Hotel California

Okay.  I ripped off the title of a song by The Eagles for one purpose only: to get your attention.  The more accurate title should be A Hotel in California.  But that sounds like a chapter in an in-flight magazine for American Airlines.  Tonight is our last night here, at the Standard Hotel, on Sunset Strip.  It’s a kitschy holdover from decades past…and that’s what gives this place a charm that is infectious and amusing.  I sometimes think of myself as a kitschy holdover from 1967.

[The sign for The Standard.  Don’t rotate your iPhone, it’s meant to be upside down.]

The Strip itself (according to what I’ve been reading) is undergoing a makeover.  Since the 1960’s its appeal had been to the hipsters, rockers, winners and downright losers.  Even now, as I stroll seven or eight blocks, I pass two strip clubs, several tattoo parlors, used cars dealers and quick loan storefronts.  It’s quirky.  I like it.

As we were checking in last Tuesday, I noticed a large glass ‘box’ behind the front desk.  Inside was a mattress and a single pillow.

“Any significance to that?” I asked nodding to the glass enclosure.

“Oh, we have people who go in there for four hours and do whatever,” responded the female clerk.

Was this some kind of sex club?  I wondered.

[Young woman in a camisole with her laptop.]

[For the ladies: a middle age dude with cell phone.  I’d do it too for $40/hr.]

We ate dinner beside the pool that night, but something special was going to happen at 8:00 pm.  It was movie night!  The movies are chosen by two guys who seek out “the worst of the worst”.  Tonight’s feature: “A Hard Ticket to Hawaii”.  The plot was dreadful.  The acting was ludicrous.  But the snake was real as far as I could tell.  The audience was encouraged to ‘get involved’ with the film so there was much hooting, booing and moaning.

[A still from the “movie”]

I loved every minute of it.

Last night, we were treated to two bands who played with vigor and talent.

Tonight?  Who knows?

The Standard was not the original name.  It was known for many years as the Hollywood Sunset Hotel.  Years ago, when a twenty-two year old Eric Clapton was arrested for possession of pot, he gave his address as 8300 Sunset Boulevard…this hotel.

Across the street was located the Chateau Hotel where John Belushi OD’d.

As I write this, I am sitting by the pool.  It’s 74 F.  I’m watching the pink floating tubes drift about the pool.  I look up and watch the palm fronds stir in the breeze.  The sun is low enough to put the entire pool area in the shade.  People are slipping on light sweaters.  My weather app tells me it’s 72 F now.

[Pool tube.]

We’ll be eating at a Cantina across the street tonight and then come back to hear or see whatever entertainment there might be.

Then we pack.  Call Uber in the morning to take us to LAX to pick up a rental car.  From there we head into the desert to spend a month in Joshua Tree.

Maybe, at the edges of the Mojave, I can get over this hacking cough that’s been hanging on for a month.

New adventures lay ahead.  But I will always find a place in my memory bank to store the images of what was once the infamous Sunset Strip.

[Note: All the historical information I used in this post is mostly from oral sources.  If any of my readers specialize in fact checking, any mistakes are mine.  All photos are mine.]

 

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Waiting For All Hallow’s Eve V: “Cardboard Tombstones and The Greatest Horror Movie Ever Made”

Since it’s creeping, day by day and night by night, toward Halloween, it’s time to consider the movies.  I’m not talking “Mary Poppins” either (although dancing with penguins can be pretty scary).  No, I’m talking of the Great Horror Movies of the Century.  Some of the most blood-curdling scenes on film were written by gifted authors, directed by geniuses, acted by theater legends and perfect excuses to wrap your arms around your sweetheart and pretend you were brave and protective.  I did this, and all the while, missing key dialogue and scenes.  Try watching Lon Chaney through narrow slits of nearly closed eyes?  Try turning away from some demonic brain surgery scene…your girlfriend will think something is wrong with her left ear or a strange woman on your left will call the usher because you’re staring at her right ear.  It’s not easy.

I’m not a screenwriter.  I think we know that.  But I love the visual quality of films and the style of writing.  I think this comes from listening to the radio when I was a child.  Shows like “Inner Sanctum” and “The Shadow” forced me to imagine the faces and scenery.  With movies, you’re given everything.  Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Classic images constructed by Hollywood are like perfect novels…not a word could be changed…not an image could be different.  For example: Lon Chaney getting the mask ripped from his face in “Phantom of the Opera”, or Elsa Lanchester’s jerky head as the “Bride of Frankenstein”.  Or, perhaps one of my all-time favorites, when Bela Lugosi stands on the stairs of his castle and, after hearing the wolves, says: “Listen to them-the children of the night.  What music they make!”

Let’s get to the point.  You need great scenery, deep and meaningful dialogue, professional acting, and a strong plot.  For my money, only a handful of movies fulfill those stringent requirements.  I’m thinking of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (the original, of course), “Freaks”, “The Beast of Yucca Flats” and, of course, the All-Time Greatest Horror ever put on celluloid: “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”

Directed by the legendary genius, Ed Wood, it is a true masterpiece by any standards.  Ed Wood knew how to write and direct a film that will be a classic for all time.  “Plan 9” was filmed in and around Hollywood.  It was released in 1959.  The running time is 79 minutes.  And it had a staggering budget of $60,000.  Wood also had a major movie star on his contract, Bela Lugosi.  Sadly, Lugosi was, at the time, a drug addict.  Legend has it that Wood would drive Lugosi around L.A. to find drug dealers willing to supply them with enough morphine to get Lugosi through the next few days shooting schedule.

Then a slight problem arose.  Bela Lugosi died only a few days into the filming.  To Ed Wood, that presented no big problem.  He simply found some out-of-work actor to ‘stand-in’ for Lugosi.  Recognition problems? No way.  The actor simply held up a cape (Dracula fashion) and hid his face.  Brilliant!

The scenery (and props) were also something to behold.  If you watch the tombstones as the main characters walk through the cemetery at night, some of them flap back and forth.  Who needs marble when cardboard will work just as well?

The ‘flying saucer’ at the beginning of the film resembles a garbage can lid.  It probably was.

But the writing was extraordinary.  And I mean that literally.

Consider the following speech given by Criswell at the very beginning:

Criswell: Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?

Now that’s writing.

Other noteworthy dialogue includes:

Criswell: At the funeral of the old man, unknown to his mourners, his DEAD WIFE was watching!

~~

Lieutenant John Harper: It was a saucer.

Policeman: A flying saucer?

~~

Air Force Captain: Visits? That would indicate visitors.

As you can read, the dialogue left much to the imagination…like great film dialogue should attempt.  There’s nothing left for the imagination with a toss-off quote like, say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”  But that’s another movie…

Something else should be mentioned here.  One of the main characters, played by an ex-professional wrestler, Tor Johnson, makes a classic return from his grave.  That face, that image was to become the all-time best-selling Halloween mask in history.  [I can not confirm this fact…it was something I read years ago.  I would think that the more recent images like “Freddie”, the “Halloween” monster and the “Scream” figure are probably more popular now.]

This is the make-up artists model:

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 This is the actor, Tor Johnson:

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So, get the film on Netflix.  Sit back and enjoy.

Finally, I want to add that I first saw the film in the mid-1980’s while living in Norwalk, CT.  It was being shown at a local movie theater as part of the “Golden Turkey” Awards.  The ‘worst films ever made’.  I have to say, I don’t agree.  The real horror movies are those that exploit women, children, gays and glorify violence and war.  Nothing is glorious in those things.  And, I can’t help but feel that the real ‘horror’ of this movie was all behind the camera.  Ed Wood was gay.  That must have been a nightmare in itself in Hollywood in the late 1950’s.  And, the sorrow I felt for Bela Lugosi, once a great actor, seeing him sinking so low in his personal addictions that he agreed to make this film to just get through another day.  Now that’s real terror.  That’s real scary.  I poked fun at this movie in this post, but I don’t laugh so loud now at the inane dialogue or fake tombstones.  I feel sorrow for the lives being played out…where I can’t see them.  Off camera, on dirty street corners and in lonely hotel rooms, when the actors go home to whatever sad lives they had.

Remember the saying: “For all the bright lights on Broadway, there are a thousand broken hearts.”?

These days, for every Brad Pitt, there’s ten thousand waitresses, waiters, barristers and really lonely people who are miles away from their farm in Ohio and their worried parents.