The Cemetery Show: What Lies Beneath 


RAYMOND CHANDLER PROBABLY SAID MORE THAN he knew when he declared that Hollywood "worships death." What would he say if he saw the crowd that gathered Saturday night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to see Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, a film for which Chandler wrote the screenplay's first draft? Whatever the post-postmodern intentions of Cinespia, the nonprofit group that sponsors this summer series, watching a black-and-white film like Strangers in this place is a latticed experience, to say the least: Farley Granger and Robert Walker face off over their scotch-and-waters, framed by Hitch's camera, in turn framed by the blank, white wall of a mausoleum, in turn framed by tall palm trees jutting out above the audience like enormous sprigs of wheat, in turn surrounded by gleaming, glittering, impeccably kept gravesites and memorials awash in ice-white moonlight. Practically everyone in the film is now dead yet still frozen in youth (with the possible exception of Leo G. Carroll); everyone on the lawn was wishing they were frozen in youth too.

It really hasn't hit them yet, has it? Anyone who has ever wandered a graveyard looking for the plots of their loved ones ("I thought it was right here . . .") can attest to the similar feeling of stumbling through a dark theater, or across this very lawn, looking for the one holding your spot ("Laura? Colin? Helloooo?"). Hitchcock's paranoia is infectious in this place. How many people sitting in their camping chairs or spread out on their blankets, picking at their salami and cheese and crackers, smoking their cigarettes and sipping their champagne, are envious of -- hell, actually feel sorry for -- Robert Walker's foppish, childish Bruno?

Granger's square, moralistic tennis player, we know, is closer to us -- and we don't like it. When Bruno intones, "I think a person should do everything before they die," this gets the biggest response of the night. "Everybody is a potential murderer," Bruno goes on to say, and one wonders of all the perfect murder(er)s that lay under our cabana chairs and blankets: Marion Davies, who perhaps knew the real secret to how Thomas Ince died on Hearst's boat; Bugsy Siegel and Harry Cohn, gangsters of different stripes but of twin hearts; Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, who was shot to death in a fight over a $50 dog reward; Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who blew a hole in his wife's head after accusing her of conspiring with the pope against the U.S. government; Virginia Rappe, violated by a Coke bottle that punctured her bladder during a party in Fatty Arbuckle's suite at San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel; and director William Desmond Taylor, next to the Black Dahlia perhaps Hollywood's greatest unsolved killing.

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When Bruno admits to his "silly" plot to blow up the White House, the perfect autumn murder of 3,000 comes to mind -- like those onscreen and underground, the young lunatics who flew those planes may have died, but they did "get away with it," eternally young in the blast of an instant.

Had he been sitting next to me on the lawn, Chandler might have to amend: "Hollywood worships death and youth so closely that they become interchangeable."

There seemed to be no neutral ground as people slowly dispersed to their cars at the film's end. Not all of them may have made it home, either.

--Matthew Duersten

RECOVERY: Pins and Needles

OF THE ROUGHLY 20 PEOPLE SEATED IN A SEMIcircle at the Casa de Rosas women's shelter in South-Central, all but three are middle-aged black women. All but one are struggling with addiction issues -- crack, heroin, methadone, methamphetamines, alcohol, marijuana -- and are either in active detox or extended recovery. Yet it is the last one -- a white, male journalist rendered suddenly useful as a makeshift guinea pig -- who now sits with clusters of needles protruding from both ears, as the others marvel at his apparent stamina. For all practical purposes, he looks like the guy in Hellraiser.

"Who knows what acupuncture is?" asks Erin Holloway, a licensed practitioner and instructor.

Candy raises her hand tentatively. "I think it involves needles, which control the nerve endings, which control sensors, which control things that we need to control."

Everyone, Holloway included, agrees this is a reasonable explanation. And although the ensuing lecture involves "freeway meridians" and the flow of chi, or energy, and close readings of the Serenity Prayer, these women have come here out of desperation, and are willing to take the explanation on faith, since they've tried everything else.

Tonight is the first night of an eight-week, three-times-a-week "acudetox" program of auricular acupuncture, which employs five pressure points in each ear. The program is administered on an experimental basis under the auspices of Yo San University in Marina del Rey, a four-year, nonprofit, accredited facility for training healers in the art of Chinese medicine. At the end of the eight weeks, in September, the university hopes to attract a third-party institution such as nearby USC to replicate the study and corroborate the anticipated results, with the findings to be published in a reputable medical journal. From there, a standardized drug-detox program could proliferate as far and wide as our Starbucks nation.

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