In Tinseltown, all that glisters certainly ain’t gold
The Sound of Music is one of my favourite films. Years ago I went on the movie tour in Salzburg, which was enlightening enough, but destroyed so many of the illusions that I was literally depressed for a day. I’d already read a book that said Christopher Plummer hated the kid actors in real life, but to see they shot the lakeside exterior of the family home miles away from the house they used for the scenes out front was crushing.
Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so I felt better prepared as I turned up at Paramount Pictures on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood to take the studio tour. A bunch of foreigners from Russia, Chile and NZ, we were ferried about in an open-air, battery-powered cart by our guide, Chris (an aspiring TV writer, not actor) and learned a variety of insights about the likes of ex-Studio head (and one of only three women to run the studio in its 100 year history) Lucille Ball, and how if we encountered anyone from the cast of Glee, they don’t like to be asked for an autograph (sorry, Gleek friends back home!).
Perhaps because I am older and more jaded now, it was less disappointing and more impressive to see a shopfront on Paramount’s purpose-built “New York Street” and then be shown a clip from the latest (awful) Indiana Jones movie which shot a scene on that corner, and to realise Shia Leboeuf actually is a good actor after all. We saw where Woody Harrelson left drunken handprints in wet concrete, and the sound stages where the studio’s Oscar-winning Godfathers were shot. The biggest plummet of disbelief came from seeing a metre-deep carpark, painted light blue, which is periodically emptied of cars, filled with water, and used in films as disparate as The Ten Commandments (Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea right there) and the Jack Black vehicle Orange County.
Plenty of studio history, the odd anecdote, a look at a couple of sets for TV shows we haven’t seen. I even helped the guide with his commentary by giving a bit of background to the old Hollywood studio-contract system (I bet tour guides just love people like me).
As I write, I am sitting with a 920-calorie chocolate milkshake (hey, I’m in America!) in Downtown Los Angeles, where the bank robbery scenes from Heat were shot in 1995. Two separate, very patient, bank employees were complicit in my finding the right building. Unfortunately a lot has changed since filming, and it turns out I am 4 years too late to see the bank exterior as it was shot, before they renovated the outside and added benches, flowers and a fountain. Not to worry. There is a familiarity in the slope of the streets and the natural lighting that satisfies my pilgrimage.
And finally, a quick brag about the film we saw last night. USC’s film school puts on free weekly screenings of unreleased or seriously indie movies, and last night’s was a revelation. Bobcat Goldthwait (that’s right – the chap from Police Academy with the Grover voice) has written and directed an undoubtedly personal tirade against all that is wrong with America. God Bless America (all in lower case in the film’s titles) has Mad Men‘s Joel Murray playing a beleagured, loserville kinda guy who despairs at the reality TV, the materialism, consumerism and Kardashianism of contemporary America. Pushed to the limits by work, family and health, he embarks on a spree of cathartic madness with Tara Lynne Barr’s teenage “Heather”. The film delivers all its shocks in the opening scenes (the audience was in fits) then takes you on a heckuva ride. It has done Toronto and some other festivals, and is released locally in LA this Friday, but it’ll be interesting to see whether it makes it to NZ. Here’s hoping – I think audiences there will love it.
Skyped in my film review to Radio Wammo from a room of Hollywood movie posters at the LA Public Library (God bless free wi-fi). Universal Studios got deferred to tomorrow, so I will write about that after!