I’ve been seeing (and avoiding when possible) coverage of Tom Cruise’s image makeover. There was an NPR story yesterday morning, for example, that talked about how in the wake of his Scientology-fueled crazyfest, groups of Hollywood execs staged PR interventions so that he might see the light, and then shut up about it already.
(I like the way that last bit sounds, but I realize it doesn’t make sense. This is what happens when you’re a lazy self-editor.)
His meltdown was interesting for me because it helped me quantify a rampant dislike of him that dates back to my youth. I remember my sister finding him swoony in Top Gun. I couldn’t see anything appealing about him, full stop. Then, after years – decades – of churning out annoying but ignorable popcorn entertainment, he emerged fully as a person. The public courtship with La Holmes – an off-putting and squicky thing to witness – basically read to me as scenery-chewing performance art. What read as genuine was his faith in Scientology and attendant views on psychiatry and mental illness.
It’s the latter that makes my blood boil, and makes me believe that Tom Cruise doesn’t know anyone with a serious mental illness. Vitamins don’t make hallucinations go away, asshat.
Sometimes stars should be seen and not heard, which is no doubt what those Hollywood execs were telling him. And make no mistake: Tom Cruise is a star, not an actor. I’m reading Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, written by indefatigable conservative Bob Colacello, who described an attempt to devil Jack Nicholson with the question of actor v. star in 1971. Nicholson was unperturbed by the question, because, theorized Colacello, he’s both (aside: do you still think that, Colacello?). But we’re all sympathetic protagonists of our own lives. Tom Cruise thinks he’s both, too. And his three Academy Award nominations prove it, right? Right?
Here’s the thing, though. Transcendent acting is high art. Consider Tilda Swinton, who brings an artist’s sensibility to her work. From an AV Club interview about the difference between projects she’s jointly developed with collaborating filmmakers and for-hire work:
…The Coen brothers film, the David Fincher films, the Narnia films—those are formed projects that come to me with very limited requirements of my time and energy. I take them on very playfully—and they’re things they have asked me to do, so they’ve obviously had the idea that I would be good, or I would be in some way useful to them to play those parts. They’re not things I would necessarily seek out.
Swinton – or SWINTON as the ladies of GoFugYourself would have it – is not really a star, she’s an artist who has accidentally taken on a few star-like attributes because her medium is more visible to the public than the average, say, painter’s.
So. Swinton = high art. Cruise = crap?
Le sigh. I dislike when people dog genre fiction, and here I find myself performing a similar exercise on an actor who works in that vein. Tom Cruise is a bajillionaire for a reason: people enjoy his movies. And there’s nothing wrong with that. My real issue with him (and with Orson Scott Card and with Nicholas Sparks and with Thomas Kinkaide, for that matter) is that he seems to have attained enough success that he’s become incapable of circumspection and has lost all self-awareness. And is there anything less attractive than that?
I guess if I have a point, it’s that no. That’s about as unattractive as you can get.