Monday, June 1, 2009

Living in LA = Cheap Film Industry Spectacles

Recently I've been swimming in screenings and tributes. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences puts on a lot of events, and many of them are open to the public for ridiculously small fees like $3.
Par exemple, a few Wednesdays ago I dragged my tired body from the Hollywood/ Vine Metro station, sloughed off the grime, and entered the clean, controlled space of the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study on Vine. There was an open bar and cheese and fruit. I ate some melon in the corner, trying to look nonchalant in my beat up sandals and overstuffed backpack.
When the time came I found a seat in the plush Linwood Dunn Theater, where the plebes like me were relegated to the wings of the hall while the VIPs sat in the center. We watched several old, old films made when Hollywood was in its infancy. All were made between 1909 and 1914, using Griffith Park, Santa Monica, and other spots as the Old West or Europe or whatever they needed. Some of them were frightfully dull to my overstimulated brain (especially the proto-Westerns), but most had some spark of truth in their portrayals of human emotions and relationships. No living celebrities featured.
A while back I attended a Norman Jewison tribute event that featured a lot of people who had worked with him over the years, including Cher, Faye Dunaway, Carl Reiner, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, and moderated by Leonard Maltin. Thanks to my sisters, who got there early, I got to sit up close and scrutinize the divas' plastic surgery with my own eyes. Both wore big accessories to hide their faces, including hats, wigs, and sunglasses.
These tributes feature a tremendous amount of laudatory remarks, and I find the ritual performance of social solidarity between entertainment industry craftspeople fascinating. It's such a spectacle, and not one in which the audience participates. Sure, we can laugh at the right points and clap A LOT, but there will be no mingling between me and Cher. In this way celebrities come on display and are perceptibly real; they're in the room, but still so inaccessible to me socially as to be more like animated dolls. When are they open to social contact? These tributes mark the boundaries of closed social worlds, up there onstage for all to see.
In the same vein, I went to another Academy event on Friday to honor Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who wrote the lyrics for a lot of movie themes in the 60s and 70s. This tribute took place at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, and though I inadvertently made my way into a closed reception which featured a variety of smorgasbords, heaving with meats, I got shuffled out when some lackey noticed that I looked out of place. Bobby, though, better camouflaged than me in his dinner jacket, managed to enjoy some treats until they started flashing the lights and chasing all the reception guests out of the hall like cockroaches, trying to redirect them from the sumptuous feast up to the sumptuous theater.
The event itself was more of the same: "_____ is definitely on everyone's list of top _____," "____ are like family to me," "_____ are soooo special." Granted, what else are people supposed to say at a tribute?
The most famous guest, Barbra Streisand, also obscured her face with hair and sunglasses, but I was way too far back in the theater to see whether it was to hide age or just a part of her look. Quincy Jones played host this time, which was weird because at the Norman Jewison tribute the Bergmans and Jewison had talked about him a whole bunch. I think he introduced them all to each other. Then, at the Bergmans' tribute, Jewison was out of town and appeared only in a video tribute, but Jones and the Bergmans talked about him a whole bunch. Marilyn Bergman even told the same joke about Jones offering them a writing job on Jewison's In the Heat of the Night at both events, with a slightly different punchline at each.
I sure enjoy observing the performance of Hollywood's social networks, though it leaves me feeling a little dusty and used afterwards. For the vast majority of us, the only role is to clap and laugh.