Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 23rd, 2018

Money talks: Hollywood’s new obsession with the Getty empire

In the last few months, fascination with the twisted tales of the billionaire oil baron J Paul Getty, and his grandson Paul’s maybe-staged kidnapping, has reached a fever pitch thanks to two high-profile dramas.

First, Ridley Scott’s Oscar-nominated film All the Money in the World and, now, the 10-part series Trust, the first three episodes of which are helmed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle.

There are substantial differences between the two projects: chiefly, one’s a two-hour movie, the other a 10-hour TV series.

Moreover, where Scott’s film pushes the narrative that Paul’s kidnapping wasn’t planned, Trust frames it as an orchestrated scheme to extort money from his grandfather to pay back debts to drug dealers.

Nevertheless, both All the Money in the World and Trust are in thrall to the Getty family’s troubles, none of which appear to have been eased by the fact that, at one point, its patriarch was estimated to be the richest man in the world.

Bigwigs like Getty have always been catnip for film and TV producers. The relentless avarice of There Will be Blood’s Daniel Plainview and the psychological dissolution of Howard Hughes in The Aviator proved fascinating to both audiences and the Academy and like the recent one-two punch of Getty-centric projects, Bernie Madoff’s fall from grace inspired a miniseries and a film in the span of less than a year.

Something about the rags to riches (and sometimes back to rags) stories, the ambition and the greed, combines the indulgence of a good hate-watch with the vicarious pleasures of viewing lives so far from our own.


The Getty attraction, though, is a bit different.

Both projects that have taken the oil magnate as their subject have largely avoided spending much time recounting the accumulation of his enormous wealth and, since Getty died about as rich as he lived, nor do they depict him squandering it.

After all, the man was notoriously stingy, going so far as to install a coin-operated payphone for guests in his Sutton Place McMansion.

Instead, both Trust and All the Money in the World appear more taken by a kind of palace intrigue, using Getty’s grandson’s disappearance as a lens through which we’re meant to learn something fundamental about the man himself. That he refused to pay his grandson’s ransom, which equaled about a single day’s profit at Getty Oil, signifies more than just cheapness or gross self-regard but also the fraught interplay between money and family.

In the new series, for instance, which was created and written by Simon Beaufoy (a frequent Boyle collaborator who also penned last year’s Battle of the Sexes), the hour-long pilot takes place almost entirely within the Gettys’ gothic London estate, an elaborate, darkly lit fortress where visitors dote on and curry favor with Mr Getty.

The camera zeroes in on the lavish particularities of his life: the multiple girlfriends, the expensive art, the strained family ties, and the butlers, one of whom quite literally dresses Getty from underwear to suit and brushes his teeth for him.

Hilary Swank as Gail Getty in Trust, and Michelle Williams as Gail Getty in All the Money in the World.
 Hilary Swank as Gail Getty in Trust, and Michelle Williams as Gail Getty in All the Money in the World. Composite: FX/AP

Played by Donald Sutherland, Getty is both more menacing and more vulnerable in Trust than he was made to be by Christopher Plummer, who replaced Kevin Spacey in Scott’s film just a month before its release and nabbed an Oscar nomination.

Both portrayals, though, suggest a distant man so paranoid of his own wealth and power that he can hardly put either to good use (“When a man becomes wealthy,” says Plummer’s Getty, as though he’s reciting scripture, “he has to deal with the problem of freedom”).

Where those qualities are most conspicuous is in the kidnapping incident, which remains one of the most peculiar, made-for-TV stories of the 20th century, a veritable checklist of intrigue.

The story includes, of course, a mega-rich oilman and his scions, but also Italian mobs, English manors, a severed ear, family infighting, and an emotional anchor, Gail Getty, played by Hilary Swank in Trust and Michelle Williams in All the Money in the World.

Paul Getty eventually did come home safely, only after the ransom payment was reduced from $17m to $3m. But he was traumatized so deeply by it that he turned, like other members of the Getty family, to drugs and alcohol, suffering a stroke in 1981 brought on by a cocktail of valium, methadone and alcohol that left him quadriplegic.

It remains to be seen whether Trust will make a big splash at FX, especially since a movie with the same subject and plot was released just three months ago to middling box office (it made $25m in the US).

Since Trust proceeds as a slow series of character studies where Money is something of a breakneck thriller, the two may be different enough to stave off Getty fatigue. After all, the American viewing public has not been known to tire of stories like these.

Top U.S. General makes three stunning admissions about the Middle East

Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

The head of the U.S. military’s Central Command made some stunning admissions about the present geo-political situation in the Middle East, during a Congressional testimony, that will go largely unnoticed in much of the mainstream media.

  • Assad has won
  • Iran deal should stand
  • Saudi Arabia uses American weapons without accountability in Yemen

The top U.S. general in the Middle East testified before Congress on Tuesday and dropped several bombshells: from signaled support for the Iran nuclear deal, admitting the U.S. does not know what Saudi Arabia does with its bombs in Yemen and that Assad has won the Syrian Civil War.

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel said the Iran agreement, which President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from, has played an important role in addressing Iran’s nuclear program.

“The JCPOA addresses one of the principle threats that we deal with from Iran, so if the JCPOA goes away, then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program,” said U.S. Army General Joseph Votel.

JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the formal name of the accord reached with Iran in July 2015 in Vienna.

Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from the accord between Tehran and six world powers unless Congress and European allies help “fix” it with a follow-up pact. Trump does not like the deal’s limited duration, among other things. (Is Trump used to colonial deals of 100 years?)

Votel is head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East and Central Asia, including Iran.

He was speaking to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the same day that Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after a series of public rifts over policy, including Iran.

Tillerson had joined Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in pressing a skeptical Trump to stick with the agreement with Iran.

“There would be some concern (in the region), I think, about how we intended to address that particular threat if it was not being addressed through the JCPOA. … Right now, I think it is in our interest” to stay in the deal, Votel said.

When a lawmaker asked whether he agreed with Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford’s position on the deal,Votel said: “Yes, I share their position.”

Mattis said late last year that the United States should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal unless it was proven Tehran was not complying or that the agreement was not in the U.S. national interest.

A collapse of the Iran nuclear deal would be a “great loss,” the United Nations atomic watchdog’s chief warned Trump recently, giving a wide-ranging defense of the accord.

Iran has stayed within the deal’s restrictions since Trump took office but has fired diplomatic warning shots at Washington in recent weeks. It said on Monday that it could rapidly enrich uranium to a higher degree of purity if the deal collapsed.


Votel also discussed the situation in Syria at the hearing.

During the Syrian army’s offensive in eastern Ghouta, more than 1,100 civilians have died. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, say they are targeting “terrorist” groups shelling the capital. (No other parties backed the Syrian army in liberating Al Ghouta)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned on Monday that Washington “remains prepared to act if we must,” if the U.N. Security Council failed to act on Syria. (Just empty threats, as usual)

Votel said the best way to deter Russia, which backs Assad, was through political and diplomatic channels.

“Certainly if there are other things that are considered, you know, we will do what we are told. … (But) I don’t recommend that at this particular point,” Votel said, in an apparent to reference to military options.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked whether it was too strong to say that with Russia and Iran’s help, Assad had “won” the civil war in Syria.

“I do not think that is too strong of a statement,” Votel said.

Graham also asked if the United States’ policy on Syria was still to seek the removal of Assad from power.

“I don’t know that that’s our particular policy at this particular point. Our focus remains on the defeat of ISIS,” Votel said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia

In a stunning exchange with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, Votel admitted that Centcom doesn’t know when U.S. fuel and munitions are used in Yemen.

“General Votel, does CENTCOM track the purpose of the missions it is refueling? In other words, where a U.S.-refueled aircraft is going, what targets it strikes, and the result of the mission?” Warren asked.

“Senator, we do not,” Votel replied.

The Senator followed up, citing reports that U.S. munitions have been used against civilians in Yemen, she asked, “General Votel, when you receive reports like this from credible media organizations or outside observers, is CENTCOM able to tell if U.S. fuel or U.S. munitions were used in that strike?”

“No, senator, I don’t believe we are,” he replied.

Showing surprise at the general’s response, Warren concluded, “We need to be clear about this: Saudi Arabia’s the one receiving American weapons and American support. And that means we bear some responsibility here. And that means we need to hold our partners and our allies accountable for how those resources are used,” she said.





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