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Sunday 21 April 2019

My crazy nights in La La Land - Living in Los Angeles is no romantic comedy

With death threats, gang warfare and blood on the streets, living in LA is no romantic comedy, writes Victoria Mary Clarke

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a scene from ‘La La Land’
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a scene from ‘La La Land’

Victoria Mary Clarke

I love movies. All kinds of movies, even the totally rubbish rom-coms and chick flicks. I devour all of them with a religious fervour and if at all possible I see them in the cinema, where they were meant to be seen, because of all the ways to escape from reality and immerse oneself in fantasy, the cinema is the best.

But not La La Land. The most Oscar-nominated movie of the year, and I am resisting it. I am not a shrink, but I suspect that this movie might trigger a combination of post- traumatic stress disorder and deep-rooted unfulfilled fantasies of fame and fabulousness.

A major trauma was what forced me to move to Hollywood for the first time, in 1992. I had been living in Seattle and working on a biography of the band Nirvana, when I received death threats from Kurt Cobain. I was terrified to remain in Seattle, so I relocated to LA where Britt Collins, my co-author, was based.

We decided that we could hide from Kurt if we lived in LA, because it is enormous. We were wrong about that.

Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles
Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles

But LA was nirvana for two girls addicted to drama and movies. We stepped into a life that was effervescent with colour and intrigue, terror and pathos, as well as rom-com-worthy happy synchronicities.

Not having a place to live, we cruised around Hollywood Boulevard, where the Walk of Fame is located, and decided to try and find the building where Crispin Glover lived. (Britt was a big Crispin Glover fan.)

With nonchalant naivety, we picked up a couple of handsome hitch-hikers, who took us to the apartment building where they lived, which had previously been home to Mae West and Bing Crosby, and where an apartment had miraculously just become vacant. Without having to give landlord references or any of that nonsense, we handed over a few hundred dollars and we got ourselves an enormous apartment with a walk-in wardrobe and a view of the fountain.

Inside the apartment was like living in the TV show Friends. At all hours of the day and night, neighbours popped in with homemade pecan pies, to play us a new song or read us a terrible poem. Every single one of them was an aspiring actor, screenwriter, director or musician. At three in the morning, when we were coming home, they would be heading to the gym to work out.

There was a reason the apartment was so 'affordable'. The atmosphere on our street was a heady cocktail of Boyz n the Hood and Straight Outta Compton, with nocturnal gang warfare, loud helicopter noises and police sirens as well as a permanent trail of blood and broken glass on the pavements. The police told us we were insane to walk to the shops, but we enjoyed it.

Hollywood Boulevard was just around the corner, and as we walked past Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the famous pavement stars and hookers, the feeling became more like Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts. But the whole thing shifted to Quentin Tarantino territory when I found myself in a fracas with Courtney Love in a local bar and was dragged along the floor by my hair. Going to the famous Cedars-Sinai hospital felt like being in House, and when we both ended up in court, it was like being in an episode of LA Law.

Apart from the constant cinematic atmosphere and the looming Hollywood sign, the fantasy was enhanced by the fact that nobody was in any way ordinary.

Absolutely everyone, even the janitor, had been abducted by aliens, had encountered spirit guides, or could see auras and your future and tell you their previous lives. Nobody ever watched telly, or went to the pub or even had dinner parties. Nobody had any interest whatsoever in what people in Ireland would consider normal conversations about house prices or rugby matches. Everything from their fantasies about superstardom to their daily activities were in the realm of the magical and mystical.

Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder and Emma Stone as Mia Dolan in La La Land
Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder and Emma Stone as Mia Dolan in La La Land

Being that way inclined myself, I found it heavenly. I visited a nudist colony, did mind-altering shamanic rituals, read tarot cards, learned how to heal energy fields, chanted, meditated and stuck acupuncture needles in myself for fun.

In the evenings, because we were broke, Britt and I would roam the Hollywood Hills, gazing in awe at the movie stars' houses and wondering what it would be like to actually live in them.

Did they swan around in silk gowns and smoking jackets, swilling champagne and making scintillating conversation with other screen sirens?

It was one of my greatest disappointments to discover that the genuine A-listers did nothing of the kind.

Johnny Depp was the only person I knew in Hollywood who owned a television and even bothered switching it on. He had everything that everyone wanted, the glamour, the fame, the looks, but rather than go to parties and launches and places where he could show off and be photographed, he preferred to hide out with very close friends or just stay at home. I remember the look of horror on his face when I suggested one night that we go to a nightclub that my crazy friends were going to.

Famous directors were just as bad. When I went for dinner with Quentin Tarantino, it was at a regular pizza place, not at the Ivy where the paparazzi might have spotted us. Actors like Sienna Miller talked about how much they loved gardening, shopping for vegetables, walking their dogs and other equally unglamorous things.

And so, what to conclude about living in LA LA Land?

Perhaps that the people who can appreciate it most are the ones who live the fantasy, but it must absolutely stay a fantasy, because if it ever turns into reality, it might become normal and boring and everyday and that would totally ruin it.

Sunday Independent

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