On June 16, 1959, George Reeves, TV's Superman, was found dead of a single gunshot wound and pronounced a suicide. Now, decades later, the new film "Hollywoodland" attempts to uncover the truth of Reeves' death.
Just don't ask the stars of "Hollywoodland" to tell you what they think the truth might be.
"I've been asked this and I'm reluctant to share my personal opinions about it. I don't know the answer," says Adrien Brody, who plays Louis Simo, a detective who becomes obsessed with Reeves (Ben Affleck). "I think that the evidence shows that there might've been foul play, but it was documented as a suicide."
That ambiguity is appropriate because it's possible that "Hollywoodland" is less interested in the truth of the actor's death than in the truth of his life, a career that began with "Gone With the Wind," but ended in typecasting and tragedy.
"Who wants to see a historical movie that's a period piece unless there's some relevance in your life today?" asks co-star Robin Tunney, emphasizing that non-thespians will find points of interest. "And I think that's why the film works, because everybody in America, they want the SUV and their wife should have longer legs or bigger breasts and everybody faces that day-to-day and I think that's why the film works now, because it's not just about an actor whose career wasn't enough. It's something I think we can all find in our own lives. I've been in bad movies. This is one of the only good ones I've actually ever been in. But it doesn't define who you are and I think that's what makes you happy as a person, that you go, 'OK. This is what I do. And it can't define who I am.'"
Brody is quick to chime in.
"Most people are under the impression that if they only had more of something, that would fulfill them and it's usually not the case and you don't know that until you reach that goal," the Oscar winner says. "I'm fortunate, personally, to know kind of both. I mean that sincerely. I know what it's like to be a struggling actor. I know what it's like to be really successful and have a level of fame and the advantages of that and the pitfalls that come with that. In knowing both sides, I feel like I need less now."
"It's such a crapshoot," observes Diane Lane. "If they knew what made hits they would make more of them. That's my bumper sticker on the whole industry and so I don't think that you can live for that and I think that the more you get caught up in that whether you're a film star from the '50s who regrets that he was ever on television and the pop psychology of what it is to be a victim of the media and all of this that the film deals with is relevant today as it was then. It is a case study of what makes people happy and the myth of happiness itself."
The issue of media victimization is also central to "Hollywoodland," a movie set in a period in which the studios were powerful enough to control a star's image. Affleck suggests that the film is set right on the precipice of a kind of celebrity cult of personality that still rages to this day.
"We interestingly highlighted the kind of beginning of that period, like he got in his car accident and none of the articles mentioned him by actual name. 'Superman Crashes Car, Faints at Sight of Own Blood.' 'Man of Steel Blah Blah Blah,'" Affleck says. "A kind of wry, sort of schadenfreude, slightly smug, detached putting down of people who are supposed to be elevated and that that practice of journalism -- which none of you practice, I'm sure -- has grown over the years, but I think that was the very first beginning of having idols who seemed bigger than everything and then the treat of it, the perverse thrill of it, was finding out that they weren't really Supermen, that in fact they were human, and then seeing them be destroyed to prove it and then lamenting them and looking back on the good things they did."
"Hollywoodland" opens on Friday, Sept. 8.