Does Hollywood have a soul?
by esleigh g
So I am sweating rivers in the dark of the southern night. The mosquitoes are swarming maliciously. I have slathered enough DEET-ridden bug spray all over me to, well, let’s just say at that moment I could legitimately have been declared a Federal Super Fund clean-up site.
It’s late as I stand under the sodium street light listening to the cicadas and the slow chatter of the movie crew. We are three weeks into our shooting schedule. Friends have been made, enemies identified, secrets and gossip shared. Conversation eddies and flows, collecting in puddles of match light as the make-up gals huddle, smoking cigarettes and waiting for the A.D. team to call ‘last looks’. Around the corner, the rough hands of grips blindly put together exotic pieces of equipment. It always amazes me the way they assemble the necessary false array of sun, their faces turned away from the work and toward one another, fingers not needing the information brought by eyes or brain. Their movements are sure and instinctual, singing the rhythm of a thousand million repetitions as C-stands are assembled, the 1-K lights, Pars and silks hung and hung again.
My cell phone (on silent as there is no greater sin than to have one’s phone erupt with your chosen and probably embarrassing ring-tone while cameras are rolling)…my cell phone vibrates. I see an unknown west coast number flash. The bubble of production becomes so tiny, and the distance between set and one’s real life so great, that I leap at the chance for stimuli.
An old friend is on the line. We chat. I tell war stories of set – small dramas of rewritten pages and long hours. She tells me of her new venture – an on-line magazine about the soul of Hollywood.
Not the business of Hollywood – but its soul.
I pause from pacing the small side street. The smell of ozone is in the air and my producorial fears about rain and cover sets float away, dissipating in the dark.
My sense memory of that moment is strong and multi-hued. The low-end sonic hum of the police car blocking off the street. The sticky sweat gathering in my hand as it holds my phone. The scent of salt water, wild magnolias and pavement gathering at my feet like exhausted hound dogs.
These words she says to me are big words: the soul of Hollywood. Because I know at this moment when she speaks to me, asking me to write about my Hollywood experience, that I am soon to be unemployed. For the first time in my fourteen years as a studio executive – unemployed.
You see, this sentence fragment, put forth as a statement of fact, has been karooming around my rib cage for weeks: ‘the soul of Hollywood’.
I believe mightily in the power of story. As a skinny, ridiculous teen, stories saved my life. From under the lip of the bell jar I yanked in books and movies, bringing them around me during my punk rock junkie years. Stories have long been my armor, my lovers, my mentors. People and jobs leave you. The movies and their stories, the heroes and the villains – they stay.
Does Hollywood have a soul? Often she does not. Often she sits heartlessly, bereft of emotion and intent, on the dirty curb of commerce.
But upon occasion, in those blinding singular moments, she finds her heart and her soul and her balls. In those moments she binds us, each to each, there in the dark, offering eternal images of pure humanity. In SCHINDLER’S LIST stones in the hands of Schindler’s offspring, placed silently upon a grave. Shirley MacLaine’s stinging slap against the cheek of her unruly grandson and then, her all encompassing, forgiving embrace of that same child (accompanied by a delicious eye-roll) in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. Napoleon Dynamite professing confidently to his adolescent lady love “I caught you a delicious bass”.
I have spent many hours considering other careers in recent weeks. But I find that I cannot turn away from this, the soul of Hollywood. I am fearful as the Movie Business is Contracting and the Economy is Tanking and I am Old and I don’t have enough Powerful Agents/Directors/Writers willing to Call/Fight for me and Blah Blah Blah…
But then I am sweeping the living room while the TV is on and out of the corner of my eye I see a frame or two of a beloved picture – HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Rosalind Russell is wearing a hat shaped like a two thousand dollar Alexander McQueen shoe and spitting out dialogue like Tommy Gun bullets and I am gone, in love, inspired and in debt again…to the soul of Hollywood.