Bale Out

Once the shock from hearing the profanity and incredible length of Christian Bale’s coarse verbal assault on director of photography Shane Hurlbut has ended, for those more aware of the egos at play on a feature film, it’s apparent Bale’s all-out berating isn’t really a rare cosmic incidence in a business as crazy as film.

It’s the reality that filmmakers have dramatized in Hollywood satires (The Player) as well as comedic rips into the soap opera world (Soap Dish, not a good film, but inspired by mad personalities), where egos clash and the most valuable/highest paid creature in a film lays down his or her law and gets to chew out a cast or crew member.

The reason Bale's tirade is so striking is because it’s raw and intact; it’s a stream of rage captured in a long audio clip with energetic ebbs and rushes, and one can easily visualize the physical posturing between the bulked up star, and the cinematographer who was in a very unpleasant situation on the set of Terminator Salvation that day.

Bale’s rage opens up the trap door to the kind of conflicts that occur between creative people locked in a soundstage who have to create an illusion under a regimented schedule using different working styles.

Somehow, in this weird world, everything has to click, and once in a while the most valuable member of the talent pool gets to stomp his or her boot-print on someone’s face because he or she can. It can be a star, a director, a producer, or a writer; it just depends on the meticulousness of their contracts, and whether the whole production would crumble if one of them left.

In a more mundane work environment, there’s the corporate policy, or the managerial philosophy that governs the work and behaviour code, and anything contrary is winnowed out through a natural process where hotheads get canned, or abusers are ‘let got’ because there’s a rule structure designed to keep power issues neutral, if not isolated to the one or two people who have real power.

The Bale tape is fascinating not because it’s a star going bonkers, but because it reveals a clash that few people see in their own work, or at least as a far shorter eruptions where the human dartboard has some power to end or clip it off, instead of having to stand there and absorb the rage full-on.

In a formal office world, rage tends to happen behind locked doors, or on the work floor with a soft and unsettling calm that’s only belied by a person’s eyes and the redness of their face. Someone has to step down because, unlike a film production, it’s not a working engagement that lasts for six weeks or a few months; if your roof and food depends on a few years of steady employment, you can’t tear into a co-worker like that. Emotion bad. Reserved demeanor good.

The psychology and circumstances within the filmmaking world are strange, because people will work for hotheads if the end results are stirring (William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was a brutal experience for the actors), and because certain types need a cruel, masochistic person to extract a performance a genial director wouldn’t be able to mine. Some directors require chaos (David O. Rusell), whereas others prefer a family atmosphere (Francis Ford Coppola).

Bad day or not, the level and length of Bale’s rage happened because it was permissible, and while it’s a funny glimpse at an ego trip on steroids (and admittedly funnier in a remixed dance version crafted by some brilliant loon), it should also provoke some serious thoughts on why people snap, and how well they handle their own rage when their own power is being challenged.

The lingering discomfort doesn’t come from Bale’s rage, but the quiet spots where the cinematographer and director McG are at a loss for defensive or calming words, and the surrounding crew is forced to watch something really ugly run its course.

The tape is pretty vivid on its own, but just as shocking is David O. Russell’s tirade towards Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees, which repositions the ego crown from star to director. The amazing thing is how well Tomlin handles Russell’s blazing insanity. There’s being angry in the moment, and then there’s behaving like a Tasmanian Devil, stomping in and out of a set until the film runs outs.

Tomlin stays professionally calm (plus or minus a few return expletives), but when the cast and crew scurry off the set, you know why some actors, directors, producers or writers don’t work that often, and why little by little, they build up a reputation as monsters. As long as the final film succeeds, though, the behavioral cycle goes on.



Copyright © mondomark