Review of The Player
February 02, 2014
In 1992 Cher did a cameo for the Robert Altman film The Player. I have always hesitated to buy or review this movie because a) should cameos be included in a star's filmography? Really? and b) I was only 22 when this movie came out and had never lived in Los Angeles so all the cynical references were lost on me.
But since The Player and Altman's other cameo-ridden movie, Ready to Wear, always end up in Cher filmographies and since I'm older and LA-savy now and since the new Cher biography mentioned the trivia that Ret Turner was supposedly Cher's date to the movie, I finally purchased my (used) copies of these two "Cher films."
I'm actually glad I did. I'm better at reading these films now. Did I ever tell you how I became Cher Scholar? After creating the spoof fansite Cher Scholar, a site meant to be a critique of online Cher shrines, I was working at a job in LA and didn't have anything to do for a few weeks. So I started writing off-the-cuff reviews of all of Cher's albums in order to keep away the crushing boredom of the work day. This begot the Cher zines and essays and eventually this blog. Last week in a poetry essay I read a description of a Bob Dylan scholar as a "Dylanologist." In mocking celebrity scholarship, I accidentally became a real one. Anyway, it all led me to nerdy essays and pop culture analysis that ties back into the explicating I used to do in college for literature papers. This is why this post is so nerdy.
I don't know if you have to live in Los Angeles and hear awful Swimming With Sharks stories about Hollywood movie-making from your friends to get the inside digs the fill up The Player, but the movie starts right away with secretary abuse, ("I want him back here before he arrives!"). There are plenty of dysfunctional throwaways in the movie: posers who don't really watch movies, endless ridiculous movie pitches (Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate), sad digs at writers (the writer desperately stalking/pitching producers in the opening shot turns out to be a famous writer), the fast-paced frenzy of the power players in meetings juxtaposed with the frenzy of the police station (every bit as heated and crass, with Whoppi Goldberg twirling a tampon throughout the scene), disparaging TV stars versus "real" stars, characters who have their most personal conversation in script-eze and who make pissy requests at restaurants. It's humorous to see the world of curly-paper faxes, pre-Windows computers and pre-cell-phones. The movie also questions not only Hollywood posers but outsiders like the love-interest who is a painter and who claims to be above the world of movies: "Life's too short for movies." Turns out even she's not who she purports to be with her existential commentary on art and life, but possibly just a fake like everyone else.
Ironically, it's only the writers who pay to go see the movies here, who still love movies, and who still innocently consider movies to be an art form versus a cut-throat business that it really is.
Even Altman's film-making is meta-commentary on the movie business, his initial tracking shot that happens while the head of security (Fred Ward) drones on about long tracking shots. He keeps foreshadowing doom for the murderous producer/protagonist Griffin Mill. The movie marquee lights go dark when Mill walks under them; we see closeups of ominous horror movie posters, of dead fish, a picture of Alfred Hitchcock with his eyes closed. These turn out to be frustrating and empty foreshadowing.
Altman also subverts the idea of the happy ending as a critique of the happy ending. He hands us a happy ending but he gives it to the bad guy. Our hero is a thief and will he pay for his crime? No he will not, and here we have the movie's sublime irony. When earlier a writer pleads for his movie to be made lacking the typical Hollywood happy ending because that's not reality, Atlman's provides a happy ending for his protagonist/villain that is a "happy ending" but one that sadly still reflecting the harsh reality. Altman is, in effect, saying Hollywood producers get a away with murder. The happy ending is for their point of view, which makes for the realistic sad ending for everyone else.
This would be a distasteful message to hear from practically any other director other than Robert Altman, someone whom many consider an outsider auteur. You can believe he would have had to endure some of the near-murderous aggravations the movie describes.
Because the characters talk in script-eze and because some stars play stars in the movie and some stars play characters, Altman also subverts the idea that you can ever reconcile the fake with the real when dealing in Hollywood "players" since the fictions bleed into their real lives. And any story is always threatened with becoming overwhelmed by the personality attached to it.
Speaking of which, Cher is in three shots of the film. She appears at the LACMA party wearing a fire-engine red dress (when the invitations specifically call for black and white attire). This is supposed to be seen as typical Cher-style rebelliousness. She shows off her two 1990s-era shoulder tattoos and arrives with the nemesis of Griffin Mill, (played by Tim Robbins), Larry Levy, played by Peter Gallagher. Altman gives Cher the prime spot of sitting next to Griffin Mill in the movie and her only understandable line in the movie is "Well, are we having fun yet?"
Above is the shot of Cher appearing with her date in the film, Peter Gallagher. Next to that is a picture of Ret Turner with Cher in the same dress. This would indicate Cher arrived at the production with Ret Turner.
It's significant that Altman gives Cher such a prominent position in this scene. And that she wears red. Not only is the color shocking for the LACMA party, but it's a shot of color in an otherwise colorless and drab movie, the flat look familiar to many of the movies of the early 1990s. Remember how colorful Scorsese's The End of Innocence seemed to be in 1993?
There is a dullness in all the scenes, sets and characters. This flat lack of color seems very intentional. Even the painter seems drab (seeming and looking) in the story. It's as if Altman is saying Cher is the most colorful thing in Hollywood. And colorful in every sense you can think of: colorful in what she wears and says, colorful as in her attributes as a woman of color and ethnicity, and colorful as in just being an interesting person, as in being not at all dull.
So far from being simply a cameo, Altman's idea of Cher as a Hollywood personality becomes symbolic in the film's critique of Hollywood itself. And in an Altman-approved positive way. Cool beans.
As I was watching the movie, I played the game of "Catching People in the Movie Cher Has Worked With in the Past" (that I know of):
- Fred Ward (Morgan in Silkwood)
- Lily Tomlin (Cher show and Georgie Rockwell in Tea with Mussolini)
- Peter Gallagher ("Vince" Scali in Burlesque)
- Teri Garr (Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and Cher show)
- Karen Black (Joanne in Come Back to the Five and Dime)
- Martin Mull (Cher show) - I missed this cameo but he was in the credits