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OUR TOWN : L.A. Photographer David Strick's New Angle on Hollywood

July 03, 1988|INTRODUCED BY BRET EASTON ELLIS | Bret Easton Ellis is author of "Less Than Zero" and "Rules of Attraction." From the forthcoming book "Our Hollywood." Photographs copyright 1988 by David Strick; text copyright 1988 by Bret Easton Ellis. To be published by the Atlantic Monthly Press

HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, Santa Monica Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland Drive, Beverly Hills, Century City, the Chinese Theater, the Cinerama Dome, Universal Studios, Tower Records, the parking lot outside The Palace, Butterfield's, the Oscars, supermarkets, parties, strip joints, movie premieres, casting calls, department stores, discos, bars, restaurants, beggars, models, stargazers, the homeless, tourists, transvestites, extras, punk-rockers, hustlers, movie executives, prostitutes, celebrity look-alikes, strippers, Elvis impersonators, porn actors, chauffeurs, game-show contestants, cameramen, King Kong, photographers, hotel lobbies, studio lots, religious fanatics, adult bookstores, film sets, the MGM lion, celebrity auctions, the young, the old, the very rich, the destitute.

As a native of the city, I had seen all of this before. These are settings one passes through on almost a daily basis, and characters one encounters, if not on a daily basis, then at least with a regularity that eventually renders them not freaks, but in the particular landscape of Southern California, casual oddities perhaps. So it was a shock to find myself surprised and amused and touched by David Strick's collection of photographs taken in and around Hollywood during the past decade. Shocked because I had been a witness to all of the above for most of my life, and yet these characters and settings really didn't quite register. In fact they barely made a noticeable dent in my consciousness. Like a true Californian I had accepted them with the laid-back ease that is so essential to the city's mellow temperament. Surprised, amused, touched, since Strick has tackled a subject--Hollywood--whose themes have been overworked; yet his presentation is layered with such a cold, hard irony that the explicitness becomes enlightening, maybe profound.

David Strick was born in New York City in 1950 but has lived in Los Angeles since he was 2. He is the third generation of a notable Hollywood family. His great-uncle, director Herbert Biberman, and his great-aunt, actress Gale Sondergaard, were both blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Strick's father, Joseph Strick, is an Academy Award-winning producer and director, and his mother, Anne Strick, is a film publicist. One of Strick's favorite memories of childhood in Hollywood is hearing Rona Barrett report his parents' divorce proceedings on live television.

Though David Strick can see Hollywood in purely metaphorical terms, he has, overall, a realist's keen understanding of how the place actually works within its particular geography. "Hollywood is a very complicated place," he says. "For example, much of what we consider Hollywood films are shot in (places like) Culver City (and) Burbank. Most of the social and promotional events that define it take place in other areas as well. Hollywood is more a collection of professional, social and attitudinal affiliations, all of it feeding into the great forms of mass entertainment: film, television, music."

These photographs came about in part because of Strick's dissatisfaction with how Hollywood has been presented by other photographers. "For some reason, Hollywood photographers have never done more than a predictable, standard job at portraying their town," he says. "Hollywood is constantly being 'covered' but never really 'uncovered.' Hollywood is a manufacturer and repository of our waking dreams and it happens to be the most wonderfully antic and demented place in the world, but it is instead shown to us as a narrow, controlled group of set-piece rituals, photographed as they always have been, and are packaged and carefully parceled out to us like tinsel dust. This book is a look at Hollywood as it's happening--as it really sometimes is and always will be: dancing along the ragged edge between art, commerce and farce." And much of this book is about the photographer's horrific reactions to the blurry lines Hollywood draws between commerce and art. But in Strick's vision it's never pounded into us, but hinted at, subtly.

There's mystery in these photographs, but not a trace of glamour. Then there is the recurring motif of indifference, which I think is the book's true subject. Most of the photographs deal with detached reactions to unreal circumstances; a subject's utter lack of surprise or interest in viewing, or being part of, if not extraordinary situations, then at least the decidedly offbeat. There is rarely a trace of uneasiness on people's faces; most of them seem bored, unusually familiar with the camera. And though these photographs are loaded with an unforgiving irony, it's offset by the dreamy L.A. lyricism David Strick infuses them with. He has photographed what is essentially a very closed society with its own specific set of rituals and routines that to an outsider might seem positively foreign and unreal.

But what humanizes these pictures and gives them a more universal appeal, I think, is the sense of curiosity that the photographer has. At the same time, this collection succeeds in demythologizing Hollywood--it's a death letter, but one sent with a generous amount of humor, pathos and fondness. It's also the closest thing to a visual representation of Nathanael West's "The Day of the Locust" that any photographer has come up with. David Strick's photographs make me genuinely homesick for Los Angeles, yet at the same time are reminders of why I left.

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