It’s hard to believe Jerry Lewis is really dead because he survived so many health traumas he seemed indestructible and because he’d been around since Moses so why die now? Normally I’d not comment on his passage beyond that because when you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. (That voice alone, Jesus!) But it occurs to me that, by allowing himself to be cast as the most odious version of himself in the distinctly avant-garde The King Of Comedy, he not only let some extraordinary talent off the leash (Scorsese, De Niro, Bernhard), he created the prototype for basically half the films and TV shows we see today. Until TKOC, shows based on comics always sweetened their subject up; it’s not like The Dick Van Dyke Show showed raging alcoholic DVD blotto drunk, or The Mary Tyler Moore Show showed MTM spewing the retrogressive garbage she spewed off-camera. Would we have Louie, Seinfeld, The Larry David Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Master Of None, Funny People, Difficult People, 30 Rock–the list of meta comedies about churlish comics is endless–without Jerry Lewis as our sacrificial lamb? For better and worse, the answer is no. As he liked to point out: “He had great success being an idiot.”
Los Angeles is having quite a moment. Even people with zero interest in the film business are flocking there in droves, and it’s safe to say that the city’s lifestyle – all surfboards, smoothies, tacos, and Instagram irony – is setting the whole country’s tone.
Also back in fashion: sunshine noir, which drags such dark matter as drifters, grifters, and serial killers into the light, usually as filtered by Southern California. Think P.T. Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” the hit Amazon series “Bosch,” and, of course, the media’s rediscovered obsession with O.J. Simpson. It was only a few years after the former football star’s 1995 trial that writer/director Curtis Hanson adapted James Ellroy’s ultimate sunshine noir novel, L.A. Confidential, arguably the best sunshine noir of its decade. The 1950s-set thriller offered a much-needed historical perspective on the intersection of the LAPD, fame, and race, and was so smartly rendered that it launched the career of Russell Crowe, resuscitated that of Kim Basinger, and put SoCal vintage at the epicenter of fashion – paving the way for non-Tinseltown L.A. to occupy today’s zeitgeist. Continue Reading →
There were many West Coast It Girls of the 60s and 70s, but Eve Babitz may have been the West Coast It Girl, at least among people in the know. Born in 1943 to a Jewish studio violinist and a gentile Texan rose, she counted Igor Stravinsky as her godfather and Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and Bertrand Russell among her family friends. In the 1960s, she became a “groupie-adventuress” who designed album covers for Linda Ronstadt and Buffalo Springfield, and counted everyone from Frank Zappa to Salvador Dali among her friends, and Steve Martin, Jim Morrison, Harrison Ford, and both Ruscha brothers (photographer Paul and painter Ed) among her lovers. She also was the nude girl in the famous photograph of Marcel DuChamp playing chess.
But none of these biographical details are as compelling as Eve’s prose. In essay collections and autobiographical novels, she rhapsodized about booze, beauty, jacarandas, and, above all else, her native stomping grounds of Southern California. Whether describing a stunning angle of sunlight, the many sorts of SoCal winds, or a perfect crate of Chavez-approved grapes, she wrote with such extravagant style that you found yourself falling in love with Los Angeles even if you’d always considered it a cultural wasteland. Continue Reading →