Staying Power

by Nora Kletter
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cinespia.jpg

Cinespia screenings on the side of the mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery have been staples of Los Angeles summertime since their first screening in 2000. Still, I was too afraid to attend until last summer. I thought watching icon filled movies amidst the sleeping corpses of the icons themselves would be too tempting to their ghosts. Would not an actor or director or musician—narcissistic by trade—want to take a final curtain call? Wouldn’t the music of applause be enough to wretch their resting spirits from eternal slumber? So I left the screenings to burgeoning hipsters and longtime cinephiles and chose to rent classic movies at Vidiots instead.

I now love the screenings, so last Saturday when my friends asked me to join them at the cemetery to watch Elia Kazan's Cain and Abel classic East of Eden starring the James Dean, I said yes. However, like the great films themselves, going to the Hollywood Forever screenings is quite a production.

First of all, no one just goes to the movie. You must bring a picnic complete with all the necessary accoutrements. To get a good viewing spot, you must line up hours before the cemetery gates open. Parking is a nightmare. And should you chose to park your car in the cemetery, saving you the hassle of schlepping all your picnic supplies across the graveyard, you will almost certainly be watching from the sidelines or directly under a deafening speaker. And, because you will be at the cemetery for so long, casting your picnic can be a challenge.

Like any Hollywood party, dining at Hollywood Forever is a spectator sport.  Some moviegoers will have tealight candles in inflated balloons. Others will produce full sushi banquets from fancy coolers on wheels. Inevitably the fancier people get, the more room there is for picnic disaster.  While a brioche, ricotta, arugula, and smoked turkey panini may sound delicious, by dinner it's going to look like expensive mush. I choose to go with something classic. After all, Icons are icons for a reason--they have staying power. So my all-star picnic food is always a Salami Sandwich with Balsamic Vinegar, Tomato, Cucumber, Basil, and Spinach on a Pretzel roll.

My Salami sandwich has staying power because Salami, unlike other meats, which also last but seem to lose something in texture, taste, and appearance, maintains it’s original properties for hours unrefrigerated. A pretzel roll will not smush if it falls under a bottle of wine in my “Green is Gorgeous” burlap tote. A little Balsamic vinegar goes a long way, adding a splash of flavor without making the bread soggy. Unlike lettuce, spinach doesn’t easily wilt and serves as moisture guard between the tomato, cucumber and the roll. Not to mention, a Salami sandwich doesn’t require utensils. So, while other screening attendees struggle to get their flambé flambé-ing, I relax, glass of wine in one hand, salami sandwich in the other grooving to the soul sounds of the DJ, and watching the slide show of iconic film posters projected on the side of the mausoleum as we, the audience, wait for the film to begin.

But the screening last Saturday felt different from the others. There was something more poignant about celebrating the iconography of old Hollywood, this movie, and James Dean. farrah_fawcett.jpgAs the slide show of classic and camp film posters ended a 70s image of Farrah Fawcett graced the side of the mausoleum. A hush fell over the crowd, all of us too aware that we were standing in a cemetery mere days after the former Angel had fallen. No one knew what to do, there was nothing to do, she was gone.

Finally, someone clapped and everyone followed suit. The slide show continued projecting more and more iconic images of Farrah from the 70s and 80s: Farrah in the red bathing suit, Farrah with her fellow Angels, Farrah on the cover of Playboy. The hoots and hollers got louder and louder as it became clearer and clearer: this was not a wake, this was not a memorial, this was a celebration full of laughter, whimsy, light and feathered hair.

As the last image disappeared from the side of the mausoleum and the Charlie’s Angeles theme concluded. The DJ put on Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop 'Til Your Get Enough” the first single off his 1979 classic album “Off The Wall.” Picnic blanket by picnic blanket, groups of hipsters and cinephiles got up to dance.

Silhouetted against the palm trees our bodies swayed in rhythm. No one called Michael “Jacko,” or spoke of babies dangling from balconies, his ever-changing skin color, or his other indiscretion. No one attempted to eulogize, instead we said “wouldn’t it be cool if they screened the Thriller Video” and attempted to moonwalk on grass. We discussed which videos were our favorites and the moments in our lives we will forever associate with the song “Man in the Mirror.”

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photo Damian Strohmeyer

All icons have their dark hours. Part of what makes them icons is the way in which they remind us of the persistence of tragedy in the human condition. After, all James Dean is as famous for his fiery car crash as he is for his performances. But whether they succumbed to outer demons like Farrah with her epic, heroic, and public battle with cancer or inner demons like Michael, what keeps them icons is not their darkness but their light.

I don’t know how I know these images of Farrah. I’ve never read Playboy. I wasn’t born when Charlie’s Angels was on the air, and, a fact most don’t recall, she was only on the show for a single season. But, even at 12 years old, when my naturally wispy hair would feather, I would announce I was having a “Farrah day.” For most of my life, Michael had been a figure of scandal and the bulk of his big hits dropped while I was still in Elementary school. Still, I sang “Dirty Diana” to my college roommate, Diana, when she met a boy or needed a shower.

I’m not afraid of the Hollywood Forever screenings anymore because I know the icon’s ghosts won’t rise. Not because ghosts aren’t real—though, rest assured, they aren’t—but because the icons are always among us. They exist eternally as part of a persistent pop cultural vernacular—a collective memory. And as I shook my booty and sang “Keep on with the force, don’t stop 'til you get enough,” I reached in my purse and pulled out a single glove garnering a number of giggles, nods of respect, and disapproving head shakes from those in my immediate vicinity. I realized there is a reason we call this cemetery Hollywood Forever. Some things have staying power: Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and my Salami Sandwich.

For info about the Hollywood Forever Screenings please visit: www.cinespia.org

 

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