Published Aug 01, 2005If you've never seen a director sell-out his principles mid-film, you'll want to check out this unusually schizophrenic documentary on Hollywood clout. The subject is Lew Wasserman, who rose from abject poverty in Cleveland to become head of MCA/Universal and perhaps the most powerful person in the entertainment industry.
Detailing his rise from gangland hanger-on to pioneering agent to captain of industry, The Last Mogul shows him to have been a shrewd and reticent player more interested in quietly making the deal than in showing off his big-shot status. Wasserman was the first to see the market connection between movies and television and brilliantly adapted to the exigencies of new markets instead of clinging desperately to old ones.
Only problem was, he's a) completely hostile to filmmakers' creative interests, and b) absolutely ruthless in getting what he wanted. As he used political connections like Ronald Reagan to get leverage that was utterly unconnected with fairness or legality, the film specifies a number of episodes that will leave you disgusted with politics and the entertainment industry more than you ever thought possible.
But while director Barry Avrich is cognisant of the shadier elements of the Wasserman legacy, his mentality is too mainstream to be dissident. After about 95 minutes of corruption and crass commercialism Avrich does a 180 to paint Wasserman as an awe-inspiring titan, and given that the material is like the Enron story without the comeuppance, this is just plain crazy.
Still, if you need a lesson in the non-existence of Hollywood ethics and how capitalism can ruin the movies, this will do the trick in spite of itself. (Th!nk)