Rupert Smith: TV review

TV review: The Secret Map of Hollywood | Beijing Boot Camp

I met Kenneth Anger, film-maker and gossip supreme, once in the late 80s. We sat outside the National Film Theatre and drank tea while he told me scurrilous stories about movie stars that hadn't made it into the two volumes of his magnum opus, Hollywood Babylon. Ever since then I've been convinced that everyone who appears in a mainstream Hollywood movie is a drug-addled satanist with a taste for prostitutes and a hushed-up conviction for murder.

I suspect that Jonathan Ross had a similar experience, because he's never been able to stop picking at the soft white underbelly of Tinseltown. In The Secret Map of Hollywood (BBC1) Ross was at his understated best, teasing out stories of mayhem, murder and cut-out bras in a grubby 45 minutes that I'm delighted to see is the first of six. Ross picked up where Anger left off - so most of this material was new, to me at least, and he steered well clear of those overtold stories of Fatty Arbuckle, Lupe Velez and Frances Farmer. But relax, sleaze-fiends: Hollywood hasn't got any better since we last looked back with Anger. It's just got better publicists.

We learned more about super-producer Don "Top Gun" Simpson than was entirely desirable, and we were tempted by the suggestion that Madonna had had sex with everyone who ever lived in the greater Los Angeles area.

There was some juicy stuff about Anthony "The Pelican" Pellicano, Mr Fix-It to stars in trouble, currently doing time for possession of explosives - and again there were hints of much more filth just off-screen. I can't help thinking that The Secret Map of Hollywood kept the BBC legal department very busy indeed.

Cherishable moments came thick and fast. Among the talking heads was an actress called Jeanne Carmen, whom I want to be my new best friend: she was entirely frosted, sprayed and stretched into blonde B-movie perfection, but she still seemed to have a sense of humour (not easy when you can barely move your facial muscles). There was a great item about Confidential magazine, the grandaddy of all celeb gossip rags and the finest piece of graphic design in its 50s heyday. Confidential got busted for suggesting that Liberace was gay, believe it or not, and was eventually forced to drop its celebrity content - but not before nearly outing Rock Hudson. Finally we learned that Drew Barrymore had "several thousand pairs" of floral panties when her house went up in flames a couple of years back; whether the two facts were connected we may never know.

I have just one tiny bone to pick with Jonathan Ross. He took the piss not once but twice out of an "unknown" (to him) star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, one Rusty Hamer, as a way of demonstrating the fugitive nature of celebrity. Well, young Mr Hamer was a massive TV star in America throughout the 50s and 60s, and even worked with Lucille Ball, which got him a fast-track to heaven after his 1980 suicide. Be careful of the stones that you throw.

In a land far, far away, 15-year- old Chinese schoolgirl Chen Lu was packed off by her parents to Beijing Boot Camp (BBC4). She was quite glad, and I don't blame her: Mommie Dearest was an insanely ambitious slave-driver, whose idea of giving her daughter time off from her studies was to allow her to go to the loo.

Once in the military training camp (it's compulsory for all high-school students), Chen Lu began to wonder if a life of goose-stepping, sleep deprivation and ritual humiliation was all it was cracked up to be. "Abandon your squeamish ways!" screamed the trainers (something may have been lost in translation), before packing the slackers off to clean the toilets, possibly with their tongues.

On the evidence of Beijing Boot Camp, China is gearing up for one hell of a revolution, because these seemed like smart kids and I can't imagine them putting up with this kind of crap for much longer. It's the sort of thing that we in the decadent west put teenagers through in a desperate attempt to fill a few hours of screen time with another feeble reality show. In China, it's all reality, no show. Faced with the choice between a culture that allows Jordan to become famous, and one that can still take Chairman Mao seriously, I'll take the big blonde every time.


Rupert Smith

The GuardianTramp

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