As many of you know I am a sucker for the sword and scandal epics of the 1950s. I grew up watching those films. In those days very few people had tellies and so for this type of visual entertainment the only option was cinema. This was before Art galleries and Museums began letting in non-upper middle class visitors. So I was intrigued by the Coen Brother’s new release Hail Caesar.
The film deals with the 50s heyday of the big Hollywood film studios. In it, real life fixer Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin), deals with various problems including the kidnapping of a fictional big star Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney). The fabulous cast, bespangled and tight trousered in all their golden age pomp, reveal to us mortals of an iron age the abiding magic behind the tinsel of the Hollywood machine. Sure some characters have crass accents or are easily lead astray, but they are never not for one moment not fabulous. If we seek for some revelation or secrets behind character’s motivations, we do not find it. Even in the kidnapping plot, the ostensible main narrative thrust of the film, neither Whitlock (who flirts with communism) nor the communists themselves (about to be raided) seem to have been changed by their experiences.
The film starts and ends with Mannix confessing to his priest, neither having sinned that deeply or having bore witness to his faith that deeply. On a psychic or spiritual level nothing much happens. Rather than an exposé, this is a celebration, not so much of Hollywood, but of the Hollywood myth making process itself. The worlds of fiction and reality collide. It’s like La septième fonction du langage but with film stars and not structuralists. The communists, sympathetically -if not pathetically- depicted, are led partly by Herbert Marcuse and partly by fictional singing sensation Burt Gurney.
So much of the pastiches just show how great the films of the 50s were. DeeAnna Moran’s swimming sequence (played with aplomb by Johansson) made me watch Tales of Hoffman again. Whilst pastiching the Roman Epics of the 50s, the film showed just how far we have fallen from those days. Ultimately however talented and classy George Clooney is, the film makes us realise just how great a talent the late Richard Burton was. I left the cinema feeling once again the loss of his great talent from the world.
4 / 5.