SCOTT KING, A 36-YEAR-OLD FILMMAKER FROM SILVER LAKE, RECENTLY shocked his many friends, admirers and hangers-on by announcing his intention to sell, dump or donate nearly everything he owns. This was no small proposition: King, the heir of a Bay Area banking fortune, has spent much of his adult life amassing and fetishizing huge collections of old weird stuff.
Rarely spotted out of a suit, fedora and stubby tie, his lapel dotted with a Nixon button or union pin, King, until recently, looked less like a trust-fund hipster than a thuggish homicide detective, circa 1946. But unlike the zoot-suited swingers who spawned the now quaint mid-'90s revival of all things '40s -- "those people are so retarded they should wear helmets," he spat at the time -- King's rejection of most things new-fangled went far beyond clothes. He outfitted his house with a network of pneumatic tubes and coated the walls in paper decorated with the logo of the WPA. Last year he hired an artist friend to build a nine-hole miniature golf course on his property, each hole modeled after a period landmark (on hole No. 4, the ball takes a spin around the brim of the Brown Derby). Apart from an enthusiasm for big Hollywood blockbusters -- he goes to the movies about 250 times a year and claims the Bruce Willis musical Hudson Hawk as one of his favorite films -- King always found a way to spend his life far removed from the rest of the world.
So it was with some alarm that friends began noticing changes in King late last year. He was spotted, it was said, getting out of a late-model station wagon wearing a plain T-shirt and khakis. His hair had grown out. He mentioned something about selling the house and scouting real estate in Malibu. He was in therapy.
"Scott King's tired . . . That's right . . . Tired . . . of his empty materialism!" proclaimed the invitation to a July 4 sale King arranged at his home. "After a great mystical journey, he's realized how his possessions have served only to enslave him. And now they can enslave you . . . At low, low prices!"
Among the items going for next to nothing were 400 pieces of Franciscan pottery, an Addams Family pinball machine, a writing desk from the early 1900s and surprisingly substantial remnants of a brief but intense obsession with puppy-dog stickers. That was just downstairs. Up the creaky staircase, friends squeezed into a closet packed with suits and jewelry, inspected a selection of vintage guitars and pawed through boxes overflowing with props and memorabilia from King's first feature, Treasure Island, a black-and-white mystery he made three years ago about World War II intelligence officers remarkable mostly for its complete period accuracy.
Outside, a few steps from the grill where King spent most of the afternoon in a plume of pungent barbecue smoke, the hood of his 1939 BMW opened to reveal an immaculately restored engine, the whole gleaming headache available for $20,000, half of what King paid for it two years ago.
King hoped to end the day with little more than the clothes on his back and the tongs in his fist. He was thrilled, he insisted, to be rid of the rest of all of it, the accumulated evidence of a life he's determined to walk away from forever.
What brought King to this point? He talks about a postSeptember 11 fit of reflection. King is far from patriotic and didn't know anyone hurt or killed in the attacks, but coming at a time when he was already mulling over the meaning of his life, the events prompted a complete mental and physical overhaul.
"For the first few days afterward, everyone was going around saying, 'We now know what life is about -- it's about your friends and your family and connecting and that's it. All that other stuff, politics and money and fashion and everything else, it's all bullshit, and we know it.' And then after three days, most people went right back to it. And I just don't want to go back."
Satisfied that he now possesses nothing less than "the meaning of life" -- "other people, and food, obviously," he says simply -- King suddenly can't see the need for all the clothes, the collections, the stuff. Things he once found fascinating now look like distractions or, worse, tools of intimidation. "I thought I was just being cool or challenging or intriguing," he says. "But I was really just kind of scary."
He now hopes to find a tiny house on a big plot in Point Dume, where he'll work on his next movie -- this one a thriller about the end of the world set in contemporary Russia -- and live an uncluttered life with his two beloved dogs and a wardrobe of J.Crew basics. That may or may not be just another big affectation, but one can only root for the new King . . . and perhaps take advantage of a good sale. King's 1939 Seeberg jukebox stocked with vintage 78s may be a distraction and tool of intimidation, but for $400 I couldn't resist. I also came home with three double-breasted suits, a stack of pulp paperbacks (Flesh Therapist!, Dead Yellow Women!) and one happy discovery: One man's existential crisis is another's bargain bonanza.