A Pilgrim Shadow: The Canyons As El Dorado
‘A Pilgrim Shadow’
THE CANYONS as El Dorado
by Pablo D’Stair
Illustrations by Goodloe Byron
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NOTE: This text does not purport to represent with 100% accuracy anything except for the author’s subjective remembrances. Any party specifically mentioned who wishes to comment on the accuracy of any part of this essay is encouraged to do so.
I: THE SET VISIT
I’d written an essay for The Arts Magazine concerning cinema through the filter of a new film called The Canyons and The Arts Magazine had suggested I finagle my way onto set, that they would have a photographer at the ready, that a 12-page photo spread would be made to accompany my little musings on persona and audience and meta-cinematics.
After much polite back-and-forth, Braxton Pope, the film’s producer, was kind enough to allow myself and a photographer ride along privileges during the final days of shooting and added in the delicious extra of a side trip out to Bret Easton Ellis’ house, Ellis being the film’s screenwriter.
This invitation came in on Wednesday morning and our privileges were to begin at 6PM the same day—the film was being shot in Los Angles, so I would have to leave immediately from my home in Vegas.
Perhaps I should have had some qualms when I contacted the photographer and he claimed to have no prior knowledge of any engagement with The Arts Magazine and only the vaguest memory of a man who may or may not have been The Arts Magazine’s CEO, but as the photographer was a laid back sort and assured me he would be down for it, regardless, I had no qualms at all.
My wife had the presence of mind to make me purchase clothes that actually fit and were not emblazoned with logos for soft drinks or breakfast cereals, I got on the road just as the desert landscape was swallowed into a long gulp of black and sped along to Gogol Bordello and then Bob Dylan and then The Thrills and then Dylan, then The Arctic Monkeys , Dylan, The Redwalls, Dylan, The Vibrators—on and on and on through the nothingscape.
Stopping for gas, the photographer sends a text and is a little bit nervous about showing up to set without me—our first invite was to a shoot on location in a small apartment somewhere. We agreed that he would wait for the Thursday all-day ride along, I cringed sending Braxton the news, got back in the car and drove.
It was something around half past midnight when I got in to LA, Jackson Pollack eyed and needing to void the coffee and Red Bulls—I slowly cruised the street with the apartment complex where things were happening, but decided it might not be wise to show up bugging folks at the end of their workday, baggy old travel pants, Fanta Grape logoed to my chest, sans photographer and doing a potty dance.
So from one overpriced hotel to another—no rooms, no rooms, a nice old man calling around everyplace he could think of, silently looking at me with a sigh after the seventh call—laughed out of the Beverly Hilton for saying something along the lines of ‘Anything cheaper?’ until finally landing around 3 AM at a lush Hyatt and shelling out three hundred for a room they’d be nice enough to let me have until two in the afternoon.
Wednesday I met with an actor who was also the writer of another film I was doing a piece about, endured the strangest and most subtextually threatening taxi ride conceivable, extended my hotel stay based on no will to change hotels despite the price tag, and wrought with paranoia found that I still had not received a reply from Braxton about the where and the when for the meet, next morning, and equally no word from the photographer on whether he wanted me to pick him up, had his own car, how far out he was from things et cetera.
But cigarettes on the darling little balcony, quick spot of courage form the minibar, staunch resistance to the wide array of MILF porn on demand and I slept.
Woke to find that—scientifically—the Internet in the hotel had not been working since about nine o’clock at night, meaning the ten o’clock at night message from Braxton with his home address and the meeting time of 10 AM had not been received until I checked my e-mail around 8:05, days first smoke hardly even lit, wrongfully cursing myself for having ‘slept in’ and slapping at the buttons of my telephone.
No message from photographer.
Quick panicked e-mail to Braxton that maybe it would be best to meet him at the second stop on the itinerary, but right after SEND decided not to stay in the room long enough to let him reply (which he did, I later found out) instead just did an abbreviated sink shower and downing hotel coffee too hot, out to the garage for my own car (never trusting a cab in LA, again).
My bad habit of always picking the wrong way to turn if ever I am not quite certain at an intersection was not enough to keep me from arriving at Braxton’s house, ten o’clock to the tenth of a second. Walking up to the door, making sure none of the tags of my new clothes were left on, I remarked that it was smaller than my own home, but quickly humbled myself with the obvious fact that it likely cost five times as much to live in.
A gorgeous woman opens the door, kind of a pistol shot beauty, and I vaguely think I see Braxton in back, the very creeping feeling that the two of them had either just finished or else had been interrupted in some intimate moment by my knock. But I am invited in pleasantly and told to have a seat, which I do, across from a strikingly large taxidermy beaver.
While Braxton spoke to me casual first-thing-to-say greetings from behind the door where he was dressing, I nosed through his honestly impressive collection of books and became jealous of the various autographed things up on his walls.
Our day, Braxton says—asking the second time about my already shabbily explained absence of photographer—would consist of a drive into the hills of Malibu for one location, back to his place to set up for a driving sequence with James Deen
(Deen’s last day of filming) perhaps a side trip to see Bret, and then to a closed set for an Amanda Brooks, Nolan Funk hot tub scene where, if we did not get round to Bret’s, Bret would be kind enough to show up.
‘How did you hear about the project?’ asks Braxton.
My convoluted explanation of the initial discovery of it, a mention that it was Paul Schrader’s involvement that first caught my eye and then Bret Ellis had sealed the deal—adding in that I was also pleasantly surprised to see Braxton’s own name due to recalling that he had produced a horror film called Penny Dreadful I had watched a year or two before. A kind of dubious breath and facial expression from Braxton, we talk briefly about how that film, in particular, wasn’t the proverbial feather in his cap, I start to feel awful for mentioning it and do my best—hopefully steering left of sounding like a full on twat—to say that it must be odd to be a Producer, because on paper I imagine the project seemed an excellent idea.
Blessedly, the conversation shifts to how he knows Thom Jones quite well and that we should get going.
Braxton was good enough not to argue with me about paying for his coffee and—thank God—a message from the photographer comes in that he’s sorry, his phone had been dead the whole day previous and what time and where was the shoot. Holding the phone up as proof, I ask Braxton where’s best to join up with the photographer, the Malibu house seeming ideal due to Braxton’s descriptions of its beauty, but more practically it being best to meet back at Braxton’s for the Deen shots.
Slight relaxation, I ease into the passenger seat and Braxton starts the drive.
After five minutes of explaining myself, in general, to Braxton—peculiarly deciding to do so by listing off a series of people he has never heard of who I think are assholes—I deprecatingly mention that I have a tendency to start lobbing very esoteric comments and questions and that he should feel free to ignore me when this starts up, in earnest.
And Braxton explains how he has a production company with Bret and how after he and Paul and Bret had been trying to get another movie made they decided to shuck the usual Studio route and pay for it themselves, splitting cost three ways, supplementing with crowd sourced funds. The Studio System seems to be something he quite in the marrow has a disdain for, which is refreshing to hear—it is common, in my circles, to hear a ‘screw the system’ type speechifying, but it is one thing when it isn’t an option to ‘go corporate,’ quite a different kind of animal to hear it from someone who pointedly has the option and calculatedly decides against it.
As we wend up the Malibu hills, the conversation settles on the beautiful state of contemporary television, much praise of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad and some theory as to the shifting audience reception and perception of ‘actor’s performance’ now that such crackerjack long form work is readily accessible to view, my angle being that the A-list, Academy Award type praise is not long for this world in the face of such extended and brilliant small screen performances on a weekly basis, and about how Big Stars cannot function as readily on the small screen and how fundamental shifts is the perception of Television-As-Cinema are coming. Then I worry I am sounding too militant, as after all Braxton is producing a film, not a television program, but before I can fret too much we meet up with the film crew for the last leg up the hill.
It strikes me that I never did manage to remember the name of Paul Schrader’s film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, and that, worse, I’d not confirmed that it had been by Paul Schrader (odd permutations of names gurgle in my head: Paul Simpson, Peter Schrader, Peter Schaffer, Paul Saunders) because I had hoped to mention my love of it rather than any usual Schrader fare upon being introduced. But my noia about this is abruptly put to bed when the cars pull into the house and Braxton leans across to say, ‘A few points of protocol with Schrader. Try not to talk. Just kind of hang back and do as little as possible. He can be an intense guy when he’s working’ me going nod nod nod, Braxton’s instructions quite pertinent as he had been listening to be blather on nonstop for almost forty minutes.
The Malibu house was where the bulk of the core film had been shot, a gorgeous place donated for the duration of filming by the friend of a film backer. Not usually taken in by views, I am nonetheless floored by the panorama, the whole thing given a tinge of almost old world beauty by the fact that the two young children who lived there were playing in the grass of the steep inclines and the homeowners were mingling with Director-of-Photography et al.
It was an establishing shot being done, no cast present. Schrader at one point checks the shot through the camera and says ‘Can we have them move the dog food bowl out of the way?’ A moment of unadulterated magic, this master then casually pacing back and forth (a brief, pleasant handshake introduction to me) water bottle in hand.
Another such moment: me attempting to get cell phone signal because now, again, no word back from the photographer, while one of the crew, in hush voice, mentions to Braxton ‘You know we don’t have permits for the filming we’re doing later, today?’ Braxton offhand replying it would be alright, he’d mock up some piece of paper that should be enough to get them out of trouble should trouble arise.
Braxton says we should bounce, inquires again about the photographer, and I hem haw something, never wanting to be breathing air that isn’t in the presence of film crew, of go-getters, of do-ers.
Back to the television thing, Braxton mentions how originally when David Chase was shopping The Sopranos, it was meant for the Fox television network and how it had almost gone down that Jim Belushi would play the part of Tony, something, Braxton said, that while he and I might find absurd, made, to executives, good sense because at the time Belushi had a hot sitcom and was well loved by the proletariat.
Then we spoke in endless praise of Louis C.K.’s program—the man a true auteur and I felt good that I said it was like watching an art film on television each week, nothing so surprising since McGoohan’s The Prisoner as ‘spy show’ in the sixties, then again felt alright that to Braxton’s mentioning C.K.’s choice of film style (his particular observational slant being outside of the realm of what was considered ‘funny’ in appearance or content) I remarked that the humor was more akin to Beckett-esque existentialism, even absurdism and Braxton told me how C.K. had been tweeting and generally asking around if anyone had particular cinema lenses because C.K. was the sort of artist so deeply invested in the nuance of each thing—Wes Anderson, we mention, Chantal Akerman, Jim Jarmusch.
This veers in to me rapping about how having children only increases the artistic output and imperative, then, non-sequitur, how my wife wears the pants in our relationship.
‘The way it always is,’ Braxton says, self-referential smile and nod.
And when I mention we’re in Vegas for my wife’s teaching job he says how he wants to do something in Vegas—mentions a book called The Delivery Man which I vaguely remember writer friends of mine praising all the time—but says that it’s contrary to how one would think, but Vegas isn’t the most film friendly place on Earth.
‘What would you do a film about, in Vegas? What’s the Vegas story we haven’t heard about?’ he asks.
It’s sad to say but I have nothing ready as reply, so only manage some vague riff about off-strip casinos set in the half formed suburbia, million dollar houses separated only by two blocks from run-of-the-mill and even run down house/apartments, how these casinos don’t cater to tourist but to locals and how it must be surreal for cab drivers to pick up the croupier, the gamblers, the welfare louts, the bored wealthy all within spitting distance of each other, if not right next door, how these places were the Nega-Vegas as far as common perception went, these casinos not at all primary, but almost like ticks feting themselves on the bloat of penned animals, the cab drivers milling in front like the germs that mix with the swallowed blood.
Not a very good pitch, but it hardly mattered because we were pulling in to park and so it was ‘to be continued’ (at least I hoped and tried to jumpstart some better idea as we got around the corner, up the driveway).
My first impression of James Deen, in the flesh, was brief and inconclusive: he was talking about how he might not be so comfortable with the crew mounting a camera to his very lovely car. Shortly after, I nodded a Hello to him as I exited Braxton’s house and he entered—his appearance was slighter than I had expected, but his presence was, honestly, immediately rather magnetic, something I would have called ‘brooding’ if not for the wide smile and unaffected gait, so I labeled it ‘thoughtful-bordering-on-pensive,’ instead.
I tried again to raise the photographer—this being our only chance to shoot Deen—and before the reply came in I chatted with the Key Grip, explaining my more-or-less unnecessary presence, how I was supposed to have a photographer with me but Lord only knew where that bastard had got to. The Key Grip pointed to the Director-of-Photography, explaining the man was a genius and if I needed photos, I should talk to him.
Message in from the photographer: Sorry man, my ride canceled on me, looks like I won’t be showing up, sorry to be so last minute.
Technically, he was several hours past last minute, but leaving that on one side I called him, got his voicemail, so then texted about I would gladly cover the fare for a taxi and could drive him home personally.
No response. No response. No response.
Around this time I wandered over to where my car was parked in Braxton’s driveway, several crew members milling there, James Deen sitting on a stone wall in reserved conversation with them. Deen was relating some story from his childhood. Letting a last sigh about the bad news tucked back in my pocket with my phone, I listened for a moment.
‘When I was six, I used to drink my dad’s beer, I knew where he kept it…at school, for a long time, they thought I was retarded…but it was just I was drunk, six-years-old going to school after drinking beer…that’s what they thought, though, I was retarded. And they were right. Because I was six and drinking beer and then going off to school.’
His face was neither aggrandizing nor deprecating, the story seemed more inward than out, as though he wasn’t expecting the actuality, the depth of it to hit those listening, that only the surface was what would be responded to, a wine note of sadness to his brow and the line of his mouth not lost on me.
As I moved away, someone asked him was this his first time acting, had he done plays as a kid or anything. Deen—a smile, honestly amused not by the question but by the quiet absurdity that such a thing needed to be asked—eyes widening with the obviousness of it said, ‘Of course. As a kid. Who hasn’t done a play as a kid?’
There was a chat going on inside that I nudged my way in to, sinking into a seat. During this, Deen entered with the make-up girl and they went around to get him prepared. The chat was Braxton talking about a panel he had been on, someone going on to him about the lack of quality in indie cinema, espousing the virtues of studio strictures or something—Braxton, of course, related that this had been an irritant, that he could not understand the commentary (though he admitted, of course, there was bad indie cinema, he wasn’t rose tint about the intricacies of any platform). I ‘hear-hear-ed’ him, relating, from the POV of my lowly circles, that the same conversations were on repeat regarding indie publishing, the stigma that still hung, the automatic-from-the-hip opinion of many that anything not commercial was strictly amateur.
Schrader was seated nearby during this and after the make-up girl stepped out to delightedly explain that Deen was dancing in his boxer shorts—repeating it twice so that the gravity of the levity would not be lost—he said quietly, but not to himself, that this was the first film he had worked on where the Director and the DP had to wait for the camera. Perhaps taking a cue from the make-up girls musicality in repetition, he shifted and said, a bit more to those in back, ‘I said: this is the first film I’ve worked on where the Director and the DP have to wait on the camera.’
An air I was unfamiliar with—except for vague feelings of school and a teacher asking ‘Has anybody even read this chapter?’ working up from the lizard part of my brain—filled the room.
There was quickly the further problem that when equipment did arrive, a blue-tooth headset had not, prompting Schrader to quite stoically ask, ‘Goddamnit, do we want to start acting like we’re making a fucking movie around here?’ For exemplary emphasis, he asked someone if he was wrong, if perhaps he had mistaken them for someone working on the film when, in actual fact, they weren’t.
Options were flurrily discussed, ending with the decision that an electronics store nearby would be best, Schrader exiting stage-down-the-street with a real air of business, business to the point that not only might he walk the whole way to the store, himself, but that he might just as readily lilt into stalled LA traffic, tap the first window of someone who seemed to be talking to themselves and rip the necessary device from their ear.
Let me, not without pointedness, note that all of this was not done by Schrader with any hint of hissiness or gloom or Prima Donna—this was simply what needed to be happening and decorum in making it so was only as relevant as the moon is to the sun.
I meandered outside, trying to raise the photographer, again, at least get it from the horse’s mouth and stop it all with the cryptic texts.
I text him about is he just not coming out, even by taxi, or would he like to meet up at the evening shoot or what?
Deen was now dressed up and smoothed even in make-up. Various members of the crew were working out some sort of logistical thing in the driveway. Deen was a ways off, on the sidewalk beyond the bushes at the end of the lawn, contemplatively pacing ten yards out, ten yards back—a random passerby approached and Deen made a wide, even overly gracious path for them, arms crossed, head bobbed, maybe running lines, maybe remembering the film in sequence up to the point about to be shot.
Phone still in my hand vibrated. Photographer says: No. I’m just not going to be coming out. Sorry, again.
To this point, I’d been staunchly resisting the urge toward the unfiltered Camels in my pocket (half flattened from sitting on them strangely at some point the previous evening) resisting on the strength that Braxton had offhandedly mentioned he suffered from asthma and the crew’s habit of smoking like tailpipes was an obstacle for him, but now…well, now what the fuck, right? I figure, fresh air all around, I figure I deserved it before being unceremoniously booted, which I surmised was a train only a short hill off, no conductor or else one realizing only just then there’s no brake.
Deen continued to pace, his arm gestures increasingly unconscious, maybe concentration casually drifting to talking to himself.
To make me feel more appallingly Tom Ripley about my whole situation, on stepping back in to the house Braxton happened to be standing up, asked me what the word was from the photographer. The thing was, says Braxton, the shoot that night was technically closed-set due to the sexual nature of the content, so while theoretically I’d be welcomed to come along, regardless, it would be best if I had a real reason, otherwise it would all need to be re-broached with Schrader.
Feigning I still didn’t know the photographer’s hold up, I did have the decency to say something like ‘Yeah, I don’t know man, but no no, if the photographer doesn’t show, I’ll just head out, don’t even mention it to Schrader or anything, you know?’
Whether he knew or not, I don’t know, but I apologized again for the awkwardness, he told me ‘No worries,’ again with (preposterous considering where the hands on the clock had come to) an even higher level of graciousness, pointing out that things, as we all know, happen, said just to let him know when I knew, his real concern being for me, frankly, for the article, because this would be the only time to get Deen shot. To make me feel better (but actually, no fault of his, making me feel worse) he good naturedly told me that even though the set that night would be busier—full sound, crew, the this, the that—if the photographer saw a particular shot he wanted and didn’t know how to ‘Ahem’ quite correctly to get it, just let Braxton know, he’d stand folks where we needed.
I wanted another cigarette, but after that, how could I?
Deen was being tended to by a young girl in an orange dress who worked Wardrobe, he making sure, almost timidly, that it was correct that he be wearing a certain black jacket in the scene (yes, he remembered, more confidently, because he’d been wearing a jacket in the footage of him getting out of the car). The wardrobe girl touched up the jacket collar, the shoulder tips, and Deen held her eyes to give an almost Victorian era ‘Thank you,’ then moved off where things were happening.
This same girl in the orange dress, soon after, was sat reading from a Perma-bound edition of Camus’ The Stranger, (1954, Vintage pocketbook edition with the weird pantomime folks on the front) so I stopped short, ridiculously asking if I could hold it, please. When I did, it turned out she had stolen it from her library in high school, card pocket and card still glued inside back cover. Funny thing, though not a Perma-bound copy, I had stolen the same edition from my library in high school and on this basis we became fast friends—or at least she humored my blathering about all manner of this and that, perhaps a Francis Verber’s Dinner Game type invitation brewing in her thoughts for me.
Various other members of the crew, ones not in that moment occupied with what was going on out driving, also sat around, each time one entered making an innuendo laden remark about the ‘giant beaver’ in the corner (or if the one entering didn’t, one of the ones sitting would make another, pointing it out to them) so much to the point it seemed an in-joke from a sitcom I was studio audience to.
A moment I didn’t quite understand concerning a woman asking a fellow to move a truck, the fellow, who seemed quite tired, responding only nonverbally by way of markedly not meeting her eyes. It seemed a thing, so always the good kid I tried to inject a sense of ease by saying I’d move the truck, but unfortunately was technically forbidden to touch anything. Maybe the truck got moved, I don’t know.
Just as I was squinting at a photograph and answering ‘I really don’t know’ to the Wardrobe girl’s question ‘That isn’t really a picture of Braxton with a giant snake is it?’ an unpaid intern in a blue shirt sat down and he, I, and the Wardrobe girl began chatting, kind of about what each other did, kind of about Wes Anderson’s obsessive attention to detail, kind of about how the unpaid intern looked like (it had been bothering me) a cross between an actor from the film Reprise (the one who doesn’t shave his head) and (I said at the time) Wes Anderson (but later realized it was really Rufus Wainwright I’d meant) he saying people said he looked like androgynous David Bowie, which I could totally see, but only from his eyebrows, triangularly down to the tip of his nose.
After offering me a drink, seeming a bit surprised I only asked for water, Braxton, very paternally, said from across the room ‘So, the photographer never materialized?’ and it was clear that it made no difference, at that point, so I just pretended it was still a mystery to me. Braxton again said ‘Not your fault,’ I again said ‘I know, but still, it’s kind of me left with my dick in my hand here, being the imposition,’ he again telling me not to worry, it’s fine.
I said general goodbyes and Braxton stepped outside with me for a moment, saying it was still possible that I could come on set later, but he wouldn’t know for a few hours. Told him I’d just be around, if I didn’t hear, I’d head off.
Not really wanting to leave but unable to think of any rational explanation, especially now in the driveway, to suddenly explain that I needed to stay, I asked, very awkward-adolescent-knows-he’s-got-no-second-date-on-the-horizon, if he wanted me to put together some ideas about a Vegas film, maybe shoot them his way.
I smoked and smoked and smoked and smoked and smoked in the parking lot of an Albertsons, calling whoever I knew on the phone and yammering at anyone of them who was available to let off pent up nerves and to convince myself I wasn’t being lambasted by everyone back on set. In my distraction, at one point, I paid for fifteen dollars of gas at a station then drove away without pumping.
Gave it fifteen minutes past when Braxton said I’d get word if I was invited, then sent a text I was heading back to Vegas and thanks for the hospitality. He got back to me when I was at a middle of nowhere gas station, which seemed beyond decent of him.
In the lot of this same station, after I’d bought coffee, some nondescript snack cake, used the toilet, and lit up a smoke, a man who seemed distinctly homeless—curious considering nothing mildly resembling a home seemed to exist anywhere remotely near where we were situated—asked me if I had batteries he could borrow for his flashlight, he’d give them back, he was asking just because he had lost his glasses ‘somewhere over there’.
He pointed into the same glop of black and blank that had spread thick through the desert on my drive out and that would syrup it over all through the rest of my drive back.
II: THE WRAP PARTY
It was a few days after my return to Vegas—a few days and some harsh written words to The Arts Magazine and playing catch up with my day job from the time off—that the invitation to the Wrap Party popped into my inbox. It was exactly forty-eight hours before the event and an RSVP was requested. A breath of not thinking I’d be able to make it, then my wife, always the more stable head, shook me by the lapel and said not only was I going but she was going, too. Miraculously quick arrangements were made to have our children watched and seven hours before the event we began our trek back through the desert.
The sun lit and heated the permadust as we drove—we passed the mysteriously placed Chuck E. Cheeses, we squinted at the sudden towns that existed for no other reason than to be highway rest stops, we waited a half hour for two sandwiches to be prepared at a random Subway Subs.
The valet took our car as we glid in to the LA hotel, time enough before the party was slated to begin, we leisurely dressed and stopped for pasta at a quaint, almost surreal, French strip mall restaurant, the owner conversing with us through the whole meal.
At the entrance to The Churchill, we explained we were there for Braxton Pope’s party and were directed up the stairs, seemingly among the first to arrive. The bar was being set up, the woman tending good enough to prepare my wife a vodka cranberry and to pour for me a double shot of bourbon.
I asked for Bulliet and of course, showing her good breeding, she not only said they had it, but enthused that it was the best bourbon there was.
Braxton broke away from business a moment, shaking hands it was good to see me, shaking my wife’s hand he was glad to meet her, glad we had made it. It turned out that just earlier that same day the final shots of the movie had actually been filmed, something I’d garnered via twitter. Braxton and I briefly discussed that and the guerilla style driving shots done a day or two previous I had seen a post about, both of us remarking that this was really the finest way to go about filmmaking, that it carried risks which were appropriate and I ended that I was glad Braxton et al. had gotten away with it.
Left to our own devices, my wife and I quickly discussed options—as this was a group of people with history and a mutual accomplishment between them, there to see each other in celebration of such, we could either stand around and talk to each other or do our best to have people suddenly discover they were talking to us, though little idea where had we come from or how long had we been creeping up. My tactic, I decided, was to shun tact and to immodestly talk myself up, hopefully giving off some whiff of being a true Cosmopolitan/Continental; my wife, more cleverly, decided simply to be genuine, alluring, charming and to bask in the easy fact that anyone would rather actually be speaking to her than to me.
We spoke to an assistant editor, getting the details of his daily interactions with the higher tier editor, left him alone, as it was clear he was trying to make it across the room, then mingled with a beautifully accented Soundman and with the father of the Wardrobe girl, this fellow, in an incredibly positive way, reminding me of Danny DeVito in Lethal Weapon 5 from It’s Always Sunny.
The upstairs seemed all at once to be at capacity as I swung to the bar for a refill, my wife gently reminding me that I actually hadn’t eaten any pasta so to beware that devil swill.
Paul Schrader entered in a suit, fifteen times as suave and sharp as the rest of the party combined. There was a radiating level of glee coming from him as his shoulders dance-bobbed with each step, like springs and taps had been affixed to his shoe soles, his toes, he touched the shoulder of everyone who passed and made Hellos and pointed two finger greetings to those all around, good to stop for any photo.
Winding up beside him at the bar, he said ‘How are you?’
I introduced my wife and mentioned how he and I had met briefly, rabbit nods from him and wide grin that he remembered, was happy to find I had made it out. I told him Congratulations on getting the picture off and he, like giddy, touched my arm and said ‘Should be good, should be good.’
The man seemed to own not only the room but the larger part of the free world and made a constant energetic orbit around the cheese and vegetable platter, flitting this bit or that into him as he laughed, shook hands, welcomed hugs.
My wife had never heard of or seen James Deen before, so it was delightful that when I pointed him out—making his way through the crowd toward us, toward the bar—she, within two seconds, hardly a full glance, raised shoulders to ears, began hopping, giggling and schoolgirl told me ‘Oh my god’ quick two hand hug to my shoulder, then all attention on him.
Taking the helm, my wife introduced herself with her name and the words ‘I’m a high school teacher, so I need to take a picture with you, so my students can find it,’ Deen putting palms together, tips of longest fingers to chin, head bobbed and unconscious grin almost Aw shucks. He was on his way to get a drink, but promised he’d swing back by, which he did, only a moment later, holding two beers.
‘It took long enough to get the one, so I figured just get two.’
He set them down, prom-vogued with my wife for a snap, then she moved to whisper something in his ear, he moving in the way one appropriately should move to hear whatever it is a woman wants to say that quietly.
Less to work with, I mentioned the first naughty scene I’d ever seen him in and, akin to how one might not remember a classmate from third grade after a decade or two, he said he couldn’t, being frank, say that he really had any memory of the name of the woman I mentioned, laughed, and again promised to come back by.
Promptly informing me that she was utterly crush-struck—if not smitten, if not full on smote—my wife patted my arm and discreetly separated herself from me, telling me to find someone to talk to.
The Key Grip, now in stunningly coral polo shirt, was moving by and so we spoke, me giving him an abbreviated version of how The Arts Magazine had boned me, he again pointing out the DP, telling me not to let the man get by me, that he’d arrange for photos if I still needed them. Somehow—perhaps bourbon related, perhaps not—the DP did slip by, the Key Grip retuning, noting this, and asking how had I let that happen?
So, we went over together and had a nice chat, me asking what sort of compensation might be required for pictures, the Key Grip finally declaring that he got a good vibe from me, so they would be gratis, he’d just need my contact. I gave it and the fellow held up some electronic device asking me had he jotted it in right—I said it looked right to me and it did in the sense that it looked like a well-lit bauble of light with some watercolor squiggly inside that maybe loosely resembled some of the letters of my name.
My wife came over, reiterating her adoration for James Deen as a human being, primly seething that she had just been outside, about to share a cigarette with him when, suddenly, she got waylaid by another backer who wanted to talk the ins and the outs of something or another with her.
‘Anyway,’ she asked me, ‘why aren’t you talking Bret?’ pointing to the man, he already in conversation with a few others.
‘You’re Bret, right?’ I asked, extending hand, hand taken with an ‘I think so.’
A conversation was in progress about the possibly forthcoming adaptation of Lunar Park, which I resisted as much as I could pointing out as my drop dead favorite of his work, instead saying that the adaption seemed tricky, but from what I’d heard Roger Avery was connected, which gave me hope.
My wife said she loved Lunar Park, insisting that Bret, himself, should play the lead, eruditely pointing out that, as art, it only made sense, the book being Bret, as though his previous work existed merely to allow it to come after. She admonished him when he said that, interesting as that might be, he did not want to keep an actor’s hours and she said she hoped he’d held onto the rights to the work so that the plug could be pulled on the film if the thing wasn’t being rendered appropriately, adorably pivoting from this with a blush that she couldn’t believe she’d actually introduced herself by saying ‘I loved Lunar Park,’ Bret giving a smile, shyly saying ‘It’s okay,’ and squeezing her shoulder into his, a hug.
Somewhat on the same subject, I chattered about how it seemed an impossibility that the final portion of the novel could be filmed, the thing not really, it seemed, meant to be a filmable literature, Bret agreeing and also agreeing that oftentimes egregious film adaptions are made of literature, some words best left where they lay, the example brought up of the adaptation of Saramago’s Blindness, me saying it was awful, Bret more to the point saying ‘It was total shit.’
As he was on deck to review one of my books, I said it was only polite to ask him would he prefer a novella collection or a thick fat 500 page novel.
‘It’s up to you, no, it’s up to you,’ he chuckled and touched my arm and he said ‘It’s so weird that when I agreed to review the books for this, all these people said Oh, poor Bret, has to read those books. I like reading books! I like to read manuscripts! I don’t know where this idea came off that I’d find it a burden.’
As long as I was asking, though, he inquired as to how long the novellas were, me getting brass tacks that it was either three novellas, totaling 250 pages between them, or the 500 page novel—he, sip of wine, leaning in to a laugh, said ‘I won’t lie then, how about the novellas?’
The correct answer and it warmed me that he’d said it.
I felt Bret was being penned in by random half-drunkards he had no prior acquaintance with, so needing to differentiate myself from that lot I excused myself, saying I’d swing back, glanced around to find my wife busy across the way, mingling with Deen and various people.
The room was becoming more pointillist in nature by the moment, despite my compulsively cleaning my glasses, but nonetheless I wound back round to the bar. Deen showed up to replenish his beers and I apparently decided (for reasons still under investigation) that the thing to do was to badger the poor guy in to taking a shot of bourbon with me despite his polite, ‘No no, nothing hard, beer is good.’
‘Have a shot Deen.’
‘Haha, no thanks.’
‘Well, alright, suit yourself. I guess I’ll write down in your file that you don’t think it’s a good idea to have a shot with a random man and something about a firm anti-bullying stance.’
Quite the gent—as even in my state I knew this was not the finest of all impression possible I was making on him—he said, lifting his new two beers, ‘No no, man. I’m not drinking hard liquor…because I don’t want to drink hard liquor.’
Thankfully for us all, at that moment a woman touched my shoulder then took Deen’s wrist and moved him back into the bustle.
Told my wife I thought I’d been strong arming Deen, for some reason, and so he’d scampered off, she explaining that it had seemed to her, from where she’d been observing, that Lindsay Lohan had just come over for him.
‘Was that Lindsay Lohan?’
It had been, which didn’t make me feel any particular amount better about anything.
‘I guess I should have said something to her, yeah?’
But no, probably not.
My wife had been downstairs, again, when Lohan had arrived with small entourage. In the ruckus, Lohan’s mom had stood near my wife, inquiring as to what part she had in the film.
‘No, I’m just a backer,’ my wife says.
‘I’m just a mom,’ Lohan’s mom says back.
‘I’m a mom, too!’ says my wife.
‘Isn’t it wonderful being a mom!?’ Lohan’s mom sings, leaning in and taking my wife in a deep embrace of camaraderie.
Sometime later I had wound up speaking to Chris Schellenger who, on my complimenting his white suit and asking if he had a part in the film, informed me he played the role of Jayden. Also in tow was Schellenger’s equally sharp dressed friend—blue shirt, skinny tie—and we remarked how only the cool people at parties hung around outside the toilet, like us.
This reminded me how I needed to use the toilet, so I did—or else went in and just washed my face, or else did use the toilet and then washed my face, either way returning to the conversation about Chris’ singing career, me insisting, when he explained that he was soulful but not at all a crooner, that he ought to incorporate some Dylan—my suggestion was that he do a rendition of Brownsville Girl, but mostly just, I explained, on the strength of his hair and the lyric ‘they were looking for a man with a pompadour/I was crossing the street when shots rang out’.
Either Chris gave me a card or else I had taken another card someone else had given me sometime before out of my pocket, absently, assumed it was Chris’ and told him Thanks while I put it back in.
Cross-dissolve to me slowly making another approach to Bret, momentarily caught up in conversation with another backer about ‘essaying’ and ‘magazine writing’ and how to ‘make a living at it,’ which is something I had no viable input on.
I found it strange when the person speaking to Bret excused himself, touching my shoulder and telling me it was ‘my turn,’ as this remark seemed to have nothing to do with Bret having the mindset that people got ‘turns’ with him, but either way I asked Bret how things had been since I’d been away and probably I spilled some bourbon on my shirt, but in an understated kind of way.
Another person there was talking about Imperial Bedrooms and whether or not that was something that would be made a film, but I decided to Bogart my way in and to speechify about a particular nuance in a particular series of phrasings in the book that I had really adored, the rhythm of a particular end note to one of the short passages, the musicality, perfect for the blunted, ‘noia-noir’ the piece was and from what I could tell Bret seemed to remember that exact bit or perhaps just liked the sound of slurred words so wanted to encourage me on.
We rapped briefly about such little nuances in prose from the perspective of Writer versus Reader and likely I would have cornered him and gone on about my philosophical stances on the undeniable separation in the identity of literature from those two vantages, how the one does not require the other and never will, but Bret had to attend to being photographed with people and also I may have inadvertently started badmouthing someone or something without knowing why and so he figured he might as well go.
Either way, it was a well-timed parting and following it was a conversation I remember images from but no words.
One part of my brain reminded me that going back to the bar was not a sound course to tack my particular ship, but another part, which seemed to be dressed much cooler and I really wanted to hang out with, insisted that I shouldn’t listen to myself as much as I did, so I didn’t.
The hour must have struck something or other, because I was informed that, as if by magic, it was now a cash bar, frowned, but paid ten dollars for that last drink.
When I looked up, the Unpaid Intern was there. I explained I’d been looking for him, as well as for the girl from Wardrobe, then we discussed how all of the best contemporary cinema was coming from Norway and Finland. He corrected me that Noi (the film I was using as proof) was actually from Iceland, which I felt terrible about mixing up, but more importantly I decided I’d chosen a good new best friend on the strength of his even knowing what I was talking about.
My wife joined us and while she and the Unpaid Intern spoke I became highly conscientious—an identifying mark of my good upbringing that I get this way when inebriated—that we get the fellow’s contact information, reminded him to give it to us between every three sentences he and my wife traded, to the point I’m sure he found it easier to just it to me over and over again rather than explain each time that he already had.
I had the good sense to not bother Bret again, even though my wife tried to assure me he seemed to have been enjoying our talks—mostly I avoided it because the only thing I could think of to bring up was to ask him if someone else he’d been talking to had been offering money to back another film or else had they been trying to sell him a plat of real estate—really, I couldn’t remember just what it was that I’d heard and I felt it gravely relevant to get the facts right for the record.
‘Well, you should at least say good-bye to Braxton,’ my wife says and I nod, agreeing.
She reminds me a moment later and I nod again.
‘Where is he?’
‘He’s right there,’ she said and pointed about eight paces off, me dutifully turning my head in that direction, then scanning the room, then informing her I wanted to say Bye, but I just didn’t know where Braxton could have been at just that particular moment.
‘Right there,’ she said, politely giving me the benefit of every doubt.
Repeat of my previous actions and then she made the executive decision to whisk me out the door. Spotting Deen, she stopped short, told me ‘Stay there.’
From what I could tell through the sandy dishwater my eyes had settled to, Deen was surrounded by several young women, my wife skirting patiently the outside of the group, not wanting to come off importunate. When it came to pass that one of the girls stepped aside to speak to some other folks, freeing a pocket of clear sight-line, she met Deen’s eye and pointed at him, stretching past arms-length, and he immediately parted through the others present to approach, an overt point right back at her, just grin and motion.
‘I wanted to say goodbye,’ my wife said.
‘You’re trying to get me in prison,’ Deen replied, opened arms full, leaning in to an embrace.
My wife held the hug the count of five six seven, saying into his shoulder and ear ‘I’d never try to get you in prison.’
She took a step back, told him it had been really great to meet him, he saying likewise with her, and then I found she had got me down the stairs and we were already half a block away from things.
We walked the mile or so back to our hotel, me apparently in a state described later as ‘still fun’ but certainly without my land legs. I either noted that I found the lack of homeless interesting and that the aesthetic of this part of LA thrilled me to the point I wish I were painter or just dreamed I said all that at some point, but in any event I reminded myself not to try to make any sort of amorous moves when I got back to the hotel as, even in my state of underneath, I knew that to do so would only be a disappointing olive-in-place-of-cherry on the sundae of the evening. I was proud of myself for having such presence of mind, though nevertheless I apparently attempted some sort of inarticulate courting ritual before my falling off the bed, this settling the matter as though deus ex machine.
As always after a fling with bourbon, I woke suddenly and dubiously clear headed—wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep if I tried, but also not quite ready to do anything except ask if something unfortunate had happened I wasn’t remembering. My wife assured me that she had diffused any possible final act faux pas and I should rest assured I’d likely be considered harmless and tall, nothing else.
She called to check on the kids and then rolled to one elbow and told me she was totally in love with James Deen, now—totally in love—and expounded on his virtues and charm in a kind of singsong pentameter for a few minutes.
‘I’ll get you one of his movies,’ I said, thinking to make it a flirt, but she rolled to her back and gazed cleared eyed to the ceiling.
‘No. I like that I’ve never seen his movies. I don’t care about that. I just really like him.’
Gas station breakfast, rest stop lunch, we drove past vanishing city and through yeast spreading desert, nursing vague headaches and sore throats, me a small sense of forgetting something I wanted to remember and noticing for the first time how my wife drove with one foot on the seat, knee gently tapping the glass of the window. I mentioned it and she said she always drove like that, and whether it was true or not, I was thrilled not have known it until that moment right then.
To read the original essay meant for The Arts Magazine, please find it right here at BRWC: Battle Royale With Cheese: http://battleroyalewithcheese.com/2012/08/cinema-persona-perception-and-the-canyons/
The author wishes to indicate his very sincere thanks to producer Braxton Pope and the cast and crew of The Canyons for allowing him to tag along and bother them.
A special thanks to Key Grip Cole Chetney and Director-of-Photography John DeFazio for providing some photography—while it was not used, due to circumstances, the generosity was amazing and deeply appreciated.
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