There tends to be a harsh divide between West coasters and East coasters, and for that matter the Midwest, Central U.S, South, etc. As they say, home is where your heart is, so that piece of land that maybe didn't raise you but somehow fits you like a glove seems to be the only place on earth that makes sense. The outside world views Los Angeles and thusly Hollywood as being artificial, narcissistic, immoral, and oblivious. Smoothie shots of rutabaga and bi-annual botox visits rightfully appear absurd to the "normal" inhabitants of such bread and butter places as Oklahoma, Mississippi, or Ohio (can I get a what-what for the Buckeyes?!). Likewise, the jaded urban hustle of New York and the liberated and more earthy metropolis of San Francisco find Los Angelenos to be pretty much full of... shitake mushrooms, (or perhaps just "on" them, if you know what I mean). I admit, I can whole-heartedly relate to these outsider perspectives or escapee conclusions regarding my new home state.
Indeed, to live here and survive, you must have a BA in BS; there are no two ways about it. L.A. is gross in so many ways. Living here, you are overloaded with overly aggressive billboards, film land flim flam, and giant tools who are ironically lacking in... ball bearings. Everyone seems to look and act the same. The glamour soon disappears within and sometimes before a year of living here: "Isn't that that guy from that show?" / "Who cares? One large snifter of oxygen please!" Despite this, because of this, there are many who migrate here and many more who immediately migrate back to a place that feels less offensive. Strangely, for all the macabre mimicry of human beings, for all the traffic, for all the smog and walking Barbie Dolls (on crack), this place-- this devious, despicable, delicious place-- still feels more like home for this Midwestern girl than her youthful world of Cincinnati (which basically encapsulates the entire tri-state area as far as anyone there is concerned). I have shared this thought, analogy, what-have-you, before... but Hollywood is the only place on earth that openly lies and tells the truth at once. That's why I love it. That's why I remain shackled to it. It is the only place I have ever been that isn't tight-lipped about its own monstrosity. It is a liar who doesn't lie.
Unarguably, my attraction to the Golden State was instigated by my obsession with Golden Era Hollywood. From a young age, I wanted to be where that magic was; I wanted to be where insane levels of absolutely anything were possible. I'm constantly teased for my movie collection, and I take it like the woman I am, but a movie has never been just a movie to me. They are art-- even the bad ones. There is always something new to notice, to appreciate, to learn, be it studying the performance of a particular actor, the style of the fashion and settings, the technological/psychological innovations, or the dissection of human history right before your very eyes. As a lover of history and a perpetual, self-taught student, there are few things more perfect to me than discovering a new film to love, a new actor to appreciate, or a new piece of a former beloved flicker coming together and making more sense to a mind that thought it already had it all figured out. My love for film is the same as a young artist's devotion to Van Gogh or Magritte; a writer's love for Proust or Hemingway. An athlete's love for Babe Ruth or Karl Malone. I understand and love the world of cinema in a way that those who do not cannot understand, just as I can't understand people who waste hours watching football. But, I respect that. There is beauty there too. There is passion. Everyone has her niche; mine is here. I fit here, because I just do.
Hollywood itself is a fascination if only because it is the most recognized geographical place in America, and perhaps the world, where good and evil so gracefully converge-- on screen and off. Everyone has an opinion, everyone's a critic. You may have hated the last Adam Sandler movie (can't blame you), but you're talking about it, aren't you? You love that damn beautiful and talented Leonardo DiCaprio, but you liked his performance in this so much better than in that. You're talking about it. And that latest, controversial war movie? You thought it was totally misdirected, while every other schmo accepted it as the God's honest truth. You're talking about it. You're all thinking about it. You can feast on the occasional thoughtless movie when you need a break from the tired cranking of your mental wheels, but more than we realize, the movies don't entertain us, they prompt us to think. That is their beauty, even when they're ugly.
The other Jekyll and Hyde in this scenario is the artistic, impassioned face of the finished product contrasted with the beastly bitch of hard work, seemingly unimaginative studio big wigs who rehash for cash, and the spiritual and physical casualties that go into and result from show business. As someone who has witnessed this first hand, there is no more astounding conundrum than trying to be an "artiste" in a system that runs on numbers and figures. It is incongruous, yet one hand must always wash the other. For those that make it, a little of themselves must be sold, because the reality of this situation is that show business is just business. It is just another job. The erotic pose on the silver screen isn't felt on the soundstage when the boom guy is hovering over your carefully covered extremeties so he can record your synthesized moans appropriately. The smiling faces in interviews are literally gritting their teeth, because they are so tired of going through the grind and being marched before the commercial camera to promote promote promote their latest film or show, which it turns out, is just a product, as are they.
But we know this, because we see the self destruction. We "ooh" and "aah" at how beautiful Julianne Moore looks this year at the Oscars, but we do this while flipping through the article regarding Lindsay Lohan's latest arrest. The former is a train wreck, but my God, she didn't get there in one breath. A child star pushed before the camera too young, used by her two inept parents, and far too easily introduced to the ever available valley of drugs practically sold here by street vendors, she didn't stand a chance. So few do. This town is a heart eater. As Marilyn Monroe, the undisputed authority on the subject, said: "Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul." It's true. People are used for profit and discarded the minute their box-office loses value. It is a place where one is constantly judged, where your job is always on the line no matter how famous you are at the moment, and where the timeline of your career is not something you ride until your retirement but a rapidly spilling hourglass. Will it be turned over for another cycle? The temptations of easy sex, comforting highs, and erratic, violent lows are much more understandable and easier to empathize with when viewed from this angle. Yet from the outside looking in, the vantage point is always low, looking down, judging, and never comprehending how easy it is for an actor, director, writer's spirit to be broken. The industry professionals aren't champions or Gods; they are hamsters on a wheel running for their lives. Anyone who emerges from the end of this rabid, Wonderland rabbit hole in tact deserves an honorary Oscar just for surviving.
For all these contradictions, I remain mystefied and enthralled with Hollywood. It has a texture like nowhere else. Every street, every alley, every vacant lot, is brimming with tales of both life and death. I find solace at a cemetery walking among the stones and paying respect to the people who contributed to making cinema what it is. They are dead and gone, but the marked graves that confirm their previous existence somehow make them more vividly alive and seemingly still here. It draws the curtain back and reveals the flesh and bone behind the silver screen image. In every neighborhood, you will find remembrances of celebrities past (and present). I can drive past Lupe Velez's former home in Beverly Hills, and just by knowing that she once inhabited those walls, I am touched, and moved, and saddened, and invigorated. The Roosevelt, The Beverly Hills Hotel, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, The Million Dollar Theatre downtown... They are all standing tombs of history filled with the energies of ghosts, film fans, and the secret histories of so many people in so many eras-- all sandwiched together and somehow entwining and creating the collective soul that makes this town truly great. All of these inhuman artifacts are fossils of humanity, there to be laid bare and investigated, to tell us truths and teach us lessons about ourselves, just as the films this city produces.
Of course, no other city pays such tribute to the art it forms. Only in Hollywood can you go to a screening at the Egyptian Theater and see living legend Kirk Douglas in the flesh. Only in Hollywood can you attend a Q&A session with Eva Marie-Saint. Only in Hollywood are there such dedicated and bold stage productions about Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe by actors that are so good, you believe that you and a room of people are the in the presence of a ghost. Only in Hollywood can you attend plays starring modern celebrated performers carrying on a devotion to the craft laid down before us at the turn of the 20th Century and now taken for granted due to its availability. Ed Harris, Richard Attenborough, and John Goodman rarely make appearances in small town theaters, but here, actors who love acting continue to seek out their creativity despite the fame and fortune they've already accrued. They tread the boards where expression began before there was a camera to capture it; a place that gave birth to their initial thirst for storytelling.
Here, just as much as the industry feeds itself, the public celebrates its product. Screenings of new films, old films, silent films, forgotten films, B-films, cult classics, and film students' final projects are attended by lovers of celluloid. Hollywood may have gone commercial, it may cater to tourists in a way that is not as grandly hospitable and self-respecting as the gallant South, but at its core there is still the beating heart of is pure phenomenon. Directly on the pavement upon which you tread, there are etched reminders: Griffith was here, Garbo was here, DeMille was here, Hayworth was here. The same engine of pure drive, desire, and passion to create that brought legions of auteurs to these once barely inhabited hills still chug beneath the skin of cracked sidewalks, graffiti covered slums, and oceans of people who have forgotten the sources of magnificence at which they still marvel.
I guess you could say that I came to Hollywood for its beauty and stayed for its soul. You know how they say, "You are attracted to a person's perfections, and you fall in love with his flaws?" That is the love I have for La La Land, which is coincidentally the same love we all have for it. Our fascination may have been instigated by the initial excitement of technological gimmickry and the glossy finish of pretty people in motion, but our loyalty has remained because of the vulnerable and dangerous underbelly and profound honesty we slowly discovered both on the screen and behind the camera. Once the initial sheen faded, which it did, we would have stopped believing in Hollywood and its tall tales had they not become true. We continue our mutually co-dependent relationship with show-business like shameless addicts. We are at the mercy of what it feeds us, but it is at the mercy of our ticket purchases. Los Angeles, Hollywood, or "Tinsel Town," is the sad dog in the pound that you choose to adopt, because it is adorable in its pitiful sadness. It nurtures us, we nurture it. Thus, despite the constant, holier-than-thou critiques of outsiders or under-appreciators, I remain convinced of and fascinated with the integrity and debauchery of this town. To know it, to truly know it, is to love it. And to me, at peace in the present chaos and the painful memories surging through the veins of this naughty metropolis and powering electric lights, I can say with utter certainty that Dorothy was right: "There's no place like home."