They say stereotyping is wrong. That judging a book by its cover is something we should never do. And yet, when it comes to profiling a sexual predator, one can’t help but look to the prototypical disgusting, sleazoid aesthetic of James Toback, all overweightness, paleness and baldness for confirmation that maybe it’s okay to go with out initial intuition about a person.
On the heels of Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace (which Lana Del Rey didn’t do much to help with) comes another death knell to the “old school” way of Hollywood: allowing directors and producers to get away with wielding their power by bartering sex for movie roles. As thirty-eight victims of Toback’s skeevy modus operandi (to use a euphemism) have come forward to declare their stories, Toback, of course, remains insistent that it’s all a lie. That, according to him, he couldn’t have possibly engaged in any unwanted sexual activity based on his heart condition and diabetes, is far underestimating women’s–and the public’s–internal bullshit detector.
Sure, he may be seventy-two now, but that doesn’t mean the old dog doesn’t (and didn’t) have plenty of “desire” within himself to execute the deplorable acts that primarily actresses have been accusing him of. His primary method of operation? Inviting women trying to land that elusive role that would garner them the spotlight to audition for a part under the pretense of describing a scene with explicit sexual language, followed by delving into a little masturbation in front of her. But hey, no big deal right? That’s what it takes to crack Hollywood, n’est-ce pas? A man in power has something you want, so what are you willing to do to make the exchange? And if you didn’t manage to break on through the other side even after subjecting yourself to the perverse whims of gods and monsters, that’s just part of the gamble. We all know there’s a far uglier side to becoming a famous actress than what Mia has to endure in La La Land.
And that ugliness takes shape in the actual ugly form of men like Toback. Let us also not forget the very specific titles of his movies, which read like a confession of guilt, starting with The Gambler (as in “I’ll take my chances on getting caught for harassing women if it means a momentary orgasm”). From there, it was Fingers (no need to explain why that’s gross), Love & Money (like, give me the brief pretending of love through sex and I’ll give you money), Exposed (“…my penis to you… and then you’ll expose me for the beast I am–not the drag queen kind of beast”), The Pick-Up Artist (well, no need for elaboration here either)–which is an unfortunate movie to be tainted as Robert Downey Jr. and Molly Ringwald (who recently wrote her own exposé about her time as an ingenue) work so well together in it–and, rounding out the 80s, The Big Bang.
The 90s began on a higher note, professionally and title-wise, with Bugsy starring more consensual lothario Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, for which Toback was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Things went back to normal with Toback’s attempt to commit his crimes in plain sight with the release of Two Girls and A Guy, otherwise known as: his ultimate fantasy. Black & White reveals his penchant for denial and compartmentalization, and Harvard Man his knack for delusion. Then there’s When Will I Be Loved, something he couldn’t bear to put a question mark at the end of as he already knows the answer to it is: never. Seduced and Abandoned, a documentary centered around the Cannes Film Festival, sounds more like a biopic about what Toback did to his victims. Rounding out the mix is The Private Life of a Modern Woman, with Sienna Miller in the lead role. And that private life, as someone–no, a female–trying to climb the ladder in the film industry almost always consists of delivering a sexual favor, whether she wants to or not.
So yes, please do look the fat, sweating, balding men with a diabolical glint in their eye up and down and decide that maybe some adages about first impressions should be done away with.