By Steven Martinovich
Given that Hollywood itself occasionally takes a scathing – though as gently as possible – view of itself, it would be tempting to say the time has passed for any novelist to aim their satirical eye at Tinsel Town. After all, what more could be said? The entertainment industry's taste for excesses in sex, drugs and alcohol has been well-documented, its duplicitous business dealings are reported in newspapers and its stars manage to lampoon themselves. It would be difficult to write stories more absurd than the real life examples of people like Don Simpson, Lindsay Lohan or Mel Gibson.
And yet into that well-trod ground Thomas S. Sipos has strode with his novel Hollywood Witches, which tells the story of a coven of witches conspiring to takeover Hollywood to impose their notions of racial and cultural diversity. Led by a minor industry vice president named Diana Däagen, the witches are working to install their own members at the major studios in order to advance their politically correct agenda. Standing against them is actress/part-time tabloid reporter Vanessa Cortez and her celebrity beat reporter/ex-boyfriend Hank Willow.
Cortez is unknowingly thrust into the center of the conspiracy after accidentally coming by several spell-books and magical amulet dropped by Däagen's assistant. Thinking of her find as little more than bad poetry and costume jewellery, Cortez is shocked to learn they are in fact powerful objects which she can control, though admittedly with little finesse. An incident at a casting call brings her to the attention of Däagen who needs her spell-books back in order to carry out her goal of taking over Hollywood and imposing multicultural, religious, racial and gender diversity on the industry.
Willow thinks of the books as the key to finally landing a scoop about a major and troubled Hollywood star that happens to be working on movie being shot by Däagen's studio. Though he covers the Hollywood beat, Willow clearly doesn't have the stomach for the at any cost approach of his peers – not to mention he's still in love with Cortez. After losing one of the books in an attempt to get closer to his dreamed of scoop, he and Cortez must recover it before Däagen can do so while surviving her magical assaults.
Sipos, who himself as some acting credits and is obviously familiar with the industry, shows a deft hand at parody. Hollywood Witches is filled with just the sort of people one would expect to find in the industry and those in its orbit hoping for their slice of the Hollywood dream. Power players occasionally and uncomfortably rub elbows with those too old – which the industry apparently defines as mid to late 20s – or untalented enough to ever be more than barely paid extras in a movie. Tabloid reporters prowl around and use any tool – ethical or otherwise – to get a story while narcissistic celebrities totter between overdose and obliviousness to anyone around them.
It should be noted for more conservative readers that Hollywood Witches does inject blatant sexual behaviour by some characters, particularly Däagen. And given that it's set during the Bush administration and Sipos is a libertarian, one shouldn't also be surprised that there is some editorializing against the war in Iraq by both the villains and heroes of the book, though for different reasons. By the standards of some mainstream novelists, however, Sipos' effort isn't at the far end of the spectrum for either sex or politics.
Though the inner machinations of Hollywood have been well explored by both writers and filmmakers for decades, Hollywood Witches is still an entertaining read if only because of its unique premise. It obviously targets the liberal pretensions of Hollywood and one could argue that its villain, Däagen, has a point when she argues that diversity in Hollywood is a myth – though her agenda promises to do little to rectify the problem. It has genuinely humorous moments and although the witchcraft angle leads to some rather incredulous plot twists, overall it serves its subject matter well.
Steven Martinovich is the founder and editor in chief of Enter Stage Right.
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