Saturday, March 21, 2020

CANON OF FILM: "LAURA"

LAURA (1944)

Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt based on the novel by Vera Caspary



For some reason, Otto Preminger's "Laura" doesn't get recalled as fondly these days. I'm not sure exactly why; I remember first watching it in a film noir class I took and was blown away by it, despite the fact that most of the movie doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Actually that's not true, it actually does make logical sense when you finally realize how the murder played out, but the investigation is definitely questionable from a police procedural perspective. What kind of Detective is Lt. McPherson (Dana Andrews)? He seems to be willing to allow all the suspects practically join him on the investigation. Only once does he actually go to the station and bring in a suspect, and even then, he doesn't. He's almost as suspicious a character as everybody else in the film, and everybody else in the movie spends the film acting like murder suspects.

I guess that's kinda what throws people about "Laura", it the one film noir that quite fit in with the more typical tonal notes of the genre. This one is actually almost more camp and comedic then it is hard-boiled and rugged. I mean, any other movie where the suspects are constantly allowed to accompany the investigating officer to the next interview, or the crime scene, well, you'd be making more fun of it. I think the movie is aware of it's absurdity. For one thing, the movie's got one of the best casts you could come up with for a movie like this, at least among the main characters; you'd think John Waters time-traveled to the forties to cast this.

The titular "Laura" (Gene Tierney) is the victim of the shot blast to the face in her home one Saturday night under suspicious circumstances. We're introduced to her first through a painting which haunts over her room. Originally, there actually was a painting made of Tierney from Azadia Newman, who was the wife of the film's original director, Rouben Mamoulian, (Mamoulian, another old-time Hollywood director that doesn't get talked much about now, but was actually pretty influential in his time, especially for use of tracking shots.) but when Preminger took over the directing, he got rid of that painting and used a blowup photograph of Tierney that he then had them paint over. That's something that would probably be recognized now, but in black-and-white I think he gets away with it. In fact, in hindsight, this movie is unusually overly-produced from a crafts point-of-view.

In fact, the whole movie is almost as famous for the behind-the-scenes bizarreness. The movie was shot several times with each director and Darryl Zanuck even brought in his friend Walter Winchell to go over several cuts and edits and rewrites of the movie to make sure it was to his liking. This is a bit strange, but it does explain why the movie begins with narration from our the Winchellesque character Waldo Lydecker (Oscar-nominee Clifton Webb) who claims to be the only person who really knew the deceased.

"I shall never forget the day Laura died..." his narration opens the film. Not his only lie, it'll turn out, but everybody's lying about something. Lydecker is introduced while typing in the bathroom as McPherson comes in to question him. In a flashback we also see how Laura talked Waldo into endorsing a product for a campaign she was working on when she was just barely 20 years old. Since then, he's been a devoted confidant, even if his acerbic wit and venomess pen can get those she knows in trouble with whoever he doesn't care for. In this case, it's her fiance Shelby (Vincent Price) who came from a lower class then Laura's circles, notable for his choice in alcohol and his possible lack of recognizing classical music pieces. Also, apparently Laura was having second thoughts about the engagement, especially as their friend Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson, who was Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca", so she's been known for being in movies about women in paintings) apparently had a crush on Shelby.

While she has a thing for Shelby, everybody else seems to be falling in love with Laura, into the Detective who, even on off-hours haunts her home as the on-call standby officer guarding the place during late night stakeouts. Dana Andrews is a bit of forgotten movie star now, but was a stern and quiet everyman and was in a decent amount of big films including "The Ox-Bow Incident" and "The Best Years of Our Lives", but he's most known for this performance. So is Gene Tierney for that matter; she never thought much of this performance of hers, despite being the one she's most famous for, and I kinda get that. I'm told that she goes through 27 different costume changes through the movie, which would indicate that she enters and leaves the scene at least that many times, and yet she feels like she's barely in the movie. Except for the flashback sequence from Waldo's recollection, we don't even see her 'til halfway through the movie, outside of the movie. (Which shocked the fuck out of me when I saw this film, up until then, this would've just been a typical barebones film noir of the time.) Oh sorry, SPOILERS on the 80-year-film, she's not dead! She is a suspect in a murder.

Clifton Webb received the first of his three Oscar nominations for the role. He's an interesting character himself, who hadn't been in a feature film in at least a decade and a half before "Laura", mostly being known at the time as a stage actor who actually rejected Hollywood for much of his career. He ended up getting typecast for this weirdly sexless role of a old man in love with a woman less then half her age, despite his whole character having several homosexual allusions. Webb was gay and flamboyant naturally, so it wasn't going to be tempered, but that's another weird oddity of the film. Roger Ebert observed that all the love triangles drama in the movie would make more sense if Laura was a boy. He's not wrong, Webb's performance is one of my all-time favorites by the way. He's got all the best quips and he just chews the art direction out of the movie.

And this is goood art direction too; it was one of five Oscar nominations the film got, winning for the movie's cinematography, although ironically it was the movie's score by David Raksin that somehow wasn't nominated, that most people at the time took from the film. Oddly, I find the score kind of an underplayed and quiet score for most of the film; reminds me a lot of Trent Reznor's & Atticus Ross's score for "The Social Network" in how it somehow sticks out and yet much of the movie is weirdly quiet, especially for a Preminger film. Preminger doesn't have a lot of distinguishing characteristics between films, but he often had very pronounced scores, and usually quite contemporary ones for the time, "Anatomy of a Murder" or "The Man With the Golden Arm" have very infamous scores that almost play like characters themselves in the movies, but here, it's not needed.

In fact the two characters that are represented not through actors are, well, other then the girl who it turns out is actually dead, are the aforementioned, and a distinctve clock that represents Lydecker. A present that he gave to Laura, a rare copy of one that he has in his own home. That's actually my favorite storytelling aspect of the movie, one that I don't see get used as much anymore, where we associate objects with specific characters. The screenplay is credited to a few people but according to legend Ring Lardner, Jr. actually did the last uncredited rewrite on the script and you can tell."Laura" has enough great lines to compete with anything Bogart said in his great noirs or anything Billy Wilder helped write.

"Laura" been remade a few times over the years, mostly bad TV movie adaptation, even Truman Capote of all people took a shot at it once. There's been a few rumors over the years of James Ellroy purportedly penning a future remake. I'm not exactly sure why we're that interested in remaking this one. I guess some people like the obsession angles with the characters, although part of me thinks that's mostly from people who love "Vertigo" too much and look at this movie as a predecessor to it, which I guess it, but I actually find that the least interesting parts of the movie and Preminger wisely simmered those parts down as much as he can; this is where the casting helps. Vincent Pryce, for instance, was not the horror icon at the time; he was actually a good handsome up-and-coming actor and singer back then, but yeah, nowadays you can see those aspects of him that made him such a delightful presence throughout the schlock eras of horror years later.

I guess part of it is that it's somewhat forgotten. I don't ever hear this movie brought up these days; it even gets forgotten among film noir buffs a lot who are often more intrigued by the really hard-boiled stuff of that time, myself included in that group; I've got a few Raymond Chandler audiobooks I've been going through as well. Either that or some of the deeper cuts in that film noir era. "The Big Sleep", "Detour", "He Walked By Night", "Night and the City", "The Naked City"  those kind of films that in hindsight might seem more influential at large. I think that helps make Laura stand out though. It's far more unique and absurd then those movies. It's not quite a parody of film noir, which barely existed at the time, but it takes more unique chances then most of those other films did. It's such a high society, glamorous, absurd, camp, look at murder that it becomes far more difficult to pin it down then other similar films of the era.

Roger Ebert even mentions that despite seeing the movie several times, that the murderer usually evades him because of how arbitrary it is, and yeah. I mean, I always remember who did it, but the great murder-mysteries know that it doesn't matter who did it at the end, as long as we're constantly trying to get to the bottom of who did it, the murderer doesn't really matter. "Laura" might be the most arbitrary murder-mystery of all of them, and that makes it one of the absolute best.



Wednesday, March 11, 2020

TELEVISION HALL OF FAME!! IT EXISTS!! NO SERIOUSLY!!




So, I've spent a lot of time bashing the Oscars over the years, and I don't really get to bash the Emmys as often as I'd like, and it's not like the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences doesn't have reasons to bash them all the time. I try to shove those complaints into the annual pieces I do on the Primetime Emmys every year, and usually that's enough to hold me over most of the time. That said, in the middle of the Oscar season crunch this year, something did catch my eye when last December the ATAS announced the latest inductees into the Television Academy Hall of Fame!

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/bob-iger-cicely-tyson-seth-macfarlane-inducted-television-academy-hall-fame-1259181

Now, I don't know about you, but when I heard that the likes of Seth MacFarlane, Cicely Tyson, Bob Iger, Jay Sandrich and Geraldine Laybourne were announced as the latest inductees, I had one prevailaing thought that I could've get out of my head... Wait, there's a Television Hall of Fame?!

Seriously, how many remembered or knew this existed? Like, I actually did recall that the Emmys had this, but I thought they stopped with it years ago honestly. And no wonder I thought that, it was the first time they inducted somebody in 3 YEARS!!!!!!

Yet, there it is; it's on the Emmys website.

https://www.emmys.com/awards/hall-of-fame

They have a Hall of Fame.

(Shrugs)

Did they just forget it was there for three years? I mean, I did! So, I can't totally blame them, can I?Still though, it's not like they ever forget to hold the Emmys one year or, hell, even compared to other Hall of Fames, most of them are in sports, but you know, the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, that's a pretty big entertainment Hall of Fame, and they never miss a year and every year it's a big event to hear about who gets in every year. I never forget they exist. And doesn't this sound like, I don't know, the kind of thing that we should know more about, especially these days with television changing more dramatically then ever! Wouldn't you want to promote this?

Also, just from a historical standpoint? The point of Hall of Fames isn't for any real statistical achievement or something, it's for preservation. It's a way to document that these, eh, people, mostly, or things or whatever, are a huge aspect in the historical context of, in this case, an artistic medium.

I guess we kinda forget about it also 'cause with award shows, we usually think of Lifetime Achievement as being the sort pseudo-Hall of Fame, but honestly, most of the time, we kinda regard those awards as sorta, consulation prizes, usually for overlooking certain artistic greats for many years. Not always, but that's kinda how it plays out. So, I guess a Hall of Fame, is kinda something I'd be in favor of especially for television where, there's so much of it now, that, there's a lot of it that just is overlooked and underknown right now, in the general populace. And, I'm not even talking about the fact that there's too many TV shows and streaming networks to keep up with everything; there's a lot of great past TV names and legends that frankly more people should know about and be aware of.

To me, I always thought that was sort, what you did naturally. Especially if you didn't live through it, you would go back and watch every classic rerun you could so that you can more understand and appreciate the great shows of today. (And also the crap of today as well. There's a lot of both, let's not beat around the bush in that regard either.) However, it's just not-as-easy or common to do today so, yeah, preservation of the names is a good idea.

Yet, this Hall of Fame, is just weird. The fact that it barely is known is Problem A. Problem B, it's a Hall of Fame ceremony for television, that isn't televised as far as I can tell, not recently anyway. ? That's weird. BTW, who selects this Hall of Fame? Like, I can easily find Emmy voters to talk to if I needed to, who votes for the Hall of Fame?

Okay, well, for this latest batch of inductees, the Hall of Fame Selection Committee was chaired by Rick Rosen. Okay that's a really industry-insider name; he's the head of TV at WME. He's- he's a talent agent. He's one of the biggest agents in Hollywood. WME is the current name of William-Morris; his boss is Ari Emanuel, the guy that literally, Jeremy Piven's character on "Entourage" was based on. A bit of an odd choice, but not out there too much. Who else? On the committee is Marcy Carsey, well I know that name; I grew up seeing that name on all my favorite TV shows. She's a legendary TV producer, who I presume got inducted into the Hall of Fame decades ago. (I presumed right, inducted in '96) Peter Roth, okay he's a famous TV executive, worked with everybody from Steven J. Cannell to Chuck Lorre, used to be a VP at ABC... and Nina Tassler, she was a big deal at CBS for decades at several positions and subsidiaries for a few decades until she got out of that.

So-eh, a producer, an agent, and a couple network executives? It's not that I think any of these people aren't qualified to determine this, but is that it? Four people?

Like, I'm not saying everybody in the Academy should be a voter or something but, that seems a little low to me.

So, how did they decide these five people this year? Were there other they were considering and these were the best? Was there a selection process that preceded this? I mean, is there a questionable name here?

Umm..., well I guess that's for you to decide, as for me, I think Bob Iger is a bit questionable, but I get it. I mean, he's kinda in the news right now for being kicked out of Disney, but he does have a lot to do with the increase pull of that company, as well as having a lot to do with television's early transitioning to streaming services, including Hulu and Disney+, so, yeah, that makes sense. Especially from a group of mostly executives, but I'm less angry at that, 'cause TV executives do historically have a lot of creative achievements as oppose to movie executives.

That said, Cicely Tyson, kinda throws me though. I mean, she's a great legendary actress, and she's done a lot of television over her career. Um..., has she, has she ever been, like a star of a series at least?

Like, when you think Cicely Tyson and you think television, what comes to mind? Like, I can think of a few episodes of random series here and there, but mostly as an occasional guest star. I guess "East Side/West Side" is kind of a notable important pioneering cult series that she starred on, as the third lead. For the show's one season?

Okay, I know there's a large underrepresentation of African-Americans on television's early years, but-eh, I kinda feel like this was a weird choice that doesn't make a whole lotta sense. (And no, I thought about it, it wasn't an agent thing; she's with CAA, so I can't blame that.)

Well, that's the thing too, what are the rules of the Television Hall of Fame?

No, seriously, what are the rules? The standards? Like, what makes somebody eligible or not eligible? Like, there's none listed anywhere on the Emmys website! What qualifies somebody for this?

This is the thing that's really weird about the Television Hall of Fame; every other Hall of Fame I can name, whether it's a well-known one or even the most obscure ones you can think of, there's a decent set of rules about who/what qualifies for the Hall of Fame. And sure, every Hall of Fame has a couple weird quirks and outliers; for instance, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has Carole King inducted as a songwriter, along with her ex-husband Gerry Coffin, but not as a solo performer, even though, "Tapestry" came out in 1971, and she's one of the great singer/songwriters in the age of singer/songwriters and has 25 albums of her own music spanning four decades...!!! Anyway, and most of Hall of Fames have one or two oddities like that, sure.

The Television Hall of Fame has many more peculiar ones then others however. The honors were first noted in 1984, the brainchild of then Academy President John H. Mitchell, "To honor the extraordinary individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to U.S. television". And, for the first few years, they did that; they honored the biggest individual. However, in 1988, after Mitchell's passing it started getting a little more erratic.

For instance, in 1991, they inducted, not an individual, but a TV show, "I Love Lucy". Which, sure, if we're inducting TV shows, then yeah, "I Love Lucy" being the first one, that's good, I can live with that.

What other shows have they inducted? They haven't. Not a single one.

70 years of television, only "I Love Lucy" is worth being in the Television Hall of Fame"?

I mean, they're already breaking the rule of "Individuals", but I mean, if you're gonna induct TV shows, I mean, why only one? Or why did they decide to randomly pick this one, at this time to begin with? Did they plan to others in but forgot?

Or why did they decide to not induct any Hall of Famers in 1994, the first time the Academy decided to skip a year. Or why did they do it in 1998? In 2000? 2001? 2003? 2005? 2007? 2009? So, we're only doing this every other year now? Nope, 2011, they did induct people. They didn't in 2015 though.

They didn't in 2016, either,... well, actually they kinda did. The actually did give out Hall of Fame honors in 2016, but not to individuals. Or to TV shows. They gave out something called "Cornerstone Awards" that were given to, (Sigh) the four major networks. Yep, NBC, ABC, CBS and to FOX. So, now, I guess networks are eligible?

Sure, why not? Honestly though, I think they were just, honoring the major basic networks, you know, since, they're probably dying and very soon at that. Network television is dying and that's a whole other thing..., and sure I don't think that's a problem, in of itself actually. I think it's a good idea, but-eh, it does seem strange that suddenly after not inducted anyone/anything into the Hall of Fame for two years, the major networks get a special award.

They remember the next year in 2017, and then forgot about this again until this year, 2020's latest batch.

Look, I'm just looking for a little consistency here. I don't care, in the abstract, about who gets inducted or doesn't, (Although yeah, I'll make some suggestions at the end of this blog) and that's because, the Television Academy, well, they haven't made me care. Because it doesn't seem like they care about this thing. If this was somebody else I would probably not even bother with an article, but this is the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences? They're the people who make television, why are they so cavalier about their Hall of Fame?

It's just so bizarre. I mean, I expect the general public at large to not care about shit like this, but not you know, the people who run the thing, I expect them to take this seriously, and, at least in the last twenty years or so, it's like they just haven't. It's like they barely remember it exists.

And I wasn't going to note too many people who are in or out as being knocks against the Hall of Fame, but how did they not get around to inducting Philo T. Farnsworth until 2012?! Seriously 2012, he finally got inducted. I mean, I kinda get it; it's not like he's that important to television, he only, INVENTED IT!!!!!  That's like an electricity Hall of Fame taking two decades to remember to put Thomas Edison in there?

So, what to do about this? Well, I can't do shit, I mean, I'm gonna send this article to them and I think if enough people start questioning the legitimacy of this Hall of Fame, they'll begin to start making it, well, legitimate. but ultimately it's up to the Television Academy to come up with something.

If I were to recommend stuff though, I'd probably start with, well, figuring out a permanent voting panel. One that's not just five people. Perhaps any currently living inductees. Some other renowned people in the industry, perhaps some television critics, writers, historians. Just a sense that there's more then a few random industry people making these decisions.

Second, I would set up a clear and obvious set of guidelines and eligibility rules. Who's eligible, who's not, etc. What's eligible, what's not? It does have to be to exclusive or strict, but you know, a minimum of rules, and stick to them! Make a clear, concise decision about anything that's an abstraction. Are TV shows eligible? If so, then you gotta induct more. Are networks eligible? Well, eh, I guess PBS should've gotten that Cornerstone Award too, but eh..., yeah, I wouldn't say induct every network either. Not right now anyway....

Now, as to what those rules eventually end up..., I'm not gonna tell the Academy what to do, but if I had any influence, I would recommend just scratching "I Love Lucy" from the Hall of Fame and stick to people, not series.

I have a few reasons for this recommendation, one being that I think there should be a National Television Registry run by Library of Congress, the same way there's a National Film Registry, but also 'cause I think you will start getting this overloaded if you just start inducting shows after shows after shows... and I think that's a National Television Registry would be a better forum for that then this.

Besides, every name you can think of that's basically associated with "I Love Lucy", they're already inducted. Lucille Ball was inducted in the original class, Desi Arnaz got inducted in 1990, even Vivian Vance & William Frawley were inducted in 2012. Boy, whoever does vote for this, they really do have a hard-on for "I Love Lucy". Hey, if you still want to induct more people from the show, how about William Asher, who directed over 100 episodes of the series before becoming an NBC executiove, or Jess Oppenheimer who was the head writer for the entire series, and whose works in television pre-dates "I Love Lucy" and lasted well into the '60s, and he was an inventor, who among other patents, invented the teleprompter lens. Or Karl Freund, whose cinematography instrumental for mastering the multi-camera technique that is the standard for sitcoms? (Okay, so not everybody, but still, if you're so in love with the show, there's people who needed to be inducted from it before the Mertzs. BTW Vivian Vance and William Frawley absolutely hated each other; they wouldn't have liked being paired together in this.)

BTW, it's not like you can't take someone/something out of the Hall of Fame, you remember this existed long enough to take Bill Cosby's name out. Yeah, he was inducted in 1991, but they revoked his induction after he was convicted of rape. I'll let you guys decide on the merits of that decision, but that's my argument for stripping "I Love Lucy", and just leave it to people. If you want to keep the ability to add series, I understand that too, just add more of them. There's literally no possibly scenario where only one series can be justified being in and no others....

In the meantime, Television Academy, in regards to your Hall of Fame, just get your damn shit together. Make it matter so that somebody might actually know to visit your Garden.

No, seriously,  they have a garden. It's at the Saban Media Center in North Hollywood, the Academy has kept and preserved a garden for the Television Hall of Fame members. There's plaques of many of the members and even some life-sized statues. It's actually looks like quite a nice display to have outside the East Wall of the Television Academy. It's nice and touching.

It's such a nice garden, and a good way to honor the greats of the medium. So, let's actually honor the medium and treat the Hall of Fame with respect. Have a regular induction ceremonies, if not every year, then on a regular, consistent basis, have a much more organized and collective selection committee, one that's not just a literal handful of people, but does include people from several different aspects of television, including historians, and set up, just, even the most minor standards of who qualifies and who doesn't, and stick to it.

Make it an event! Make it important! Make it feel like it's a true honor, promote it! I've looked up some clips of people getting inducted from the past and the present, this used to be a big televised event, and while I appreciate the intimate nature of the modern ceremonies, you can make a bigger deal out of it. Perhaps have all the surviving inductees present awards at the Emmys, with a tribute or something. Make it a regular thing and people will think about it and be conscious of it as a regular thing. You already came up with it to begin, you might as well own it!

(Solemn sigh)

Alright, now that that's over, let's have some fun here. If you go through the names of people who have inducted already, there's a lot of great history there, and much of is incredible, but there's still a lot of names out there who haven't been inducted. I'm gonna throw out a some names to end this article, but who do you think should be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame? I'm gonna send this to the Television Academy's twitter account, and I suggest that if you think there's any names that should be there, you should probably tweet them to the Academy as well. Hey, if the more people go and tell them to put them in the Television Hall of Fame, maybe they'll start caring about it more and we'll start caring more about it? (Shrugs)

Who knows? Anyway, here's some names I'd recommend, in alphabetical order, let me know who else you think belongs there:

Tim Allen
Robert Altman
Alan Ball
Chuck Barris
Jack Barry & Dan Enright
Bob Bell
Bea Benaderet
Gertrude Berg
Chris Berman
Barbara Billingsley
Ernest Borgnine
Bernie Brillstein
Mel Brooks
Mary-Ellis Bunham & Jonathan Murray
Mark Burnett
LeVar Burton
Louis C.K.
George Carlin
Johnny Cash
Dick Cavett
Glen & Les Charles
David Chase
John Cleese
Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher
Jackie Cooper
Bob Costas
Billy Crystal
Bill Cullen
Greg Daniels
Ted Danson
Larry David
Ossie Davis
Charles Dolan
Hugh Downs
Allen B. DuMont
Dick Ebersol
Ralphe Edwards
Diane English
Tina Fey
Sally Field
Michael J. Fox
David Frost
Glen Glenn
Gary David Goldberg
Kelsey Grammer
Kathy Griffin
Matt Groening
Fred Gwynne
Larry Hagman
Arsenio Hall
Monty Hall
Tom Hanks
Hugh Hefner
Paul William Henning
Buck Henry
Nat Hiken
Judd Hirsch
Hal Holbrook
Louis J. Horvitz
Phil Hughes
Mike Judge
Don Roy King
Michael Patrick King
Roger M. King
Arlene Klasky & Gabor Csupo
Don Knotts
Maurice LaMarche
David Letterman
Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Steven Levitan
Shari Lewis
Warren Littlefield
Christopher Lloyd (Producer)
Kurt Loder
Junie Lowry-Johnson
Susan Lucci
Gail Mancuso
John Madden
Bill Maher
Howie Mandel
Dean Martn
Steve Martin
Groucho Marx
Beth McCartney-Miller
Ed McMahon
Vince McMahon
Don Meier
Bill Melendez
Edward K. Milkis
Thomas L. Miller & Robert Boyett
John H. Mitchell
Elizabeth Montgomery
Garry Moore
Rita Moreno
Michael G. Moye & Ron Leavitt
Ruchard Mulligan
Lorenzo Music
Arthur C. Neilsen
Ozzie Nelson
Conan O'Brien
Jerry Paris
Trey Parker & Matt Stone
Robert W. Pittman
Mike Post
Sheila Nevins
Phylicia Rashad
Bill Rassmussen
Burt Reynolds
John Ritter
Geraldo Rivera
Robin Roberts
Pat Robertson
Andy Rooney
Roseanne
Tim Russert
Ed Sabol
Ted Sarandos
George Schlatter
Ryan Seacrest
Joseph Segal
Jerry Seinfeld
Paul Shaffer
Tony Shalhoub
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
Amy Sherman-Palladino
Aaron Sorkin
Carroll Spinney
Jerry Springer
Robert Stack
Howard Stern
Jon Stewart
Suzanne Summers
John Tesh
Marlo Thomas
Lily Tomlin
Alex Trebek
Bonnie & Terry Turner
Michael Warren
Keenan Ivory Wayans
Adam West
Joss Whedon
Robin Williams
Flip Wilson
Paul Junger Witt
Ed Wynn
Jeff Zucker
Anthony E. Zuiker

Sunday, March 1, 2020

THE CURIOUS CASE OF MAITLAND WARD: REFLECTION AND OBSERVATIONS ON AN ACTRESS'S UNIQUE CAREER CHANGE AND WHAT (If anything) IT SAYS TO THE FUTURE OF THE ENTERTAINMENT WORLD! (Note: It probably means nothing)

Okay, so-eh, I've been putting this article off a bit, but-eh,...

(Sigh)

Alright, let's just get this over with. So-eh, without going too deep into how this came about, earlier this year, I was at the AVNs.

NO! NO! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! Hold on, don't....- Let's- stop rushing to judgment here, let me explain. No, I did not, go, to the AVNs. I didn't buy a ticket or a pass or whatever, I wasn't at the Awards, and I wasn't apart of the show, nor did I go to the multi-day long conventions. I didn't do any of that. But, saying that, I was, technically, at the AVN expos .

(Annoyed sigh)

Okay, this is one of the reasons I didn't want to do this. Let me try this again, for reasons that I am not going to get into, the Adult Video News Expo, and all the surrounding events regarding that, happened to be, well, where I happened to be. I wasn't there for the AVNs, I was there, despite the fact that the AVNs were there. I was AVN-adjacent you can say. Adjacent enough, that, yes, it would be noticeable that the AVNs were there. So, yes, in a roundabout way, you can say, that I was at the AVNs this year. AVNs happened to be where I was, and I happened to be where the AVNs were.

Now, I know there's a bunch of questions, did I talk to anybody, did I meet anybody, did I see anything, can I even post this article in most of my the entertainment groups that I post in? That's honestly the big one I'm concerned about. As to the others.... Yeah, it was within my eyesight, okay. It was within my earshot, yeah, I occasionally talked to some people in the porn industry, who were at the convention, and yes, some of them I even recognized. And, even if I had something interesting to talk about regarding that, I probably wouldn't say, but I don't have anything interesting like that.

I'm not even certain this is truly worth covering. I mean, it's not entirely unusual for me, I have covered or discussed porn in the past to varying extents. Not lately, I did it a long time, ago, and even then, I writing a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article about something so minor and obscure regarding the industry that I'm not even certain that article is official canon for this blog. It's like from a different era, when I was still trying to figure out what the hell I'm even doing here.

It's this article I'm thinking of if you want context:

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-comedic-post-on-subject-of-very.html

I've occasionally brought it up elsewise as well. That said, I do have thoughts on the industry in general, and I do keep up and follow it to a certain extent, and I don't just mean that I watch it occasionally, I do keep some track of the goings-on and controversies and events within the industry. It's not something I talk about much, but...- (Shrugs). Actually, I do have a weird connection to this industry. For one thing, living in Vegas means that I'm fairly closer to it in general then others, like, the fact that occasionally I happen to share the same space with the industry when they overtake the city. (The AVNs wield great power in Las Vegas; they basically run this town.) That's not entirely it either though; growing up in a videostore, my family often sold porn, 'cause back then it was generally common for most video stores to have a porn section. I remember hearing stories about the day the Feds came and took all our Traci Lords materials, when that whole thing happened. So, in many ways, it's just another entertainment product, so in some ways I kinda put porn on the same level as other more legitimate art forms.

It serves much the same purpose, and let's face it, the legit film world and the porno film worlds have a lot more in common then perhaps either side would like to admit. Both have a history of being on the cutting edge of technology in the industry, both appeal to the masses, while also cultivating an independent avenue of distribution, both have been the subject of censorship attempts from the religious right and by the federal government at times, both of them are constantly struggling to reconcile their past with the advent of more modern technologies that make it easier to bring their product to the consumers while holding itself up to an artistic standard, while simultaneously being at the forefront and being the innovators and revolutionizers of those technologies, from the rise of VHS, to high-definition, to nowadays, the availability of streaming and cutting out the middle men of large production houses to having content creators directly distribute their work to their audiences. They're also both often at the center of several scandals, and yes, there's even several #MeToo-type movements that have effected the porn industry as well.

So yeah, there's this level where I feel it's hard to completely dismiss the porn industry; I mean, there's a reason I call this an "entertainment blog" and not a movie or TV blog; I do have preferences, but I don't believe I should be restricting myself to them. So yeah, I think this is a legitimate subject to discuss on this blog, and since I, had an experience with it firsthand, I think I'm justified in talking about the AVNs. So, yeah, this blog is going to discuss my observations and experiences with this years AVNs.

So what did I think of the AVNs? Umm..., um..., they were okay?

(Shurgs. Deep sighs)

It's, it's what you'd expect them to be. I-eh, I honestly, don't have too much to say about them actually.

It's a long three-day convention with sub-conventions within sub-conventions, and several other minor events throughout the schedule and calendar... it's-, it's a lot of the porn industry promoting and marketing itself. I don't really-, alright, I guess if I was younger and more into this, then yeah, I can see getting really exciting about seeing and meeting my favorite,- well, actually they call them AVN Stars now...? I think they're trying to promote that as opposed to porn stars? (Shrugs) I don't know how Pornhub feels about that but,...- anyway, they're all busy working, really. It's basically like most conventions, everybody's promoting and selling, and it's an excuse for the industry people to gather together and make connections. It's a necessarily evil in that regards. I mostly kinda felt sorry for most of the workers there, I mean, I'm sure they were happy and all to be there, but...- maybe I'm just jaded by growing up in Vegas and not finding most things that others would find scandalous, or titilating, either of those things. I mean, I literally grew up passing a billboard once a week on the I-15, that was literally just seven topless girls in thongs, with their backs turned towards us, ("Crazy Girls" at the Riviera, look it up.) and the only times I ever really noticed it was weird was when there was people from out-of-town in our car.

Also, I think I just don't like conventions, really. That might be part of it. I know fan conventions for everything is the big thing for fans to get together, and well, obviously that's why I hate them, and while I did feel sympathy for the porn actors and others working the conventions, eh, some of the fans, well, that's another matter.... I will say that the Red Carpet for the AVN Awards, was actually a really amazing experience, and the fact that that hasn't become a "Project Runway" challenge yet, is a huge missed opportunity. Like, seriously, that's gotta be an ultimate challenge. Not just for the show, but you get the performers as models, and they're all different sizes and different styles of dress.... It would be so, fierce!....

Anyway, speaking of the Awards, I guess I should talk about them a bit. I didn't see the show live, I did catch clips of what happened, and in preparation I did try to- well, not watch anything, but look up some of the stuff. I will say this, the AVNs are a fascinating award show, in good and bad ways. For one thing, they have way too many nominees in some categories, especially the fan vote categories; if you the think the Oscars Best Picture at ten is obnoxious, then you don't even want to look at these. Then again, I don't know how exactly or who exactly should go about determining the best in porn. I know that sounds like a fun project to some, but honestly, like how even judge...- you know, maybe I don't want to know. They also have a bazillion categories I might add. I mean, I get why, and you know, they are an inclusive bunch, so I'll give them that.

That said, there is actually a lot of artistic achievement here that's being. Admittedly, that is a bit surprising, considering how far away it seems like we've gone from that longago '70s, "Boogie Nights" era of porn where you could actually claim that porn was trying to be mainstream and artistic, but there's still some people out there trying to make projects like that, and they're getting awards. The AVNs even had their own "The Irishman" this year, a 3 1/2 hour epic porno narrative feature called "Drive" that apparently was fairly groundbreaking in the medium. Also, like "The Irishman" it mostly lost to other films, although it did get a couple big prizes.

i guess, since I'm here, both metaphorically in the blog, and literally in the past, here, I might as well, rundown, some of the "big awards" they gave out. Seriously, there's like hundreds of awards, and dozens of nominees in each, I'm not going through them all. Something called "Teenage Lesbian" won Movie of the Year, they're equivalent of Best Picture. Apparently it was actually romantic and emotionally inspiring. (Shrugs). Angela White won goddamn everything, again. Seriously, she won like 15 awards this year, including Best Actress for "Perspective" and Female Performer of the Year, for the third year in a row she's won that. Male Performer of the Year went to somebody called, Small Hands.

(Slight chuckle)

Okay, that's kinda funny. Kayden Kross won Director of the Year, she's the one who did that "Drive" film. Yeah, the AVNs have awarded many female directors and even transexual filmmakers in the past, so, they got that on the Oscars. Leading Actor went to "Perspective"'s Seth Gamble. Supporting Actor, somebody named, Tommy Pistol, (I guess Tommy Gun was taken...?) for "The Gang Makes a Porno", which I think is a spoof of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia", which, is actually a pretty decent idea for an episode of that show, so I can see that why that one caught their attention. Also, Supporting Actress, also went to Maitland Ward, again for the movie "Drive". Maitland Ward...? Oh, I know that reference! That's-, well, that's really obscure but that's actually kinda clever.

You do gotta enjoy porno names sometimes, and I always like it when somebody takes an obscure pop culture name like that. I mean, the pet name and street name thing, that's a cool name but yeah, if you're actually doing it, be a little creative. Like-eh, I remember in the '90s, there was a major porn star named Tabatha Stevens? Anybody remember her? She was on Howard Stern all the time back in the day? I always liked that name; that's-, I don't know how many people would catch this immediately nowadays, but Tabatha Stevens was the daughter on "Bewitched". When Darrena and Samantha had a girl, her name was Tabatha? I mean, she's not remotely connected to the character other then her porn name, but I like that kind of reference sometimes. (BTW, not related, but I think one of the reasons I hated "The Cable Guy" was because I studied too much classic TV as a kid and literally caught every single TV character reference in the film.)

Anyway, some stars still do that, there's a porn star named April O'Neal, which I think is too obvious but whatever.... Maitland Ward though, that's- like, I caught it, but that's really obscure, but it is actually clever. She's-uh, does anybody remember on the last couple seasons of "Boy Meets World", when Cory's brother and Sean's brother shared a dormroom apartment at the university and then they ended up with a female roommate and they ended up in a love triangle with her?



Ugh, I wish I could've found a better clip, but yeah, the tall redhead that moved in, remember her, Rachel something. (IMDB search) McGuire! Yeah, the actress that portrayed her was Maitland Ward. That's actually much more clever then other names; she's named after an actress famous for living with two guys in a apartment. In hindsight, now that I'm thinking about it, I'm kinda surprised there's never been an porn star named Jack Tripper. Maybe that was just too obvious? Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I'm a little surprised she didn't go by Rachel McGuire, you don't usually use the actor/actress's name, although Rachel McGuire's a pretty generic name, so I can see why she switched it up. Although I wonder what SAG thinks of her though....

Also, it makes it a lot harder to find different photos of them. It doesn't help that they actually do look really similar to each other too. I mean, she picked an actress that she looks like, but it's really-um-uh...- it's really-eh..., really kind of annoying, trying to distinguish between them. They even look like the their the same age now, not like how Maitland looked back then, but like how she looks now, which-eh, is very, um...- Um..., hold on,....

Um.... wait a second here? That's...- wait...?

https://www.thedailybeast.com/maitland-wards-journey-from-boy-meets-world-to-porns-a-list

Wh- wait what...!?!?!?



Oooooooooooooooooooooh-kay, we need to talk abot this.... Well, I found a way to sneak this back into "legitimate entertainment". Perhaps there's a half-way decent chance this blogpost won't get banned by every FB group I post in.

(Loud uncomfortable laughter that doesn't die down quick enough)

Oh dear. Let me see if I followed this career path here, um, Maitland Ward, after retiring from acting, at around ten or twelve years ago after getting married, she essentially found herself a new career, as a social media star. She kinda got into the Cosplay World, and became noted for doing that, and then, she began exploring a more sexual side to herself on Snapchat, Instagram and other sites at the behest of her followers/audience there and, eventually this led to her, in her forties at this point, mind you, entering the world of pornographic filmmaking. Again, this is, the girl from "Boy Meets World".

Okay, there's a few things to unpack here, 'cause this is a really unusual and, well, modern story, dare-I-say? And I'm not entirely sure where to begin here, so let's start with, is this actually, an unusual and unique career path?

Despite everything I said earlier about how similar the porn industry and the film industry are, they are also actually really separate from each other. That wasn't necessarily always the case; back in the '70s for instance there were actually some pornos shot on major studio lots for instance, but I think it's safe to say now that we're talking two different worlds. Two different worlds, and two worlds that are notoriously difficult to cross between them. Not impossible, but difficult.

So how unique is Ms. Ward's circumstances here? Are there previously people who went from the world of legitimate acting/performing/entertaining world, but then ended up finding success in the porno world? Is this something that happens?

Umm....- well, I mean, it is a popular cliche, the young starlet who comes into Hollywood, trying to make it big on the big screen and instead ends up in the seedy underbelly of the world of adult entertainment, that's a very common narrative, "E! True Hollywood Story" used to live on this cliche, so I have to imagine this has happened at some points. That said, I-eh, I actually don't know many examples of this. Like, real examples. The last time I remember something kinda like this was-eh, Jaimee Foxworth. She was, the little girl on "Family Matters", (Huh, both TGIF people...) the one kid from the show that nobody remembers, and basically got the Chuck Cunningham treatment on the show? Yeah, she ended up in the porn industry for a few years there during some troubled times she had after she became an adult, but even then, nobody even knew that 'til years afterwards.

If I dig enough I can probably scrape a name or two out of the muck of a obscure former child actor, or a reality TV person, or perhaps a pro wrestler/valet, couple other people who once made headlines, that found their way into the industry, but even then, I feel like I'd be stretching. Cause, most of those names you can think of, they didn't like, become regular porn stars or anything. Half of them they're mislabeled as porn stars or former porn stars because they were probably had a sex tapes that was released with or without their consent. Occasionally, maybe, somebody did a couple movies for a brief time in the industry, but I would find it very difficult to say that, Scott Schwartz, Dana Plato, Dustin Diamond, or Amy Fisher were really "porn stars". (If you don't know who Amy Fisher was, don't look it up, you don't need to know. If you do know, for God sake's don't remind Ryan Murphy about her!!!!! I don't need a miniseries about that!!!) Like, they maybe were in porn for a cup of coffee, but they didn't become part of the porn industry. And the few who you might say had a prolific adult film career, well, then, you got the opposite problem where usually they didn't have a particularly notable legit career to begin with. (And most of those careers were minor child stars when presumably they had little-to-no control over what they were in or anything.)

In fact, I might argue that it's more common and maybe easier to go, the other direction, go from working as a pornographic performer and then moving to legit acting. That legit sounds bizarre, saying it out loud, but statistically I think it's actually true, and I'm not even talking about those rare occasions when an actor/actress does something in porn at the beginning of their career and then later becomes a major actor like Sylvester Stallone or Cameron Diaz or Jackie Chan or whomever, I mean, people who's claim to fame was working in porn and then through their fame in porn, moved into legit mainstream acting like Traci Lords, Sasha Grey or Jenna Jameson. (Note: That said, I can also think of several porn stars who maybe had a minute or two of legit acting experience and then either went back to porn or tried to make the transition and it didn't pan out. It's a hard transition nonetheless, but evidence-wise, it seems easier to go this way.)

Which makes this case of Maitland Ward even more unusual because, while I think the myth is that people go into porn as a path to make it to legit acting, I don't think that's a real thing, certainly not anymore. Maybe back in the day when making porn was actually hard to create, and you had less product then demand and desperate actors and actresses would take porn work while simultaneously searching for more legit roles, but porn is easier to produce then ever. Once you're of legal age, you get a camera and maybe sign onto a camming site, and ouila, you're making porn. Okay, maybe you're ambitious and you get a little extra money, get some decent cameras and some editing equipment and lights, get a Schedule C tax form and now, boom, you got a little production company going on, but you wouldn't do that if you were trying to become a regular actor or filmmaker. Porn stars, for the most part these days, they want to be in porn. And by the way, nothing is wrong with that. In fact, I kinda admire that in people who work in this industry, especially in a country with a long history of ingrained sexual repression, I appreciate that there are people who are willing to put themselves out there like this, even if it is, just another kind of acting, it's in it's own way brave and daring.

That's kinda how it happened for Ms. Ward here. She took a few requests from her fans, found out that she rather enjoyed the act of expressing herself sexually on camera and to the world, and the more she did it, the more money she started making, and then the more bigger names in the porn industry came calling and now she's a two-time AVN winner and makes more money then she said she made acting regularly. (She also won for Best CosPlayer, she there's a subsect of porn for cos-playing porn stars, and apparently she's good at that too. [I'm being mean, she was actually renowned in certain convention circles for cosplaying even before she started getting into porn.])

Yet, she was, making money as a legitimate actress. Before she retired after getting married, she was getting pretty consistent and regular work. Even "Boy Meets World" was her second long-running TV show gig, she had a two-year run on a soap opera beforehand. She had a lot of consistent movie and TV roles over the years. She had some syndication money for "Boy Meets World" as well, she got a lot of pilots during pilot seasons. She wasn't the biggest name, and she wasn't a big star or anything, but by all accounts, she's a talented actress who got consistent work. I think it's completely fair to say that, up until she chose not to act for awhile that, she was a successful working adult actress.

Okay, that came out wrong, I meant, "adult actress" as in, she was an actress who was an adult.... I mean, she was a regular mainstream actress who got regular, consistent work. Now she's a-eh, successful working, adult actress.... "Adult actress", in this case as in, working in porn.

(Frustrated sigh)

And the weird thing is that her path to the porn industry, through social media popularity, is not that unusual within porn. I did look up a small number of the performers and stars who attended the AVNs Expo, or were nominated or whatnot, just to know what I was getting into and most of them have several social media accounts and they, obviously promoted the fact that they were all going to the AVNs and talked extensively about meeting their fans. And, when I say that they talked about "meeting their fans", I'm not saying that as a generality, 'cause they were literally talking about meeting their specific fans. Especially a lot of the people on camsites or on OnlyFans.com, and other pay sites and social media places that allow for the porn producers to talk specifically to their fans. Some porn stars even talked about specifically wanting to put a face to the name to the fans they were constantly in contact with and essentially paying their salary.

That's,- I mean, hey, they're putting in the work and they're getting paid, I'm happy for them, but, yeah, that's-, out-of-context that arrangement honestly seems creepy and scary to a certain extent. As far as I can tell there hasn't been a Rebecca Shaffer-like incident in the porn industry of any kind so far, and barring any OnlyFans hacks and leaks, well, any more..., anyway, the industry have bigger issues with deaths then this actually, so alright, I guess it's not that weird, and the worst case psychopath scenario are indeed worst cases, so.... But it's proven to be a profitable marketing and moneymaking avenue for most of the industry in one way or another, I'm not gonna criticize it.

Still though, that is something that's unusual, the fact that celebrities, artists, creators, that they all do have such close contact to the people who, consume the products. You can also make a decent argument that the same thing been going on with people getting famous for streaming on Youtube or Twitch or whatever and then getting regular famous work in the mainstream media.

I mean, is an interesting beast and it's got a lot of strange twists and turns and, I guess it worked out pretty well for Ms. Ward. She used her fame and notoriety to help promote herself and she listened to the people who listened to her and she found herself a career rebirth here. In her '40s no less. That's another thing, from a time when it used to be there was huge turnover in the porn industry based on age and certain beauty attributes, people stay in the industry longer then ever and all shapes and sizes and most kinks are fairly well accepted, now.

So-eh, what are we to make of this? I mean, are we suddenly gonna see a run of famous people ditching their legit acting and going into porn fulltime? (Shrugs) Well, probably not. The fact that it's easier then ever for people of all ages and sizes to enter the porn industry, also means it's easier to leave and while Ms. Ward found success and enjoyment at it, I can't imagine that it's going to be a new trend, where anybody who hasn't had a hit project in a few years suddenly goes to the porn route. I mean, it's not like Renee Zellweger had the choice of "Judy" or "Southern MILFS Gangbangs 4".

Maybe this means it'll be more common and accepted for people to go back and forth between porn and more mainstream projects? (Shrugs) I doubt it.

I mean, could there be more celebs who are bored with the opportunities that mainstream acting presents them for porn as a challenge? That's something that Ms. Ward's brought up. She said one of the reasons she retired was because she getting tired of being offered quote-unquote "Disney Mom" roles and she found the projects that she got offered in porn to be more interesting and challenging. Now, part of that is that, well, she's the one with the SAG card and training, so yeah, she's the one that's got the juiciest actingist roles there is in the industry.

Although now, we're down the road of, "Are there so few good parts for women in hollywood that  the mildly successful actresses has to go to porn to find roles...", and-ehhhhh, let's not open that can of worms. Besides, that's not a good argument anyway. I know it's still it's acting, but it's porn, you don't stay in it and become a part of the industry and have the industry embrace you, if you don't, you know, enjoy or a have a healthy fascination/appreciation with sex. And sex on camera at that!!!! That takes a certain mindset and type and I can definitely say that most mainstream actors, um, they don't have that. This is only from my experience, sure,  but many of my actor friends are the shyest people I know, especially the women, acting is what gets them out of their comfort zone and opens them up, and that's usually much different instincts then what most in porn have. Anyway, even if you're not acting in a movie or anything, there's other things people can do, and frankly she was well-off enough that she didn't even have to do this if she didn't want to.

I mean, the same thing has kinda started happening with Hollywood too. People are becoming famous on Youtube and through other social media and they're ending up getting work through that in legit filmmaking, maybe this is just a side-effect of a social media trend. One that was bound to happen eventually, and it just happened to be Maitland Ward, because all the right circumstances of celebrity, person and everything else led for it to happen with her? That's probably it.

Yet, it is a striking case though. It's almost like she went backwards, first she became a star actor and then she fell into the seedy underbelly world of adult film. Only it's not as seedy as it's portrayed and it's mostly just, a bunch of people signing autographs, promoting their next projects and trying to make movies and talk about their next big projects at occasions where they meet with fans....

The fans who pay for their product. Can you imagine how it would be if we just told our favorite actors or directors or whomever what projects to work on, and they did it? Of course, I know a lot of fans who would love to have that kind of power and influence but yeah, generally, that's not a good thing in most cases, so I hope we aren't going to start telling Saoirse Ronan to start doing avant-garde Pinteresque stage pieces involving her playing an amoeba with a heroin addiction or anything.

Eh, maybe I'm reading too much into the similar parallels between the industries, but with Ms. Ward's move to porn, it's proof that the lines are definitely blurrier now then they've ever been. Sure, from a convention perspective, the big difference between AVN and Comic-Con seems to mainly be that the AVN people have way more interesting toys, but cheap jokes aside, I just don't know quite what to make of this, at least on a broader scale of the entertainment world.

It's, it's definitely a unique career path for someone to take, one that I- I genuinely don't think could've ever happened prior to now. That's part of why I'm more fascinated with this then others might be. If you don't look closer and just scan the headline then this might easily be those cliches about the failed starlet turning to porn, but it's not at all that story. And yet, the right stars did have to align for Ms. Ward to be able to make this sudden a shift in career choice and to pull it off. I can't figure out the scenario where this could've happened to any other successfuI actor/actress of Ward's stature or higher at any other point in history. I guess it makes it easier for somebody else to do it in the future? I don't know what that means though, and I seriously doubt that it's going to become a new thing, but... (Shrugs) it's something.

I mean, I guess I would be more appreciative if her fans/followers told her to build a new kind of flower that cures cancer and she did that instead and found out she liked being a great new scientist or something. Although whom am I kidding if somebody told me that I wouldn't try it either, and even if I did, I'd fail miserably, so to each their own I guess. (And considering Twitter, I guess it could've been a lot worst.)  I do think these days, being in the arts, any arts, for a long period of time, especially a career like acting, and for that matter, porn, it's, a calling for oneself, and the fact that someone has managed to hear both those callings and been successful at both in their career, well that's an accomplishment worth noting.

So, congrats on your new calling Ms. Ward, I hope when I'm your age I'll be happily successful in my first true calling, once I figure out what that actually is, hopefully.