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Making the pitch for `Hollywood! The Movie'

OK, listen: `Birth of a Nation' meets `The Magnificent Seven,' maybe with a touch of `All About Eve.' And Tom Cruise would be perfect for the lead.

May 21, 2006|Gerald Nachman | Special to The Times

IN 1881, swashbuckling Hungarian Adolph Zukor (Tom Cruise) is bound for New York City in search of spices for his native land. He takes a wrong turn at Staten Island and, two years later, arrives off California in a rickety life raft, the Santa Monica, accidentally discovering what is later called Olde Hollywood & Vine.

Thinking quickly, Zukor plants the flag of his native country on a craggy hillside he dubs "Mount Para." He says, in broken English, "I proclaim this barren, uninhabitable land of palms and babes to be a holy wood. I also proclaim myself CEO of all I survey." He erects a large HOLY WOOD sign with a moat to ward off invaders from Anaheim. (The moat motif is later replicated in backyard pools.)

Though instantly accosted by men dressed in loud native garb and reading the trades, Zukor charms the natives and asks them to pose for an early photograph. They rebel, demanding a 15% cut of the gross. Zukor agrees to give them 2% up front and an ill-fated two-picture deal, the first recorded studio transaction to go into turnaround. When the excited natives cannot stand still for their group picture, "moving pictures" are born! Zukor, unsure how to actually make a "motion picture" on purpose, hires a man on the corner hawking newspapers (Brad Pitt), thinking the fellow wrote all the stories himself, and asks him to devise a blockbuster. Three months later, the screenwriter hands Zukor a script for an epic two-reeler, "Steer Wars: Cowboy Bandits From a Galaxy Far, Far Away," about cattle rustlers in outer space.

Still unable to read English, Zukor screams, "Dees iz nott'n but geebberish!" and farms it out to a nearby Polish farm boy for a polish. That farm boy is ... Sam Goldwyn (Charlize Theron, sans makeup), who takes the money from the script, retitled "The Great Train Robbery," and forms a rival company, where he cranks out "The Great Train Robbery II," "The Kiss: The Sequel," and "The Sneeze: The Musical." (The films are lost until the American Film Institute discovers them rotting in Lillian Gish's fridge.)

A gang of outlaw filmmakers, the dreaded Warner Brothers, comes riding into town and threatens to gun down the equally feared Biograph Boys: Jesse James (formerly Lasky); Darryl Zanuck out of Wahoo, Neb.; and the menacing Louis B. Mayer, known to bring starlets to their knees. A young hothead, Harry "the Kid" Cohn (Justin Timberlake), swaggers into the studio commissary and snarls, "I can out-curse, out-finagle and outfox any varmint in the place!" Cohn goes on to found 19th Century Fox, which merges with Columbia to form Universal Pictures, a Division of Gulf+Western, owned by Sony and, on alternate weekends, by Disney/DreamWorks SKG/Miramax (formerly Goofy Productions).

A shootout ensues, leaving the commissary floor littered with cutthroat mailroom clerks, one of whom, Will Morris (Adam Sandler), recovers and forms the first talent agency, vowing to bring justice to the streets of Holy Wood. He inks deals with some hunky pool boys and naked commissary dancehall girls. An orgy breaks out.

The orgy is relevant to the contract-signing back story, argues director D.W. Griffith (Quentin Tarantino), but the Hays Office rules that during orgies, men and women must not be shown in bed together -- or, if they are, one foot needs to be touching the kitchen table at all times. Adulterers must be punished, or severely reprimanded. Crime cannot be shown to pay, except in cases of deferred profits to exploited stars.

Soon after the orgy, a pack of undocumented aliens sneaks into town -- Charlie Chaplin from England (Antonio Banderas), Mary Pickford from Canada (Sharon Stone), Douglas Fairbanks from Fairbanks, Alaska (Felicity Huffman as a transplanted transsexual). After battling the studio system at Ciro's over the check, they form United Artist Hyphenates. "We'll cook our own damn books! So there!" cries Chaplin, establishing the first indie film company. At fade-out, Charlie, Mary and Doug toddle up Sunset Boulevard into the setting sun (Liza Minnelli, in an uncredited cameo).

Flash forward to 1952: The scene is a congressional hearing room, where a character who echoes Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (George Clooney) testifies before a House subcommittee on un-American activities, delivering a stirring speech about the evils of television that threaten to destroy the film industry and corrupt the nation's children. (The studios, after a Supreme Court decision, patriotically volunteer to sell their theaters, but manage to retain the popcorn concessions, TV networks and San Fernando Valley water rights.)

When the Clooney character refuses to name names, he is given a star on the Hollywood Ten Walk of Fame in Bel-Air alongside markers honoring Warren Beatty, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn, Robert Redford, Alec Baldwin and Rosie O'Donnell, all outspoken, exiled Rodeo Drive radicals.

As the film ends, the 103-year-old Adolph Zukor has an out-of-body experience and returns as an ex-rap musician, AZ Bigg Mogul Dogg, poised to lead Hollywood into its next glorious 125 years. As he tells reporters, "We're doing God's work here."

Gerald Nachman wrote "Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s."

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