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Sex, Stupidity and Greed
book review by Gary Johnson

Sex, Stupidity and Greed is an incendiary look behind the scenes in Hollywood. Penned with caustic prose that burns past the grins and glad hands that typically accompany Tinsel Town hype, author Ian Grey has set his sights on exposing the ignorance and greed that has currently shaped American cinema. Grey's not at all happy with the current trends in Hollywood. In particular, he loathes the current crop of action movies, where "one stupid action movie" is "essentially the same as any number of other stupid action movies."

After spending two years of his life writing capsule reviews of Hollywood blockbusters for a video guide, Grey "marvelled at the outright arrogance and contempt these movies exhibited toward their audiences; annoyed at the shameless pop song soundtracks played at maxed-out volume, and dizzied by the spastic, low-attention span camera techniques." At the same time, he began to realize that "a small clutch of corporations" had "absorbed and controlled" the movie studios, the video companies, and the newspapers. You know the names: Time Warner, Viacom, Sony, Disney, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, etc. Grey even includes charts that show connections between movie studios, movie theaters, home video, cable, publishers, television stations, radio stations, magazines, newspapers, music publishers, and theme parks. As a result, each corporation "constitutes a vast monopoly." He says, "all information goes through the same corporate information process for maximum broad-based profit."

Sex, Stupidity and Greed is more than simply one man's diatribe on corporate avarice. Grey has interviewed several industry insiders about the problems they've encountered in Hollywood, including screenwriter John Fasano (Tombstone), director Michael Lehmann (Heathers), director Wes Craven (Scream), director John Waters, actress Sean Young, and several others, and he even includes a spaced-out encounter with director John Toback.

I found Sex, Stupidity and Greed to be an intoxicating read and roared through the pages--largely because I share Grey's disappointment in Hollywood action movies. I was hoping that Grey could pin down the problems so lucidly that no one could deny his conclusions. But the book ends up preaching to the choir, for the most part. For example, Grey spends one chapter talking about the Kevin Costner travesty Waterworld (and he'll get no argument from me that Waterworld is a "brain-dead" movie), but Grey has trouble pinning down the problems with the movie itself. Instead of telling us why the movie doesn't work, we're treated to a discussion of the ridiculously extravagant sets--that ended up at the bottom of the ocean. Or when he's talking about "The Life-Affirming Qualities of Gore," he tends to say that violence in films such as Demolition Man and Lethal Weapon is "truly mindless, a cheap filler between corporate-dictated plot machination and product placement"--without really making us understand what is "mindless" or "cheap" about the movies themselves. I kept waiting, hoping, praying that Grey would eventually drop the guillotine on stupid movie producers. But it never happens, which is especially disappointing seeing as Grey was a professional movie critic.

On the book's plus side, when Grey talks about movie making in general, he makes some powerful points. For example, he argues that computer-generated effects have a narcotic-like effect on the audience: "The studio's lust for megaprofits via blockbusters creates an audience whose experience is largely that of blockbusters, and so craves the adrenaline rush of even bigger, splashier and louder blockbuster every season." As a result, we end up with a whole generation of filmgoers who thrive on the visceral pleasure of seeing effects and bullets--but who have forgotten how to concentrate. Following suit, the filmmakers and producers then expect little from their audience and resort to gross manipulation: "You have a story problem? Stick in some zippy effect. Want to end a conflict with visual verve? Morph the fucker. Story dragging? AVID-edit the thing into hyper-drive!"

Sex, Stupidity and Greed is a fascinating read, just don't expect for it to always provide convincing arguments.


Sex, Stupidity and Greed: Inside the American Movie Industry by Ian Grey is now available from Juno Books (the former co-publisher of RE Search). Suggested retail price: $15.95. You can reach Juno Books at (800) 758-5238.


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