Could Sheen's firing from Men Behaving Badly be a sign of the end times for pop culture's Valhalla, that people will no longer put up with stars' egotistic bullshit? Nah, it's more like Ragnarök in the Thor comics, a cycle that's created by them, for them, but marketed to all of us -- diversionary entertainment at its purest. Here are some other recent examples:
Peter Biskind covers Mel Gibson's id in "The Rude Warrior" for Vanity Fair. Anyone who's read the author's books (e.g., Star, Down and Dirty Pictures) knows he has a penchant for overstatement, particularly when it comes to analogizing between a filmmaker's films and his or her personal life. This results in a hilarious reading of the movie I'm most anxious to see:
[The Beaver] features Gibson talking through a hand puppet that enables him to voice feelings he’s incapable of expressing directly, has been the object of much raillery. It hits every note in the Gibson songbook, and then some—most prominently, a suicidal dad redeemed by his son. (Foster says she took the script to Gibson because she thought it would speak to him personally.) But the film is so uncompromising, and directed with such delicacy, that it cuts through the sticky sentiment that is Gibson’s stock and trade. Foster manages to find in his preoccupations an authenticity that he has never been able to convincingly dramatize himself; she’s his beaver, so to speak.
I'm not sure he actually realized what he was writing in that last sentence, but what a double entendre.
In "The Apostate" at The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright interviews filmmaker Paul Haggis (e.g., Crash, Million Dollar Baby) about his fallout with The Church of Scientology, while detailing, along the way, the cult's history and its calculated relationship with Hollywood. There's so much great material here that it's hard to pick just one example, but Scientology's use of Sea Org (its missionary wing) for slave labor is fascinating. Take ex-member John Brousseau's involvement in providing favors for Tom Cruise:
In 2005, [Church leader and chairman David] Miscavige showed Cruise a Harley-Davidson motorcycle he owned. At Miscavige’s request, Brousseau had had the vehicle’s parts plated with brushed nickel and painted candy- apple red. Brousseau recalls, “Cruise asked me, ‘God, could you paint my bike like that?’ I looked at Miscavige, and Miscavige agreed.” Cruise brought in two motorcycles to be painted, a Triumph and a Honda Rune; the Honda had been given to him by Spielberg after the filming of War of the Worlds. “The Honda already had a custom paint job by the set designer,” Brousseau recalls. Each motorcycle had to be taken apart completely, and all the parts nickel-plated, before it was painted. (The church denies Brousseau’s account.)
Brousseau also says that he helped customize a Ford Excursion S.U.V. that Cruise owned, installing features such as handmade eucalyptus panelling. The customization job was presented to Tom Cruise as a gift from David Miscavige, he said. “I was getting paid fifty dollars a week,” he recalls. “And I’m supposed to be working for the betterment of mankind.” Several years ago, Brousseau says, he worked on the renovation of an airport hangar that Cruise maintains in Burbank. Sea Org members installed faux scaffolding, giant banners bearing the emblems of aircraft manufacturers, and a luxurious office that was fabricated at church facilities, then reassembled inside the hangar. Brousseau showed me dozens of photographs documenting his work for Cruise.
Both Cruise’s attorney and the church deny Brousseau’s account. Cruise’s attorney says that “the Church of Scientology has never expended any funds to the personal benefit of Mr. Cruise or provided him with free services.” Tommy Davis says that these projects were done by contractors, and that Brousseau acted merely as an adviser. He also says, “None of the Church staff involved were coerced in any way to assist Mr. Cruise. Church staff, and indeed Church members, hold Mr. Cruise in very high regard and are honored to assist him. Whatever small economic benefit Mr. Cruise may have received from the assistance of Church staff pales in comparison to the benefits the Church has received from Mr. Cruise’s many years of volunteer efforts for the Church.” Yet this assistance may have involved many hours of unpaid labor on the part of Sea Org members.
There's more than 40 pages of crazy shit like that. Excelsior!
And, finally, from the previous issue of Vanity Fair, there's "The Quaid Conspiracy" by Nancy Jo Sales, in which Randy Quaid proves more outré in reality (of a sort) than he's ever been on screen. He and his wife are running for their lives:
Evi Quaid called from a pay phone in Vancouver to say that she and her husband, Randy, the actor, had tried to drive to Siberia, but they “couldn’t figure out how to get there.” She said, “We’re running for our lives.” She wanted me to meet them the next day in Vancouver’s Chinatown—which couldn’t be arranged any other way, as the Quaids don’t use cell phones anymore, because, Evi said, “they’re tracking us.”
“They” were “the Hollywood Star Whackers” the couple had been talking about in television interviews ever since they arrived in Canada in October, seeking asylum. The “Whackers,” they said, were the same people who may have “killed” David Carradine and Heath Ledger, possibly set up Robert Blake, and could now be targeting Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. “Are either of you mentally unstable, schizophrenic, or on drugs?,” Andrea Canning asked on Good Morning America. “Do you think we are?” demanded Evi. “No!” said Randy.
Yet they're appearing on morning talk shows and magazines distributed to every supermarket in America. The article begins there and only gets better. As Dostoevsky once wrote, we love it when a good man falls. Forsooth.
[Thanks to Matt M. for pointing out those last two time-wasters.]