Theme of Death in Hollywood Tops Early Days of Venice Film Festival

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Death in Hollywood topped the early going at the Venice Film Festival, where Allen Coulter's film about the mysterious and untimely death of TV's Superman in the 1950s premiered Thursday after Brian De Palma's film noir about the murder of an aspiring actress.

"Hollywoodland" stars Ben Affleck as George Reeves, portrayed as an ultimately dispirited actor who aspires to greatness but is typecast as a television superhero, and Adrien Brody as a private detective trying to make a case that his apparent suicide was actually murder.

The movie has all the elements of a film noir, but Coulter said he sees "Hollywoodland" more as "a story of two men who seek meaning in their lives through celebrity."

The theme of fame-at-all-costs was close to home for the actors and director alike.

"I think the reason that we were all drawn to the story is that Hollywood is a repository for that kind of thinking," said Coulter, a director of the HBO hit "The Sopranos" making his feature film directorial debut.

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Affleck's Reeves is disappointed that he did not achieve the right kind of fame, while Brody's headline-seeking detective pursues fame of his own by trying to debunk the LAPD's suicide ruling.

Affleck, who won a best screenplay Oscar for "Good Will Hunting," said he tried to give a respectful portrayal of Reeves as a tonic to the exploitation his character experienced in life, being mindful of Reeves' struggle to break free of his image as the Man of Steel.

"Audiences could only see him as such. I think it was very painful for him," the actor said.

While the film unfolds in the very controlled environment of studio-dominated Hollywood, it was not much of a leap for Affleck and his co-stars living in a media-fueled era to identify with Reeves' troubled relationship with his own fame.

"People pay attention to actors' private lives and personal lives, and even the most mundane details of life, almost on a parallel track, where the movies become incidental pit stops, commercial breaks, in actors' lives," said Affleck, whose personal relationships have provided much media fodder.

"It's a dance you have to dance. ... If there are any secrets, I haven't found them out," he said.

Academy Award winner Brody said he understood why audiences feel overly familiar with actors, but said it made actors' lives more difficult.

"Our object as an actor is to create a level of truth and believability with the characters we portray. If we succeed, then there is a connection between the character and the audience," Brody said. "You share very intimate moments — moments I wouldn't share with you in real life. The line blurs."

Both "Hollywoodland" and De Palma's "The Black Dalhia" — among 21 contenders for the Golden Lion awarded at the Sept. 9 end of the festival — center on untimely deaths in postwar Hollywood and explore the phenomenon of interrupted celebrity.

"I think they both speak to a continued fascination with death in Hollywood," said "Hollywoodland" producer Glenn Williamson.