This Week's Must Read
4:22 pm
Fri January 24, 2014

Movie Buff Or Not, There's Something 'Beautiful' About Hollywood

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 6:29 pm

Kevin Roose is a New York Magazine writer. His new book, Young Money, comes out next month.

With the Grammy Awards just two days away, the Academy Awards on the horizon and the results of the SAG and Golden Globe awards already in, we're smack in the middle of awards season.

I don't watch the Oscars. I don't even see many movies, unless you count what's on Netflix. But Jess Walter's very funny novel, Beautiful Ruins, made me want to quit my job, move to L.A. and see the Hollywood train wreck up close.

The book tells a decade-spanning story about Claire, a young assistant to a past-prime movie producer named Michael Deane. Deane — who's had so much plastic surgery that he now resembles, as Walter puts it, a "lacquered elf" — once worked on Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. But now he's in a slump, so Claire spends all day hearing pitches for reality shows like Drunk Midget House.

The book begins as a send-up. We Hollywood in all of its crass, commercial glory — washed up stars who refuse to get out of their silk pajamas and greedy studio executives. But the end, we realize the joke is on us. We're the audience clamoring for lowbrow reality shows, and Hollywood is just giving us what we want.

There's a love story in Beautiful Ruins, and it's a good one. But the sharpest parts of the book are the ones that explore the space that film and TV occupy in our world, and how even the most low-budget productions can be genuinely meaningful. Another character, Shane Wheeler, an aspiring screenwriter, makes the connection between film and religion. "Wasn't the theater our temple," he asks himself, "the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? A million schools taught ten million curricula, a million churches featured ten thousand sects with a billion sermons — but the same movie showed in every mall in the country. And we all saw it!"

It's a convincing epiphany, and it makes me want to pay attention to what happens this awards season. If Jess Walter is right, there's something much more important going at the Oscars than starlets, red carpets and the glittering mess of Hollywood.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Of course, outfits are a huge part of the fun at the big awards shows and 'tis the season. The Golden Globes just passed. The Grammy's two days off, the Oscars not long after. So it's a good time to catch up on last year's movies and check up on the red carpet. It's also a good time to read about the glamorous life. Here's writer Kevin Roose with a book recommendation for the run-up to Oscar mania.

KEVIN ROOSE: I'm not really into the Oscars. I don't care that much about the stars, and I haven't seen most of the movies. But there is one book that made me want to quit my job, move to LA and see Hollywood up close. It's Jess Walter's novel "Beautiful Ruins."

The book is about a young woman named Claire. She's an assistant to a movie producer who's a bit past his prime. He once worked on "Cleopatra" with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. But now he's in a slump. He's had so much plastic surgery that he looks like a lacquered elf. And Claire spends all day hearing pitches for reality shows like "Drunk Midget House."

The book begins as a send up. We see Hollywood in all of its crass commercial glory - washed up stars who refuse to get out of their silk pajamas and greedy studio executives. But by the end, we realize the joke is on us. We're the audience clamoring for lowbrow reality shows and Hollywood is just giving us what we want.

The book is sharpest when it's exploring that space, the one that TV and film occupy in our lives. It turns out that even the most low-budget productions can be genuinely meaningful when they become part of our common cultural experience. One aspiring screenwriter in the book makes the connection between film and religion.

Wasn't the theater our temple, he asks, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral?

It's a convincing epiphany, and it makes me want to pay attention to what happens this awards season. If Jess Walter is right, there's something much more important going on at the Oscars than stars, red carpets and the glittering mess of Hollywood.

BLOCK: The book is "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter. It was recommended by New York Magazine writer Kevin Roose. His new book, "Young Money," comes out next month. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.