- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000


This is where the reel America lives. A visitor could feel it this week in the wake of the annual celebration of the awards to the men and women who, despite the handicaps of wealth, beauty and nobility of purpose, redeem the nation's soul every March.

Not for Hollywood is life in a dirty, rotten capitalistic system in thrall to the right-wing Christian homophobic tobacco society, where a woman often has to drive halfway across town to get the abortion that is her right.

The town rises above all that once a year, with the celebration of true-life stories, often sad ones, but all with the silver lining that is the care, the compassion, the warmth with which the film industry regards those less fortunate, the huddled masses yearning to make do with the Lexus 300 GS instead of the Lexus 400, which is of course the industry standard. (We're only now recovering from the Reagan years.)

The awards this year reflected the severe sense of sacrifice that has overtaken the town. Jack Nicholson spoke movingly of this with his tribute to Warren Beatty ("We almost lost him to politics"), and Mr. Beatty responded without disputation. Everyone here, including Arianna Huffington, understands that the presidency would have been Mr. Beatty's for the asking.

"American Beauty," which won most of the major awards, is a grim tale of homophobia in the suburbs, where a young man who lives with his feet two inches off the ground has trouble gaining altitude, and "The Cider House Rules," novelist John Irving's own adaptation of his book, is a heart-warming story of how a young black woman almost misses out on getting her abortion, and succeeds only after the abortionist's apprentice overcomes his right-wing revulsion at the culture of death, sort of like the Nazi who rescues a Jew in spite of himself.

Curiously (or maybe not so curiously), Mr. Irving, taking no chances in the months leading up to awards night, affected an observer's ambivalence, if not a neutrality, in his exposition of the theme. But when he had Oscar safely in hand Sunday night he was liberated to thank his muses at Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Courage is rarely scarce in these precincts.

Hollywood's gritty dedication to telling it exactly "like it is" is reflected in ways large and small, beginning with the screenwriter's craft. Certain rules are followed at all times. This is not formula writing, of course, but strict adherence to the discipline and restraint that is the mark of the movie culture.

Alex Metcalf, the hot Hollywood screenwriter, passes along this collection of the rules, some small and some large, that have become coda over the years, lending an air of verisimilitude common to all movies:

The beds in all movies are equipped with special sheets that reach to the man's armpits but only to the woman's waist as they lie together.

A loaf of French bread must be in all grocery shopping bags, and protrude at least four inches above the rim of the bag.

Once applied, lipstick never rubs off, not even during scuba diving or while bobbing in the ocean for several days awaiting rescue.

The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any apartment in Paris.

Large loft apartments, furnished from the pages of Town and Country magazine, are within the range of all New Yorkers.

A man can absorb the most ferocious beating and show no pain, but will wince when a woman cleans his wounds.

A single match struck in the darkness is sufficient to light up a room the size of Yankee Stadium.

Women should investigate strange noises in the house at 3 a.m. dressed only in revealing lingerie.

In cop movies, the chief of police, who is always black, must suspend his star detective just as he is on the verge of finding the killer, relenting only to give him 48 hours to close the case.

A full moon can occur several nights in a row.

When chasing a villain who gets on an elevator on the 20th floor, a policeman can reach the street faster by taking the stairs.

Any lock can be picked with a credit card or a paper clip, unless a child is trapped inside and the building is on fire.

If the heroine is blonde and beautiful, it is possible than she can be a world-class authority on nuclear fission (or fusion) at the age of 22.

High-class strippers have hearts of gold and can operate heavy machinery with ease.

Characters in love burst into frequent song, and when dancing in the street everyone they bump into will always know all the steps, including routines choreographed by Fred Astaire.

Dinosaurs only eat ugly people, and medieval peasants always have perfect teeth.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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