This is an extremely happy family. There is no pouting. There are no temper tantrums, no fights. It’s all very loving. I am getting emotional as I watch. Don’t all families start out like this? Isn’t it all good in the beginning? That is, at least until puberty, when teenage angst, sex, drugs and rock & roll usually darken the picture? I am reminded of my own family films. The era is about right. The camera motions are similar. The film stock looks about the same. Even the maudlin soundtrack is reminiscent of the time.
Our family films were shot at hotel pools in Miami. Outside the summer bungalows of the Catskills. In apartment buildings around New York City. Yet, all of these home movies are the same. I’m sure you have your own. As I watch, I feel myself longing for that idealized childhood. Playing with my brothers in the ocean at Coney Island. My father held the camera then, just like this father is doing, doting on his offspring, hypnotized by their every move. I am getting more and more depressed. Having lost my mother recently, I don’t want to watch this any longer.
Yet, somehow I feel compelled to continue. I pick up another DVD, labeled: “LOS ANGELES: August-September 1997, February-March 2000.”
On the cover is a color photo of the Hollywood sign. Okay, lemme have just a quick glance to see what the hell this is and then I’m going to bed.
I stick the thing in the machine and kick back for two seconds before I spring to the edge of my bed. WTF? The doting mother from the Parisian Christmas of 1973 is now standing on a balcony of the freakin’ Saharan Motor Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. She’s explaining in French about shopping at “Rock & Roll” Ralphs supermarket, seen in the background.
I know it’s the Saharan Motor Hotel in 1997, not only because I can see Ralphs in the background, but also because I used to stay there in 1997, when I was still a bicoastal New Yorker. This is weird.
It has been 14 years since I’ve seen the French mom, but she hasn’t aged a bit. She has a shorter hairdo and seems to have put on five pounds, but other than that, I feel like I know her from her earlier film work.
She then goes downstairs and enters the tiny AstroTurf-encircled motel pool. They are a robust people, these French.
EXT. HOLLYWOOD CAFÉ — SUMMER 1997
The now-defunct Louis XIV restaurant on La Brea Avenue near Melrose. Omigod. It’s him! It’s the kid I have watched grow from an 18-month-old that Christmas. Now he’s around 25, tall, handsome and ponytailed. Dressed in a smart black-silk bowling shirt with white piping, black slacks and black Adidas. Wait. This can’t be his style, it’s his uniform. He is a waiter here at Louis XIV.
We’re now overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A rental car. A road trip. He is showing his parents the views. The young Frenchman is dressed in a hip military jacket and blue jeans. His long brown hair is down and he cups a Pentax camera in his palm like a professional photographer.
EXT. DEATH VALLEY
A sign reads: “Badwater.” Tourists mill about. The son stands tall in the shimmering desert heat. In a rock T-shirt and jeans, long windblown black hair, he looks like a cross between Joey Ramone and Jim Morrison. A sign reads: “Devil’s Golf Course.”
EXT. DESERT HIGHWAY
Mom stands beneath a stilted narrow sign that reads: “Entering Nevada.”
Mom and son stroll around the casino. Clanging slot machines are everywhere. I am wondering what this French family thinks of all this, when suddenly the giant hand of a security guard enters the frame and we hear: “You’ll have to turn that camera off!”
EXT. MANN’S CHINESE THEATRE — SEPTEMBER 1997
Night. The world premiere of L.A. Confidential. Lights. Cops. Fans. Period music. Oh, wow, there’s Kim Basinger. So beautiful. So blonde. So still Mrs. Baldwin.
Mom, dressed in a shocking-pink pullover and multicolored stretch pants, points to a plaque that reads: “Marilyn Monroe 1926–1962.” FADE TO BLACK
I take out the DVD and lie back on my bed. It’s now 2 a.m. and I’m really depressed. I think it’s the mother-and-son combination. My divorced mother had schlepped me around to many resort areas in her search for a new husband and a new life. Much of the footage I have seen in our family films shows me vacationing with my mom at various beaches and hotel pools.
Her sudden death, my transfer of our family films to DVD, and now my watching an anonymous French family’s home movies for hours have apparently kicked up a lot of shit in me. Feelings I really do not want to have at this point. I tell myself I am not doing this again. I have a DVD box in my hand. I am notgoing to open it.