WHAT IS SELF-EXILED POLLSTER AND FORMER WEST WING CONSULTANT PATRICK Caddell doing at Winona Ryder's shoplifting trial? Two weeks ago America's most incensed political insider was upbraiding Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's touchy-feely guru, Marianne Williamson, at Ed Asner's house. A few weeks before that, he was cajoling Richard Riordan to launch a write-in bid for governor -- Caddell hates Gray Davis that much. He regularly turns up at Arianna Huffington's Brentwood salons, and can be seen on CNN, excoriating hypocritical liberal Democrats, as only a wounded idealist can. Angry, never soft-spoken, always defiant, he is as politically supercharged as the small-voiced Ryder is quiescent. Yet here he is, during a break in the trial Friday, leaning in to Ryder, jawboning away as she smiles in apparent agreement. Who knows how much of this she's getting -- how much anyone would get -- since Caddell is famous for speaking in sentences formed in a linear accelerator.
"This is just as big as the Chicago 7 trial, really," Caddell spits out, on the same day former Sony chief Peter Guber and two other Hollywood-connected jurors are sworn in to sit in judgment of the 31-year-old actress. Without a pause, Caddell adds, "I never met her until yesterday," as if that completes the thought. Strange as it sounds, the non sequitur makes sense. Caddell has volunteered to monitor the case for Ryder's lawyer, Mark Geragos, not because of the personal connection -- he was a close friend of Timothy Leary, who, it is well-known, was Ryder's godfather -- but as a matter of principle.
"Back in January," he explains, "following the week that saw seven Marines sacrifice their lives in Afghanistan, one of the newsmagazines devoted its cover to Winona Ryder. Before we knew the charges, she was just being annihilated. I was so outraged because people had died the week before -- and the magazines went right back to character attacks. For two days they had to pretend that they were upset about September 11, and then it was back to business as usual. The rapacious appetite for dismembering and devouring celebrities, sports figures and political officials was and remains as insatiable as ever. The D.A. and the press were flaying her alive. It was open season on her, with insidious gossip about her boyfriends and twisted childhood anecdotes. I was on TV and said, 'Cool it' -- a call to civility, détente in the politics of personal destruction. Vaclav Havel talks about making people into consumers. The last thing big media and the government want is for the American people to become involved."
When L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley filed felony theft charges, Caddell phoned Geragos to offer his help. "This is not a legal process, it is pure politics," Caddell told the attorney. "The D.A.'s political ambitions required making a legal mountain out of a molehill. She is the political sacrificial lamb. You have a celebrity, so you campaign on a celebrity. It was easy: She looks defenseless. They don't give a shit about her." Nor, by implication, her crime. If it were strictly a matter of shoplifting, Caddell says, lesser charges would have been filed. He cites an article in The National Review, home turf for his political opponents, written by Joel Mowbray. "According to an NBC News study of L.A. County records," Mowbray reported on September 30, "none of the other 5,000 people prosecuted for shoplifting in the last two years has been hit with such harsh charges -- and in two specific cases in Beverly Hills where the alleged amount stolen exceeded that in Ryder's case, both defendants pleaded out with misdemeanors -- something that prosecutors have adamantly refused to do for the movie star."
Nobody crusades quite like Pat Caddell. He lost 49 states for Walter Mondale, just as many for George McGovern, and all 50 for the New Coke. Now he's obsessed with the Cooley record. Only the institutional clout of O'Melveny & Meyers, he sputters, keeps the firm from being sued for the Belmont High fiasco. Deference to cops has clamped a lid on Rampart, and bought dirty cops the D.A.'s protection. "But the guy who exposes Rodney King II, in Inglewood, he's flown up to Northern California for a 5-year-old warrant. And the D.A. sends in eight people with guns drawn to search for a real estate contract that they could have subpoenaed in their investigation of the city's film board."
Still, you've got to wonder why Caddell is inflamed over the manipulation of a movie star who has the resources to defend herself. "If they will go after somebody like her, then nobody's safe," he blasts. "Little people aren't prosecuted for political reasons. They're there to rack up convictions." Cooley, in effect, is fulfilling his campaign slogan -- which he used against his rival, former D.A. Gil Garcetti. "Money talks, celebrities walk." Not this time. "Going after Ryder brings it into focus," Caddell says. "Corruption is a market principle. If you're poor, too bad. But I don't think there's a crooked bone in Cooley's body. This is Cooley, and Finley Peter Dunne [the 19th-century satirist] says it all: 'A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts in the case.' If they'll do this to her, what do you think they'll do to you? That's what's really scary."
And if they get a conviction?
Caddell snorts. "It won't happen."
IS THIS IT?: Out with the Hollywood that tries to succeed
IT'S 9:30 P.M., WEDNESDAY NIGHT and 21-year-old Jason Krause is playing Nintendo at the Strokes/Gamecube party at 6777 Hollywood Blvd., right next door to Snow White's Coffee Shop and the Hollywood Wax Museum.
"I'm a production assistant," says Jason. He wears a turquoise-and-white striped polo-style shirt, baseball cap and three almost fashionably placed pimples around the lower left-hand side of his mouth.
Around the corner, on Las Palmas, Christina Aguilera and her entourage of 10 are waiting in a black SUV. They've been there 20 minutes. The fire marshal isn't letting anyone else in -- not even Aguilera.
A surly publicist can't take it anymore. "I brought talent, I brought the Rolling Stone photographer. They're inside and I'm out here," she says to a young woman with a headset. "I'm trying to work with you guys to put on these events, but . . ."
"There's nothing I can do," explains the blond Nintendo rep. "I have celebrities waiting. Christina Aguilera is waiting."
Jason, how did you get in here tonight?
"I go to all the parties in L.A.," he says, maneuvering his "wavebird," the wireless remote that controls an animated boxer on one of 10 large screens in front of him.
Yeah, but tonight, how did you get in?
"I walked through the door. The door guys know me."
Did you get here early or something?
Back outside, a sallow, raccoon-eyed Eddie Furlong prepares to "walk the carpet" with his date, who explains their additional guest is "his publicist's assistant. His publicist is out of town."
Soon, the T2 bad boy finds himself waiting, cigarette dangling from his lips, for 20 minutes by the door to get in, along with former Baywatcher Traci Bingham.
Inside, Jason's having fun. The N.Y. transplant, who "rolled solo" tonight, moved to L.A. a year and a half ago to study acting at CalArts, but soon dropped out. "I never tell people about that," he says about his former creative interest. Since then, he's worked at Gemini G.E.L. on Melrose ("Good people," he says of his former bosses) and is now working on the Disney re-make of the Jodie Foster/Barbara Harris '70s gem Freaky Friday, this time starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Do you work as an office P.A. or on set?
"Both," says Jason, who carries his on-set ID badge in his pocket and "never really listened to the Strokes" before. "I don't want to be a P.A. I don't want to make movies."
What do you want to do?
Jason, who resembles actor/musician/Coppola cousin Jason Schwartzman, has actually been doing some informal scouting for one of the major labels. "It's been going pretty good," he says, but is reluctant to mention any names.
Eddie and Christina are finally inside, along with Leo DiCaprio, Kelly Osbourne, Paris Hilton, Shannen Doherty, Thora Birch, Donovan Leitch, Sean Patrick Flanery, Alicia Silverstone, Amanda De Cadenet and Fred Savage, all of whom are currently pressed against the stage to hear the last of the band's five songs. A characteristically greasy Julian Casablancas, in tattered jeans and a deconstructed overcoat, swings from the microphone, silently mouthing to himself "fuck you" between verses.
After the show, the crowd temporarily thins. Jason's gonna stick around. "There's nothing else going on tonight," he says, explaining that he lives so close he walked.
What about Pharmacy at Ivar?
"Boycott Bolthouse," says Jason haughtily about CoffeeHouse owner Brent Bolthouse, who promotes a weekly party at the new hotspot up the street. "I don't go to his parties."
A posse of male models who do go to Brent's parties cut out to do just that, cell phones in hand. Thora Birch is gonna stick around as well. Like Jason, the Ghost World actress came alone. "But I always see friends whenever I go out," she explains, surveying the room in a tight, red plaid schoolgirl mini. "It's been nice," she says, nursing a drink. "It's the expected crowd, I suppose."
How would you describe this crowd?
"Hollywood, East Hollywood, as in the actual city."
"Yeah, sure, if that's what you want to call it. The Hollywood that's trying to succeed, I guess."
A leather-clad Michelle Rodriguez and her date, Colin Farrell, just arrived and have beelined to the bar. When asked if she missed the band, the Blue Crush actress crinkles her nose and says, "Oops!" Does she care? Apparently not. Passing Farrell a drink, Rodriquez adds, "I'm a huge video-game fan."
Some time later, Jason walks down a now-vacant red carpet to say goodbye to his doormen friends. A few feet behind him an energetic Eddie Furlong bounces through the traffic cones, arms in the air, dodging cars. A motorcycle cop is annoyed.
L.A. MANNERS: No Laughing Matter
THE GETTY IS NOT YOUR CORNER movie house. Seeing a film there requires advance call-in booking, $5 parking reservations, plus a tram ride up the hilltop. And you better get there early if you want to get a good seat. Serious moviegoers come to the Getty -- or at least that's what I thought when I bought a ticket to watch Douglas Sirk's 1954 classic Magnificent Obsession.
Indeed, when Rock Hudson's millionaire bad boy first appeared onscreen, I was able to fully indulge the film geek within me. I thought about how Sirk's story of Hudson finding spiritual fervor in righting a cosmic wrong on behalf of Jane Wyman's blind widow played like a sermon delivered by a preacher still working out his feelings about faith and forgiveness. I remembered a recent press screening of Todd Haynes' loving, emotionally trenchant Sirk homage Far From Heaven, coming out soon, and realized again how Sirk's themes, his repertoire of socially conscious soaps, are as modern as ever.
Then suddenly . . . a laugh. I didn't notice a funny line -- what happened?
Another laugh rang out. Then another, rippling outward. Are they laughing at the movie?
Woman behind me: HAW! HAW! HAW! Man behind me: SNORT! SNORT! HA! Woman behind me: HAW! HAW! HAWWWWW!!!
They seemed loud enough to give Pete Townshend tinnitus all over again.
Is Magnificent Obsession kitschy? Gloriously. Is it an almost 55-year-old movie? From its line readings to its production design to its crescendo-laden score. Does it deserve the derisively snotty laughter that was permeating the Getty's Harold M. Williams auditorium? Absolutely not.
But the audience, I realized, was dividing into two factions: people there to admire Sirk, and people there to laugh. Mere shushing wasn't going to take care of the problem, either. This movement had followers. It was as if I were in grade school again, watching bullies take over the class. But did that make me a film nerd and the laughers the cool people? Was it an age thing? The guy and girl behind me -- the room's loudest -- seemed my age, mid-30s, maybe younger. A quartet of older moviegoers ahead of me -- there, perhaps, to fondly recall a film from their youth -- didn't laugh once.
Believe me, I know how to laugh at movies. I have a group of friends who regularly get together in someone's living room to ridicule iconic movies. I can't even say we've always kept our Mystery Science Theater 3000-ish fun to ourselves, once having memorably stormed the opening day of the Mariah Carey bomb Glitter to make public hash out of it. And I could definitely find the humor in the scene in which Hudson woos Wyman at a Swiss mountain village during a festive re-creation of a witch burning. But I was starting to get the picture that Rock Hudson's mere presence onscreen was setting off the laughter. Could it be that 20 years after his death people look at Hudson as a figure to mock? "Everything you do is funny because you were a secret homosexual!" the laughter seemed to say. It's a shame that his character's tortured secrecy (feeling responsible for Wyman's husband's death and wondering if anonymous philanthropy will ever heal his suffering) couldn't be seen as simply part of the rich performance that it was by an underappreciated actor.
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Then came the scene where Wyman's grieving widow gets hit by a car, and the couple behind me practically convulsed with laughter. This was too much for the Sirk lovers. A woman in my row bolted up and angrily worked her way to the aisle. "I have to move because I don't have a cork!" she said. Two men behind her seconded her motion toward a neck-straining but quieter front-and-side seat.
"What's the matter?" snorted Jerk Guy when he noticed the mini-exodus his behavior was causing. "Don't they know it's a comedy?"
Well, no, actually, we didn't. Sirk's film is an exquisite tragedy. But the saddest thing that night might have been the sight of the man to my left watching the film's climax -- Hudson taking his shirt off to prep for surgery on the brain of the woman who represents his salvation -- with his hands over his ears, as the couple behind him reached a pinnacle of mood-shattering braying.