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July 17, 2003

Free Reads -- Jamie Diamond visits Michael Bay

Friedrich --

I first met the type a hundred years ago when I spent a little time in L.A.: pop-culture producers (music, TV, movies) who, on the job, created godawful pieces of moneymaking vulgarity, and who then, as civilians, went home at night to relax in tasteful and cultured surroundings. Not as unusual a phenom as you might think. Or as I'd have thought back in my naive youth, anyway.

What to make of this? For years my conclusion was that we're fools to fall for what they try to sell us. Why? Because if even they wouldn't be caught dead wasting their precious spare time on the kind of crap they produce, why should we? And god knows I do wish Americans would be more discriminating in their culture-consuming lives. Hold out for better stuff and the producers will eventually respond -- the recent histories of the car, food and clothing industries show how this can happen.

These days, though, I wonder. I mean, if pop-culture producers can get away with selling garbage to a foolish public, why shouldn't they indulge their own good taste at the end of the day? But then, typing these words, I feel like scum. My real feeling is: may they slide into the Pacific during the next earthquake -- although it'd sure be nice if their groovy possessions remained behind for the rest of us to enjoy.

Murky musings prompted by a piece in today's NYTimes. For the House and Home section, Jamie Diamond visits Michael (Crash Boom) Bay at his lovely house in Bel Air, here. During his work hours, Bay crafts such masterpieces of restraint and refinement as "Bad Boys" and "Armageddon." But at home in the evening, all is serenity and calm.

Sample passages:

"I read home decor magazines all the time," said Mr. Bay, whose movie "The Rock" was about a plot to destroy San Francisco with nerve-gas-bearing rockets launched from Alcatraz. "It's the way to stay hip, and it helps me when I think of sets." ...

Mr. Bay sleeps in a soothing light-filled room. Silky white curtains flutter next to a minimalist daybed. This, more than any other room, seems like a movie set -- although not from any of Mr. Bay's movies ...

He responded to things visually from an early age, winning a national award for photography when he was a senior at Crossroads, a private school in Santa Monica. But he never considered himself part of the artsy crowd, which he defines as intellectuals who hang out at revival theaters.

Reading the piece, I felt a little sorry for the writer. What to do with this guy? Bay seems as impervious to criticism as only a crying-all-the-way-to-the-bank, rip-roaring popular success can be: "'I make movies for teenage boys,' he said, 'Oh, dear, what a crime'." Diamond takes a lightly-mocking tone, delivers the information, and makes it away alive. And good for her.

What do you conclude, or at least how do you feel, about the phenom of creators of atrocious dreck who themselves lead wonderfully tasteful (or at least tastefully-decorated) lives?



posted by Michael at July 17, 2003


Who was it who first said "I don't make art, I collect it"?

Posted by: j.c. on July 17, 2003 3:50 PM

His serious and well-thought-out house would seem to belie his wind-up-toy movies. Mr. Bay may now be ready to grow up creatively. If only he could figure out how.

But doesn't this grossly overestimate the significance of interior decoration? (I mean, it was published in the Home & Garden section of the NY Times.) It's not as if Michael Bay were living a deeply meaningful life in his Bel Air mansion. The joint just looks good, and from what I can see, it looks good in a very conventional by the numbers sort of way. Well, guess what: frame by frame "Pearl Harbor" looked pretty good too--well composed, glossy, expensive. It was just dead from the neck up (and the heart down.) Pretty much like Mr. Bay.

Let's not confuse interior decoration with enlightenment here. I would say most of the decorators I have known were pretty much natural allies of Mr. Bay, not incipient Boddhisatvas.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on July 17, 2003 5:08 PM

I don't know what a minimalist daybed is -- a tatami mat? A packing crate? -- and do not think I would sleep well in a neo-Zanuck movie set bedroom. Frankly, I suspect that few if any of these cinematrash impresarios are really nature's gentlemen, returning after a hard day on the phones to homes of refined elegance.

Sure, they spend bongo bucks decorating the houses attached to their pools (or rather, paying some certified trendsetter to choose their environment). You think that spells taste? Hey, amigo, the last time money and taste went hand in hand was probably in Edwardian England, and not always then. These days the rich, and that includes those in "creative" businesses, base their choices in decor on the following factors, in the following order:

(1) How much does it cost? (2) Will people know how much it cost? (3) How fashionable is the designer/painter/sculptor? (4) How much is this stuff likely to appreciate in value?

You think I'm joking? Pick up any issue of Architectural Digest (which is not about architecture; it's a magazine displaying the homes of people in the top income-tax brackets). What you'll see, with rare exceptions, is homes that were designed for photo shoots and gaping at. Clashing patterns, pointlessly bizarre art, and way way too many objects. Perfect as the setting for an epileptic seizure or hosting parties of A-list people, but no proper place to eat breakfast, play a game of cards with a few friends, or scratch the cat's chin.

The lumpen proles who kit their dwellings out in Swedish Dynasty from IKEA have more taste than their social and financial betters.

Does this sound like the Spirit o'Envy channeling itself through me? Right. I envy the rich one thing: their money. What they do with it tells me they have the sensibilities of a Bangkok brothel entrepreneur.

Posted by: Rick Darby on July 17, 2003 6:02 PM

Big difference in the volume level, though.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 17, 2003 6:02 PM

There is a place near where I live, Indian Hill, “home to Cincinnati’s elite”. According the blurb in the local paper “Indian Hill boasts no traffic lights, no supermarkets, no gas stations, no convenience stores, no barbershops, no billboards, no four-lane roads, no apartment buildings”. It’s NIMBY taken to the extreme, basically a bunch of huge, forested estates. You’re not going to find any CAC replicas or tacky strip malls though I bet Indian Hillers have had a hand in developing them elsewhere. They certainly shop elsewhere.

A couple towns here have preserved historic areas and toned down the signage. I noticed it more often around the SF Bay Area. Marin county, sheesh, you could drive past a strip mall without even noticing it. Everything’s all vine covered and subtle. I guess a community has to have the motivation, organization, and leverage to do it. Otherwise you get the transformer stations and megamalls.

It’s sad to think of one person’s paradise being built on another person’s dystopia.

I’ve often wondered if the makers of genetically engineered food eat it at home. I picture the angry dad at the dinner table, “There’s nothing wrong with it!”

Posted by: Matt Leonard on July 18, 2003 8:53 AM

Rick -- You may very well be right where Michael Bay is concerned, what do I know. But I wish it were that simple more generally. In my (admittedly very limited) experience, I was surprised by how many people who make a living pushing really awful showbiz crap do have as private citizens actual good taste (ie., informed, knowledgeable, responsive -- not just obeying the dictates of some designer or other). By how almost art-historian and art-critic smart they can be, really. It'd be nice to think that they're awful vulgarians through and through, but I didn't find that in many instances to be the case.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 18, 2003 1:31 PM

Work is work, and home is home. Right?

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on July 18, 2003 7:30 PM

I must say after having actually seen some of 'Bad Boys II' this weekend that I enjoyed the color schemes. The violence was gratuitous and constant but edited to be less threatening than it might have been, more cartoonish. So you could say jading and superficial, yes, but fun. Maybe it was the drinks I had at dinner.

You could also read the film as a plea for racial inclusion. A diverse group of Americans uniting to fight drug-dealing commies, what's not to like?

U S A! U S A!

Posted by: Matt Leonard on July 19, 2003 3:38 PM

Scott -- I'd hate to be held accountable for what I produce on the job myself.

Matt -- That's great, thanks. Nobody ever said Michael Bay doesn't have an eye. I'm almost curious to see the movie myself. Word has it that Bay has outdone himself in terms of noise and bangbang -- a frightening but intriguing thought.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 19, 2003 3:42 PM

I believe it was some New York department store tycoon who said: "Sell to the people who ride in subways and you will ride in limousines. Sell to those who ride in limousines and you will ride in subways."

I'm not at all sure that our "careers' are anything other than jobs and that our "jobs" are simply strategies for obtaining the things that we want.

Posted by: Van der Leun on July 20, 2003 4:34 PM

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