Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
It would be hard to describe Griffin Mill's job in terms that would make sense to anyone who has had to work for a living. He's a vice president at a movie studio, which pays him enormous sums of money to listen to people describe movies to him. When he hears a pitch he likes, he passes it along. He doesn't have the authority to give a "go" signal himself, and yet for those who beseech him to approve their screenplays, he has a terrifying negative authority. He can turn them down. Griffin starts getting anonymous postcards from a writer who says he is going to kill him. Griffin's crime: He said he would call the writer back, and he never did.
Robert Altman's "The Player," which tells Griffin's story with a cold sardonic glee, is a movie about today's Hollywood -- hilarious and heartless in about equal measure, and often at the same time. It is about an industry that is run like an exclusive rich boy's school, where all the kids are spoiled and most of them have ended up here because nobody else could stand them. Griffin is capable of humiliating a waiter who brings him the wrong mineral water. He is capable of murder. He is not capable of making a movie, but if a movie is going to be made, it has to get past him first.
This is material Altman knows from the inside and the outside. He owned Hollywood in the 1970s, when his films like "MASH," "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" and "Nashville" were the most audacious work in town. Hollywood cast him into the outer darkness in the 1980s, when his eclectic vision didn't fit with movies made by marketing studies. Now he is back in glorious vengeance, with a movie that is not simply about Hollywood, but about the way we live now, in which the top executives of many industries are cut off from the real work of their employees, and exist in a rarefied atmosphere of greedy competition with one another.
"The Player" opens with a very long continuous shot that is quite a technical achievement, yes, but also works in another way, to summarize Hollywood's state of mind in the early 1990s. Many names and periods are evoked: Silent pictures, foreign films, the great directors of the past. But these names are like the names of saints who no longer seem to have the power to perform miracles. The new gods are like Griffin Mill -- sleek, expensively dressed, noncommittal, protecting their backsides. Their careers are a study in crisis control. If they do nothing wrong, they can hardly be fired just because they never do anything right.