SU­SAN DALGETY

Hol­ly­wood’s fic­tion can hide or shine a spot­light on the re­al­ity of life in the US,

The Scotsman - - Scottish Perspective - writes Su­san Dalgety

Lo­gan bounced up and down in the driver’s seat like an over­grown Tig­ger with an oblig­a­tory hip­ster beard.

“Wel­come to Hol­ly­wood,” he de­claimed in his best ac­tor’s voice, “where we lie to you for a liv­ing!”

And, with a loud “hee-haw”, we were off in our larger-than-life golf cart.

The “we” were 13 wide-eyed tourists, from as far afield as France and up­state New York, who had each paid $65 for a tour of Warner Brothers Stu­dio.

Lo­gan was our en­thu­si­as­tic guide who, in the course of two hours, romped through the his­tory of movies, from the Jazz Singer to Harry Pot­ter. He even threw in some tele­vi­sion.

“Any fans of the Gil­more Girls here?” he shouted, de­lighted when some­one at the back squealed “me”. I Googled them later.

“The four Warner brothers bought this lot in 1923 and built a nick­elodeon theatre to show movies,” ex­plained Lo­gan as we en­tered a big shed, or sound stu­dio as it is called in the business. “But by 1927 they had run out of movies to show, so they de­cided to make their own. The Jazz Singer was their first, the rest is his­tory,” he shouted into his mike, with all the sub­tlety of Grou­cho Marx. “Look at this vin­tage globe,” Lo­gan en­thused in the props depart­ment. “It was used in Casablanca.”

I perked up. “And re­cently it starred in the Marvel movies, Thor and Dr Strange,” he added.

Sud­denly, the globe lost its glam­our, and it was just a large papier mâché ball, dec­o­rated with a vivid map of the world.

Ev­ery­thing in La La Land is fake. “This was the hospi­tal in ER,” shouted Lo­gan as we passed the façade of a large, grey Art Deco build­ing. “It was also the Gotham City Hall of Records in the Bat­man movies.”

“Rain­drops are too small for the big screen,” he ex­plained. “So, we make our own rain. Each drop is five times big­ger than real ones, so they can be cap­tured on film.”

“Don’t for­get to visit Cen­tral Perk for a cof­fee,” he ex­horted at the end of the tour. “Ev­ery­one thinks Friends was filmed in New York,” he laughed glee­fully. “But it wasn’t. It was made here. Here in Hol­ly­wood!”

Strictly speak­ing, the Warner Brothers stu­dio is in Bur­bank. Hol­ly­wood is seven miles south and down­town Los An­ge­les is a fur­ther seven miles.

Greater Los An­ge­les has a pop­u­la­tion of around 18 mil­lion and sprawls across 34,000 square miles. Ev­ery­one, it seems, is in the “business”.

“My wife is a writer, screen­plays,” ex­plained Alan, our Span­ish­colom­bian-venezue­lan-amer­i­can taxi driver. “And I have just ap­plied to Dream­works for a job, I do com­puter graph­ics. If I get it, my dream will have come true,” he added, with­out a hint of em­bar­rass­ment. Dreams are what built LA.

“We have over 100 movie peo­ple liv­ing here,” said Steven, the gar­ru­lous owner of our camp­site.

“One of our res­i­dents has been here since 1947, Frank Gar­vey. Lovely old man. Used to play with Tony Ben­nett.”

With rents start­ing at around $2,000 a month, lit­tle won­der that even well-paid film folk, like makeup artists or ses­sion mu­si­cians, choose to live in a mo­bile home on the edge of the city instead of in a down­town apart­ment.

Only movie stars can af­ford Venice Beach or Bev­er­ley Hills. Or the new moguls of LA, the tech bil­lion­aires.

And it seems, own­ers of 10-acre RV parks. “Land sells for $4 mil­lion an acre in LA,” Steve told us, non­cha­lantly. “Home De­pot wants to buy our site, but I have said no.”

He laughed as I croaked, “$40 mil­lion ...”

Cal­i­for­nia is the world’s fifth biggest econ­omy, worth a stag­ger­ing $2.7 tril­lion per year. Its GDP is big­ger than the UK or France.

It is proud of its multi-cul­tural iden­tity. A third of San Fran­cisco’s pop­u­la­tion was born out­side of Amer­ica. There are more His­panic peo­ple (39.1 per cent) than white (37.2 per cent) liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia.

It is an ag­gres­sively pro­gres­sive state, with the high­est sales tax and wealth tax rates in the coun­try, and the rev­enue is used to fund large pub­lic spend­ing pro­grammes.

The Hol­ly­wood ver­sion of Cal­i­for­nia is a place where the sun shines all the time, where ev­ery­one, black, white, gay, straight, young, old, lives to­gether in har­mony.

A place where the best minds from across the globe are cre­at­ing a brave new world, where there is an app for ev­ery­thing, and ev­ery­thing is an app.

But real life is not the movies. One in three of all Amer­i­cans who re­ceive wel­fare live in Cal­i­for­nia. It has the high­est poverty rate in the coun­try – 20 per cent, caused largely by the high cost of hous­ing. Home­less­ness is en­demic. And there is a grow­ing di­vide be­tween those with ca­reers in the lu­cra­tive en­ter­tain­ment and tech in­dus­tries, around a third, and the 50 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion who work in the low-wage ser­vice sec­tor. The sun does shine all the time, how­ever. Re­lent­lessly.

As we wan­dered along Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard, choked with tourists search­ing for their favourite star on the side­walk, we de­cided we had to see a movie in Hol­ly­wood.

There is noth­ing quite like a cinema on a Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, and just like our mul­ti­plex back home, the state-of the-art movie theatre on Sun­set Boule­vard was al­most empty. Five of us watched Spike Lee’s lat­est epic Blackkklansman in a room built for 500.

As the magic of a film-maker at the height of his pow­ers drew us in, we were trans­ported back to 1970s Colorado Springs, where racism was as ubiq­ui­tous as flares and a young white su­prem­a­cist, David

Duke, was busy re-brand­ing the Ku Klu Klan.

“Amer­ica First,” chanted his hooded men. “I want to make it great again,” in­toned Duke.

As the film ended on a high note, we were, shock­ingly, pulled back into Trump’s Amer­ica. The mur­der­ous vi­o­lence of last year’s Char­lottesville ri­ots flashed on to the big screen.

Neo-nazis and the Ku Klux Klan screamed their vile ha­tred as a young woman, Heather Heyer, was mown down and killed on live TV by a Dodge Charger, al­legedly driven by a white su­prem­a­cist.

And to the ev­i­dent de­light of David Duke, still head of the Klan 40-odd years later, Pres­i­dent Trump’s voice then boomed out, “there was blame on both sides”.

Hol­ly­wood. The place where peo­ple are paid hand­somely to lie to us. Only some­times, a movie can tell us a truth that is al­most too much to bear. Amer­ica, are you lis­ten­ing?

In Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman, the magic of a film­maker at the height of his

PIC­TURE: DAVID LEE/FO­CUS FEA­TURES

pow­ers tells a truth al­most too much to bear

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