Hollywood Dreams Of Wealth, Youth And Beauty
Tinseltown didn't invent the American dream, but it sure put it out there for the world to see — a dream lit by the perpetual sunshine of Southern California, steeped in the values of the immigrant filmmakers who moved there in the early 1900s and got enormously rich.It was their own outsider experience these Italian, Irish, German and often Jewish moviemakers were putting on screen, each optimistic, escapist fantasy a virtual American dream checklist:
- Hard work carries the day in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
- Little guy makes good in the oil-rich world of Giant.
- Character matters more than birth, as no one knows better than Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.
- And you make your success as an individual, says rugged individual John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
I like to be in AmericaHollywood had long been inspiring immigrants to come to the U.S. with images that filled them with overstated optimism about what they'd find here. The Italian film Golden Door depicts the dream in all its glory; made in 2006 but set a century earlier, it centers on a Sicilian immigrant who's lured here by trick photos that show American rivers flowing with milk and onions the size of wheelbarrows.By the time he gets to Ellis Island, traveling in steerage, he's figured out that these are false hopes. But then he sees Manhattan's skyscrapers glinting in the sun. Someone calls them "golden houses 100 floors high," and his face lights up again. That is the power of the American dream.There is, of course, a catch to all this dreaming. The movie industry stacks the deck pretty heavily, treating wealth — or at least financial security — much the way it treats youth and beauty. The vast majority of happy characters in movies are young, good-looking and well-off, so the subtext is that those qualities all go hand-in-hand.Never mind that the storyline is telling you that what matters is what's in your heart. Never mind, in fact, when it tells you that not everyone makes it. Because even the folks who aren't making it on screen are still movie stars."I coulda been a contender," laments Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. "I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum." Well, sure, but he's still a young Marlon Brando — and he's earning a movie star's salary.And that speaks to why Tinseltown's version of the American dream became so seductive. Chaplin, who played the Little Tramp, was a millionaire, a fact that was not unknown to the public. For decades there has been no greater glamour than that bestowed by Hollywood. Even when fame is fleeting, it's flashy.And you don't hear about the big star who lives in an ordinary house and drives an ordinary car, because that's not part of the fantasy. By leaving out the caveats, Hollywood can make the American dream seem a persuasive American reality — even if it's not the reality most of us experience.Which is why when people come to visit from overseas, they often remark on something that seems kind of unremarkable if you live here."All the cars are new," they say. "It looks like a movie."What they can't see, of course, is the monthly car payments, or the maxed-out credit cards. But they're right, the image is like the movies. It does look American, and is kind of dream-y. All filmmakers are doing is making what they know. And then doing a little editing.
OK by me in America
Everything free in America
For a small fee in America
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