Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #98: Separating the Men From The Boys

A big manly tip of the ultimately macho cowboy hat to the conservative film site Libertas, who led me to this post where a British columnist bemoans the lack of "manly men" in Hollywood movies.

Now to save you from having to click the link and wading through a lengthy piece that criticizes the Duchess of York for criticizing the people who were critical of her daughter's poor bikini choice, I will quote it:

Where did all the real men go? by Allison Pearson

Critics have given a lukewarm response to the new Indiana Jones film. Its 65-year-old star is accused of being more like a second-hand Ford Cortina than a first-rate Harrison Ford. Spoilsports say that Dr Jones, the archaeologist adventurer, is supposed to excavate ancient ruins, not look like one.

Well, I reckon we owe a huge thank-you to Harrison for setting aside his Zimmer frame and pulling on that famous fedora just one more time.

The reason stars such as Ford, Sylvester Stallone and Al Pacino are still playing action heroes, when they should be playing dominoes, is because so many of today's younger male stars are boys instead of men.

Tobey Maguire, who plays Spider-Man, is 33, but he looks like the only struggle he has is figuring out how to use a razor every morning. In the era when John Wayne kicked in saloon doors, Tobey would have been lucky to be cast as the stammering bellboy.

Where did all the real men go? Films today are targeted at spotty wimps who weren't even born when Indiana first cracked his whip 27 years ago. In Hollywood, the geeks have inherited the Earth.

So, praise the Lord for gorgeous Harrison Ford. I will definitely be joining the queue to see the new Indiana Jones. Whatever its weaknesses, one thing's for sure: it'll sort out the men from the boys.
Now Libertas regularly gets flak for criticizing what they call the "metrosexual" leading man lacking the proper level of machismo as being homophobic, but those flak attacks are way off track.

Damn, I just rhymed.

The whole problem has nothing to do with the sexual preference of the actors in question, or even the appearance of having a certain preference, but with deeper concepts of masculinity, maturity, and Hollywood's rejection of both in its mad pursuit of some non-existent ideal of youth.

Ever since the 1950s when the "teenager" became a demographic all on its own with oodles of disposable income and a bottomless hunger for entertainment Hollywood has become obsessed with youth. This obsession grew into madness in recent years and leaving the entire concept of the "manly" hero in the ditch.

Now there are several reasons for this:

One reason is the shift in interest from the teen to the "tween," essentially prepubescent girls who, if the media is any indication of real taste, like shopping, clothes, talking about shopping and clothes, and non-threatening boys who may be afraid of spiders, but aren't afraid to talk about their feelings.

I know I'm stereotyping broadly, but manly-men don't discuss their feelings, they bottle them up and do stuff about them. It's the root of the action-adventure genre and in a tie with bacon as the top reason why men drop dead decades before women.

Another reason is what I call Hollywood's juvenile dementia.

In it's endless pursuit of being young and hip, Hollywood strove to extend youth for as long as possible. That's why you see actresses over 25 getting their faces frozen into mask-like grimaces for fear that a laugh-line might cost them the cover of Cosmo-Girl magazine.

And it's also why it's so damn hard to find a real "action hero" type in Hollywood.

To extend youth, and hopefully careers, actors regularly play younger than what they are. Sometimes ridiculously younger when you think back at the movie version of Rent, where they brought in most of the original Broadway cast 10 years after their initial run, and where you might get away with casting a 27 year old to play an 18 year old, but a 38 year old playing an 18 year old is stretching it beyond the realm of reality.

Also Hollywood seeks out actors that seem younger than they are. They want to appeal to tweens and teens for as long as possible, and that means looking for actors who still don't need to shave well into their 30s, actors who do not look mature.

And maturity is the main ingredient of the manly man hero.

The Hero is a man who makes hard choices, endures hardships, and keeps struggling until the day is won, and it's supposed to show on his face. The manly man is supposed to be an adult, not an artificially maintained teenager who whines a lot before finally dodging the villain's last attack, dooming the villain.

Daniel Craig's James Bond, and Christian Bale's Batman are molded after the classic mature adult hero. They portray the characters as if they know that what they do isn't the healthiest thing emotionally, or physically to do, but the characters make the sacrifices they deem necessary and the it shows on their faces.

And like I said at the beginning of this little ramble, sexual preference has nothing to do with it. The actor Rock Hudson was gay, and even if times were different and he could be openly gay at his peak, and even played openly gay characters, he would still be 10 times manlier than most of Hollywood's modern top hetero male stars.

Why? Because he played adult characters who could be tough with enemies, and tender with loved ones. His characters bore responsibility, and didn't run away from it into some perpetual whiny adolescence because it might sell more copies of Tiger Beat.

Also, going the manly man route is easier on the actor. It allows them age naturally, and still maintain a viable career as a screen hero well into what would otherwise be their dotage. For evidence look at the careers of John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, and others. In the case of Bronson, major Hollywood stardom really didn't come to him till he was in his 50s, an unheard phenomenon in Hollywood today.

My biggest hope for Hollywood is that it realizes that in order to save the action-adventure genre, they're going to have to grow up, and let their actors do it too.

1 comment:

  1. You know you are right. If Tom Cruise allowed himself to mature graciously, then he could probably still be taken seriously in an action role, and nobody would care about the Scientology crap. As for his new movie, did the Nazi's invent botox?