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Shining a strong light on Hollywood, American history

August 25, 2006|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

A.I. Bezzerides, Buzz to his friends, had a long, fruitful writing career in the 1940s and '50s, churning out pulp novels and scripts for film noir classics such as "On Dangerous Ground" and "Kiss Me Deadly." Yet, like many screenwriters, he remains mostly unknown today. Spiro N. Taraviras' documentary "Buzz" chronicles the life of a tireless worker of the Hollywood "dream factory" of the middle of the last century, weaving it together with stories about the working-class experience, labor practices and the Hollywood blacklist.

The son of Armenian refugees, Bezzerides grew up poor in Fresno, where he was friendly with writer William Saroyan. After attending UC Berkeley, he wrote a novel about long-haul truckers that would later be adapted into the Humphrey Bogart early noir classic "They Drive by Night." Warner Bros. had already adapted the novel and begun production before securing the rights from Bezzerides, which put him in a good position to negotiate. But rather than risk his relationship with the studio, Bezzerides' agent accepted a tiny sum on his behalf. Thus began a long line of bad deals that marked the writer's career. Despite his productivity and success, Bezzerides never achieved any measure of financial stability, even after creating the hit TV series "The Big Valley" in the 1960s.

Taraviras spent four years interviewing 98-year-old Bezzerides in his tumbledown Woodland Hills home, in which he recounts anecdotes from a remarkable life that included friendships with William Faulkner and Marilyn Monroe.

The film also includes numerous interviews with actors and directors who worked with him (including Jules Dassin, who decamped for Europe to avoid being subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and remains there to this day), as well as his children, journalists and film historians.

The result is an insightful look at a remarkable behind-the-scenes life and slice of American and Hollywood history. Told from an outsider's perspective, it sheds light on the workings of a glamorous but often treacherous business.



MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language

An Outsider Release. Writer-producer-director Spiro N. Taraviras. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. at Fairfax Avenue, L.A. (323) 655-4010.

Director Spiro N. Taraviras will participate in Q and As after the 4:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. screenings today, Saturday and Sunday. Actress Terry Moore will join Taraviras today. Actress Gabe Rogers will participate Saturday evening.

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