Saturday, August 15, 2009
The 32nd Floor
Downtown is the hub, the heart, the epicenter of the modern American city. Filled with skyscrapers, the phallic symbol of American dominance, downtown is the place to be. It's where the cool people come to party at the coolest clubs, its where connoisseurs come to sample the finest cuisine, it's where millions of Americans make the daily pilgrimage to and from work.
But LA, that curious city lying just outside planet Earth, breaks these rules. No one wants to go downtown, no one wants to party downtown, and certainly no one wants to live downtown.
Downtown isn't the heart of LA because LA is a city that doesn't have a heart.
Most Angelino's don't even work downtown, they just sort of pass through it on their way to somewhere else. If LA's downtown isn't the heart, it is at least the center of four major arteries that converge and pump traffic through via the 101, the 10, the 110, and the 5.
So while LA's downtown may lack the culture, finance, and importance of other cities downtowns, it still is a landmark. It is the heart of LA's traffic.
At least, that's how it used to be. About 6 years ago developers began to pump money into LA's decrepit core, creating the Staples Center, lofts for the young and affluent, and trendy bars and eateries for people to come drink and eat. LA's downtown developed from a rotting husk into a classic 3rd world city - fancy bars with tuxedo security selling $20 drinks a block away from homeless shelters and addicts.
Tonight Varga's gotten us invites to a premier at the LA film festival held within the newly redeveloped AT&T center. The film is entitled Reach for Me, directed by LeVar Burton, better known as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It stars Seymour Cassell, a character actor who has starred and worked in over 170 films. Cassell was Bert Fischer's father in Rushmore, Robert Redford's menacing henchman in Indecent Proposal, Richard Dreyfuss' partner in Tin Men.
In addition to the premier of the film, Cassell is being honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Hollywood Reporter.
As soon as Phil and I arrive, I can tell we are underdressed. The men wear sports coats and button down shirts with jeans, the women are in black cocktail dresses and tight skirts. There are photographers and red carpet, but Varga meets us outside and greases us through security.
Underdressed as we are, we act like we belong, and we're waved through.
I get us seats in a mid sized theatre and meet a documentarian who has just finished a film about a man who ran 26 miles for 75 consecutive days to raise cancer awareness. I tell her I'm a writer but don't have anything more to add.
Luke Wilson takes to the podium to start the award ceremony. He's followed by clips of Cassell's work and a tribute video. A bald man with a beard worthy of a native from West Virginia then takes the podium, who then hands it over to a pair of suits before Cassell himself takes to the stage. He's an old man, but his voice carries loud and clear. He thanks everyone and keeps the speech brief, stating how lucky he's been to work so long in the industry.
Then we're subjected to one more clip from Lee Iacocca about the importance of living a full rich life and the importance of ending life with dignity. (I'm guessing he was a major contributor to the funding.)
Then the film begins. Reach for Me takes place in a hospice, a character study about how the old cope with death. It has no action scenes, which is why it's an independent film. It also lacks any kind of adversary, ticking clock, or climax. I'm bored out of my mind.
The documentarian next to me is sobbing.
So is most of the audience.
"Would this old fart hurry up and die already." Phil mutters.
When the movie ends we rise up out of our seats and make a break for the door. There's a party in the penthouse of the AT&T building, and there's limited space. Security only lets ten people up at a time, counting us as we enter the elevator.
We take it to the 30th floor, whereupon we enter a second, smaller elevator that takes us up to the 32nd floor - the very top of the building.
As soon as we arrive, my jaw sags toward the ground. The 32nd floor is one giant room filled with windows that provide a 360 degree view of the city. To the East and South I can see the million Christmas tree lights that sparkle over the city turning it into a mystical wonderland. To the West is the Staples Center, a purple space aged bowl and the softer colors of the less condensed neighborhoods towards the ocean. To the North is downtown, buildings lit in the bright glow of unearthly iridescence.
There are several bars, catering tables with food, and girls wearing mardi gras masks serving trays of drinks. Some hawk martini shots, others pass out bottles of coca cola, while others still offer cans of ice cold mocha coffee.
Everywhere there are beautiful women as trendy music reverberates throughout the penthouse. It is sensory overload, it is what I imagined LA was like when I first moved here in 2000.
Nine years later, I'm finally experiencing it.
I'm really under dressed.
Phil hits it off with a gorgeous young woman in a black dress, she's an actor and both her parents are from Spain. I start to think that Spain looks like a good place to go visit. I decide to help Phil out and mention to her that he writes scripts, and he has one that might be perfect for her. Phil runs with it.
I spot Seymour Cassell walking by us and I shake his hand, telling him I've enjoyed his work over the years. Varga gets a picture with him, and then a blonde comes up and steals Cassell's attention, leading him over to a group of girls.
Varga introduces me to one of the girls wearing a mask. She's half Hawaiian, half Filipino. I flirt, but she's not really all that interested. I tell her to get back to work.
I meet an older woman twenty years too old to be wearing short hot pants. She has a live snake coiled on the top of her head, a Python named Rocko. The snake is wrapped around a pair of chopsticks she has through her hair, otherwise only the snake's head moves. She explains that Rocko thinks her head is the safest place to be, so has no desire to move. I ask her she does when the snake defecates, but she explains he only eats once a week.
I meet a woman whose boyfriend is one of the board members on the festival. He's left her alone to go schmooze, so she's just happy to have someone to talk to. I ask her where the LeVar Burton is, the film's director.
"Didn't you hear?" she gasps. "They said it was too crowded and they wouldn't let him come up."
"What?" I ask, dumbfounded. "But Burton is the director of the film. The party is for him."
"Evidently security didn't recognize him. So he left."
I should be shocked, but after nine years of living here I just nod. If you aren't A list, you aren't guaranteed to get in anywhere, even when it's your film that you directed and it's a party celebrating the premier of said film. Seems in LA it's not who you are that matters, but how many people know who you are.