how agents make their living!

We "didn't have the luxury . . . ?" Can you imagine, for example, Taylor Schilling's agent telling her "Listen, honey, take the AS-1 gig. I have no idea if this will lead to more work for you in Parts II and III — I asked, but Harmon Kaslow told me he was in a rush and just doesn't have the luxury of thinking about the future, or negotiating an option for you. Don't worry about it; whatever happens, happens."

No actor would accept excuses like that from an agent; no agent would accept excuses like that from a producer; which is why I don't believe a scene like that ever occurred . . .  which means I think Harmon Kaslow is bullshitting us.

"Their eagerness to keep the project moving made arranging schedules with the dozens of speaking roles in Part I hugely impractical, so they chose instead to concentrate on making sure the look of the movie created the world they needed it to create. As Kaslow put it, “we just gave ourselves a clean slate put together what we think is a real terrific cast."

I'm sorry, but I've read this last paragraph about 12 times and I still can't determine what it's about. Let's parse it:

"Their eagerness . . ." This refers to the eagerness of the producers.

"to keep the project moving . . ." This refers to the supposed option deadline; i.e., apparently, if the producers did not start production by a certain date, they would lose the option to the novel; meaning, they would lose the right to make the movie in the first place. OK, let's assume we are being told the truth about this.

"made arranging schedules with the dozens of speaking roles in Part I hugely impractical" — For the life of me, I can't figure out what the fuck this sentence means! "Made arranging schedules" — what schedules? Does the writer mean auditions? Talent auditions for the leading roles in Part I? If so, does it strike anyone else other than me as weird that the producers claim they didn't have time to complete a proper audition phase to cast their film? And are they talking about Part 1 or Part 2? The sentence seems to specify Part 1; if so, then it seems to be saying that the producers were so concerned with simply getting the film out — any sort of film, so long as it had the right "look" — that they took an unbelievably cavalier attitude toward the casting. Indeed, even if this is simply an excuse for justifying the re-casting in Part II, that first statement of Harmon Kaslow is indicative of the level of cavalierness:

"The message of Atlas is greater than any particular actor, so it’s one of those pieces of literature that doesn’t require in our view the interpretation by a singular actor,"

Hey, Harmon! That's assuming that only you (and a few other Randroids) will comprise the ticket-buying public! What about everyone else? Do they believe that Atlas Shrugged The Movie, for which they've just spent money buying a ticket, is greater than any particular actor? Or is it more likely (as I believe) that they will find it jarring to have Dagny portrayed by one actress in one film and another actress in its sequel . . . with no dramatic explanation in the screenwriting permitted, of course, because the narrative is so tightly constrained by Comrade David Kelley and his Compliance Squad.

The Reason Magazine article goes on to mention how encouraged Aglialoro was by the sales of DVDs. Usually, in Hollywood, these sorts of numbers are published and available somewhere; not here, though. So I suspect that the only people purchasing these DVDs are members of the Randroid Belt who waft in and out of sites like The Atlas Society, which peddles the DVDs, as well as other merchandise ("Who Is John Galt?" t-shirts, for example).

So it appears to this lone-wolf movie critic that the producers of the AS trilogy decided early on — probably when they saw the collapse of the box-office for AS-1 less than two weeks into its run — to market a cinematic version of their Bible specifically to their acolytes; a ready-made audience, as it were. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Atlas Shrugged The Movie, Part III were made direct-to-DVD; for as long as Randroids are going to be almost the sole market for the film, why bother negotiating all those irksome licensing deals with theatre-owners for public exhibition? Who cares about the public? Just market the film directly to Randroids!

(The one propagandistic advantage to letting the two sequels have public runs rather than marketing direct to DVD is that, when they inevitably fail at the box office and get panned mercilessly by critics, the members of the Randroid Belt can sniffle and point their fingers at the critics and complain how corrupt the critics' premises and aesthetic sensibilities are, and blame the sequels' failure on them. That, of course, might actually help boost DVD sales to members of the Randroid Belt, since the movies will now have romantic "battle scars" inflicted by the moochers and looters.)

Nothing wrong with any of this, of course, and by doing so, one now has the liberty to re-cast again and again, to one's heart's content; for acolytes will be looking at the movie not as a movie — the way the normal public would experience a film, i.e., as a stand-alone entertainment experience — but as a simulacrum; they will judge the movie by how well it mimics a literal reading of the novel. 

The implication of all this, however, is that it makes the AS sequels no different from the special feature films made by and for explicitly religious groups. Just as there's a genre of popular music known as "Christian Rock" so, too, there are specifically Christian films (as well as specifically Orthodox Jewish films), specifically illustrating Biblical themes that often go direct-to-DVD and are meant only for a small, select, religious audience. These are true "niche films" produced for, and marketed to, "niche audiences."

Atlas Shrugged, The Movie is a niche film. The project may not have started out that way, but that's what it became. And it took the collapse of the box-office of Part I to convince producers to continue with production of parts 2 and 3 with the explicit intention of making them niche films and marketing them to a ready-made niche audience, i.e., members of the Randroid Belt.

Again, there's nothing wrong with any of this, but it does point up the closed, cult-like nature of the Objectivist movement — or what's left of it.

The one person who must be extremely saddened by all this is Ed Hudgins at The Atlas Society, and frequent blogger on Sense of Life Objectivists (SOLO).  He PROMISED readers at that site to keep them apprised of "breaking news" regarding production when he boasted of the following:

"Linz, et al. -- I’m planning to provide insider updates on the film as they become available . . ."

"Insider updates," eh?  We actually got nothing from Hudgins since that boast on 5 February 2012 at Sense of Life Objectivists. Instead, we learn from a completely different source — Reason Magazine — that Atlas Shrugged, Part II, is already more than ten days into lensing! 

Hudgins also made the following asinine statement regarding Yours Truly:

"Of course, Darren apparently has far more detailed and reliable insider info than me on the exact nature of David Kelley’s contributions to the first film and his current and future tasks concerning the second film"

He made that statement after I had pointed out on SOLO that David Kelley's role in AS-1 appeared to have been that of an ideological compliance officer, ensuring that the production (including the screenplay, and without doubt, the creative choices made by the director and the editor) complied with, i.e., was consistent with, a canonized body of opinion by Alisa Rosenbaum. At the time, Hudgins chuckled at my suggestion, but as pointed out above, he now admits to the following regarding Atlas Shrugged, Part II:

"David Kelley [h]as spent time in California on the set to make sure the script is consistent with Objectivism."

Thanks for admitting I was right, Hudgins, you fat-headed dolt. But I'm going to expand on this last statement of yours a bit, because you're so fucking ignorant about filmmaking that you're blind to the uncomfortable implications of what you've just admitted: 

If Kelley really is acting as Chief Compliance Officer, then his footprint cannot be constrained only to the screenplay, because everyone involved in the creative team (the director, the actors, the editor, the production designer) is constantly engaged in making creative choices during the production of the movie. 

What if — as happens all the time during the shooting of a movie — the director decides to take a few creative liberties with the screenplay? What if the director says to the talent in some particular scene, "You know something? I thought it was simply your delivery, but now I see that these lines themselves are stilted and just don't work. We'll throw them out, and I want you to say this, instead . . ." And then gives the actor some ad hoc lines to say that, in his creative judgment, work better? What if the director — as Sidney Lumet did in his excellent '70s film "Dog Day Afternoon" with Al Pacino — throws out parts of the script entirely and tells two actors in some particular scene, "Look, you two have worked together and done scenes together for years. You understand what this scene is about, emotionally and psychologically on the part of the characters you portray. Make up the dialogue as you go along; I want to see how it works." And in that film, the way it worked was so good in Lumet's judgment, that he kept the impromptu, off-script scenes in the final cut . . . and what was even funnier, was that the screenwriter — whose original work had been greatly altered by both Lumet and the actors by the time it reached the screen — nevertheless won an Oscar for "Best Screenplay"! In his creative autobiography, Lumet claimed that they all had a good laugh over that, but what are you going to do . . . turn down an Oscar?

The point is, Kelley's involvement as Compliance Gestapo cannot stop merely at the stage of the screenplay; it must bleed over into the director's choices and the editor's choices, too, because personal judgments and choices on the part of these key creative team members can (in principle, at least) greatly alter the meaning of events in a film, as they might have originally been intended by the screenwriter. This happens all the time in filmmaking.

The upshot of this is that we will be seeing David Kelley's tone-deaf, ham-fisted influence throughout Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, just as much as we did in Part I. (Can't wait . . . !)

Anyway, sorry, Hudgins! Maybe the honchos at The Atlas Society will let you break exciting "insider updates" to the rest of us outsiders by keeping you in the loop on Atlas Shrugged, Part III . . . when they re-cast the film yet again.
Until then, Eddie, we hope you enjoy Part II.

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