In Search of Rosebud

By Kathy Haggis, March, 3, 2011

How does an individual go so far off the beam as to think he can defame any number of people and entire institutions with impunity?  One thing I know from having been at the receiving end of such a campaign, is that not only must the perpetrator spin stories so carefully woven with half-truths that they can turn your own parents against you, but, sooner or later, he must also convince himself that even his wildest fabrications are true.  In other words, the confidence man must learn to con himself.

One would think it a near impossible feat for the sharpest amongst us to delude themselves that successfully.  But Hollywood has a way of bringing even the most astute to their knees: enough fame and riches and it becomes awfully difficult not to begin believing one’s own publicity.  And once addicted it’s hard to go without.

When a career takes a turn for the worse, it’s not usually apparent to the public until after the funeral.  But the old cliché “you’re only as good as your last film” is all too true and it truly can take only one misstep to make the phone stop ringing.  If you’re an honest person, you work harder.  But if you’re not used to responding to tough times with integrity, and maybe you’re not sure you deserve all the credit you took, you might look for a shortcut.

At this point it’s common enough to cast about in desperation for new ways to generate publicity.  Easy to do if you are an actor but, unless you are already a legend, not so easy for a director.  And if you are primarily a screenwriter– the Hollywood equivalent of the office nerd – forget about it!  Writers only make intriguing copy from behind the keyboard.

…Unless of course that writer can dream up some kind of high-profile “confession” to make.  That’s been known to work.  If he can blame someone else for his “failure to see the light,” even better.  And if at the same time he can launch some “crusade for justice” that earns labels like “maverick” and “defender of the disenfranchised” (while distracting from some rather unattractive personal conduct of his own), well, that’s gold.

I was interested to read this quote from police veteran Dennis Marlock, who authored the book How to Become a Professional Con Artist (Paladin Press, 2001):

“…smart people are easier to fool precisely because they think they’re too smart to get scammed….The easiest people to deceive are those who think that they are immune to deception.”

Paul Haggis was as much a fan of Citizen Kane as any ambitious writer who ever dreamt of a Hollywood career.  In Welles’ story, a young man corrupted by what he considers to be undeserved wealth and power attempts to legitimize himself with a “crusade for justice” only to end his life a victim of his own delusions of grandeur.  I’m sure Paul is not the only aspirant who failed to note that it is as much a cautionary tale as it is a lesson in film craft.


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