Cinema Verite, or of Decay?

Article excerpt

Summary: Film critic Michael Medved is no favorite of the Hollywood establishment, and that's not likely to change after the release of his new book. In it his vision of America clashes sharply with the one he says most movies depict.

According to Michael Medved, Hollywood's America is an evil land of murderous psychotics, serial killers, toxic families, heinous religions, lawless youth, rampant violence and sexual deviance. By contrast, Michael Medved's America is a land of happy marriages, solid families, prayer, patriotism and what he calls "traditional values."

The disparity between these two Americas made the film critic and professional provocateur angry, so he wrote a book: Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values (HarperCollins), which will show up in bookstores this fall. His timing couldn't be better.

Dan Quayle's Murphy Brown speech in Los Angeles in May attacked Hollywood's lack of "family values" and set off a bicoastal war of words and sound bites.

Three months earlier, a cover story by Medved ran in USA Weekend. In an impassioned polemic extracted from his book, he argued that "America's long-running romance with Hollywood is over." His proof: a historic low in movie attendance, coupled with an impressive array of statistics on the box office performance of R-rated movies (so labeled for sex, obscenity and/or violence) versus those rated G or PG ("clean" by the Motion Picture Association of America's standards).

Guess which do better on average? G and PG. Guess what Hollywood makes more of? R, by far. And to what movie did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences give the best picture Oscar for 1991? The Silence of the Lambs, about a cannibal and a transvestite serial killer and in which the cannibal helps the good guys. A USA Weekend poll accompanying the article asked readers to vote "Yes" if they agreed with Medved, "No" if they didn't. Almost 450,000 agreed, while 21,000 disagreed. A hot button was pushed.

The latest chapter in the story of Michael Medved versus Hollywood had begun.

"I expect every kind of nasty personal attack," says Medved, 43. "I'm expecting that the book will get panned, that it will be denounced as some kind of right-wing diatribe -- even though I go to great lengths in the book to say that I don't think of my position as right-wing at all and I try very hard not to be political."

That will be a tough sell. Medved is "hated" in Hollywood for his conservative views, says one insider. When his testimony on behalf of Paramount during the Art Buchwald Coming to America suit revealed he had worked as a script consultant for the studio, enemies called him a critic on a payroll. (In fact, Medved worked for Paramount before he became a critic.) He is an observant Jew in a secular town, precluding him from attending Friday night parties and making him seem, by his own admission, "lavishly weird." On Sneak Previews, the PBS movie review show he cohosts with Jeffrey Lyons, he is outspoken in his criticism of what he believes to be excessive sex, violence and profanity in today's motion pictures.

It is a frantic morning in the Medved home in Santa Monica, Calif. His wife, Diane, a psychologist and author (The Case Against Divorce), recently gave birth to their third child. The berith, the Jewish rite of circumcision, is in two days. Today is the last day for corrections before the book goes to print. Calls come in from Medved's rabbi, father and his brother Harry in Israel (who collaborates on Medved's Golden Turkey Awards bad-movie guides). Despite the distractions, he speaks in characteristically concise, fully rounded thought bites. The book, in a nutshell:

"Hollywood's fundamental problem has nothing to do with sloppy camera work or bad editing or unconvincing acting. The underlying problem has to do with the values of the motion pictures today, the fact that our major film companies seem to go out of their way to assault values cherished by most American families, and the result has been a collapse of the moviegoing audience. …