Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Tale of Two Coreys (Hybrid LLC, Philco, Mayor Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Ultimately last night I watched the Lifetime movie A Tale of Two Coreys, yet another tiresome story of promising Hollywood careers derailed by drug use. The promising Hollywood careers that got derailed were those of young actors Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, who met while appearing in the film The Lost Boys (a film about teenage vampires directed by Joel Schumacher in 1987 — I had an old VHS tape of it and The Big Easy which I recorded when my then-partner John Gabrish and I had cable TV with HBO, and I remember that at the time he liked The Lost Boys better and I liked The Big Easy better), became bosom buddies and were frequently bracketed in teen-idol magazines as “The Two Coreys.” The Lifetime movie about then was directed by Steven Huffaker from a script by an even larger writing committee than usual: the story is credited to Feldman himself along with Tejal Desai, Jeffrey Schenck. Peter Sullivan and Henry Wassenburger, and Schenck, Sullivan, Wassenburger and Jessica Dube are credited with the screenplay (and on screen the writers’ names are linked with ampersands rather than the word “and,” meaning that they all worked on the script together instead of taking it over relay-style one from the other). It’s narrated in flashbacks by both Feldman, who’s still alive and sat for an interview that was taped and aired after the movie; and Haim, who died from pneumonia in 2010 after a lifelong struggle with drug abuse. 

The producers (14 are listed) and casting directors Dean E. Frank and Donald Paul Penrick double-cast the parts of Feldman and Haim, with Elijah Marcano and Justin Ellings playing Feldman and Haim (in that order) as teenagers and Scott Bosely and Casey Leach playing them as adults. Elijah Marcano is a hauntingly beautiful young man who doesn’t look either like the real Corey Feldman in his teens — quite frankly, his ethereal baby face and long brown hair would have made him better casting for a biopic of David Cassidy than of Corey Feldman — and he also doesn’t look like he’d grow up to be the nice-bodied but rather hatchet-faced Scott Bosely. Justin Ellings looks like a mouth-watering morsel of boy-meat for Gay men into twinks — which actually fits a key story point of the film, as we’ll see later — and he doesn’t look like he’ll grow up to look like his adult counterpart, Casey Leach, though for my money Leach was by far the sexiest of the four: tall, blond, muscular, butch and also quite strikingly reminiscent of the surviving film of the older Corey Haim. For the most part A Tale of Two Coreys is a pretty-standard issue “Behnd the Music” story of a promising young talent (in this case, two promising young talents) wrecking their careers by partying, clubbing, screwing, drinking and, most destructively, drugging. 

But there are two distinguishing characteristics that set A Tale of Two Coreys apart from most efforts in the salvation-from-drugs genre whose conventions were set relatively early (in 1821 by the British writer Thomas de Quincey in his book Confessions of an English Opium-Eater). One is how vividly it demonstrates that child actors are really commodities, controlled both by their bosses and their parents; in one chilling scene, Feldman comes home after three classmates bullied and badly beat him when he bragged to them about landing a major movie role — and his mom sees the bruises on his face and, rather than say anything supportive, chews him out for having got into a fight that bruised his highly valuable face and risked him getting replaced in that big role. Both Feldman and Haim came from broken homes; Feldman’s parents divorced before he started his career and Haim’s broke up while he was just taking off as a young actor — and Feldman’s dad was an aspiring rock musician and his son’s manager until Feldman abruptly fired him after realizing his dad was just taking his money and pushing him off into quick-buck projects that would bring in short-term income but be bad for his long-term career. The breaking point came when Feldman’s good friend Michael Jackson (no, I’m not making this up!), to whom he’d been introduced by Steven Spielberg on the set of The Goonies, told him it was stupid for Feldman to appear on the quiz show The Hollywood Squares because “that’s something you do at the end of your career,” but dad remained firm that Feldman do that show and not even Michael Jackson himself, dressed in the costume he wore on the cover of Bad and played by Brandon Howard (who looks “blacker” than the real Jackson did at that point but gets the famously whispery speaking voice down pat), can talk Feldman père out of pushing his son onto a humiliating gig. (It’s somewhat ironic that the movie presents Michael Jackson and Carrie Fisher as voices of reason to the young protagonists when Jackson died a drug-related death and Fisher’s mysterious death remains unexplained and, given her history, could well have involved drugs as well.) 

The other unusual part of this film — and one which makes it particularly relevant in the so-called “moment” in which America in general and Hollywood in particular are becoming more aware of, and more sensitive to, charges of sexual harassment and the heads of once-powerful people are rolling as they get ousted from their jobs and positions of power following revelations of their records of sexual misconduct over the years — is the allegation that both Feldman and Haim were raped early in their careers, before they were over the age of consent, by the people who were supposedly on the sets of their films to chaperone and protect them. Indeed, though the story is only obliquely hinted at in the movie itself, Feldman is more explicit about it in his post-film interview (and his 2013 memoir, punningly titled Coreography), saying that both straight and Gay pedophilia is the real dark secret of Hollywood. Though he’s still too scared of the man who raped him to mention his name — he says the man is still a power player in the industry and could literally have him killed, which is why, he told his interviewer, he has at least one bodyguard (and usually more than one) on duty all the time, including at home when he sleeps — he describes himself as “a man on a mission” to expose the rampant pedophilia in Hollywood and drive its perpetrators from power. Given that memoirs of classic Hollywood have exposed such legendary names from the past as David O. Selznick, Arthur Freed and John Huston as pedophiles — Selznick and Freed were named by none other than Shirley Temple in her 1988 memoir Child Star, in which she wrote that both of them chased her around their desks when she had past her peak as a child star and was attempting a comeback as a teenager (and was still below the age of consent) and Huston by a woman who claimed that her father was the “Black Dahlia” killer and that he not only molested her himself but passed her along to his powerful Hollywood friends, including Huston — I can readily believe everything Feldman is saying; his description of how the powerful pedophiles in Hollywood throw grand parties at their estate, invite lots of kids, offer them games, snacks and, eventually, booze and then have their wicked ways with them may sound like something novelist Jonathan Kellerman would make up, but I have no doubt it happens. 

I’m also not sure how much of this actually has to do with sex; just as feminists like Susan Brownmiller in the late 1970’s argued that rape was a form of assault and its purpose for the rapist was not sexual gratification but the expression of power and domination over women in general and their victim in particular, so it seems to me that a group of jaded people who are literally in the business of selling hot young bodies to the public would essentially establish their “ownership” over the possessors of those bodies by violating them. Both the film and Feldman’s post-film interview make clear that not only is the “casting couch” alive and well, but young men are as likely to be the victims of it as young women — even if, as I suspect, it’s not just Gay men like Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey that are doing the exploiting, but people who self-identify as heterosexual, Bisexual or without a particular sexual orientation at all. (One of Feldman’s abusers in the film says chillingly that he isn’t Gay and doesn’t consider himself Bi, either: “I just like both women and men.”) Though on its face A Tale of Two Coreys is a pretty standard tale of drugs-and-redemption for Feldman and drugs-and-death for Haim, the sexual overlays and the whole critique of how the entertainment industry commodifies its victims mark it as a quite relevant work for today’s headlines as well as a personal tragedy for Feldman, whose career ambitions as he explained them at the end of the interview — to be in one of the Godfather movies and to work with Al Pacino — seem rather forlorn reaches for the higher things he was too locked into being first a bankable young-adult commodity and then a “bad boy” and reality-TV star ever to hope to achieve.