There’s an elephant in the room and it just shit on my plate. Because when you write about Hollywood there are all these things you’re not “supposed” to say. Like an actress is a big ass fattycakes or an actor is a major homosexual or a child star is precocious enough to merit a pounding. And the Hollywood press corps whores are so distracted by the smell of publicists’ shit on their noses that they don’t even remember how low-paying their Faustian pacts are. When you write about Hollywood you are expected to stand in the world’s tiniest room pressed up against a wall with your face a foot from an elephant’s ass, and then have a conversation with someone about the weather.
This room on March 12, 2000, looked very much like the annual Screen Actor’s Guild Awards. The agenda of the Awards, it seems, is to enable actors to publicly covet themselves as hard-working union-types who rally stoically for each other in the tradition of good communist workers. Here, validity is given to actors as “artists,” in reality a notion long gone what with movies being about money now, not art, as someone once decided. The Awards, in fact, merely enable a new set of photo-ops to be shot, a few acceptance speeches yacking about “craft” to be made, and a final set of trophies to be handed out prior to the Oscar blitzkrieg wherein the most-aged nominee wins.
The event begins, of course, on a long red carpet, lined on one side in screaming sub-teens and seniors from Middle America and on the other in screaming members of the press armed with cameras and pens. Publicists, akin to socialite-esque piranhas, skim ruefully back and forth and up and down the line, eyeballing the media to decide who is most worthy of celebrity interaction. From one end a man on the mike is the Voice of God, pronouncing each ascension (“On the red carpet now…!”) of each star from the other side of The Screen. Award shows start early so stars and media meet in the harsh light of the afternoon sun amidst an octopi of cable. It’s like big kids’ prom at the Celebrity Mall of America.
A Female Reporter from A Big Women’s Magazine observes of an impending Camryn Manheim: “She kind of dresses like a ‘Baywatch’ beached whale.” A Male Reporter from Another Big Women’s Magazine asks Mary Kay Place: “If someone has halitosis, what would you do?” The Female Reporter is informed Calista Flockhart will not speak to her due to some text-based slight (“We’ll talk and I’ll tell you everything,” Flockhart’s publicist says, “because I love you”). A Male Reporter from A Really Big Entertainment Magazine shouts at a star: “I always say nice things about you!” in an attempt to beckon her closer. Portia De Rossi approaches in zebra and rhinestones and The Female Reporter says: “I just think she is such an asshole.” Annette Bening sails by without stopping, pregnant by and armed with Warren so someone ruefully offers: “It looks like she’s about to drop.” Everyone is nice to stars’ faces, and trashes them when they move by.
These are the types of things the celebrities reveal. Lena Olin: “I’m wearing Armani.” Lara Flynn Boyle: “My special someone is away working.” An actress from “The Sopranos”: “I’m usually dressed like the biggest whore.” Chloe Sevigny: “It’s all a bit overwhelming.” The director of “Boys Don’t Cry”: “I always feel like Merlin, in a way.” Sarah Jessica Parker (on sex): “I have no advice.” Angelina Jolie (on playing “Lara Croft”): “Yes, I will be.” Portia De Rossi: “I just met Hillary Swank.” Chris Lowe (on wife, Hilary Swank): “You want to see them be as big as you believe they really are.” Everyone talks to and at each other but nobody really says anything as the sun unkindly illuminates female facial hair, men’s pock marks, and the random self-imposed body scar. But, nobody says anything about that either.
Then everyone has to hurry, hurry inside because the Awards are about to start. Photographers are funneled into a room shotgun to the main room; writers are sequestered into a room shotgun to the photographers’ room. Two monitors televise the show, out-of-sync audio amplifying the puppet-like quality of stars-just-gone-by now back up on The Screen. It becomes clear awards are secondary; watching them is impossible as winners come in for final close encounters. Kevin Spacey talks about how he likes to touch the fans, Angelina Jolie discusses how many people she’s had sex with, Michæl J. Fox asserts that Charlie Sheen is “great,” David Hyde Pierce mentions Jane Leeves has sticky nipples, one of “The Sopranos” complains he can’t take the train anymore, and everyone who wins says: “This is from the actors so it means so much more.” When it comes from the Academy, will it mean less?
Now it’s over and time for everyone to get out and go home, and no you cannot go to the after-party because no press are invited. Damn it. Get out. Hasn’t the elephant shit in your lap enough? Because this is what happens when you go to an awards show. You enter the gap between yourself and the Cult of Celebrity, the gutter where suspension of disbelief–stars are immortal, inhuman icons–meets the Disneyland dementia of what it means to be in the cyclone of celebrity. And it’s not a pretty place. Actors are individuals who are not very good at being people; the press is a group who is not very good at being human. And it’s really grotesque to be in the sun outside the Shrine Auditorium in downtown L.A. on March 12, 2000, because upon close examination the elephant really reeks of its feces as it trails down the red carpet and everyone gathered to watch it just hikes up their formal wear, kicks off their jeweled sandals, and takes it home to eat for tomorrow’s breakfast.
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Posted on May 9, 2001 in Features by Susannah Breslin
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