Monday, January 18, 2010

The Not So Golden Globes 1/18/10

How upset can a locker be?

What on Earth do you say to a locker to produce such an effect?

“You need a paint job”? “You smell of stale sneakers”? I mean, come on: even if upsetting filing cabinets were your number one aim in life, would you want to go and see a movie about it?

These were just some of the questions I asked (along with When did Tom Hanks get so fat? Has Martin Scorsese shrunk?) to pass the time through Sunday’s coverage of The Golden Globe Awards.

Having established that The Hurt Locker was not about a sensitive piece of storage furniture, but a bomb disposal unit in the Iraq war, I lay on the sofa and gave thanks that I wasn’t at the actual event a stone’s throw from my apartment.

There was a time when I would have carried out contract killings just to get into an awards ceremony. Back in my early days of journalism, I even managed to crash a few, one night taking a place on the South Pacific table at the Laurence Olivier Awards, oblivious to the fact that people had purchased tickets in advance for members of the company.

If the legitimate guests on the table were shocked or horrified, they were too polite to say so, and by the end of the night I was singing I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair like an old pro.

Sunday’s Golden Globes, which celebrate achievements in both film and television, were taking place at the Beverly Hills Hilton. From my apartment, I can see the hotel, where, for the big event, a plastic tent had been erected on the roof for the NBC/Universal post-show party.

The hotel was closed to the public for the weekend, and when once I would have taken wire cutters to the fence I know can quite easily get me to the pool area, I was happy to stay at home and watch the event on television.

Awards ceremonies US style are very different from those in the UK, not least because by the time you have cleared security to get in, you probably would have died of stress, or even old age.

To get into the Globes, journalists had to apply back in November, and the list of requirements and credentials was so long, I could have founded a newspaper and seen it go under in the time it took me to read the rules, let alone get round to acting upon them. Getting into the White House is easier – as people have discovered.

My friends who have been to the Oscars assure me that the event is not worth sitting through for the privilege of nursing a full bladder for eight hours; and even those with tickets to the Golden Globes said they were going for the experience of seeing Ricky Gervais live, rather than getting the chance to rub shoulders with the superstars.

There was, nevertheless, an air of excitement in the air that permeated the city, irrespective of whether one was attending the event. The Regent Beverly Wilshire, a short distance from the Hilton, and The Peninsula, which is even closer, were packed with celebrity spotters who looked to the door every time a new person entered (and, in my case, looked disappointingly away again).

After I watched the event on TV, I hung out at the Peninsula where, if you happen to have a miner’s lamp in your handbag, you might be able to make out a few faces in what has to be LA’s darkest bar.

Everyone who was no one was there. A university lecturer, a very drunk Estonian woman, whose head looked in immediate danger of separating itself from her body, and an even drunker man who introduced himself with the question: “D’you mess around?”

He also said that he was waiting for a call confirming that Quentin Tarantino was hosting a party nearby. It was now getting close to two in the morning, an hour when, for me, messing around always takes second place to tuning in to yet another interminable CSI marathon on the telly; but heck, this was Quentin - who knows, he could direct my movie - and if I had to kiss a boozed up guy in a penguin suit just to get to Quentin, what the hell.

In the event, I didn’t even have to debate the issue. The man received a call to say that there was no party, news that instantly turned me into the Mother Teresa of the night and telling the bloke where to get off. Inglourious Basterd as he was.

Meanwhile, the lecturer was telling the Estonian how interesting she was, while the management were trying to throw her out for losing touch with gravity. “Is she with you?” they asked me.

I was horror struck. “No!” I squealed, disgusted.

Even more horrifying, I remembered that that used to be me. But if there is one thing that LA has taught me, it’s that sitting at your desk, doing the work you care about, really is more enjoyable than falling about in bars, stalking celebs.

When I saw my final bill from the Peninsula, I realised that it’s cheaper, too.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sunrise, Sunset 1/9/10

Above clouds, you can believe in anything.

Flying west to east, into daybreak, the sun is always rising; east to west, it sets in silence, always perfect.

Sometimes, I feel close to the heaven of my childhood imagination.

Up there. Beyond. Closer to the God I was told lived in the sky.

The transatlantic journeys that, just a year ago, were filled both with excitement at the prospect of change in a new country, or coming home to see family and friends, are now times of strange, intense reflection in a year that has seen so many loved ones disappear from my life.

My screenwriter friend Blake Snyder, who inspired me to come to LA, and who I have written about so much, died suddenly in August. My dear friend Keith Waterhouse died in September. Yes, he had enjoyed a long life, but that never makes a loss less keenly felt.

My Auntie Monica, who had known me since I was a baby, died suddenly in October. And, this week, my dear, beautiful and talented friend Angharad, who had been ill for some months, died, suspected of having taken her life at the age of just 47.

Each time I fly now, it is to attend a funeral, memorial service, or to be close to people with whom it is possible to share memories. This week, in particular, knowing the devastation that Angharad’s siblings and young daughter must be feeling back home, I just wanted to get on a plane again and head back to the UK.

Until I know what plans there are for any service, I am staying in LA, but have again been astounded by the enormous comfort Facebook has provided during this time.

I found out about Blake’s death on Facebook, and shocking (literally) as that was, over 600 people left messages on his page that made one feel part of a community united by a shared grief.

On Saturday, messages started to appear on Angharad’s Facebook page, too. A clever, funny and insightful woman, she still seems very much there, and it is hard to imagine the pain and desperation that brought about this tragic end.

Having spoken only to a couple of friends and left messages for one of her sisters, being such a long way away I felt able to make some kind of contact through Facebook, with strangers feeling just as helpless as I did.

The experience of these very personal losses is in stark contrast to death Hollywood style, and makes life here seem even more unreal. In 2009, the non-stop TV coverage of Michael Jackson’s death, and the way the town came to a standstill for what felt like weeks, turned death into the must-have accessory of the season. Some people have indeed turned their experience of the star’s passing into a full-time job.

Celebrity death is always big news here. Before Christmas, we saw the death of actress and singer Brittany Murphy and, last week, the Johnson and Johnson heiress Casey Johnson. TV cameras were outside the latter’s home for hours, continually reporting that there was no news and nothing to report. But that didn’t stop journalists standing outside the dead woman’s Hollywood home, continually reporting that there was (still) nothing to report.

Then, on Friday, there suddenly was. There was a fracas outside the home, from which Casey’s two small dogs were being taken, allegedly to be put down so that they could be buried with their owner. Casey’s girlfriend/fiancee Tila Tequila, was hysterical, as the pooches were bundled into another friend’s car.

Hollywood death is such big business here; there is even a site called hollywoodmemoir.com, which features “recently died famous Hollywood celebrities, actors’ health, accidents, and major news”. “Searching for Hollywood death?” says one headline, before pointing you in the direction of “Death Hollywood at Amazon”.

There are discussion boards and blogs to which you can contribute, too. “Is it just me?” asks one, “or are there almost no deaths in Hollywood lately?” Moral: never write a blog like this on 8th December.

Death can be a niche market, too: for example the section detailing “Wrestlers Who Died” (Bad News Brown, aged 63; Hercules, 46; Johnny Grunge of Public Enemy, 39 – of sleep apnea complications - there really is a Hollywood movie just crying out to be made here).

And should you wish to do your research according to method of passing rather than profession, you can just click on one of the headings under “Major Causes of Death”, which are: accidental, cancer, drug, heart attack, heart failure, lung, natural cause, suicide.

It all feels a far remove from the real thing, yet for every one of these Hollywood deaths, too, there is a band of friends and relatives mourning their loss.

Life doesn’t get any easier.

But above clouds, you can sometimes believe.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year Chimes At 4pm 1/3/10

Did everyone go to Barbados for New Year?

Simon Cowell, Sir Philip Green, Emma Forbes, Michael Winner . . . Oh, no, I forgot: Michael Winner decided, for the first time in 30 years, to spend it in Miami, with Michael Caine.

Knowing that neither of them would be in Barbados was the only thing that made the island sound remotely appealing to me, both men having been appallingly rude to me at various points in my career; but still, I was happy to be spending the festivities in LA.

I can’t ever remember a New Year’s Eve when I have been so hot, I thought I would have to don a bikini. As my friends froze in temperatures of minus six back at home, I delighted in texting them to inform them that I was off to Santa Monica to celebrate in Ye Olde King’s Head, a British pub near the beach.

Transport is so ridiculously cheap, not to mention efficient, here (the buses run 24/7), I still have no need of a car. The journey from Beverly Hills took just under half an hour and cost $1.25 (about 75p), and as a bus is going to be sitting in the same traffic as any car, it still seems to me the best way of getting around.

I also ensure that I make friends only with people who come to Beverly Hills in their cars, or who are on my bus route, or within walking distance of my home. So far, it’s worked out rather well.

Ye Olde King’s Head was so packed, I had to beg to gain entrance. It’s the place to go if you want to watch sport, too, although I didn’t make it to their 5am showing of Leeds United’s 1-0 FA Cup victory over Manchester United on Sunday morning.

A pity. I am a lifelong Leeds United supporter and remember their only FA Cup final win over Arsenal in 1972. I only became a Leeds supporter because they beat Manchester United in some game, and there was a big anti- Man U faction even in my day.

I adored Eddie Gray and when I met him in southern Spain last year, spent an hour reminiscing about the good old days. It’s just a pity that it was Andy Gray to whom I was chatting, and when I later realised my mistake, Andy confessed that he had been a tad confused as to why I had been banging on about Leeds for so long.

Clearly, after my Gareth Edwards/Tom Shanklin case of mistaken identity two weeks ago, I need to pay more attention to sports personalities’ photographs.

The sun was streaming into the YOKH as customers counted down the last minute to midnight/4pm local time, and that was really weird. In the UK I am usually wiping somebody’s vomit off my dress by that time, but YOKH was a very civilised affair, and I met some really terrific people – French, German, American, as well as Brits - in what appears to be quite a friendly community down in Santa Monica.

I returned to Beverly Hills, thinking what a strange year 2009 had been. I came to LA to do a writing course in March, and, encouraged by the screenwriter and teacher Blake Snyder, moved here on April 1st.

Under his guidance and support, I felt more creatively inspired than I had done in years. When he died suddenly on August 4th, I felt, and continue to feel, a hole in my life that makes me breathless with the disbelief of losing what once filled it with such joy and love.

I can only try to work as I know Blake would have wanted me to, and try to fulfil the potential he recognised and which had lain dormant for so much of my pre-LA life.

Blake’s third book on screenwriting has just come out (Save the Cat! Strikes Back), and I know that it will it inspire me just as much as his first two did.

I’ve also been reading Rilke (not in the original German, I hasten to add), a poet whose verses and prose are full of such wisdom and insight, it is impossible not to feel the stirrings of optimism, even in the face of grief.

In Letters to a Young Poet, he writes to Franz Xaver Kappus on the nature of sadness, a “new thing” that enters our hearts and changes us “as a house changes into which a guest has entered.” It is these moments, he says, in which “our future sets foot in us”, “in order to transform itself in us long before it happens.”

Blake believed in the power of transformation; it is what predominantly informed his life and the screenwriting techniques that he so brilliantly taught.

At the end of the decade, I regard my coming to LA and meeting him as one of the most transformative, blessed, and, yes, lucky, experiences of my life.

The American Dream may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but there are still some pretty good slumber parties to enjoy.

Welcome, 2010.