Take Me Down To The Paradise City

The Sunset Strip, 1.5 miles stretching from Sunset Boulevard through West Hollywood, has a decades long history of excess and debauchery. Originally situated in a geographically unincorporated area of Los Angeles, the area did not become part of Los Angeles until 1984, the independence and loose regulations serving to heighten the excess of the area. Integrating into the wider, more regulated city, did little to quell the outsider, renegade atmosphere for which the area had become known. Stories abound about the Strip, for which it most affectionately dubbed. Fast-living and degeneracy is baked into the streets, and in the bricks of the buildings which line the mile. 

Photo via /IG: laexplained

During the prohibition of the 1920s, alcohol was illegal in Los Angeles as a city, but not in the LA county. Casinos and nightclubs sprung up on The Strip, all serving alcohol out of their back rooms, away from the prying eyes of the law. In the 1930s and 40s, the movie world and organized crime intertwined, with the Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen were rumoured to have owned establishments, while individuals from the motion picture industry frequented restaurants including Ciro’s, and The Mocambo. By the 1960s, it was all about the music, as movies gave way to counterculture. From the 1960s and into the 1970s also saw the swell of music venues on the Strip, which such historic clubs and Gazzari’s (21 February 1967 – 1995), The Whisky A Go-Go (Janauary 1964 — ), The Roxy (23 September 1973), and Pandora’s Box, a well-liked coffee shop that has gained immortality as the centre of the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots in November 1966, as immortalised by Buffalo Springfield in their song ‘For What It’s Worth.’ While the seventies saw glam rock and the short-lived club Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, the 1980s saw an explosion of fast living, party hard, rock musicians for which the territory became their domain.

Historically, and musically, it is impossible to disconnect The Sunset Strip from the glam metal, hard rock, and ‘hair metal bands’ that came of age during the eighties. LA Guns, Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot — the Strip came to represent rock n’ roll abandon thanks to the bands who took advantage of the venues ‘pay to play’ policy’, toiling their wears and accumulating their loyal attendees through blood, sweat, tears, and masses of drugs and alcohol. I spent some time earlier this year working on two (rejected) pitches concerning bands with more than a prominent association to The Strip, and how this area factored into their lives and music. This may come as a surprise to most of you, but neither of these two pieces were about Guns N’ Roses. And no other band came close to touching the full-on, all-out hedonism quite like their seminal 1987 debut, Appetite For Destruction.

There has never been another band quite like Guns N’ Roses, especially during the 1980s. While the line-up has gone through various rotations over the years — three of the original members are, after years of upheaval, performing together again — I maintain that you cannot touch the combination the of original five and the perfection of Appetite For Destruction, a record that never, in my opinion, becomes tiresome listening. (If you ask someone if they like Guns N’ Roses, most often they will say, yes.) There remains a magic in that album, something both raw yet harmonious, chaotic, energetic, but musically and lyrically electric. Success did not come easy to those five boys, and every moment of toiling away, every drug use, sexual encounter, domestic disturbance, and disregard for authority is captured within those twelve songs. There’s a reason it shattered all records and continues to be listed as one of the best, and best debuts, of all time.

Lately I have found myself struggling to write about what I usually write about (something compounded by freelance stress) as I tie myself in knots seeking work that will, you know, pay my wage. Music has always been a crutch, but never more so than during the past two years. As I have said on Twitter, and in a newsletter from earlier in the year, hard rock has always been at the forefront of my life, very much like film, and even longer than my interest in art history. I never set out to specialise in what I do, which I love, but I think the pandemic and grief have both rewired my brain into clutching at the non-work things that make me incredible happy. Music makes me happy. The Sunset Strip history makes me happy. ’80s era Guns N’ Roses make me so goddam happy — let me find joy as the world crumbles, ok?

So I may use this space to write about this album, this band, and what makes it the band and album for me. I will likely write about other bands. too, and maybe at some point on the newsletter, but I have this space, and I may as well use it, right? Short pieces, long pieces, whatever — I’m amazed I have not done this before. But it’s never too late. And, let’s face it: Anything Goes.

Photo via /IG: thesunsetstrip

The LA Diaries 2019 #5: TCMFF Day 2

The first full day was five-movie day of joy beginning with the delicious Merrily We Go To Hell at a packed Egyptian Cinema. Sylvia Sidney and Frederic March in Dorothy Arzner’s pre-code based on Cleo Lucas’ 1931 novel called I, Jerry, Take Thee, Joan. Reporter and playwright Jerry Corbett and heiress Joan Prentice marry after a whirlwind relationship, toasting their nuptials “Merrily We Go To Hell,” which more than sets the tone of their marriage. As Jerry’s success increases, so do his alcohol addiction and Joan’s heartbreak, while the loose rules of their ‘modern marriage’ only aggravate the physical and mental decline of both. The movie is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching at times, and I absolutely loved it.

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That was followed up with one of my all-time Disney faves, Sleeping Beauty, which provided the perfect opportunity to see my girl Maleficent in all of her resplendent glory. I think i was the only person who cheered when she came on screen…and it was lovely to have the animators Jane Baer and Floyd Norman in attendance, who shared their memories of working on the movie as Disney in-house animators.  (ND’s photo came out better than mine!)

Onto Sunrise, a movie I had not seen for some time but continues to mesmerize, which I followed with the powerful, always impactful Do the Right Thing at the IMAX. I was excited for this one, not only because I had never seen Spike Lee’s groundbreaking movie on anything other than a television screen but for the pre-movie discussion with costume designer Ruth Carter, Joie Lee, and casting director Robi Reed. 

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Walking out of the movie at 11pm in a little daze following the power Do the Right Thing continues to hold, it was straight back into the TCL multiscreen for some midnight fun. I was determined to do both midnight movies this year, cramming in as much of the festival as possible and they did not disappoint! Two very different movies playing on the Friday and Saturday night that attracted a loyal following and entertaining audience reactions. Santo vs. the Evil Brain was the Friday night showing and my very first Santo movie. A joy from start to finish starring the Mexican wrestling champion who is practically a superhero encountering his own brainwashed brain! See, a joy! Plus, the movie had one of the best car chases I had seen onscreen (not for any of the reasons you may think, and not what you would expect for a ‘chase’, but it was fantastic). Masks and treats were handed out before the movie, and we whooped and cheered the whole way through. A fun day.

 

TCMFF 2016 – Wednesday 27th April: Pre-festival Hollywood Hijinks

I wake up on Wednesday 27th April. It takes me a moment to process everything. I am in Hollywood. HOLLYWOOD. Usually I’m the one sitting at home, scrolling through my friends’ Twitter feeds and wishing that I had joined them for some Hollywood Hijinks. Last year I vowed that 2016 would be the year that I finally made it over for the festival. Here I am. It’s real.

2015 was a bumpy ride and after after three years of living in London and I returned to Birmingham in November. Things needed shifting in my life. I needed a break – to “shake the waters” – and what better way to achieve this than to travel across the country (my first long-haul flight) to a country that I had never previously visited? And to travel solo. The thought thrilled me. In all honesty, from the moment I bought my TCMFF pass in November the thought of being in Hollywood in a few months time was everything I needed. I wished I had booked for longer.

I had arrived in Hollywood the previous afternoon (Tuesday 27th April) after a twenty hour day – an airport, an airplane and a minivan. This could be why my head hit the pillow at 7pm local time and, apart from a couple of interruptions, I did not wake-up until 6am the following morning. Jet-lag? Pah! I look outside into the obligatory hotel carpark and rested my eyes upon this glory. It’s a nice sight.

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I step out of the hotel after breakfast  and there she is, waiting for me right outside on the walk of fame: one of my favourite Hollywood icons, the “Ice-Cream Blonde” herself, comedic actress Thelma Todd. Todd’s tragic and mysterious death in 1935 is constantly debated – theories range from foul play to accident – but no conspiracy can undermine her talent or the exuberance she brought to the screen in films opposite the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy or as part of a double act with Zazu Pitts.

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I spend the morning leisurely walking around and after lunch head over to Warner Bros. in Burbank for a tour by Warner Archive’s very own Matt Patterson (@mrmattpatterson). As a festival newbie, this would be the first time I’d meet everyone after years of online chat (not always about film) and exchanging Christmas cards. I bounded over to Nora (aka The Nitrate Diva) and Coleen (aka @MiddParent) and much hugging ensued.  Matt greeted us and we were soon joined by new friends Melanie, and later Emily, to wander around lot, marvel at the buildings, peer around corners and just generally gawp at the overwhelming familiarity of what is directly in front of us.

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Then it was back to the hotel, quick change and on to The Formosa where Ms Marya Gates (@oldfilmsflicker) had organised a Pre-TCMFF ‘Cocktail Extravaganza!’ Events would would officially start the following afternoon but this was a perfect way to kick things off with an evening of hugs, drinks and laughter. I cannot explain how much of a joy it was to finally sit across/next to those people who, despite never having ‘met’ in the traditional sense, are so dear to me and such a big part of my life (More names will appear in these posts. Don’t worry – I have not left you out!) We were a large crowd and I talked – or shouted over the noise – until I was hoarse. It was a happy night and for the first since in what felt like forever I felt relaxed, at home, and among friends.

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