As the title of the "ABC News Closeup" airing Sunday evening, "Hooray for Hollywood" is meant to be a cynical, or at least ironic, sentiment: "Hooray" said with a sarcastic groan. Talented documentary filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond visited the movie capital and found the tinsel beneath the tinsel to be chintz. All anybody talks about is money.
Appropriately, the hour, on Channel 7 at 7 (or after the baseball game, if one is scheduled), opens with scenes being shot for the upcoming Steve Martin musical "Pennies from Heaven" in which choruses of cuties clomp around a stage while a shower of dollar bills is dumped upon them from above. "Keep the money going, please," the director shouts to the crew.
"Do people in this business want to make movies or . . . money?" the Raymonds ask John Tarnoff, a 29-year-old mini-mogul at MGM. "They want to make money," he replies. "We are a profit-making industry," notes a bookkeeperly Frank Yablans, one of the men who gave the world "Mommie Dearest," that big loud nothing. Asked about her opinion of Hollywood movie-making, the maddeningly beautiful Nastassia Kinski ("Tess") replies, "Money dominates it all."
The Raymonds do not use dull tools to make points. Viewers conditioned to expect a narrator booming in with facts and figures will be kept waiting; this isn't just another bubble-gum doc. The Raymonds specialize in vivid and subtly purposeful impressionism; you come away from the film with a new insight on Hollywood's current state of mind, which is somewhere between giddy desperation and Benzophobia, the fear of having your Mercedes repossessed.
Of course it's always been a place where commercial entertainment, not art, is manufactured, not composed. But the Raymonds capture its new, peculiar, secular agnosticism, a case of not knowing what to believe in but wanting to believe in something.
The film is by no means a prolonged mope. Steve Martin, on the set of "Pennies," disingenuously denies all the rumors about Hollywood's big drug habit, then a moment later says, "Okay, let's go get some cocaine." The cast is surprised by a visit from Cary Grant, A Star What Was -- and from the bouyant, robust look of him, still is A Star.
Harrison Ford, on the set of "Blade Runner," is asked if he ever thought he'd wind up as "a space toy in Woolworth's" and replies, "No, I never did. I don't take it personally." Others encountered include writer-director Paul Schrader, cinematographers Gordon Willis and Vilmos Zsigmond, "Heaven's Gate" director Michael Cimino, and the raging pug, Martin Scorsese, who sputters out rapid-fire and off-the-wall remarks on the set of his "King of Comedy," starring Robert De Niro.
One striking thing about many of these people is how definitively sleazy they look -- and not just the guys behind "Jekyll and Hyde, Together Again," either. One of the strangely endearing things about Hollywood, appreciated by the Raymonds, is its status as the bad-taste capital of the world; it's a living archive of all the bad taste ever exhibited on this planet.
Some people seem to have been included in the final cut just because the Raymonds were able to get them (Peter O'Toole is asked -- yawn -- about "the role of the director"), but most of what's seen is piquantly, devilishly relevant. Hooray for "Hooray for Hollywood."