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They oughta be in pictures

June 08, 2003|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

At times it seems that Hollywood, instead of creating new cultural imagery, has become an enormous echo chamber, endlessly reflecting its own image back to itself. And there's no better setting for an evening of Hollywood narcissism than the home of producer Robert Evans. On May 30, Evans held a celebrity-studded party for Brett Ratner, director of "Red Dragon," "Rush Hour" and numerous rock videos, to celebrate the publication of his book about ... more celebrities.

"Hilhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures" is a collection of shots from a photo booth at Ratner's Beverly Hills mansion, which once belonged to Ingrid Bergman. It includes strips of Britney Spears, Colin Farrell, Harvey Keitel, Mariah Carey, Chelsea Clinton and many others.

"I didn't plan on a book," said Ratner, 33, who has the manner of a frat boy on a sugar high. "I had a photo booth at my house, and my friends would come over and jump in. After a while, I had thousands of photos and realized, there's a book in this." And then he was off, cell phone ringing. Proceeds from the book, due out in October from powerHouse Books, will go to Chrysalis, a foundation that provides job training for homeless people.

The photo booth itself -- decorated with images of women with bouffant hairdos, circa 1960 or so -- put in an appearance at the party. Sitting near Evans' pool, it attracted a line of women raving about how flattering the black-and-white prints were. "Every shot is cute!" one said. "It's instant gratification!"

Some of the book's luminaries showed up as well, to discuss their own projects or praise Ratner. "He's the nicest person I've ever met," said Michael Jackson, sitting on a couch and flipping nonchalantly through galleys of the book, the only copy available. "He's so sweet it makes me cry."

Jackson described himself as a fan of photography, a movie buff and an admirer of Ratner's films. "He's a realist and at the same time he's abstract. He's got a wide range, to go from horror to comedy. I really believe he'll go down as one of the greatest directors in cinema history."

Jackson himself was less alarming looking than he appears in photos, and seemed oddly unguarded, smiling good-naturedly when people drifted over to tell him how much they loved his music or how they wore a Jacko-inspired red leather jacket every day in high school.

Other attendees included party girl-heiress Paris Hilton -- wearing almost nothing and describing how much she preferred intimate house parties to clubs -- and film scorer Danny Elfman, who called Ratner "a manic 11-year-old in an adult's body, a real genius." Sean "P. Diddy" Combs showed up near the end.

"I gave Brett his start in the business," said Seymour Stein, founder of Sire Records. "He barged into my office when he was 17 years old, with a demo tape. To get rid of him I gave him a deal. He had a group called BMOC. He was ahead of his time -- white rappers."

Ratner wasn't the only one reflecting Hollywood back on itself. Actors Jeff Bridges and Joel Grey and veteran Hollywood chronicler Phil Stern were discussing their own books of photography, all on powerHouse as well. "It's got a home-scrapbook quality," Bridges said of his "Pictures," which assembles shots from the sets of his films. "It's a form of relaxation more than anything else -- some people read books, knit sweaters."

Evans, who wrote an introduction to "Hilhaven Lodge" in which he compared Ratner to Frank Lloyd Wright and Henry Moore, finally emerged in a pale suit and white turtleneck to stand on the back lawn and address the crowd. While Hilton, standing behind him, yelled out, "Bob, you're so hot right now!" and partygoers spoke on cell phones, Evans drifted in a speech that never quite found its focus.

He talked about Ratner's talent, about his loyalty and about photography as "the art form of the 21st century," praised the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue as if it were the Gutenberg Bible, and predicted that the photo-booth book would "open a new level for photography."

"I didn't even particularly like his last picture," Evans said of the director after his speech. "I hope he makes the right choices. There's no greater wealth than being remembered."

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