ON THE MOVE IN THE CITY OF ANGELS

HIPSTER TIP OF THE WEEK

Brad Schreiber's non-fiction book investigating the Patty Hearst case, REVOLUTION'S END, is a matter of the right writer coming together with the right subject matter.  Many journalists have been enticed onto the dance floor with rich girl Patty in her guerilla garb and Kalashnikov rifle - most recently Jeffrey Toobin in American Heiress - but no one else has been able to break it all down and connect the dots persuasively before this.  Schreiber gave himself up to the twists and turns of the story, following the winding path with more determination than any writer before him.  As he related in a recent stop on his book tour, he finally ran into a brick wall and was afraid all his work might have been in vain; then he stumbled upon the man who possessed the Federal government's dossier on Patty Hearst - and was willing to show it to him.  The result is a quintessentially '70s story, West Coast style, that takes us into the realm of government mind control, drug-dealing and contract murders, all in the name of discrediting and undercutting the grassroots leftist movements that were flourishing in California.  Schreiber's book was just awarded the 2017 Silver Medal in True Crime from the Independent Book Publishers, and it is well deserved.  The Twisted Hipster has some experience in this arena, and I am simply in awe of the way that Schreiber tracks down his elusive leads and gets it all on the record.  This is your government, folks.  This is how it works.  You need to know this.  (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016)

CHECKING INTO "THE HOTEL PLAY" AT USC'S RADISSON

Angel Star Felix and Keyla Monterrosa Mejia and audience in "The Hotel Play"

Two things right up front: I am not a fan of site-specific theater.  And if you can somehow wrangle a ticket to the final few performances of Playwrights Arena's The Hotel Play, then by all means go for it.  You'll have an interesting experience - it just may not be the one that Artistic Director Jon Lawrence Rivera, who conceived this play, or the 7 playwrights who wrote it, had in mind.

The idea behind site-specific theater is, to a certain extent, a literalizing of the phrase "if these walls could talk."  I have been to numerous crumbling churches and synagogues and nursing homes and hospitals for the criminally insane, not to mention museums and childcare centers - all locations for site-specific plays that attempt to evoke the spirits of the place, to conjure these spirits and capture their conflicts, their tales of human yearning and suffering.  But theater, by its nature, is artificial.  It presents human behavior in a designed construct intended to effect the audience in a specific way, to yield certain results.  But placing this artificial construct in a real setting only tends to make it seem more artificial, not more real.

Without a doubt the best site-specific theater I've ever seen were Richard Foreman's early plays in his loft in downtown New York City.  These events always featured Foreman himself at the control panel running the show and starring his girlfriend Kate Mannheim (usually in some form of undress) and had titles like Rhoda in Potatoland.  The evenings were erotic, funny, weird, unpredictable and deeply personal.  They seemed to present a map of Foreman's imagination, of the fantasies he had in his loft.  It could be argued that this theater piece would also be effective in a black box theater space with a regular stage manager running the lights and sound, and I'd have to agree.  But there was something about being in Foreman's loft and having him at the controls that made this experience different, and one that I've never forgotten.  These plays had no real socio-political significance, nor did they aspire to.  But they seemed truthful to the theater maker's obsessions, including the darker side of his nature, and they drew you in, sometimes unwillingly.  The walls definitely seemed to be talking, and to be doing so in an uncensored way.

Moises Castro as the son and Mariana Marroquin as his transgender mother

The First Act of The Hotel Play takes place in six rooms of the USC Radisson, and the Second Act concludes on the patio by the outdoor pool.  The conceit of the play is that the Class of 1992 from a South Central High School is having a 25th Reunion, stirring up all the old ghosts from the Rodney King riots.  Seven women playwrights have written the scenes in the rooms and on the patio - Paula Cizmar, Velina Hasu Houston, Jennifer Maisel, Nahal Navidar, Julie Taiwo Oni, Janine Salinas Schoenberg and Laurie Woolery.  Sixteen actors work hard to convince us that we are observing them in their most intimate moments as they prepare to meet downstairs for the reunion.  There are unresolved issues from those tragic times which will be resolved tonight - or so we are promised.  And to a great extent they are.  Whether we actually care that much is another issue, one that I'll let each audience member decide for himself or herself.

 

Tamika Katon-Donegal and Ryan Moriarty and onlookers out on the patio

I had a directing teacher a long time ago named George Ferencz who always told us that our task as theater makers was to "beat the street."  By which he meant that we had to make something that was more interesting than what people could get for free outside the theater.  But when your theater is in fact outside on a pool patio, then that task becomes a lot more difficult.  Police cars raced by with sirens blaring, fire engines raced by too, and at one point there was a horrifying shriek of brakes on the unseen street, which was thankfully not followed by a crash of metal.  But any hope these actors had of engaging our emotions was pretty much undercut by "the street," until I felt my attention wandering to the interesting people in the audience, a truly diverse group of Angelenos whose chatter between scenes was often more interesting than the melodramatic dialogue that took place in the rooms.  There was a captivating scene between a drug-dealing son and his male-to-female transgender mother, which did get richer later on when the son stood up for his mother to the woman who had had a crush on her in high school.  But too often the scenes simply didn't beat the street, while striving too hard to make statements of socio-political consequence.

Still, I had a great time at The Hotel Play because it felt like an event, and a specifically Los Angeles event at that.  Los Angeles is a city of transients - not a new idea, even kind of a tired one, but it struck me in a new and powerful way on this particular evening.  Maybe it had to do with the sadness of those hotel rooms, unchanged by its many occupants, where we audience members were voyeuristic ghosts, crammed into the spaces between these bickering characters, skittering out of the way as they lurched in this direction or that one, while we froze awkwardly next to women examining their bodies in the mirror with displeasure and applying way too much makeup.

Or maybe it had to do with taking the train down there and back, rather than driving my car, as I usually do.  The train was packed - something I don't experience often here - and the riders included the Phantom of the Opera, who hung near the back.  It brought back memories of New York City, of course, where I took the subway to school every day for years.  But the trains here are different, narrower, more intimate, and they don't go underground.  That may seem like a small thing, but it isn't.  When the subway goes underground, there's nothing to look at but each other, except that no one in a New York subway likes being looked at.  Also there's no smartphone reception down there.  Staying above ground the whole way, I could really take in the Los Angeles sprawl, and what an enormous number of people there are here, trying to make a life, to keep things together.

Antonio on the Metro

A few stops into the ride back, a good-looking young man burst into the train car, saying to everyone and no one, "Wouldn't you believe me if I told you that I was serious about getting my shit together this time?  Wouldn't you give me a second chance and go out with me?"  His gaze settled on a young woman who was sitting beside her boyfriend or husband.  "Wouldn't you give me another chance if I told you that this time it was going to be different?"

The young woman shrugged and said, "Maybe don't keep reminding her how you messed up before.  That doesn't really help your case."

"But it's all gonna be different now, that's my point," he said.  "If I can just get my shit together."

"If?" the woman said to him, shaking her head.

Soon she and her male companion and most of the other folks in our car got off the train.  The young man sat down opposite me.  I noticed that his shirt was inside out.  Somehow it made me doubt that he was ever going to get his shit together.  But hey, who was I to judge?

"Hey, I'm Antonio," he told me.

"Twisted Hipster," I responded.

"Huh?" he asked.  Then he smiled as if just getting the joke.  "That's a good name for you," he said.

I smiled back.  Really, who was I to judge about anything?  Maybe the play hadn't been great, but the evening had been full of surprises, and wasn't that the point of going out for the night?

 


CARNAGE AND COMPASSION IN TRUMP'S AMERICA

HIPSTER TIPS OF THE WEEK

Faqir Hassan and Melissa Chalsma in Sharr White's THE SNOW GEESE

When Sharr White's play The Snow Geese opened in New York, Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times that "it is unlikely to stir any emotion except bewilderment as to how this lifeless play wound up on Broadway."  Such reviews are the kiss of death for any new play, and The Snow Geese was no exception.  But Mr. White's friends David Melville and Melissa Charlsma considered this unjust, and since they are co-artistic directors of the Independent Shakespeare Co. of Los Angeles, they were in a position to do something about it.  Sharr White revised his play for their actors, and the resulting production is unconventional and unpredictable in its examination of the classic American subjects of money and family.  Only four performances left of this fascinating play that you may never get a chance to see again - this Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 in Atwater Village.      (CLICK HERE for tickets and more info.)

Harry Groener, Ross Phillips and Rebecca Mozo in "The Buttered Biscuits" cast of Antaeus Company's CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo Credit: Sally Hughes

Money and Family are also the preoccupations of the characters in Tennessee Williams's classic American drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, along with that Williams staple, Sex.  Sex as a subject suitable for drama was the new variable that Williams brought to the American equation (courtesy of Sweden's great dramatist August Strindberg), and it simply changed everything.  He unlocked the Puritanical Pandora's Box of obsession, repression and sexual/gender identity that helped create the modern world as we know it.  But very few productions of this masterpiece - which was clearly Williams's attempt at an American King Lear - are sexy.  Important, yes; but sexy, no.  The Antaeus Company  production that I saw at their new theater space in Glendale - performed by "The Buttered Biscuits" cast, who alternate with "The Hoppin' Johns" cast - was sexy.  Director Cameron Watson anchors the play directly in the bedroom of Maggie the Cat and Brick the crippled ex-football player, who have reached an  impasse  in their  relations.  Maggie needs a baby; Brick hates Maggie and vows never to have sex with her again.  In the long first scene, Brick intermittently exposes his nakedness to his wife, taunting her with what he promises never to give her.  And when Brick's father Big Daddy speaks with him in Act II, they do so in that same bedroom, where Big Daddy's  frank expression of lust for every woman who isn't his wife leads to his demanding an answer to why Brick claims to be repulsed by Maggie.  It's a brilliant reading of this play, which clears away the academic cobwebs and brings us back to the conundrum of lust and love that lies at the heart of Williams's dramaturgy.   (CLICK HERE  for tickets and info about the alternating casts performing through May 7th.)

"It's the single, solitary individual that's finished. The time has come to say, is dehumanization such a bad word?"  -- Howard Beale in the film Network by Paddy Chayevsky

The Donald and his Godfather, Roy Cohn; or "Can you find the Devil in this Picture?"   Courtesy of the Bettman Archives and Getty Images

The Twisted Hipster has been around for awhile, folks.  In fact, this is the 11th presidency that I can remember.  And I'm here to tell you that nothing about what is happening right now is "normal."  Yes, things were weird during Watergate and when Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky/Paula Jones  scandals were being revealed by Ken Starr.  And yes, at the end of Reagan's tenure too, during the time of Ollie North, shadow government agencies and the Iran/Contra hearings.  But those all have one thing in common: they came in the second term of those respective leaders.  No presidency has ever started off like this.  None.  This is insanity.

Sometimes it feels as if the wave of conspiracy theories that has been building for the last 55 years, ever since the  spilling of JFK's blood, has now reached a crescendo and threatens to overwhelm all of us.  Facebook and Twitter are one kind of crazy. but now every friend of mine seems to have his or her own pet theory.  "Oh, Trump is gone, we've already moved on to Pence, what's going on now is all a charade," one friend tells me.  While another says: "At the  end of Obama's term, this one psychic predicted that Obama was going to be the last American president.  When Trump was sworn in, I figured that was just b.s.  But now I think that Trump's regime may itself be b.s., and that the democratic order of things is about to fall apart.  I don't know what comes next, and I'm afraid to find out."

One thing is for certain: our collective perception of reality has been changed, perhaps irrevocably, by Trump's cynical manipulations.  His crudeness infects everything.  His invocation of "American carnage" is a self-fulfilling prophecy. His Narcissism threatens to undermine our sense of empathy, the compassion that we are able to feel for others.

Ann Talman in her one-woman show Woody's Order! at Ensemble Studio Theatre LA, the Atwater Village Theatre, through April 22nd. Photo: John Altdorfer

Ann Talman's one woman show Woody's Order! is completely apolitical.  Talman tells the heartrending story of her life as a caretaker, first for her older brother Woody, stricken from birth with cerebral palsy, and later for her dad too, afflicted with Alzheimer's.  Talman's beloved mom had died in a car accident when she was still in college, and there was no one else to turn to, no one else who could provide the love and attention needed to keep her family members alive.  The fact that Talman was a successful young actress who had starred on Broadway as Elizabeth Taylor's daughter in Lillian Hellman's Little Foxes - as well as in several other Broadway plays, movies, TV series and soap operas - well, her career was simply collateral damage for the dedication that her caretaking required.  As was her marriage to the actor Bruce MacVittie.  He wanted children, but how could she do this when she was already shuttling between her brother's care center and her dad's hospital bed while still trying to maintain a career?

Ann Talman blames no one for any of this.  She has no personal axe to grind, no religious point to make, no political legislation to champion.  In fact, her love for her brother is so deep and all-encompassing that she is simply grateful.  She completely loves and understands him, and he completely loves and understands her.  How many people can  make such a claim?  No words are needed between them - their spirits have merged.  The doctors gave Woody a life expectancy of 12 years when he was born; he is now almost 70.   Talman expresses nothing but gratitude for this.

Yet it was impossible for me to experience Talman's story and not think about Donald Trump's public mocking of the disabled reporter Serge Kovalevski of the New York Times during the primaries.  How could such a person be voted for by anyone for anything - much less for president of this great country?  How did this vile act not disqualify him  then and there as an emissary of the public trust?  And how could Meryl Streep's denunciation of such behavior yield anything but collective agreement and expressions of solidarity?

The fact is, actions have consequences, even if we don't want them to, even if we choose to deny them.  And the lack of moral action IS a choice that has consequences too.  Once we endorse an act like Trump's by there being no punishment for it - no consequences - then what does that lead do?  Once we give in to pragmatism and moral cowardice and decree that such behavior is acceptable, then how low can we go?  What else will we accept?

We have only to look at Nazi Germany to find an answer.  Adolf Hitler and his cohorts were not handed the keys to the kingdom in 1933, when Hitler was elected co-chancellor.  There was a gradual wearing down of outrage, a gradual compromise of moral values in favor of financial advancement and nationalistic empowerment.  Sound familiar?

Someone like Woody Talman would have been gassed at birth by the Nazis without a second thought, without even a tinge of regret.  In fact, they would have called it an act of compassion to put an imperfect specimen like Woody out of his "misery." But Ann Talman begs to differ.  And her voice must be heard before we grow so "dehumanized" (to quote Howard Beale) that we can no longer hear it.  (For tickets CLICK HERE or 818-839-1197.)

Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth in Robert Schenkkan's "Building the Wall" at the Fountain Theatre, directed by Michael Michetti.

In his shockingly timely new play Building The Wall, Pulitzer-prize winner Robert Schenkkan has taken this analogy between Trump's America and Nazi Germany - based on the compromise of moral outrage in deference to financial and nationalistic self-interest (that is, money and family) - and he has woven a dystopian prophecy from it, of what could happen if we continue down this dark path.

The play takes place in a Federal prison in the near future of 2019.  Judith Moreland plays Gloria, a historian, who has come to see Rick (Bo Foxworth), a convict on death row.  Rick was the warden of a mass-detention center for immigrants deemed illegal by the Trump administration, and he has been convicted for the crimes committed under his watch.  Rick didn't testify at his recent trial and is now awaiting sentencing.  Gloria is here to give him the chance to tell what happened from his point of view.

Schenkkan was recently quoted in American Theatre Magazine as saying, "I think that the Republic is in serious jeopardy, and I think that artists need to respond to it now, immediately."  When I met with Schenkkan last month, he stressed this, adding: "The urgency that I feel right now as an American citizen and a theater artist cannot be overstated.  We no longer have a business as usual world.  We all have an individual responsibility to oppose what is happening.  My job is to get people interested in taking meaningful action, in asking themselves "What can I do?" and then doing it."

Bo Foxworth plays the warden of a mass-detention center under Trump's regime in Schenkkan's play

Judging from the audience I saw the play with last Saturday, Schenkkan's play is getting mixed results on that score.  The events related by warden Rick in the play are so horrific - so reminiscent of Nazi death camps - that the audience seemed reflexively to reject the possibility that such things could actually happen in their lifetimes in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  That is, they accepted the story on the level of a dystopian parable, a warning, but not literally as something predictive, even as a worst-case scenario.  Yet it's important to remember that Kristallnacht - the Nazi pogrom in which the windows of Jewish storefronts were shattered even as Jewish citizens of Germany were being herded into ghettos - took place only four years after Hitler's ascendancy to sole leadership.  Such an eventuality was not even conceivable in 1935, but by 1938 it was reality, and not just in isolated regions.  It was the law of the land, and there was nothing anyone could do to deter it.

The post-show discussion at the Fountain featured a Latina professor and the Latino representative of a group of immigrant day-workers, and it was fascinating - not so much for what was said, but for what wasn't said.  There was not a single question about or reference to Schenkkan's play.  Not one.  Instead, the many audience members who remained were asking questions about detention centers in Los Angeles, and what they could do to help - who could they give money to, what could they do to register their objections to how immigrants are being demonized, to how fellow human beings are being treated.  It was clear that their omission of any reference to Schenkkan's play had less to do with an aesthetic value judgment than an urgency regarding the play's message.

I have to admit that it did give me some hope that maybe "the single, solitary individual" wasn't "finished" after all, and maybe "dehumanization" is still a bad word.  But this is no time for patting oneself on the back.  "Complacency is a very serious problem," Robert Schenkkan told me.

Yes, and we are still going down that dark path.  Who can tell where it will lead?

(The show has been extended for more info and tickets CLICK HERE)


Pasadena Film Festival, part 3: THE WORLD IS BROKEN. CAN IT BE FIXED?

HIPSTER'S LAMENT

The ABC-TV dramatic series American Crime is just two episodes into its third season (Sundays 10-11 pm), and it's already a crashing bore.  As usual, the series is pursuing multiple storylines, which include a Mexican man searching for his lost son in the fruit-picking fields, the many Grapes of Wrath-type exploitations of workers by management there, teenagers saved from the sex trade and human trafficking who are trying to get their lives back, an African-American caseworker for those teens who wants to get pregnant by her ex using IVF, and something with Felicity Huffman as an unhappy wife that I can't make any sense of. The show is created by John Ridley (Oscar-winner, 12 Years a Slave) and boasts some of the best writers on TV - Julie Hebert, Diana Son, Keith Huff - and some of the best actors on any series - Huffman, Regina King, Timothy Hutton, Richard Cabral, Benito Martinez, Lili Taylor, Conor Jessup.  The show has always been deeply entrenched in the progressive agenda and many times in the first two seasons it veered toward agitprop.  But those  seasons also featured great risks, great writing and 3-dimensional characters who audiences could care about.  This season, however, it has ditched its multiple perspectives for a soapbox.  The second episode ended with a finger-wagging sermon on the evils of corporate farming aimed right at the sweet spot of white guilt.  I think I understand where it's coming from: life under Trump is a never-ending cycle of horrors and frustration, as the government rolls back all the social progress made under Obama and encourages the worst aspects of consumerism and economic exploitation.  I get it, dudes, and I share your outrage.  But you've stopped writing a story and simply turned your show into a screed.  Not good. I'm sure you have loads of tricks up your sleeve, but I've stopped caring.  Go, make a documentary.  'Cause right now, your drama lacks any drama, and - sad to say it, but your show really sucks.

Reed Birney and Blake DeLong star in the urination epic Shy Guys

The recently-concluded Pasadena Film Festival also featured several films, both fictional and documentary, which tried to address the many ills of the modern world.  Some of these were small, humorous films about small, personal subjects like potty-training (House Broken) and pissing at public urinals (Shy Guys), others were small films about big issues like slave labor (The Raft) that for one reason or another never caught fire.  But a few of these films were excellent efforts that have stayed with me.  They are worth tracking down and catching up on if possible.

Victor's Last Class by Brendan Brandt is both one of my favorite films in this festival and one of my favorite documentaries in recent memory.  Its premise is simple: a noted west coast acting teacher, stricken with cancer, has publicly declared that he is going to end his own life.  Brendan, a sensitive actor/filmmaker, has heard about this and approaches the teacher, Victor Altorio, in the hopes of changing his mind.  Thus begins a five-month cat-and-mouse game in which it's often difficult to tell who is the cat and who is the mouse.

Victor is a very out there gay man in his 50s who has lived his life on his own terms and encourages his acting students to do the same.  "Tell the truth to the people you love!" he exhorts (this is also the film's tag line), and his acting exercises are all designed to get past our social filters, our censors and defense systems, so the truth of primal emotion and real feelings can be revealed.  But Victor is a complex individual who can also be very evasive, and so is his truth.  It's clear from the outset that he enjoys the attention that Brendan is giving him, enjoys performing for the camera and saying outrageous things.  But does he mean them, or does he just enjoy the shock value that he knows they will have?  Or both?

Much like the Gary Cooper character in the great Frank Capra movie John Doe, Victor seems to understand from the beginning that there is no movie without his suicide.  In the Capra film, Barbara Stanwyck plays a hard-hearted reporter sent to cover Gary Cooper's final days who ends up falling in love and trying to save him.  Something similar happens here, though it's more complicated.  A seduction is clearly going on.  On the most obvious level, Victor is heavily flirting with Brendan, a good-looking straight guy in his 30s.  Victor says as much several times, and Brendan replies very sincerely that he's been falling in love with Victor too - and that's why he can't stop trying to save him.  But is that the truth?  Certainly a complex bond forms between them, which is one of the considerable pleasures and achievements of this film.  Yet, as much as Brendan genuinely wants Victor to live, part of their bond is a tacit understanding that there is only one way this can go.   We as the audience come to understand this too, on the same unconscious level as Brendan and Victor do.  In the end, we all do a strange Dance of Death, and Victor emerges for me as one of the more memorable and elusive characters in recent cinema.

Gabriella Stone and Alex Lynn Ward in It Happened Again Last Night

It Happened Again Last Night is a fairly straightforward short about spousal abuse with some interesting spins.  Written and directed by Gabriella Stone and her male partner Roze, and starring Ms. Stone, the film depicts the spousal battery of Paige by her husband Stephen, and her attempts to leave her husband for her female lover Kris.  The film feels very real without being pedestrian or like a public service announcement.  Even the more predictable elements - as when we see the young Paige being beaten by her dad, and then repeating that pattern with her spouse - have an understanding of how shocking human violence is on a personal level, and how it comes out of nowhere and then feels inevitable after it's happened.  Similarly, the outbursts of love and hate feel casual, almost sloppy, in the way real events unfold.  The actors may be a little prettier than most of us, but they're not Hollywood models, just attractive people caught in a very unattractive situation.  Gabriella Stone won the Best Actress award for the Pasadena Film Festival, and she is very good.  But so is her husband, played by Randy Wayne.  He looks like a cowboy - almost a combination of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain" - but his behavior is brutal and brutish.  He seems to hate himself for it, and yet that doesn't stop him.  That really works, and it gives the film added urgency.  Plus there's the cinematography by Roze, which is gorgeous throughout.  You wouldn't think that a film this disturbing should look this good, but it ends up re-enforcing the tragic toll these events take on all those involved.

Bruce Beatty in Neighbor

Neighbor is an example of a film which is kind of brilliant without being very well made or even particularly good.  It was written and directed by Tony Gapastione, and at the festival talkback he freely admitted that he was learning how to make films on the fly.  Here is Tony G.'s logline for his 11 minute film: "A homeless man witnesses a kidnapping, and when he goes after the perpetrator he uncovers a dirty little secret in suburbia."  Except no - that's not in fact what happens.  The homeless man is beaten up when he interrupts a white guy moving two young girls in tight clothing from a car to a van.  Then the dark-skinned homeless man cries out for help, wandering into a leafy, suburban neighborhood and into the backyard of an upscale family just as dad gets home and is revealed to be ... yes, the guy who just beat up the homeless man while trafficking teenagers.  Ouch, that makes my brain hurt and would get an "F" from Mr. McKee the film guru.  But there's something so earnest about the way that Tony G. chronicles the homeless man's anguish that it somewhat mitigates the heavy-handedness of his message.  And then the credits roll - a full two  minutes of credits, and it may be the best two minutes in the entire festival, as three actual victims of human  trafficking tell their real stories silently with a succession of handmade signs. The three stories are completely different and yet equally wrenching.  I understood more about the pain of being exploited from those two minutes than from anything else I have ever seen on the subject.  Now if Tony Gapastione can just find a way to make his films as memorable and compelling as his credits, he may turn out to be a filmmaker who can change the world.

Johnny Rey Diaz and Aliyah Conley in I Am Still Here

I Am Still Here is a feature from writer/director Mischa Marcus on that same subject of human trafficking.  The subject is inherently disturbing, and the early parts of Marcus's film succeeds in making it painfully real in a way that I found difficult to look away from.  The sight of these girls as young as 10 being manhandled by adult men of many ethnic backgrounds prompts a visceral disgust, at least from this Twisted Hipster.  But halfway through the movie, the timeline skips ahead seven years, when the girls have become seventeen year olds, and the movie starts falling apart.  First, it's just hard to believe that they are still in this hell, that Ricky (their pimp) has been able to keep it together while moving them from location to location.  Second, the little girls are now young women, with womanly figures and curves, and the grotesque spectacles of before are replaced by more familiar (if no less nauseating) male behavior.  Then there's a turning point when the central girl, Layla, is able to get away, saved in very unconvincing fashion by one of the deviants who has "fallen in love" with her.  Scenes in this section verge on the ridiculous, as Layla is treated respectfully by her well-to-do admirer, who we have already learned has made his money by trafficking in pornographic images of young girls.  In the end, the film is elevated by the brilliant performances, especially from Aliyah Conley (who plays young Layla) and the other young girls, and from Johnny Rey Diaz, who makes Ricky the trafficker/pimp into a monster of stomach-turning proportions.  I look forward to seeing what Mr Diaz will do in his next role, even as I remain haunted by his depiction of unredeemable evil in this one.


LA LA LAND, Part 2b: LA-BASED ACTRESSES HAVE A LOT TO SAY!

HIPSTER BLAST FROM THE PAST:  25 years ago, the Twisted Hipster had a play running Off-Broadway that got 17 rave reviews, including from the NY Times.  He got a call to come pitch movie ideas to Dustin Hoffman, at that time the Hipster's favorite actor, who had won the Oscar for Rain Man just a few years before.  He quickly concocted four stories with lead roles that Dustin could play.  The Hipster and Dustin were the only ones in the room - a surprise.  Dustin liked one story and hired the Hipster to develop it for his company Punch Productions - then left to make two movies back to back (Outbreak and American Buffalo).  Punch was run by the playwright Murray Schisgal, who was one of three writers credited with authoring Tootsie (Academy Award nomination) ten years before.  Murray kept urging the Hipster to make his screenplay more like Basic Instinct, a big hit at the time, famous to this day for Sharon Stone's vag flash.  The Hipster resisted, but he wanted Dustin to make his movie, so he eventually caved.  Soon Dustin returned, read what the Hipster had written and called for a meeting, attended by Murray too.   Dustin to Hipster: "I don't know, it reminds me a lot of something I've seen before."  Murray: "It's a lot like Basic Instinct, right?"   Dustin: "Jesus, I hope not, I hated that movie."  Oh shit.


Damien Chazelle has said that his primary goal in LA LA LAND was to recreate the Hollywood Musical for the modern age.  And there's no doubt that he has succeeded to a large degree, at least in commercial terms, which (let's face it) is Hollywood's favorite term.  (Worldwide gross to this point is over $400,000.)

While LA LA LAND famously did not win Best Picture, Emma Stone won Best Actress for her portrayal of struggling Hollywood actress/barista Mia Dolan.  But how do actual Hollywood actresses feel about Emma/Mia and about Chazelle's depiction of their struggle?  And what about Mia's one-woman show, So Long, Boulder City?

In the last posting of this column, three different actresses presented three very different viewpoints.  Here are several more, which, again, are presented unedited.  To quote a great playwright, "Attention must be paid."  And keep reading.  Who knows, maybe you'll run into someone you know.

TONYA CORNELISSE
Total BS -- Her ONE WOMAN SHOW -- sorry sister, but anyone with roommates does not have the money to rent a  beautiful 99 seat theater to "put on a run of my show" ....Totally fake. No way. How about the posters, staff, lighting, set, props, tickets...and with no job -they needed to show her have a national commercial running and getting residual checks or something practical. Ridic!...it completely made the reason she was "discovered" ring false for the entirety due to the fact that show never happened -- Emma did an excellent job at trying to buy it herself though.

VANESSA STEWART
Many of my actress friends didn't feel it spoke to them, but having been a person who was more or less "discovered" doing a show I wrote for myself in the theater, it made me very nostalgic. I, too, was the girl that flew home thinking my career was over, only to be summoned back when my theater company decided to do this show. I, too, have been the odd girl out at those fancy house parties in the Hills when I was trying to figure out how to get a foot in the door. My experiences in Casting Director offices haven't been quite as harsh as what Emma Stone's character went through, but I understand that some of those scenes were based on her experiences. Of course it was a fantasy version of Hollywood, but it reminded me of what can make the town seem magical. Most people don't experience the success that this character eventually achieves, so I can see where it could leave a bitter taste in the mouth of some people who are still figuring out how to even get an audition. But for me, it was a nice reminder of how hopeful I felt years ago when I moved to LA from Louisiana, not knowing a single person, because that dream seemed achievable

CHRISTINA CARABAJAL
I definitely related to the scene where she's in Nevada saying that maybe she would never make it and that acting for her was a pipe dream... I think all LA actresses feel that way now and again. Working on the WB lot is a coveted gig so it's funny to me that it was portrayed as a "down and out" job. It was miraculously Hollywood that her first attempt to produce her own play was seen and from there she made it big, that would be the best case scenario. But all of that is more  a critique of how removed the writer/director is from the reality of trying to make it in LA. I am biased because I like Emma as an actress and I thought she did great. I have always favored acting ability over a voice.  Working in this industry is an emotional roller coaster, and this film was more of a throwback to the old school movie musicals versus a commentary on how being an actor in LA actually is.

ALLISON WILLIAMS
So here are my thoughts on Mia in "La La Land". First off, very relatable. I too am an actress by trade, barista by day (one of many jobs), so the first time we see her at work interacting with the "famous actress" and her boss etc., it really hit home for me in a big way. In turn, when the roles were reversed in the end and they showed a nearly identical shot with Mia as the successful actress interacting with the barista in that same shop I was nearly brought to tears out of sheer hope and encouragement and excitement. It was my favorite moment of the film.

The many auditions Mia goes on were relatable in the sense that they are often interrupted, extremely short, etc. And the office settings were pretty accurate it seemed as well. She must have an awfully good agent though to be going out as often as she does, which is never really touched on but I guess that is ok.....

The big "Audition" number/scene was annoying to me though. First of all, I'm sorry but what casting director is magically going to get in touch with some girl who put on a poorly advertised, one night show and all of a sudden provide this enormous opportunity - and have no sides at all (even if the script isn't done, wouldn't she still read something?) and the way she just stood there so meekly like a deer in headlights - she was so dull! She just stood there awkwardly and told this story, and now all of a sudden she books this one job and becomes a full blown movie star? I recognize that there is probably more implied, I'm sure one job led to the next etc, but the way it all happens is just so far fetched from reality. Sidebar - the casting associate calls her boyfriend as a secondary number to get hold of her? Hello.... If she's going on all those auditions (including/especially the TV show audition) as I mentioned previously she MUST have an agent! Why wouldn't they call the agent to begin with? And if she doesn't have one, she wouldn't be going out for TV shows. Just saying.

Overall I really enjoyed La La Land. I appreciate the genre of movie musicals coming back onto the radar in such a big way. I think it was well done and a really lovely film. I think it would be interesting to hear the music performed with stronger singers though... But in some ways Emma Stone's mediocre voice actually kind of worked for her character. It wasn't bad, it was just... fine. Honestly the thing that impressed me the most in the whole film was Ryan Gosling's piano skills, but I suppose that's a whole other subject entirely.

Even through these very large stretches from reality made certain aspects of the film a little hard to buy, it still captured the essence of what it is like to be a struggling artist with a big dream and tangible goals, and for that I am very appreciative. In a lot of ways I feel like my life was captured in this magical, musical form. Non-actor friends were able to catch a glimpse into what my life as an actor is like. I only hope that one day that stroke of magic and luck hits my career, and that I team up with an agent as hard-working and impressive as Mia's invisible one.

SHARON SHARTH
The early scenes in the movie certainly are familiar to any actress who auditions in Los Angeles. Overworked casting directors often do eat, text/email on phones/computers, barely glance up, allow interruptions by associates, all while the actor is opening her heart and doing her best to play with a reader who has no connection to the material. It does hurt. It is humiliating. It's what we do.

And we do what Mia did. We use our imaginations to persevere, believing in a future that won't hurt us or humiliate us if we work hard enough, meet the right people, generate some luck. We go on. We do our best. We dream.

Until it hurts too much. Until it's not worth it anymore. Until we give all we have to give and decide to give up.

Mia's dream to produce and star in her own play? Not surprising that she didn't think it was really possible before Sebastian made the suggestion. She's a “girl.” She's young. She has time. She can wait. Actors feel powerless in the business of acting. Not my responsibility if I don't work – I can blame “them.” Some even believe, “If my dreams don't come true, I can do something else.” Some can. Many of us can't.

I produced and starred in a play I wrote last fall. Hard? Yes. Exciting? Yes. Crazy? No. It took me over 25 years of working regularly in this business before I was ready to put myself out in that way. It proved to be empowering, fun (sometimes) and very well received. Unlike Mia's play.

Skip to the end of the movie and Mia becomes a star in five years? OK, eleven counting the six years spent auditioning. That's fantasy for most actors. But Mia and Sebastian both realize their dreams – she's a successful actor and he owns a jazz club. But these dreams may never have happened without the gift of each other. Being together forever was the dream that didn't come true.

TRACY ANN CHAPEL
I have had auditions where people were on the phone talking the whole time while I was emoting my best work! The role was very realistic. I can also say that lots of us dream of doing our own "one woman show." The relationship where a musician leaves an actress because they can't commit and live in different cities is spot on. I was in one just like that for years. We finally had to break -up. He now lives in San Francisco and I in LA. The distance is still to far our lives now are so different. We get together once and a while. And because he was there when I was starting out; he takes a big place in my (heart) life. I will never forget him. In fact, I called him up and told him to see the film. He did, and I asked him did you see us? and he said "Yes."

NICOLE FOTI
I really enjoyed La La Land for a nice romanticized version of what happens in L.A. I thought some things they touched on were definitely similar like putting a lot of effort into a show or project and having no one come and see it. Going to auditions where it seems like they could care less if you're there or not with a bunch of girls who seem like a better version of you. A lot of people definitely think there are some things wrong with it like being plucked from obscurity and starring in a feature film. It does seem far fetched to me as well but I feel like this is a town where anything can happen and maybe it might not be to that extent but it's nice to think it's possible!

ANNA NICHOLAS
I loved the movie as fluff fantasy and never thought it purported to represent reality beyond the notion that few find success in Hollywood. To probe too deeply is to ask why Bambi talks or how it was that Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang could fly.

Whether the arc of the Emma Stone character is a true depiction of what happens to a real actress coming to tinsel town? The answer is no for several reasons: Most aspiring actresses don't dance and don't sing and if they do either, they don't do it on pavement in the Hollywood hills. Most don't get gigs based on only telling a story after having been seen in a self-produced show in Santa Monica by just the right casting agent (do CDs even go to one person self-produced shows? NO). Most actresses don't have multi-ethnic roommates with just the right primary color dress to present a rainbow coalition while dancing and singing their way to a party. On the other hand, the asshole giving the party was very real. But I digress. The movie was not a documentary and shouldn't be judged on the reality spectrum.

EVE GORDON
Well, over the holidays, my daughters and my husband and I were picking a film to see, and when we finally settled on LA LA LAND, my elder daughter declined. "I'm so not in the mood for a heteronormative romantic fantasy," were her exact words. So we went without her, but her description was just so apt it kind of was ruining the film for me. (Just desserts: I used to assure them when they were little and something scary happened in a film, that I was friends with the bad guy and he was actually very sweet, and they would yell at me that I was always ruining scary movies.)Anyway, this was at the Landmark. There was a bomb scare about 20 minutes before the end of the film, the whole theatre was evacuated, and we never went back to see the end.

As for my take as a film actor who also does theatre in LA, well, the idea that a casting director would bother seeing theatre, even less actually cast someone who wasn't setting the town on fire, is hilarious.

I guess it's the point--a fantasy--but it seems cruel in a way.

JULIA ERINGER
I think every actress in LA can relate to pouring your heart into an audition and being cut off halfway through or being briskly told “THANKS” after barely finishing your last word. It's a particularly cruel, time-driven industry where if you haven't performed the exact way the director wants you to or if the day is running late or the casting director is in a bad mood because they haven't eaten lunch, they can shuffle you out without a single comment. And even if you understand this and know it's “just business,” it's not personal, there is something heartbreaking about baring your soul over and over (as you must do in every audition) just to be told, in one of a myriad of ways, "no.”

I think it's easy to fall into the trap of going to parties with the hopes of being ‘discovered' or meeting someone who might change the path of your career. Especially when you are new to the city. I think every actress can attest to that. And for the most part, those parties are full of douche-bags who have no desire to help you. On the contrary they will use you and take from you whatever it is that they can. At the same time, I have met multiple wonderful directors, writers, managers, agents and producers at parties and had fascinating conversations. Years later we are still friends, although more often acquaintances and in a few instances I have ended up working with them. Though this was further down the road and not an instant route to anything.

I think that another truthful element in Emma Stone's character's experience is that of taking her fate into her own hands with her one woman play. And I feel that it was poetic that this, albeit badly attended and reviewed, performance is what led to her big break. So many actors take the well trodden route of getting an agent, auditioning and waiting for the phone to ring (or the email to ping.) But I feel that an alternate, more empowering route to success is through creating your own work. I, myself, produced and starred in a play in London and have written, produced and sold my web series GIRLS LIKE MAGIC. I also have three features which I have written in various stages of development with myself attached to star. Whether or not this will lead to my ‘big break', I don't know, but at least I'm taking matters into my own hands and creating something.

One thing that a lot of actors took issue with [in LA LA LAND] was how easy it was for Emma Stone's character to ‘make it' when she eventually did break through. Now I can't personally attest to how truthful that is, as I'm not at that stage in my career but I'm hopeful that yes - all it takes is that ONE role. I've seen it happen to many of my friends and as long as I'm in this game, I've got a shot at it happening to me.

LIZZY RICH
The main thing I think about Mia in Lala land - was that she never stuck me as that good of an actor....

And so it also felt a bit sad to me that she ended up "making it " because I think the movie could have rewarded a character who maybe was a better performer.

In terms of her life- I loved all of the moments she had in audition rooms, but I do think it was a glamorized version of the truth. Most of the actors I know spend more time trying to get into rooms than actually in them auditioning.... it would have been interesting to see her do this rather than just get cut off mid sentence.

LIZZIE PEET
Hey there!  Despite the fact that they hired non actors/singers for a musical (hello Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story), I thought it was fluffy, but fun.  I'm not a fan of the "starving artist" mentality.  I will not buy you a drink cuz you be broke cuz your "agent isn't working for you."  Most actors, and the ones in the movie, are educated and it's a lifestyle choice.  Figure out a way to support yourself.  Know the ride you're getting on.  It's a struggle.  We all know this.  But we CHOSE IT.  That being said, I felt their relationship was sweet as it developed, but what got me was the scene where Emma goes to the John Legend concert to see Ryan play.  It's packed.  It's huge.  They're rock stars. Its a BIG FUCKING DEAL.  And instead of wrapping her arms around him and fucking him all night, she says he's a sell out, and is disappointed.  Hated that part.  Of course it's not the jazz he was used to playing, but being on Full House gives you the ability to be in The Squid and The Whale for scale.  It's not a sell out.  Going back to my previous point, you do what you have to do to get the funds to create art.  You can't do a goddamn thing but pontificate if you're broke.  That John Legend tour would've given Ryan's character the credibility, exposure, and financial means to facilitate both his and her dreams, and her myopic approach and inability to see that was a real hole in her character.  Would I play in a shitty band and travel the world if it put half a mill in my pocket?  You're goddamn right I would.  Would I come home and produce a play that's not a comedy...the hardest to produce and get made...you're goddamn right I would!  Does that make me a sellout?  Fuck no.  It makes me an astute businesswoman.  And that's a fact Jack.


LA LA LAND part 2a: LA-BASED ACTRESSES SPEAK UP

HIPSTER TIP OF THE WEEK:  Do not miss PLASTICITY by Alex Lyras at the Hudson Guild Theatre.  I beg to differ with Lovel Estell III for his prickly and nit-picky Stage Raw review of a show that has the best visual scheme and the most of on its mind of anything the Hipster has seen on LA small stages in recent memory.  Yes, it's true, the author has bit off more than he can satisfactorily chew - or, better metaphor, his reach does exceed his grasp -- but the author/performer's layered investigation of the human brain's complexity is fascinating in its many tangents, and the way it compares the intricacy of the brain to that of the cosmos.  I hope that Mr. Lyras continues to develop his flawed but intriguing script with his brilliant collaborators, co-writer/director Robert McCaskill and video artist Corwin Evans.  Don't let small-minded reviewers make your decisions for you.  The show has just been extended - check out www.plasticitytheplay.com for tickets and info.

(And don't forget, I can always be reached with any questions or comments HERE.)

Last week I posted a piece about the film La La Land and its less than believable thread about Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) writing, producing and performing a one-woman show in North Hollywood. (I hope everyone clicked on the link to the AV Club's take on the subject - hilarious!)  Anyway, it occurred to me that I'd like to hear what actual LA-based actresses thought of Mia Dolan's journey.

I put out the word to a few actresses I've worked with and to Facebook Friends, and eventually I received so many responses that I'm going to post a second installment with as many comments as I can fit.  It's my personal belief that being a professional actress is one of the most difficult possible endeavors.  That's not true for every actress, of course, but those who want to put heart and soul on the line and achieve an individual destiny -- as Emma Stone's character does in the film -- face untold numbers of obstacles.  Here then are three very different (and very unedited) views of very real Mia Dolans - Kaitlyn Fae Fajilan, Tamika Katon-Donegal and Jenny Lerner.

KAITLYN FAE FAJILAN

So here's my take on Emma Stone's character in La La Land:

It boggled my mind how accurate the way auditioning for roles in LA was portrayed. When I saw the film, I kept turning to my friend and whispering furiously, "OH MY GOD, THAT IS SO TRUE." From getting honked at for practicing lines while stuck in traffic, to trying her best not to get her hopes up after an audition, Mia's pain was frighteningly relatable. Each time she had to rush out in order to make an audition, I nodded and thought to myself, "Been there." When she goes straight home and face plants into her bed after a failed audition, my heart sank for her. I said aloud, "I totally know that feeling!"

There are two lines in particular Mia utters in the film that really rang true for me:

The first is when she said (something to the effect of): "It sucks walking out and seeing all the other auditioners who are better looking and probably more talented than me." MAN. That one hit home.  It can get so daunting at auditions, looking around and seeing everyone who appears much more suited to the role than you. It gets especially hard as a person of color trying to make it in an industry where minorities often get overlooked in favor of more "traditional" casting. I've literally had an acting teacher tell me that casting directors would consider me "non traditional" purely based off my race.

The second is when she nearly gives up on acting altogether after her one-woman play tanks. She tearfully tells Ryan Gosling "I'm tired of embarrassing myself." She took the words right out of my mouth. So many times have I walked out of an audition or acting class and thought, "Who do I think I am? I'm just making a fool of myself." It can get really, really disheartening, and I thought Emma Stone portrayed that aspect very well.

TAMIKA KATON-DONEGAL

Thoughts on La La Land

I found Emma Stone's character Mia to have a career and opportunities that not many LA actresses, ESPECIALLY actresses of color, have. For example, when I audition there aren't usually a room of Black actresses with curly blonde hair auditioning for the same part. It's like the UN; Asian, Latina, and Black women are all up for the same one line:

“Here's your gelato.”

At this phase in my career, I'm not auditioning for a variety of types either. It's usually: bitchy assistant, quirky best friend, or cop. (I no longer have a go-to prostitute outfit so I guess I've phased out of those types auditions.)

Finally, I've never experienced casting directors to be anything but polite and generous. If they are direct, or to the point, it's because I understand they have a job to do! It's my hope that I can make their search much easier!

JENNY LERNER
First, a little bit about me: I'm an actress in my late twenties, working 2 office jobs and some babysitting gigs on the weekends to pay rent around the theatre and tv jobs I (sometimes/seldom/will someday have more) get. I'm a member of the New American Theatre Company in LA and love acting and singing.  After writing this, I will leave my day job and go straight to singing class.

So, here's what I think "La La Land" got right: most of the audition scenes. I loved Mia's auditions for the cop or the teacher roles where she's dressed in a police uniform or as a teacher doing certain prototype guest star "type parts". I thought that was really real. And we've all been on those stereotypical auditions for the medical show, crime drama, etc. where you're clearly the suspicious person throwing off the detectives before we find who the real criminal is.  And I also appreciated the moments where the casting directors are talking to each other and reading over her resume instead of really paying attention to her audition. These are all things that have happened to me on the regular. Even the casting director talking to someone else through the door during that intimate scene rang true. People in the audience seemed shocked when they saw that. I wasn't.

BUT  they lost me at the one woman show and everything that comes after it. I understand this movie is about the "ones who dream" and leaps of faith. BUT her one person show:  we see her designing costumes, and writing it and working on the sets leading up to it, but we never see one moment of this (supposedly) incredible one woman show (based on her experience growing up in Nevada or where the fuck was it? How is it supposed to be ground-breaking? Is it?). We see her walk on stage to a small audience and walk off. And when she walks off, people say it was awful. Shouldn't we know about her amazing concept or writing or acting which landed her the job of a lifetime?

It is very difficult getting casting directors, agents, managers to see any theatre in LA. I am currently working with my company on this very issue. I am currently trying to figure out how to bribe family members (short of giving blood) to get them to ask industry members they know to come see some new theatre we're doing in a couple months. People do drop offs to casting offices, print flyers, send emails, make phone calls. I'll be working on these pitches for weeks and will be lucky if 1 out of the 50-100 casting directors/agents/managers my team of actors contact will come. We're supposed to believe Mia's mass email got this casting director to come out? Yeah, okay.

So next, she goes into the life-changing audition with her boyfriend in tow, which by the way, let's talk about that. I guess Sebastian comes for added bravery or moral support. Cute and romantic and all, but adult actresses go alone to auditions most of the time, right? Unless you're underage and need your parents to drive you, you go to your auditions alone. I don't think I'd want my boyfriend to come with me to my auditions. My therapist, maybe, but my boyfriend, no.

That's not even the issue though. If I remember correctly, the casting director doesn't even know the plot of the movie except that it will be built around the right actress (?) and shoots in Paris for a few months. Okay. How did this movie get funded? THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN. I WISH IT DID AND THE INDUSTRY WAS COLLABORATIVE LIKE THAT AND WE COULD ALL GO TO PARIS AND CREATE MAGNIFICENT, DEEP ART IN A SYMBIOTIC AND FREE WAY AND EAT CHOCOLATE CROISSANTS BUT THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN. Or if it does, someone get me into the room where it happens.

I thought it was realistic and great that she and Sebastian didn't get together in the end and I guess this movie doesn't strive for realism. I should know that because of the dancing across the night sky at the Griffith Observatory etc, but it just seemed like parts of the movie aimed for truth and other parts...what are you doing LA LA LAND? Which brings me to....That apartment? For 4 or 5 girls or whatever it was with tons of space and old-Hollywood rooms? How much money are these baristas making? Change that apartment to a POS in the Valley and two girls are sharing a room and let's talk.

Also, did she get fired from her barista job? I don't remember. But she was late a lot.

No shade to Emma Stone. She's a great actress. But any actor, really struggling, with their heart in the game, pounding the pavement would have seen "La La Land" and hated that. Most of my friends did. More troubling: does this movie give my non-industry friends, colleagues and frenemy that I will inevitably run into at my high school reunion the impression that it's only a matter of time until someone "discovers" me and I go to Paris for a few months and come back a movie star? Sounds great, but I fear that everyone but my frenemy is in for some bitter disappointment on that score. They'll conclude that I must not be very good since that hasn't happened to me yet, and come on, do we really think that's fair?

Also I didn't like the singing, but that just seems petty at this point.

I promise I'm a lot nicer when it comes to non-"La La Land" things and perhaps its hard for me because this is a world I'm so close to. But that's just it:  I so wanted this to be my story. It could have been and I went in thinking it would be, but it wasn't. I wanted to fully feel this film and let the characters get under my skin. There were times in the theatre that I felt my experience as an actress totally echoed back to me, but mostly it just made me super angry. I won't be singing "City of Stars" at my next audition. But let's face it, if my manager gets me an audition for [the inevitable] "La La Land" the musical, I'll probably go. I need the exposure.


LIVING IN LA LA LAND, part I

Love it, hate it or feel indifferent about it, Damien Chazelle's film La La Land is more than just a movie for those of us in the arts living in the Hollywood area.   Dealing as it does with the unexpected and yet somehow inevitable love affair between two aspiring artists, a jazz pianist (Sebastion) and an actress (Mia), La La Land uses the landscape and the reality of the world in which we live here to spin elaborate romantic fantasies about the vagaries of fate.  That is, as we pursue the fulfillment of our professional hopes and dreams, is there indeed a destiny that can be achieved by persistence and hard work, or it all simply the luck of the draw, with very little regard for talent or deserving?

After having watched the movie twice and read the published screenplay - which is significantly different in some crucial respects from the film -- I do feel a lot of admiration for what the 31 year old Mr. Chazelle was able to accomplish.  He has a great sense of rhythm, pace and visual imagination - qualities he also displayed in his earlier film, Whiplash.  He's a sharp observer of nuance between characters - take a close look at that scene between Sebastian and his older sister (Laura), where we learn everything we need to know about Seb in a scene that never stops moving forward -- as well as the nuance of the entertainment industry itself, veering between documentary-like depictions (those heartless casting sessions) and tongue-in-cheek lampooning (the "hot" screenwriter, Carlo, who is starting a franchise based on the Goldilocks story written as a home-invasion thriller.)  More than that, this guy can write some multi-faceted dialogue, even when it comes to diehard romantic conventions.  It's harder to appreciate out of context, but take a look at this exchange early on when Seb helps Mia try to track down where her car is parked:

MIA: Strange that we keep running into each other.

SEB: It is strange.  Maybe it means something.

MIA: I doubt it.

SEB: Yeah, I don't think so either.

These lines give Gosling and Stone so much to work with as they navigate the perilous tightrope of attraction.  Such a nice sense of spontaneity without ever forcing the characters to talk about how difficult it is to trust each other.  Add to this the visual excitement he stirs up in La La Lands's first and last 10 minutes - each as pleasurable a piece of pure filmmaking as any American film in recent memory -- and there is no overstating it.  This guy's got game.

There are, however, two things in this admirable film that I have to take issue with -- one of which goes back directly to the La La Land that we live in, and something that I don't think Mr. Chazelle accurately captured.

Okay, and this is where I guess should say that warning, something of a hallmark of our times: SPOILER ALERT!  As if you who have followed me this far wouldn't have figured out by now that I'm going to be discussing this film in some depth.  But the last thing I want is even one reader lying awake at night, quaking with anger at having some surprise spoiled.  The essence of life is surprise - find it wherever you can, keep it close to your heart.

One of the hardest things about writing that ventures into the world of romance -- especially hetero romance -- is being equally fair to both characters.  The terrain of love/relationships is so littered with emotional, political and neurotic minefields -- well, I think we all get the perils, especially when a man is doing the writing.  In my (admittedly male) opinion, I think the young Mr. Chazelle acquits himself pretty well.  Sebastian and Mia both seem like recognizable inhabitants of SoCal, the kind of folks who slave away at demanding and often demeaning jobs while waiting for their lives to take off.

What I have trouble with, though - and where I think that La La Land goes slightly off the rails - is in Mia's decision to write a one-woman show for herself.  In fact, it's not even Mia's idea to do it - she takes her cue from Sebastian telling her that's what she should be doing, based on Mia's having told him that she used to make up stories and act them out when she was a kid.  Huh?  Say what?

Hey, take it from this Twisted Hipster - a veteran of 25 years in New York theater and 20 years in Los Angeles theater -- it's HARD to write a good play, much less a good full-length one person show.   HARD.  Just because you made up little skits when you were a kid doesn't mean you have what it takes to command a stage for 70 minutes.  And there's nothing in Mia's personality or life experience to make us believe she can do it.  (She's not an introvert, not a word person, not a great storyteller.)  It kind of makes sense that Sebastian suggests it -- he wants her to be special and  believes she can do anything!  And it kind of makes sense that Mia would take a shot at it, wanting to please him, to live up to this crazy idea he has of her.  But there's no way she would go through with it.  No way.  She's too smart to court such certain disaster.  And her friends would head her off at the pass, they would sit her down and tell her: girl,  what are you thinking?  You don't have the chops to write a good monologue, much less a good show.  And the risk of money and reputation just isn't worth it.

It's telling that -- while we see several examples of jazz and Sebastian's obsession with it - we don't see a single moment of Mia's show.  We see her scribbling down ideas, we see her pre-show, and we see the lights come up on the skeletal crew of an audience when the show is over, but Chazelle cannot even imagine a highlight for us.  We hear afterwards that she cannot even afford to pay the rent on the theater -- something that is highly unlikely, since every theater owner I'm aware of demands full payment in advance, especially for a one night rental.  Then again, just getting the show up at all takes the cooperation of friends and fellow artists, none of whom seem to be involved in helping Mia make this happen.

No, as a screenwriter myself, I understand what young Chazelle had in mind.  Mia has to crash and burn doing this crazy idea that Sebastian had for her - which is then redeemed when it turns out that a casting person was in her skeletal audience (wow!) and this casting person will become the agent in making all her dreams come true (double wow!)  Because ultimately it's all about the power of love to transform the ordinary into the magical, and it's about belief - believing in the power of that love - that makes the transformation possible.

(But really - a major casting person goes to a small theater in North Hollywood to see an unknown actress in the one performance of her one woman show?   Love may make miracles happen, but this is truly one for the ages.)

It's a credit to Damien Chazelle's skill as a filmmaker, I suppose, that his romantic fable succeeds in seducing us to the degree that it does.  He knows the world of jazz and the industry town that is Hollywood to a remarkable degree.  But the reality of making theater here and what it takes to put on a play?

Not so much, amigo.  No, not so much.

ps - Here's a fun read about why no one went to Mia's solo show.


"THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE"

"Everything is political."
That was the word on the street in the late '60s and '70s, when the Twisted Hipster came of age.
The age came by it honestly: From the assassination of JFK to the anti-Vietnam War movement to the killings of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention, to Watergate and the Iran Hostage Crisis - it was truly a turbulent age and one the contributing factors to twisting up the inner life and expectations of any hipster, including this one.
Many years have passed since then, and our national focus has been more on that twisted inner life and the emotional fallout from those turbulent times.  But now we have Trump - an atrocity with a bad hair weave.  A cult leader who hides behind any shred of decency until he doesn't have to and reveals himself for the predatory freak that he is - witness his recent rescinding of transgender protections, after earnestly promising to be their champion.
Now comes his exclusion of The New York Times, CNN, Politico and several other media outlets from his most recent press conference - just think if President Obama had tried anything like that. Richard Nixon was bad, but he was never this bad.  This is boldly undemocratic.  UNDEMOCRATIC.  Please consider that word.  Trump claims to represent "The People," even though he lost the election by 3 million votes.  (Oh, and what happened to all those claims of "illegal voters"?  Just another bright shiny object used to distract our attention from the bigger crimes that  he is surely committing.)
The fact is, Trump received the fewest electoral votes since Jimmy Carter - the last one term president, something that the Twisted Hipster also sees in Trump's future.  He keeps touting what an "incredible" victory he had, how "huge" it was.  And when a reporter corrects this misinformation, he merely brushes it aside - oh my God.
The Twisted Hipster has lived through Nixon, Reagan and Bush W.  Trump is Nixon on acid.  Trump is Nixon without the statesmanship.  Trump is Reagan without the personal likeability.  The Twisted Hipster yelled at the TV screen for Reagan's 8 years, as he deregulated business restrictions.  The Twisted Hipster yelled at the TV screen for another 8 years as W nearly destroyed our economy.  But this Orange-Haired Menace is so much worse than them all - not even close.  He got elected by Trumpeting his not being a politician, and somehow that worked just enough.  Now he wants to be King Donald, and he has declared war on the press - ignoring the fact that this is the First Amendment for a good reason.  There is no democracy without it.
The Twisted Hipster is an artist who has also proudly worked as a  journalist.  He was hired by The Village Voice right out of college to write theater feature articles and wrote several during his 18 month tenure there (before his job was phased out for financial reasons).  But this was The Village Voice at the end of its heyday, and the young TH was privileged to share a newsroom with the likes of Jack Newfield, Nat Hentoff, Andrew Sarris, James Woolcott, Karen Durbin, Bob Christgau, Richard Goldstein, Alexander Cockburn, Erika Munk and so many others, all under the leadership of Maryanne Partridge - perhaps the first female editor at a major news outlet. (Not counting Katherine Graham, who owned the Washington Post.)   TH's editor was Ross Wetzsteon, a legendary name in Off-Off-Broadway theater circles for helping to put together the Obie Awards for years.  Ross was not warm and fuzzy, he wasn't a friend, but he was a very serious journalist who has mentored many current journalists, including Charles McNulty at the Los Angeles Times.  Ross had studied writing with Vladimir Nabokov at Princeton, and he was ruthless in terms of applying those stylistic lessons to those he edited.  Thank you, Ross, for the indelible lessons.
The TH went on to write for many publications, including In These Times, American Theatre, The Sunday New York Times "Arts & Leisure" section and The New Republic.  He also delved into hard news, being the only journalist to meet with boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in maximum security prison after Carter's reconviction.  The TH sounded the alarm that justice still hadn't been served, but nobody listened.  It took six more years for Carter to get his case heard in Federal Court, where he finally gained his freedom for the very reasons that the TH had written about.  While jubilant that Carter was finally free, the TH felt nothing but a deep sadness for the five years that Carter spent in prison after the article had been written.  (The New York Times actually bought it for their Sunday Magazine, but then cancelled its publication after complaints from Selwynn Raab, who had broken the original story of Carter's frame-up; the TH knows this is how it went down because Mr. Raab called at 10:37 pm one night to boast about it.)
The TH had issues with journalism - namely, its Trendiness.  Hard to believe, but the word "demographic" was rarely used outside of academic circles before the early 1980s,  Similarly, it was still possible to have a genuine conversation with artists about their art until around that same time, when everything started becoming publicity.  That is, it was no longer about the art or the artist's authentic voice, it was only about getting your face out there, reaching your demographic.  Which made the TH not a journalist but a grossly-underpaid publicist.  And if the TH had wanted to be a publicist or advertising copywriter, then he would have done so.
One thing the Twisted Hipster can say absolutely: the journalists he observed and worked with were deathly serious about sources and verification.  The instances of writers making up "FAKE NEWS" and getting away are very rare - most recently, the "Rape on Campus" article in Rolling Stone in 2015.  But the fact-checkers at most publication are the most relentless and driven of all employees.  They will call you five or six times a day if there is even a shadow of a question about the veracity of anything you have written.  They will chase you down and disturb your dinner with friends until you have answered their questions to their satisfaction.  To call these people purveyors of "FAKE NEWS" is obscene and an insult to journalists and seekers of truth everywhere.
But the insult is not personal, it's political - as is everything else now.
Yes, "everything is political" once again.
And the Twisted Hipster is honored to join the ranks of such "enemies of the people" once again at such a critical moment.
While BETTER LEMONS is an arts website devoted largely to the Los Angeles theater community, it is also an instrument for delivering the truth to its readers.  The TH would like to thank Ashley Steed and Enci Box (who 10 years ago was acting in one of the Twisted Hipster's plays) for this opportunity.
The Twisted Hipster pledges to keep it real in a time when our gaslighter-in-chief is doing the opposite.   (See what all that emphasis on Trendiness leads to?  The sad imitation of a president that we have today.)  The TH pledges to give you the artist's point of view, and to keep telling the truth - as he did in the case of "Hurricane" Carter.
Here's hoping you will keep listening.