20 Things People Just Don't Understand About Hollywood

The weather's great. The people are beautiful. There's money everywhere. A poor kid from Poughkeepsie can hit the big time here. What's not to like? Read on.


1. All People in Hollywood Are Dysfunctional. More than any other society on Earth, picture people are into health. And that is only proper, because they are a Jot of very sick bunnies. Don't be misled. Hollywood obits are regularly in the high 80s--these are people who live a long time, which is what happens if you don't smoke, you work out every day, you get your body fat awesomely low and you do only the best cocaine. But illness is rife. It comes in the form of maladies of the ego and afflictions associated with conflicted interests. Despite the healthiest regimes money can buy, most people in Hollywood feel at least several degrees under. People in clinically good health reel headachy, sad, precancerous. Why? To hold attention, to excuse bad or no work, to support the burden of being paid too many million a picture. Take basic narcissism, add a vulnerable point of view, and you get neurotic un-health. Health practitioners in Hollywood have it made as long as they never threaten their patients with a cure. An AIDS cure might make for so much depression the town would need a new generation of Austrians to deal with it. For above all, the invalid is the center of his or her own universe. And when ego rules, everyone's in pain.

2. The Apocalypse Has Already Happened--in Hollywood. The "there" isn't here anymore. No pictures get shot in the district that is officially Hollywood. The place is really just another drab, tacky stretch of mid-America, except that so many of the stores and local forms of prostitution are more lurid and inventive. But just because the mine seems to have been abandoned, and a ghost been left behind, you should not be deceived. Think of what happened as an explosion--a very dirty bomb. The explosion occurred years ago, and the toxic stickiness on the surfaces in Hollywood is the residue of that blast. But the fallout went into the air and has drifted all over the world, surmounting foreign political creeds and varieties of language to put everyone into its dream of L.A. (Lies Allowed). Everyone is dreaming now, their heads filled with the haze, their outer eyes turned off. Sleepwalkers, ghosts, dead men walking--call them what you will, the members of a sad, collective delusion in which we all believe we are alone with our hopes and dreads, alone with the camera. The jazziest ghosts still haunt Hollywood. They know the art and business are dead, as dead as Norman's mother. But that's not the same as defunct. The dead have their magic.

3. You Are Their Playthings, Not the Other Way Around. If someone told you tomorrow a technology had been invented, out of nowhere, that let the people who had it stare at you with impunity, without mercy or pity, smothering their giggles at seeing you so naked, so unaware, you would say, That's indecent, it would never be allowed. But it is. Hollywood's like a huge, secret smoked glass with invisible people behind it watching you walk up close to see if you have a zit on your cheek. There are buildings and limos with people inside studying those outside as a rather pathetic species of wild-life--aberrant, untidy, uncool. It he movies, it's us in the dark, them in the light--voyeurism, a way of being substanceless, while watching. But they are the ultimate voyeurs; they're seen only on their own terms, in a flattering light, yet stare freely at you without a trace of shyness, like monsters eating you up, inhaling you.

4. Everyone in Hollywood Is in a Movie. This happens all the time in Hollywood: you are walking in the breezy afternoon sunshine when a van packed with alarmed faces suddenly cuts across the street. Two or three people only steps away from you are nearly knocked down. Brakes howling, the van lifts half off the street, veers, steadies and roars up a side street. As you marvel at the reckless driving, two cop cars, sirens blaring, come racing toward you, and go right by the side street. Someone on the sidewalk steps out and waves them back, and the cops reverse with a fury and take the side street. You notice: one of the cops was smoking a cigar, For color? A strange air hangs over the scene. Was this real or were you all being filmed? You can't see a camera. But the cop with the cigar looked just like Brian Dennehy. And you've heard that soundtrack before--the brakes and the sirens. Will you have to sign a release? It's an old joke that if you ever need to murder anyone in L.A. (and most people do) you only have to take along a camera crew, shoot a murder scene, and then do the deed on the second take. Everyone will understand that filming is going on and agree not to look at the camera. It's like that moment in Heat when Pacino and his cops follow De Niro and his gang to a dead-end industrial site and wonder what the hell is going on, until Pacino gets it--they're being watched by the guys they thought they were tracking. Everyone in the town is on candid camera, and knows it, and has his motivation down.

5. Information Matters, Knowledge Doesn't. As in that seminal game of the '80s, Trivial Pursuit, what mat-ters in Hollywood is not knowledge, but irrelevant, obscure, cute "facts," like the numbers on Independence Day (momentous, unprecedented, but subject to instant oblivion, like a tape in Mission Colon Impossible), or who is sleeping with whom. At Hollywood occasions, one must be thoroughly prepared with information so recondite as to be absurd. The talk should be vivid, grabby, tasteless and superior, pertaining to no known level of reality, consequence or philosophy. Like lines an actor says, every remark should be designed to be immediately disowned, trashed and dismembered. People in Hollywood never speak from the heart: they speak from the script, with the slightly apologetic wryness that comes from having expected a late polish which did not arrive in time. Taken to its highest level of nullity, this pursuit of the inane can turn into a decision to vote for Bill Clinton (or not) entirely on the question of whether he ever actually fucked Sharon Stone. And whether she was then' at the time.

6. The Most Important Talent Is Lying. The only time that exists in Hollywood is the Present. The Civil War was Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable; Pearl Harbor was Montgomery Clift and Donna Reed. All of those scenes are what pass for History. There is no reason to regard Time as a process of cause and effect, or of progress, or of anything that would require anyone to be responsible for it. There is only the Present in which stories are get-ting told all at once, and everything is happening simultaneously. The actor working out on the stair machine is also learning his lines on his earphones. The young development executive at a party is drinking and attend-ing to the asshole producer in front of him, and also listening to what the suit from CAA is saying to the VP at Warner Bros., and at least getting the gist of what the late, great Michael Ovitz is saying to Warren Beatty. You'd think all this data processing would drive people crazy, but the actual, unfailing effect is that it just makes people eery--which is a major thing to be. Now, the obvious result of this simultaneity is duplicity (a technical term). That young development executive is negotiating concurrent, conflicting contracts with different entities (think of them as entities) in serene good faith, straight-faced, without one smear of guilt. Soon he'll be into the big time: direct lies, multiple love affairs, secret lives. Actors come by this naturally--lying is the magic in great acting. There are people who won't hire or even read an actor until he's a proven, expert, drop-dead, unaging liar. This talent for lying is the key to the true fragmented soul. There are 12-week courses on it all over town, though they have cover names, like "Building a Role" or "Getting Back to the Self."

7. Hollywood Is Chinatown. The Holly and the wood, the new girls and the scripts in development, have to flower and flourish, no matter that Los Angeles is a parched shore and desert scrub valley without moisture of its own. The freshness has to be brought in so that the gardens on the steep slopes of Bel Air can have the springy carpets of grass, the suffocating sweetness of jasmine, and the clenching of crimson plants that hold daring architectural achievements to the dry-cake crumble of the earth. Every last drop water must be traded and piped down from Owens Valley, the Sierras, the Rockies, to make the showers in which those shat upon by the System can erase humiliation and feel precious loss of memory. And Hollywood people must be able to contemplate the flawless water in glasses at Mortons and in their own lap pools, without imbibing or entering, as "a symbol not of affluence but of order, of control over the uncontrollable" (that's Joan Didion).

8. Drugs Are Necessary. I like to think of drugs as part of the defiant, ongoing and really rather miraculous spiritual life of Hollywood, After all. we know that drugs are bad--they destroy brain cells, warp the individual's sense of order, reason and responsibility, undermine the family and unravel the social fabric, not to mention what happened to River Phoenix. Plus, drugs put you in the company of lowlifes in deals where you have no protection, and they're humiliating and they never last long enough. In the end, they are not even photogenic, so if they boost a career for awhile, they end up cutting it short. On the other hand, just between vous et nous, drugs are to-die-for sublime, which the drug czars never mention. Why in the world do we have to lose our sense of humor and ignore that, bottom-line, drugs make you feel good now? And now is nice, as well as near, and now can keep happening. Drugs are easily the best way to handle the paranoia God invented, and sooner or later in Hollywood everyone ends up doing paranoia in a serious way. I mean, suppose the bomb is 16 minutes away--are you going to read the new Joan Didion novel, or do the smack you've been hoarding? What is Joan going to do? I don't ask.

9. Friendship in Hollywood Isn't Friendly. Old chest-nut: it is not enough for me to succeed, my friends must fail too. Anecdotally, there was the Hollywood wife who, after years of silent suffering, decided to divorce her husband because he kept heaving affairs, "'Darling," he'd told her, "they didn't mean a thing--they're only with friends." The day alter she began proceedings, she received lavish flower arrangements from several of her lunch and bridge and tennis chums. That's how she found out exactly with whom her husband had had his affairs. Which, incidentally, is one of the reasons floristry is such a solid business in Hollywood.

10. Movies Aren't the Point Anymore. "Synergy." They're all saying synergy is the thing the Business is all about now. The dictionary says "synergy" is "combined action or operation," which in Hollywood supposedly means that you do a picture that also feeds into the theme parks and merchandising outlets owned by the conglomerate that owns the studio. Rides, T-shirts, toys, video games, CDs, board games. The Business is working on multiple fronts, screwing the public in every orifice it can find. There's talk about svnergy everywhere now, so you know it must be covering a multitude of sins. Put that in your dictionary. Call me conservative, but I look at the people who are talking synergy and I see what I have always seen: thin-faced guys who are into pulling down $500,000 a year and fucking bimbos, like shooting antelope in Africa.

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