Long before Leonard Cohen, Cyril Connolly wrote of it being "closing-time in the gardens of the West." Glancing at the gargantuan heaps of money we fling to the wind for the "unnecessities" of our distracted lives, perhaps it is not such a bad thing that there is a closing time.
Can it be that the bubble-gum fantasy Pirates of theCaribbean - that would be the At World's End instalment, for those who see the need to distinguish any of these Johnny Depp cartoons each from each - cost $300-million to make? Yes, it can.
There is a report that James Cameron, who is something of a one-man budget-buster, may approach spending $500-million, half a billion dollars, in the making of his latest epic, Avatar. ScreenCrave makes an eminently judicious observation: "This sounds insane considering the economy and the flailing movie industry as a whole." I would only quarrel with "sounds," when "is" is so much a tidier, more finished, verb.
There is in the West, or there very much should be, an embarrassment that reaches to guilt at the millions and billions we pitch at diversions and distractions - most of them with the artistic lifespan of a kamikaze fruit fly. Think of Transformers, a computer-enhanced comic book - essentially a high-tech Lego kit supplemented by the pneumatic bounty of Megan Fox - bots and the bod d'jour, which cost $150-million. Ms. Fox may be lovely and delicious, but $150-million for the delights of a fugitive ogle seems a tad decadent for even the most sumptuous cleavage.
The question should be asked: How can so much be spent for what is, finally, so very little? That question has never troubled Hollywood. Excess is its mode and manner, money its only measure. In a world of crushing want and deprivation, with whole countries on the rack of the deepest poverty, to throw out these baubles of short-lived distraction - at such cost - has to be seen as an ultimate form of insolence and carelessness. The First World raising its baubled finger at the Third.
It is the story of Dives and Lazarus, the plutocrat and the pauper, exponentially intensified, perhaps the only story Hollywood would never dare put on screen.
Think too, of the money-saturated stars of these trifling epics. For a few prances and twitches, a slurred accent or an open blouse, a star in one of these is given heaps of gold and a life of sybaritic privilege, stamped with the patina of celebrity, which is a passport to limitless fame and unspeakable indulgence. What's $20-million or $30-million for one person to star in a witless fantasy? To go from the hardscrabble life of telling jokes in some godforsaken comedy club, or scrambling for bit parts in the "B-est" of B pictures - luck having smiled - to collecting $20-million and $30-million and being treated wherever you go, in Mr. Cameron's immortal words from his Oscar night speech, like the "king of the world."
Jim Carrey, of Burlington, Ont., knows that story. He's one of the golden boys of Hollywood, who translated a kind of high-school goofiness and a limited repertoire of facial contortions into the kind of paydays that only Super Loto winners will ever know.
He was one of the early ones to hit the $20-million landmark. I don't know what he's getting for A Christmas Carol - but it's a safe bet he'll do well enough not to be mistaken for a distant relation of the Cratchet family. The recession casts but the thinnest shadow over Hollywood's tinsel tycoons. Some may have to dip below the $25-million-a-picture waterline, but they will stay luxuriantly afloat.
It was choice, then, to read this week of Mr. Carrey offering some pearls of deeply ripe wisdom on our continent's current dilemmas. Said the frenetic one: "Every construct we've built in American life is falling apart. Why? Because of personal greed and ambition." Get paid $25-million to inflict Bruce Almighty on an innocent world, and talk of greed. Pot meet blast-furnace smelter.
Star, in a world of famine and want, in great wasteful vacancies costing $200-million and $300-million to make, personally collect gazillions and then offer that what is wrong with America is "personal greed and ambition." Chutzpah has conquered new territories. Wall Street's grasping high-flyers are a coven of self-mortifying monks compared to the moralizing moneybags of Hollywood.
There was more. There are traces of that great diagnostic, Dr. Phil, in Mr. Carrey: "The unloved," he opined, "have that deep, spiritual acid reflux within them." Pass the Tums or upchuck me a deep spiritual river.
I don't know what Mr. Carrey is going to do about this epidemic of personal greed and ambition. But I hazard a guess that whatever he does, it won't involve a cut in his bloated paycheques, or a smack at the Hollywood that writes them, the native land of greed, waste and hypocrisy.