Blog post by Ross Munro for Wholly Cinema.
When you think of the best movies that skewer the corporate dream factory known as Hollywood, one immediately thinks of Billy Wilder’s screenwriter-as-whore classic “Sunset Boulevard”. Released in 1950, this slyer than sly cinematic shotgun blast of acerbic Tinsel town satire hasn’t lost an ounce of its sarcastic venom as it chronicles iconic actor William Holden’s doomed script doctor Joe Gillis as filmmaker Wilder gleefully posits the age-old question “Who do you gotta screw to get ahead in this business?”.
It would take nearly half a century before the arrival of the next film that would come close to excoriating the film biz like the Oscar winning “Sunset Boulevard” and is it any surprise it would come as the “comeback” feature for maverick American director Robert Altman in the form of “The Player” (1992).
Based on the high-octane satirical novel by Michael Tolkin, “The Player” see’s actor Tim Robbins at the top of his game as the smarmy Hollywood exec Griffin Mill (Grist Mill, Run of the Mill…?) who accidentally murders a screenwriter (every studio executive’s fantasy no doubt) in a shallow pool of water and then goes into paranoid cover-up mode as the noose of culpability tightens.
Cheekily biting the hand that feeds, iconoclastic director Altman (who was nominated for an Oscar for the film) throws down a verbal barrage of bon mots excoriating the vacuous pretenses and the poisoned corpse of big studio decision making as his camera bobs and weaves (even throwing in an homage to the long opening shot of Orson Welles’ studio-butchered “Touch of Evil”) through a rogue’s gallery of shallow industry-biz denizens (played by an assortment of actual celebrities too numerous to mention…).
But now, thanks to the stunning new bluray from Warner Archive Collection, (hey…Hollywood studios aren’t so bad after all…!), it’s time to mention a third title that must take it’s place in this rarefied tradition of giving Hollywood the jaded middle finger treatment- Blake Edward’s 1981 little seen comic masterpiece “S.O.B” famous upon release for up-to-then squeaky clean Julie Andrews’ famous on-screen topless reveal.
Best known for his long running Pink Panther series, director Edwards sandwiched this painfully hilarious Fuck You to Hollywood oddly enough between his smash hits “10” (single handedly reinvigorating sales of Ravel’s “Bolero”) and the gender bending “Victor/Victoria” (also starring real life wife Julie Andrews).
Following the desperate travails of veteran filmmaker Felix Farmer (name inspired by used and abused Tinseltown actress Frances Farmer…?) after his latest film bombs, the director conceives of a surefire cinematic comeback with a sex-laced movie whose success hangs on the first ever screen appearance of the aforementioned Miss Andrew’s unadorned cleavage.
Edwards populates the cast with an assortment of veteran character actors like Richard Mulligan, Robert Preston (soon to get an Oscar nod in “Victor/Victoria”) and Robert Webber who play their roles with the meaty satisfaction and grizzled “seen-it-all” expressions that provide “S.O.B” with it’s desperate underpinnings even as the poison-tipped barbs proceed to devour the hand that feeds in this “Raging Bull” of Hollywood satires.
Also, this would prove to be iconic William Holden’s last role before his untimely death. Holden’s commanding yet subtle presence provides the connective tissue from his “Sunset Blvd” performance as we watch a true Hollywood lion preside over director Edward’s sure-handed skewering of the film industry’s “Standard Operational Bullshit”.
The director and cast of “S.O.B.” are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore!
Viva La Cinema!