An Essay on The Player

by smARTfilms curator Tova Gannana

The Player 01


The only one crying at the end of “The Player” is Bonnie Sherow of the writing department. Her high heel is broken and there is blood on her knees, a writer may have died, but she has just been fired for asking at a pre-screening of a film in which the ending has been changed to a happy one, “What about truth? What about reality?” To which the writer in the room chewing a mouthful of gum says, “What about the way the old ending tested in Canoga Park? Everybody hated it. We reshot it now everybody loves it.” Everybody in Canoga Park meaning the audience. Robert Altman’s “The Player” is said to be an indictment of Hollywood. Altman went further; he said the film was a metaphor for greed and he could have placed it in any industry. “People say this is a satire and it’s an attack on Hollywood. It isn’t. I’m using Hollywood and the film business as a metaphor for our culture and the country. To talk about greed and who we admire. We teach our children to admire people who make money.”


The Player 02


The key player in his statement is “We” as in “We teach our children.” Of old Hollywood, one could say there was a time you could buy a ticket and stay all day in a movie palace which is what they were called. These palaces were in cities and could be found in America’s one street towns. Today a movie palace is called a multiplex and in such a place one can wear pajamas, and talk on the phone. Films like our food like our fabric have lost its substance. This is also a type of greed. We want more of everything and to spend on it less. Garlic powder over garlic bulbs that take too long to peel, plastic in our clothes for cheaper production, carpet that can be ripped out and replaced every few years over carefully oiled and worn wooden floors. But it’s more than that. It’s aesthetic. It’s the homogenization of every place to look the same so that it is easier to consume. Like Hollywood, we as a society don’t see the big picture. It’s not in our culture too. We seek convenience over beauty. Altman taking questions from a panel at Cannes the year “The Player” came out, where he won “Best Director”, said, “As long as audiences support these formula films with happy endings I think there is going to be people who make them and take their money for it.” Twenty-five years later and the movies made today are computerized, the faces and bodies of actors are altered, the storylines simplistic.


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Griffin Mill in “The Player” comes up with a new tagline for his studio, “Movies are art, now more than ever.” Which sounds ironic; too bad it’s not true. The Italian film that changed all film was De Sica’s 1948 “The Bicycle Thief” which plays in a theater in Pasadena in “The Player”. This is the scene where art and commerce meet. The studio executive looking for a seat trips over the long legs of the seated writer. Bonnie Sherow asking about truth and reality is really asking about the intention of the writer when writing the ending of his film and the importance of sticking with his intention even when the audience isn’t with him. Because a good film stays with you and affects your sleep the way leaving a bathroom light on at first appears dim but grows brighter as the dark which surrounds you grows darker.

—Tova Gannana, curator

Join us on December 5th at 7:30 PM for The Player.


Tickets: $10 Member, $12 Non-Member

Dinner seating in Bistro begins at 5:30 PM. Reservations recommended - 206-451-4011.
Auditorium opens at 7:00 PM
Movies at 7:30 PM