Sunday, July 30, 2017

Amazon's "The Last Tycoon" Misses the Marijuana

Kathleen and Siva in the 1976 film The Last Tycoon
The makers of the Amazon Prime series "The Last Tycoon" say they seek to make it an authentic representation of F. Scott's Fitzgerald's last, unfinished Hollywood novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, set and written in the 1930's. But right out of the gate the series demotes its female love interest from a goddess to a waitress. And it erases Fitzgerald's intriguing, possible references to marijuana and the drug experience.

One of the characters in Fitzgerald’s book calls Hollywood “a mining town in lotus land,” a reference to the Land of the Lotus Eaters from Homer’s The Odyssey, where explorers get lost in a drug-induced stupor to forget the horrors of war.

In the novel, Tycoon’s main character, producer Monroe Stahr, first sees his love interest Kathleen Moore floating on a studio-made head of Siva that had become dislodged from a set in an earthquake. To this day, worshippers in India drink bhang (a drink made with cannabis) to celebrate Siva’s the marriage of Siva to the goddess Parvati.

That night, cameraman Pete Zavras attempts suicide by diving off an office building on the studio lot. “I knew he’d gone to pot,” says Stahr. When asked why he’d done it on the lot, Zavras replies, “Before the oracle. The solver of the Eleusinian mysteries.” Those were the Greek rites whose attendees worshipped the grain goddess Demeter and took the mind-altering drug kykeon, thought to be related to LSD (derived from ergot, a mold that grows on grain crops).

In the novel, when Stahr goes to Kathleen’s door, she says, “I’m sorry I can’t ask you in. Shall I get my reefer and sit outside?” (A reefer is also the name of a sailor’s coat.) Kathleen is next described sitting at a long white table that “became an altar where the priestess sat alone.” Like the similarly blonde Faye Greener in Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust (also written in 1937), Kathleen personified the mysterious, sacramental and unattainable love object and Stahr worshipped at her altar.

Monroe first sees Kathleen in Amazon's Tycoon
Stahr—who takes Benzedrine, alcohol, and an unnamed medicine from a bottle in the book—meets Kathleen at his house, where he has had a strip of grass brought in from the prop department. Kathleen laughs and asks, “Isn’t that real grass?” Stahr replies, “Oh yes—it’s grass.” The scene is reminiscent of one in Fitzgerald’s 1925 book The Great Gatsby, the first novel about a drug dealer. After Gatsby sends a servant to mow his neighbor Nick’s lawn, Nick tells him, “The grass is fine.” “What grass?” asks Gatsby, before saying, “Oh, the grass in the yard.”

In the made-for-Amazon version there's a head of Siva, but Kathleen doesn't get near it. Instead she meets Stahr as a waitress fetching a sandwich.

In one upside to the series, a woman is revealed to be a better scriptwriter than her husband. Of a scriptwriter on the movie lot, Fitzgerald wrote:

Out the window Rose Meloney watched the trickle streaming toward the commissary. She would have her lunch in her office and knit a few rows while it came. The man was coming at one-fifteen with the French perfume smuggled over the Mexican border. That was no sin—it was like a prohibition. 

Who smuggles French perfume over the Mexican border, and calls it a prohibition? Rose is a flower like marijuana, which was called Santa Rosa or Santa Maria in Mexico. Her surname starts with an “M,” like marijuana.

Jeanne Moreau in The Last Tycoon (1976).
The reference to knitting may have come from Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s 1857 book The Hasheesh Eater, wherein he describes a hashish-induced vision of a crone knit of purple yarn. In Food of the Gods, Terrence McKenna connects the expression “spinning a yarn” to hemp’s dual purpose as a fiber and an intoxicant leading to flights of fancy.

The character called Rose in the Amazon series is no writer, but rather a cheating wife (played by Rosemarie DeWitt, who was a lot better as a pot smoker in Mad Men — until those writers turned her into a hard drug addict). Lily Collins tries as the ambitious Celia, but Theresa Russell was much more interesting in the 1976 movie version of Tycoon that cast Very Important Pothead Robert Mitchum as the studio chief and VIP Jack Nicholson as the labor leader. The best thing about the movie version wasn't De Niro as Monroe but rather Jeanne Moreau as the diva Didi opposite VIP Tony Curtis. Moreau just died at age 89, probably so she could roll in her grave over Jennifer Beals trying to play her role.

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