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Pitted Against The Lizard 

Beatty talks Bulworth, Baptists, boo and the bullshit of the bottom-line

Wednesday, May 27 1998
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Weekly: Is the film set in California, as opposed to Washington, precisely because it is about the pull of race and class and money on politics? Because California, much more than D.C. or New York, is really grappling with those issues in a way that seems to be setting the path for the rest of the country?

Beatty: Things come to a boil in this country from West to East - Southwest to Northeast. It's called money. Infotainment. Media. Things get hot here, then move back to what used to be the industrial center. Part of it is [Cali-fornia's] initiative system, which has its good points, but also a lot of bad ones. But the other thing is the huge population of this state. When something is voted into place in California, that's a huge number of people who are af-fected. That's a wonderful testing ground for politicians.

Weekly: A lot of critics and movie buffs bemoan the state of film, and everyone knows that money is at the root of the mediocrity. But there also seems to be less of a willingness on the part of audiences to be disturbed by a film, to be unsettled. Do you think that's because of some shift in public taste that's divorced from film-industry machinations, or is it that the decline of Hollywood artistry has shaped the tastes?

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Beatty: Well, I think we make a big mistake if we compare the music business of today - the music business; that's an interesting slip - the movie business of today to the movie business of 25 years ago. It's a different business. It's the difference between a guy who ran a pretty good steak place 25 years ago and now heads a McDonald's franchise. You make a lot more money from the burgers than steaks. And most of the attention in the cultural pages of newspapers - not yours - is paid to what's grossing the most money. It's a chart ranking the weekend's top movies. That didn't exist 25 years ago. I think the audience is still there to see films that don't go to the middle, but it's hard to see them if you're busy looking at a mass of a million people going toward something. That hundred thousand going toward something else tends to get overlooked.

Weekly: Did you see today's L.A. Times detailing how well Godzilla did at the box office during its first 29 hours, breaking down the receipts from the Tuesday-night preview screenings and the official Wednesday opening-day gross, then comparing it to Lost World and Titanic?

Beatty: Well, those figures are given to them by the company that financed the movie, and also buys a considerable amount of advertising in the Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles Times is as much a part of the machinery as Sony and the rest of these corporations. It's a pastime, going to the mall on a Friday night to see a movie, that has a different significance than it ever had before. It would have been inconceivable 20 years ago, 15, or even 10 years ago, that any movie would be on 7,000 screens, and it not be a function of the quality of the movie. It's the quality of chasing money.

Weekly: Celebrities, too, have entered into this poisonous marriage with the media.

Beatty: Many do, not all, but many. The game you have to play, as a celebrity who is trying to even participate in the mass sales pitch that everything is nowadays, is to guard as carefully as possible that which you feel needs to be guarded, and to still not get lost in the shuffle. Attention must be paid. I went about 13 years and never gave an interview. But now I'm sort of resigned to the fact that one has to do it if one is going to participate in the process.

There's no question that this is not a high-priced picture, but it's still a lot of money. So, I think the studio who put up enough money to make the movie, they honestly did not interfere. They didn't have the contractual right to interfere, but as you know, you don't have to have the contractual right to interfere, to interfere. On the other hand, they did nothing about the marketing and selling of the movie. They didn't know how this movie could be anything but a bore. Then they saw the movie and they laughed, and they've kinda come onboard.

My objections to the movie industry are far broader and more far-reaching than how this movie was handled, and I think they're objections that everybody has. Such as the idea that you have to get everybody on one night or you're a failure. I mean, what decent piece of work ever did that? It leads to nothing but the middle, and the word middle comes from the same root as mediocre. It's not "bad," it's "middle." It's just middle. Everything goes to the middle. That's the problem with the movies; everything goes to the middle. That's the problem with the Demo-cratic Party. It's lost its mission by going to the middle. I'm still a Democrat, I'm just not one of these Democrats. I'm a Bulworth Democrat.

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