think tank

No keys gripped, but boy does he feel lucky

When I go back home to Alabama this summer, I'll finally have an answer that will satisfy all the redneck relatives and lowlife friends I know and love. You see, back home they have only one question: "Did you meet any stars?"

My redneck relatives and lowlife friends (RR&LFs in Washington speak) don't care how many powerful committee chairmen (and I've never met a powerless one) I meet. Senators are ho-hum. FCC chairmen? The RR&LFs ask: What's an FCC? A studio CEO? To the RR&LFs, they're just another guy in a suit. Meeting the president might raise one RR&LF eyebrow.

I've got 'em now. When the RR&LFs make their inevitable inquiry, I can say: "I met Clint Eastwood." You might say Mr. Eastwood made my day. Hell, if the look on my brother-in-law's face is half as good as I hope, Eastwood made my year.

The Clint Eastwood era is my era. From "Rawhide" to "Letters From Iwo Jima," Eastwood TV series and films have been a backdrop to my life. My kids are too young to watch "Dirty Harry," but they love it when I do the "Do you feel lucky?" bit.

It's not just the good movies. Me and my RR&LFs stood in line to see Eastwood's orangutan movies. That Clyde, what a character.

Eastwood's appearance here last week proved the value of star power. It's not that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the A-list crowd attending "The Business of Show Business" symposium don't care what Peter Chernin or Ron Meyer say, but let's face it, they were here to see Eastwood. Maybe even shake his hand.

I attend a lot of symposiums, and I actually had fun at this one, even if I learned damn little about the business of show business.

I heard tons on the evils of copyright piracy, but I've heard so much about that, I'm jaded. I also heard about all the "below-the-line" people the industry employs nationwide, but I didn't get to see any keys gripped or boys bested all day.

Still, "The Business of Show Business" did what the industry needed it to do, gaining some sympathy for the industry's legislative needs. Getting to hear and meet people like Will Smith, Steven Soderbergh, Taylor Hackford and Eastwood humanized what many seek to demonize.

The event didn't solve Hollywood's "Washington problem," by a long shot. While Hollywood may have avoided many pitfalls when Republicans dominated Congress, last fall's Democratic victories do not guarantee a liberal-leaning industry any legislative success. A more liberal Congress might help the industry with its agenda, but to win, Hollywood still needs Republican votes.

The industry also faces the continual push to clean up its act. Republicans like Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., like to beat up the industry over sex. Democrats like to beat it up over violence.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., told the symposium that too many films "celebrate murder," "glamorize torture," "degrade women" and "dehumanize individuals."

Hollywood may ignore Brownback but they can't ignore Feinstein, who has been especially valuable on copyright protection policy. What does MPAA chief Dan Glickman tell her when she asks what the industry has done to lessen the celluloid violence? It won't exactly be a quid pro quo, more like how Joubert explains to Joe Turner how he'll get it in "Three Days of the Condor."

Max von Sydow couldn't have delivered the line better than Feinstein when she told the crowd last Tuesday: "Welcome to Washington."
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