“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…”
-“Gone With the Wind”
There is no greater metaphor than this quote for Old Hollywood, which has become as drenched in fairy tale as the films that it created.
Joel and Ethan Coen look down on this notion of what Hollywood should be with their latest film, “Hail, Caesar!”
“Hail, Caesar!” is set in the 1950s, the era when the so-called studio system was meeting its downfall. It follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the head of the fictitious Capitol Pictures, as he works with controlling directors, pregnant starlets and screenwriting Communists.
What the Coen brothers have done is taken the old archetypes and placed them during the fall.
The dancing man-made immortal by Gene Kelly is embodied with perfection by Channing Tatum, who oddly makes great acting decisions as if he were free in his natural habitat.
The singing cowboy is Hobie Doyle, played by the show-stealing Alden Ehrenreich. Hobie is forced to be in a period drama directed by the European iconoclast Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).
And the starlet, leading lady is DeeAnna Moran, played by Scarlett Johansson, who stars in mostly water musicals.
All four work together with Mannix to find Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a Kirk Douglas type who specializes in sandal epics (think “Ben-Hur”). Baird has been kidnapped by a group of Communist screenwriters that call themselves “The Future.” Naturally, shenanigans ensue.
But to understand the world and themes of “Hail, Caesar!” one must have an understanding of the studio system and why it fell. In the beginning, studio heads were the feudal lords of Los Angeles, and artists had no choice but to bend their knees to one of the seven majors (20th Century Fox, Paramount, MGM, Columbia, Universal, RKO and Warner Bros.). Stars became synonymous with their respective studio and it came to a point whichever kind of film it was, it could be linked to one of the seven.
Then came the fall. In the 1950s, studios were no longer allowed to own movie houses, which became independent. The rise of the agent and talent manager didn’t help either. The Red Scare ravaged the artistic landscape with the blacklist, a list of filmmakers and actors who were suspected of being Communists.
With classic Coen brothers humor and wit, “Hail, Caesar!” is also a celebration of the moving picture’s history. A true comedy.
“Hail, Caesar!” is now playing at the Regal Natomas Marketplace Stadium 16 in Sacramento.