Bruce and Norman Yonemoto

Bruce and Norman Yonemoto’s latest videotape, Made in Hollywood, 1990, falls somewhere between two films to which its title seems to refer: Jean-Luc Godard’s widely recognized Made in U.S.A., 1966, and Jeff Koons’ upcoming Made in Heaven. Situated between the past and the future, between Godard’s worldly hell and Koon’s heaven (insofar as Hollywood symbolizes the quintessentially American promise of dreams come true), Made in Hollywood weaves a tight allegory the simplicity of which is deceptive.

By serving as a blank screen onto which all of the other characters project their desires, an alluringly naive country girl named Tammy (Patricia Arquette) serves as the story’s motive force. When Tammy inevitably leaves Granny on the farm to pursue stardom, Granny gives her a parting gift, a small box that she must promise to open only should she fall into the direst of straits. A sophisticated New York couple, Mary (Mary Woronov) and Matt Black (Ron Vawter), also come to Hollywood in an attempt to escape SoHo’s stifling art ghetto. The new arrivals, all hoping for a big break, approach the Silver family, a three-generation dynasty of movie moguls. The cast comes together around the Silvers’ swimming pool, where Tammy becomes the center of attention. The intellectual Matt is most captivated, but he regards her as a pathetic incarnation of Hollywood’s superficiality. The Silvers encapsulate movie history. First, there is the venerable patriarch Abraham, artificially kept alive through a respirator for oxygen and a VCR for silent film classics. Next comes the dynamic yet vulgar Irving (Michael Lerner) who brought the Silver empire to its height. He has a nose for talent and good film scripts: they “smell like pussy.” Finally, there is Tim (Tim Miller), the gay grandson who must prove himself. Disillusioned by Hollywood, Tammy comes home one night to find her lover, an ambitious young actor, in bed with Tim. Tim has also told Mary that she must change her script and dump the purist Matt if she ever wants to see her work produced. Reluctant at first, Mary soon concedes. With this, Matt leaves her and agrees to waive his rights to the script on the condition that Tammy be given the starring role. Meanwhile, Tammy resorts to opening Granny’s box and finds only a mirror (“silvered” glass) inside; the box contains only her own evanescent image. Matt’s cynicism can’t hide his frustrated romanticism, and he succumbs to Tammy; of course, he had succumbed to her from the outset. He offers her the starring role but she declines because she has her sights set on a place where “everyone is always happy”—not on the farm, but in television commercials. Tammy then steps out from behind stage lights into a scene that duplicates the idealized farm life of her youth.

Both simulated and real documentary footage is intercut within this master narrative. The Yonemotos’ company, Kyudai Productions, is portrayed, newsreel style, at work on a documentary of the fictional Silver family. In interviews, both Woronov and Lerner comment on the characters they play. It’s difficult to tell to what extent this material has been scripted, but the ambiguity foregrounds Made in Hollywood’s own illusionism; if illusion presented as such becomes a kind of fact, reality remains, to quote Walter Benjamin, “an orchid in the land of technology.” When Matt eventually tells Mary that he refuses to stay in Hollywood and make copies of copies, she replies that we all live and breath copies. Matt fails to grasp that the ultimate content of any project under capitalism is inevitably the means and relations of production, and his, idealism is revealed in his rueful admission, “I actually believed you could put content into those things.”

Key to the allegory is the inclusion of two commercials for the Stater Brothers supermarket chain; one spot constitutes the video’s opening sequence, complete with a country-music jingle extolling the virtues of “the heartland,” while also listing the “decadent” places where the Stater Brothers refuse to do business: Las Vegas, Malibu, Beverly Hills and, of course, Hollywood. The moral attribution of purity to the heartland can be made only from a thoroughly cosmopolitan vantage point; tied to the historical division between city and country, urbanism and provincialism, such values ironically betoken decadent civilization, i.e., mass culture. Like Marie Antoinette’s penchant for dressing up as a shepherdess and frolicking about a recreational farm, the valorization of the heartland from the Yonemotos’ perspective could only occur in Hollywood.

Of course a film that attempts to grapple with mass cultural illusions would hardly be convincing if its own imagery failed to live up to the industry standard. The Yonemotos’ close attention to craft was evidenced in careful casting, well-designed scenery, and brisk pacing; they are well aware that, in the end, production values prove to be more than just production values.

John Miller