Monday, March 18, 2013

Poets, Artists, Hollywood, Money

For a long time I thought that I was very good at remembering passages from books and dialogue from movies and TV word-for-word. In the past few years I have come to grips with the fact that I am not especially good at it. What seems to me like a vivid and exact memory to me is, over and over, in fact quite different from the original text. For example, for a long time I was quite certain that I remembered a character in a movie -- I couldn't recall what character in which movie -- saying, "When poets dream they dream of money." I'm now fairly sure that that was a mis-remembering of a line spoken by Ricky Jay's character in David Mamet's movie The Spanish Prisoner --a terrific movie, by the way, and very much about money among other things. The thing is, I'm not sure whether we're meant to understand that Jay's character is saying (approximately if not word-for-word), "As the poet said, 'Let us dream,' and when we dream, we dream of money," or, "As the poet said, 'Let us dream, and when we dream, we dream of money.'"

I had assumed it was the latter, and thought that it might make sense because poets -- poets in the USA, at least -- tend to make very little money from poetry, so that they would dream of money as naturally as hungry people dream of food.

If it's the former then it sounds much more like the attempt of a man whose business is money to lend an artistic air to his profession.

In the past couple of days I saw another character in another movie, an actress, I've already forgotten which actress and which movie, say something like, "Don't they say that artists dream of money?" The actual line may be quite different, the only thing I'm reasonably sure of is that the movie didn't seem particularly interesting to me and I didn't watch the whole thing.

Movies are probably the art form which makes the most money. Movies or pop music. Gene Siskel said, in a good PBS series about Hollywood from the early 90's, said it with notable conviction and no ifs ands or buts, that Hollywood movies were the biggest big-time in showbiz, implying that if TV people doubted this they were deluded. Remember, my mortal enemy is Cliche Man, and cliches are cliches, not necessarily, as the cliche says, because they are true, but because they sound good. But Siskel may have gotten this one right.

Guy Ritchie's movie RocknRolla --another terrific movie, by the way, and also very much with money as one of its themes --seems to suggest that rock n roll is the biggest big-time in show biz. Perhaps that's true when you compare British rock n roll to British movies, and and false when you compare the most big-time pop music to Hollywood movies.

Without a doubt, the biggest big-time Hollywood movies involve a lot of money. Folks is gettin' paid. (The producers and studios heads are gettin' paid much more than the stars.) And so perhaps this business about artists (or poets) dreaming of money, if it does not merely sound good but is also true, is more true about Hollywood movie folks than about artists in general. It may be relevant, not because it applies to impoverished artists, but, quite on the contrary, because it applies to the very wealthiest people who could conceivably be called artistic or poetic, and it may be that these rick folks are rich because they're always dreaming of money, and the poor poets and artists, generally speaking, may not miss the money as much as I would think. Perhaps, among the group of children with anything like an interest in writing, the ones more preoccupied with money tend to give up poetry before they're full-grown, in favor of writing screenplays full-time, or the better-looking ones among the potential screenwriters may have tended to have gotten their teeth whitened and noses fixed in order to go after the bigger movie-star money, if they haven't given that up to become movie execs, if they haven't given up Hollywood altogether for Wall Street, to work with people like Ricky Jay's character in The Spanish Prisoner and tell each other in their spare time that they're artistic.

As with so many posts on this blog, I have no answers here, but mainly just a few questions, which I hope some reader or another may have found to be interesting food for thought.

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