Daily Archives: January 6, 2004

“Dick Tracy” vs. “Anonymous”

The Democratic presidential candidates might be toiling away in Iowa and New Hampshire, but some Hollywood activists are focused on an entirely different contest: The Warren Beatty Primary.
To whom, if anyone, will the quixotic – yet oddly cautious – actor throw his support?
And when he does so, will it be worth anything?

So muses columnist Lloyd Grove, desperate for something to talk about that might take his mind off the much-discussed “disconnect” between Americans with an ounce of sense and “insider” hacks like himself. So what does he do? Speculate on a non-existent phenomenon. That Warren Beatty is deeply involved in politics is scarcely a bolt from the blue. Neither is the fact he’s to be numbered among those creatures most despised by Grove and his ilk — Liberals.

“My powder is dry – and that’s all I have to say,” Annette Bening’s 66-year-old husband told me from Beverly Hills.

And that’s about all Grove is going to get out of Warren Beatty’s mouth about politics.

Or anything else.

Yes, Warren Beatty has kissed, kissed, and kissed agian.

But he’s never told.

Except to Gavin Lambert for his superb Natalie Wood: A Life. Now that was coup!

But then that’s Gavin Lambert.

Not that Warren Beatty is unfriendly. Far from it. In the half dozen times I’ve had a chance to chat with him he’s been remarkably affable — even forthcoming. A fortiori I was delighted to get — completely out of the blue — a phone call from him after my book Open Secret came out, offering a correction about a mistake I’d made regarding Cary Grant’s marital history — earning him an acknowledgement in the revised paperback edition.

In fact, while both his political affiliations and his romantic life are an “open book,” he’s managed to keep that book on a very high shelf the better to maintain a genuinely “private life” — something that’s still possible even in our Brittany-Spears-besotted era. To give but one example, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single picture of any of his and Annette Bening’s children in circulation.
He hasn’t asked Pat Kingsley to call Oprah for an interview about “the meaning of fatherhood,” or Barbara Walters for any self-regarding arborial musings.

All Warren Beatty has ever really has ever wanted is for his work seen and understood. And that’s well beyond Lloyd Grove’s ken.

If Lloyd Grove really wants to know what Warren Beatty “thinks,” all he has to do is rush right out to the video store and get himself copies of Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo, Reds, Bulworth , hell even Dick Tracy and write about them. But that would require actual work on his part. And Grove knows his real duty as a columnist is to cull quotes from anonymous “sources.”

“The problem,” says a Hollywood insider, “is that he is incredibly well-informed and cares deeply about the issues, but he is so concerned about his credibility and his political capital that he won’t do anything with it – and it diminishes his political capital.”

But as he has never expended this alleged “political capital” before the public in an obvious way, why should he be “concerned”? Can Grove name a single candidate who has ever publically proclaimed “Warren Beatty Supports Me” and touted that as a reason other voters should do likewise? Of course not.

“Does anyone care anymore?” says another longtime Beatty-watcher. “The idea that he has any power is really an idea from the 1960s.”

Beatty, for his part, said to me: “I’d like to know who is saying these things to you!”

All anonymous, Warren.

Well naturally. Had Grove said it was Pat Caddell or Joe Klein or any number of other other Beltway Brats it would have detracted from the glamour that anonymity has acquired since “Deep Throat.” Not as glamorous as Warren Beatty, however — which is why Grove is so pleased with himself that he got warren beatty to return his phone call.

Meanwhile, the Beatty Primary remains the quadrennial psychodrama of American politics, Democrat division. In past election cycles, Beatty has lent his star power to the roles of tireless campaigner (for Bobby Kennedy in 1968), ex-officio strategist (for George McGovern in 1972 and Gary Hart in 1984 and 1988), harsh critic (of Bill Clinton, from 1992 through 2000) and potential candidate himself (in 1999, when he delivered an attention-getting critique of the status quo to a celeb-studded audience in Beverly Hills).

And that was, of course, when he was publiczing Bulworth — a film that more than any book or article I can name explains both the way in which Liberals have been banished from the “mainstream” and how the “political process” as it’s called, actually works. In fact so astute, so insightful and so enraged (as the buzzword du jour would it) was Bulworth that many expected Beatty might be considering a run for office himself.

Now wouldn’t that be something? You had to get a bucket to scoop up the saliva pouring from the craws of the Beltway Brats. But it wasn’t to be.

Alas, we got Arnold Schwazenegger instead. And I do hope I’m not the only one struck by how similar the gubenatorial campaign ads for the cinema’s most famous robot were to those of Beatty’s “J. Bullington Bulworth.”

But this time, it’s getting very late in the game for the actor if he wants to make a splash. Already lining up behind various candidates are such leading lights as Rob Reiner (for Howard Dean), Sherry Lansing (for John Kerry), Aaron Sorkin (for Dick Gephardt) and even Beatty’s ex-girlfriend Madonna (for Wesley Clark).
But whither Warren?

Wesley Clark? No wonder he dumped Madonna!

“Your questions are certainly articulate and very specific. My compliments to the chef,” Beatty dodged. “I know nothing whatsoever about my personal life.”

He shoots, He Scores!

“I know nothing whatsoever about my personal life.”

As the Oscar Wilde of Metrosexuality, Warren most definitely lives up to his Blue China.

When I pressed him, Beatty added: “I am a Democrat. … Let’s put it this way: There will be no satisfaction to you and your seeking an answer to your question. There will be, however, good wishes for a happy New Year.”
In the end, maybe Beatty will come out for the candidate with the best policy on lighting.

And that would mean that Vittorio Storaro would be his choice for the veep slot, no?

But enough of Lloyd’s inanity. Go the video store yourself and rent/purchase the works. It’s all there. Nothing “elusive.” Nothing “held back.”

Shampoo is both an apologia pro vita sua, and a Racinian comedy of manners in which a seemingly mindless lotario is allowed a peek into the Nixonian future as the “swingin’ 60’s” comes to an end. And being the generous sort that he is, Beatty doesn’t portray the vehicle of his hero’s undoing, the businessman Lester (Jack Warden), as an embodiment of Evil — or even an out-of-step stuffed shirt. Indeed the fact that Lester can adapt to every situation (the hot tub orgy in the party scene), deal with a faithless wife (the superb Lee Grant) indifferent slut of a daughter (Carrie Fisher, ideally cast) and still see that his mistress (the Beyond Sublime Julie Christie) is The One He Really Wants, shows he’s prepared to take command. In fact, while he plays a Republican there’s something Clintonesque avant la lettre about him.

There’s been a lot of blather about the fall of Communism lately. Consequently anyone (except the congenitally incurious Lloyd Grove) who wants to know why it never took root in this country — or anywhere else for that matter — a look at Reds is mandatory. Recounting the life of John Reed, Beatty’s film shows exactly what happens when a writer becoems entwined with his subject. The interviews with the “witnesses” (persons both famous and obscure who were contemporaries of Reed, Louise Bryant and their circle) make the film a historical document of a rather unique sort.

And who can forget the opening scene where Reed, the guest of honor at a political banquet, is asked to explaing what “this war [WWI] is all about” and simply rises and replies “Profits.”

True then and true now.

And the fact that Warren Beatty knows this, and the Beltway Brats either don’t or won’t admit it (I can’t decide whether the former or the latter is worse) pretty much says it all.

Or at least all until Warren Beatty writes/directs/stars in another movie.

No, not Dick Tracy II.

His long-planned Howard Hughes biopic has been on hold for so long it left the door open for Martin Scorsese to do one of his own with Leonardo DiCaprio.

But if he longs to make a film about isolation and megolamania he might try Aldous Huxley’s roman a clef about William Randolph Hearst, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. Orson Welles seriously considered makig it his first film until Herman J. Mankiewicz showed him a draft of the script that became Citizen Kane — and the rest is history. But Huxley’s book, while set in the 30’s hasn’t really dated at all. Its vistas of depression-ridden L.A. are certainly still with us. And the “War on Terror” can stand in for the Spanish Civil War and the disillusionment it engendered in those who fought in it quite nicely. Best of all it’s about a man searching for eternal life who — to his horror– finds it by regressing to an earlier evolutionary state (yet another topical element.)

Yes, it would be a great Warren Beatty movie. Especially for the Warren Beatty of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, memorably mumbling “Money and Pain — Pain!” But as always, in all things, Warren Beatty makes up his own mind thankyouverymuch .