One of the reasons that I love Los Angeles is because everything here seems so surreal - its as if the entire town is straight out of a movie. Everything that happens seems so perfectly constructed and cinematic.
So when I arrived into Los Angeles and found myself parachuted into an advanced screening of Johnny Depp’s latest movie, “Public Enemies,” I was hardly surprised. It made perfect sense that this was what I was doing within an hour of being back in LA. I was heading to an advanced private screening of a new Hollywood film at the Academy of Arts and Sciences theater (the group that does the Oscars). I was with my friends Robert, Kristen and Lauren, and we were running a little late. The confirmation said to be there by 6:15, and we were at the stoplight in front of the theater at 6:15. There was a line that went around the corner - “Phew,” we thought, “the line isn’t too bad.” But as we inched forward through the left turn line, the line kept going. “It’s going around the block,” we all screamed. Now we were nervous that we weren’t going to get in.
Parking in the parking deck was also such an LA experience - as we drove in a woman was standing there swiping cards to let visitors in. ”Take a left,” she said with a thick foreign accent. I felt like we were going into an exclusive party, driving into the secret location garage on our way down into the depths of cool-ness. I put on my Ray-Bans and banged my head to the beat. We all laughed.
The parking garage was so organized - only in LA could there be such a system. Cars get parked, then double-parked and triple-parked. Cars are jam-packed in there, organized by a crew of fast workers, because they know that absolutely no one is walking or riding a bike there. Oh LA, sigh.
As we join the line it only gets more intense from there. There are large black security guards with Bluetooth headsets on. There are skinny white dudes in suits yelling instructions and business-fierce women handing out forms to fill out. ”You cannot bring any phones with a camera function into the theater. Please wait to get your blue ticket and then take them back to the car.” I was handing a form and a pen. NAME. GENDER. ADDRESS. SHOE SIZE. SIGNATURE. FAVORITE SEXUAL FETISH. I felt so violated! Now Obama is going to know what movie I saw as well?!?!?!?
This was such an operation, Hollywood in action. The company was called “The Screen Exchange” and I can only imagine how much money they make from doing this kind of thing. ”Public Enemies” had a reported budget of $80 million; if this company is in charge of doing market research and promoting the film, even a one percent chunk of that is $800,000. So these people weren’t messing around.
The line was also so LA - people were only talking about the movie business. ”Bob is working on this…Susie just got a role…I cant believe [insert latest gossip here]” Then I found myself dropping into old habits, talking about this shoot I am going down to Baja for, as well as my first commercial producing/directing gig that I just got. I was just part of the scene, man!
And of course, this being LA, everyone was super attractive. T-shirts everywhere, pretty dresses, well-made up faces. The houses on the block were cute, the lawns were perfectly manicured, the shadows danced lazily on the buildings. There was an energy in the line, a feeling that we were special and part of something that no one else was. We are about to see a big-new-talked-about movie one week before anyone else! We. Are. So. In. Its hard not to get excited when you are about to see a movie that you actually want to see, that no one else has seen, for free.
Things continue to become even more surreal-LA. A handsome twenty-something makes a paper airplane. After sticking it in the mouth he flies it across a lawn and it wedges nicely in a drainpipe coming down from a house’s gutter. A woman comes out of her house on her cordless phone, she’s in home-chic in a bandanna and sweatpants, but looks hot. People keep driving by asking what the line is for. “Grand opening of a 99 cent store,” one guy responds. The line cracks up. I crack up because as I was walking down Mission in San Francisco this morning, there was a sign outside one of the theaters, “Grand Opening June 26” - and it was a 99 cent store.
A tween-age girl lowers the window of her mother’s shiny black Lexus SUV as they slowly drive by. “What’s the line for,” she asks. No one responds, as the SUV creeps further towards Wilshire. “What’s the line for,” she asks more insistently. Nothing. ”Whats the line for,” she asks almost pleadingly. Its as if this is the first time no one has ever answered her on the first try in her entire life. Things might be collapsing for her - I could see it in her eyes. Finally some one tells her, and she rolls up her window and continues on.
We. Are. So. In.
Finally we get to the entrance of the Academy building and we have to go through security - give numbered blue ticket, empty pockets, go through metal detector, gather belongings, join heard of people going into theater. Because we arrived on-time, we are some of the last people to get into the theater and they are hurrying us in. They want to get this show on the road.
A man appears at the front of the theater. Well-cut blazer, balanced black frames on his face, he exudes Mr. Hollywood. “Welcome,” his voice booms. I wonder if this is the guy who does the previews. “We are so excited to have you here tonight, and thank you for coming. You are some of the first people to see the movie!” Cheers and applause. “There’s not much we can say about the picture, so let’s get this show started!” Yes, he said “picture.” The two giant Oscars at each side of the theater stage glisten under dedicated spotlights. I could have sworn that they gleamed even brighter right when the Hollywood Man said “picture.”
The picture was good. I thought that Johnny Depp did a great job portraying Dillinger sympathetically, although a) Im not sure why Americans always identify with the outlaw, and b) I could not understand anything he said. What’s with all the mumbling JD? Or maybe it was because we were so close to the screen in the second row that I was distracted by his giant pores or the hairs above his moustache that that hair/MU Department neglected to trim. Heads are going to roll for whoever let those hairs slip - seeing one rogue Depp whisker is so damn distracting when that whisker is 6 inches long on the big screen!
Seriously though, the movie was pure Michael Mann. Shootouts came a dime a dozen and there are some classic car chase scenes with men hanging out of windows with fire-breathing tommy guns. The movie might be a tad trite and romanticized, but it is well worth it. It makes you wonder what would have happened had J Edgar Hoover not started to embrace science in the pursuit of criminals - Dillinger was one of the last popular outlaws before the government employed science to change everything.
Movie ends, credits roll, curtain falls. Another LA moment as we arrive at the parking deck to find that all cars have been turned around by the super-efficient garage staff, so that every car is now facing the right direction for exit. Chaos, and great gobs of COs, still reins as we wait 20 minutes for hundreds of cars to right themselves and get out of the deck.
Only in LA folks, only in LA.