|Photo by Issa Sharp|
ENTHRONED IN HIS BIG VELVET ARMCHAIR IN the cavernous Vogue theater, Beeaje Quick calls for a break. He removes his straw boater and leans his bald head forward. A makeup artist named Susanna rushes up to dust his pate with a gigantic brush. James and Alex, two young assistants who are propping up the lighting, shift to a resting position. They work as unpaid interns for Quick, who likens his relationship with them to that between master and student in the film The Karate Kid. Just as Pat Morita made young Ralph Macchio wash his car and scrub his floor, so does Quick enlist James and Alex. “I teach them how to clean things well,” he explains. “If you can't clean a mirror properly, how are you going to be able to make a beautiful piece of art?”
Today, the interns are excused from Windex 101 to help out with the photo shoot for this story, which Quick has turned into a full-on production. He started the day by stipulating the exact poses he wants — for this one, in the velvet chair in the darkened theater, he expects as close a replica as possible of a shot that appeared in Detour a decade ago, when the magazine featured his short-lived Hollywood café. He fixes his soft-edged face in a brooding expression, directs the use of lights and resists the photographer's attempts to change the pose –pouting anytime she tries.
Quick's entourage watches from the nearby rows of seats. Rana Joy Glickman, who is co-producing his first feature film, is here with her dog DaVinci on her lap. She's joined by the girlfriend contingent: current flame Lorinda Earl, and exes Tashia Hales, at heart a sculptor but who these days works on television commercials, and Eddie Daniels, an actress and the dialogue coach on the film.
As they eat Hershey bars and pass around a silver flask of something pungent and fruity, Quick makes a point of apologizing for the “awkwardness” of having all these past and present paramours in one room. But his actions suggest otherwise. He calls Earl his “beloved,” then gives Daniels a long hug. He caresses Hales' cheek, holds her hand and compliments her on her “soulfulness” and “incredible beauty.” He addresses every woman in the room, including the makeup artist, the photographer and me, as “darling,” “baby” and “love.” It is the Quick seduction laid bare. “I work with women 90 percent of the time,” he said in an earlier conversation. “Women have patience. The cliché of standing by your man is just very true.”
The ranks of the Quick faithful extend far beyond his romantic entanglements. Investment bankers, art dealers and movie executives, not to mention MTV and the AFI, have all swooned for him and his art. He is continually discovered, perhaps because he is a quixotic self-promoter, perhaps because he is a genuine original — a rarity in Hollywood. Beeaje Quick sculpts, writes and makes films, but his greatest creation may well be himself.
Being on the verge can be a lifelong career.
THE VOGUE THEATER, AN OLD, SHUTTERED MOVIE palace on Hollywood Boulevard, until recently housed only the ghosts that the Society for the Paranormal says make it one of the most haunted sites in L.A. Now, unlikely objects of all sorts fill the dim lobby: a blacklit sketchbook inside an incubator; a line of bottles filled with red liquid in a long glass case; another case holding a series of rusty tools; a massive iron buoy housing a frail, child-size â mannequin. To the left of the concession stand, an angular chrome figure sits on an exercise bike. Suddenly it springs to life, pedaling steadily and emitting a crunching, industrial clamor. Then, as abruptly as it started, the pedaling stops, and Quick appears on the stairs. Tonight he is not only the star and director of the film he's about to show, but the theater's manager, concessionaire and projectionist.
“Hello, everyone,” he says in his Australian accent. “Come on up.”
The stairway is lined with luminarias, the walls covered with framed drawings accompanied by typewritten observations. All of the artwork is his, though often when people come for a screening and ask to meet the artist, he'll introduce them to his girlfriend. A slender woman with smiling eyes, high cheekbones and a huge, dreadlocked bun, Lorinda Earl has lived at the theater with Beeaje (pronounced bee-AZH) since shortly after he moved in a year ago. She doesn't much appreciate his little joke, and she's working to break him of the habit. “It makes me feel stupid,” she says, “because it isn't my art.” Her favorite Quick drawing is one of a heart in which the lines at the bottom don't meet; instead, one turns into a downward-pointing arrow. The saying that goes with it reads: “Misery is the gravity of happiness.”
Upstairs, in a drafty office, Quick sits behind his desk in his red-velvet chair. There aren't enough seats for everyone, so some are left to stand around awkwardly or lean on things. Our host launches into a dramatic account of how he came to Hollywood from Australia 15 years ago, when he was 20, and was all but homeless. “I was a lonely kid walking around the streets of the world,” he says wistfully. “Some children have imaginary friends. And some people just believe they're in a movie.” He talks about how it's taken him years to make his film, titled Real Stories of the Donut Men, and how he has a 10-year lease on the Vogue and big plans to open the space to all kinds of artists and independent filmmakers. “From an artist's perspective, I'm in the best place I could hope to be,” he says. “People are extremely hungry in Hollywood to find a place that has a little bit of soul.”
A reporter from an art magazine takes notes while everyone else listens politely. Finally Earl comes in and announces that it's showtime, and we head down to the theater. Built in 1936, it once held 800 seats, but Quick has torn out a bunch of the front rows and replaced them with a few old sofas. The room's size, instead of lending a grand and nostalgic air, makes it feel hollowed out.
Once a week or so, Quick hosts a night like this, inviting a few friends and friends of friends over for a screening of Donut Men, which was finished in 1997 and is still searching for a distributor. The film is the work of dozens of people, some of them known, such as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, many of them not. Actors and producers and musicians, bigwigs and buddies, people with connections, people with money — even Quick's close friends find it hard to explain such a strong show of support for the peculiar vision of someone almost entirely unproven. “Beeaje is a vortex of activity,” Earl ventures. “You just get sucked right in.”
Quick himself takes the celebrity attention in stride. “I'm an Aries and Quentin is an Aries,” he says. “Were a lot alike.”
One of Quick's biggest fans is Mark Ordesky, president of Fine Line Features, who says he is drawn to Quick's “aggressive irreverence.” He has one of Quick's line drawings, titled Decisions, hanging in his office. It's a sort of stick-figure version of The Scream. Below the figure is the line: “If you can't handle living your life now, you can always wait for it to come out on video.” Ordesky says the piece captures perfectly the tensions he confronts each day. “If you do the job that I do,” he says, “your whole job is about grappling with decisions.”
As for Donut Men, Ordesky is unsparing in his praise. “When I first saw the film, it reminded me of filmmakers Fine Line had cut its teeth on — Waters, Herzog, Godard — filmmakers clearly marching to their own drummer,” he says. “It's not a direct comparison, but he's got a full aesthetic. He is not aping any particular genre. He's definitely on his own wavelength.”
The only light in the theater, a green-shaded banker's lamp on a table near the sofas, clicks off. The room goes black, and the onscreen part of the evening's show begins. Donut Men can best be described as slapstick black comedy. Shot in black and white, it follows the antics of two boy rebels — one of them, named God — who impersonate L.A. motorcycle cops for a day. “In eight hours,” they vow, “this town will have a new asshole.” They coax a jilted bride off a suicide ledge and then shoot her, rob a blind Indian shopkeeper, dis the Westside (“where white people have more hair than brains”) and beat up a Mexican man selling oranges from a shopping cart. They make “homo” jokes, but wear lipstick and exchange erotic caresses. They apprehend a bank robber, steal his take and then, through their own greediness, lose the cash, which ends up in the hands of two of their victims. “In a fucked-up world,” Quick's character concludes, “it's the antihero who will become the ultimate hero.”
The green light clicks back on and the audience sits. Wordless. Perhaps stunned. It's a mercurial movie, by turns clever, crass and dull. But questions of artistic merit are beside the point. Because once you've been inducted into the world of Beeaje, it's impossible to separate the film from the art from the books from the life story — from the all-around production that is Quick, Inc.
“The funny thing is,” Ordesky muses, “five years from now what he's doing will be recognized and established. But it's a hard trail to blaze.”
Remove the condom from your spirit, infect people with creativity and let the epidemic reign.x
THE SUNDAY AFTER THE SCREENING, A FAULTY extension cord sparked a fire in the middle of the theater. Quick wasn't there, and neither was Earl. When smoke began pouring out of the building, a neighboring shopkeeper called the fire department.
Just as firefighters broke in through the glass front door, a woman named Ondi Timoner happened to be driving by. A documentary filmmaker with a fledgling production company called Interloper, Timoner is an admirer of Quick's work, especially a kinetic sculpture called the Table of Contents, which she describes as a “dream meter.”
The work, which is set up in a small room off the theater lobby, consists of a large black sphere — Timoner likes to think of it as a crystal ball — anchored at the center of a chrome-topped table. Eight metal legs extend from the sphere, each attached to a miniature message board embedded in the tabletop. Various messages repeat across the boards in glowing red LED letters to an eerie, carnival-like tune, which turns out to be a recording of Gypsies blowing into bottles. “Vulnerability is the price one pays to open the gates of inspiration” is the message that affects Timoner most deeply. “If you're not vulnerable you can't be inspired,” she says. “I would say it like that, but he says it poetically. He's the kind of artist whose work spurs on other artists. He's like a magician.”
When she saw the theater on fire, Timoner went into a panic. Without thinking, she leapt from her car and pushed past the firefighters. “They were trying to stop me, but they couldn't,” she says. “I had to see if his art was okay.”
All in all, the fire damage totaled about $15,000 and left the theater walls coated in an oily residue. To release the smoke, firefighters punched craggy holes through the ceilings. The sofas were burned to cinders, the green lamp destroyed and the video projector melted beyond repair. Yet aside from taking on an aggressive odor of fusty barbecue, Quick's artwork was unscathed.
Quick seems humbled by Timoner's apparent willingness to risk her life to save his art — as he points out, he barely knows her. Yet when he tells her story — which he does repeatedly in the days following the incident — he uses it to illustrate the effect his artworks can have on people. “They have a lot of emotional value,” he says. “People see themselves in the work and can relate.”
A few days later, Quick paces his office and reflects on the near-disaster. He's wearing his straw boater and a floor-length lavender caftan that emanates smoke. “It's heartbreaking,” he says. “To think that everything I've ever done could be gone. I have no idea what that means.”
In the most literal sense, it would have meant the obliteration of a carefully constructed personal history, because most of his works are, pretty literally, about him. The incubated sketchbook in the lobby, titled The Story of My Life by Beeaje Quick, is filled with 11,571 “original symbols” that took him a year to complete and, he says, caused arthritis in his right hand. Each symbol is about an inch square, executed in felt-tip pen and composed of a combination of spirals, slashes and angles; though they are abstract, most contain at least one small circle, suggestive in placement and proportion of a human head. A small note attached to the incubator reads: “Conviction begins where patience ends, or my pen was my penance.” Another work, the child mannequin in the iron buoy, â was made with the help of a few friends. A spotlight is trained on the mannequin's melancholy expression, and a question is neatly painted on the wall above: “Why did you burst my bubble?” During one conversation, Quick points to the doll. “It's very emotional for me,” he says. After a pause, he adds, “That's me.”
It's also the piece that most captivated Avi Amiel, publisher of Art Connoisseur, a Beverly Hillsbased journal that shot an eight-page spread on Quick's work for its next issue. The mannequin in the buoy “goes back to the origin of life,” Amiel says. “Regardless of what we do, whether as an infant or an adult, we surround ourselves with a cocoon that prevents us from being ourselves.”
Amiel was an art dealer for 17 years before turning to publishing, handling Tamayo, Botero, Lichtenstein and Warhol, among others. He first saw Quick's work last fall, after being introduced by a mutual friend, and was so impressed that, he says, he would don his old dealer's cap to represent him. Quick's lack of formal training “adds a lot to his credibility,” Amiel says. “The fact that he was isolated from the art world has provided him with a platform and a vehicle to create what he really thinks, feels and wants without being influenced by other art. That's what makes his work so unique. No one can look and say 'It reminds me of someone else.'” He is already envisioning a museum show. “I am so moved by his work,” he says. “I think he can be anywhere.”
Amiel would also like to help Quick publish his latest book, 100 Things That Suck About L.A. Entries include: “All cult, no culture,” “You are who you eat” and “What you thought was a rainbow turns out to be another pollution-filtered sunset.” Amiel calls the book “hysterical.”
But Quick is unwilling — perhaps unable — to tolerate an agent. On the one hand, he says he knows nothing. On the other, he gives the strong impression that no one knows better than Beeaje. “I don't think my art is some global phenomenon,” he says. “It is what it is. People are touched by it. What more could I ask? Whether some expert comes and evaluates it and says it has value is irrelevant.”
The closest he comes to representation is Rana Joy Glickman, who is deeply invested in all aspects of Quick's creative output. One of the producers of Donut Men, she most recently produced the film version of Julia Sweeney's one-woman stage show, God Said, “Ha!” A self-described “Hinjew” (half Indian, half Jewish), she shows up at the Vogue for a post-fire meeting wearing a red dot on her forehead and a silver six-pointed star around her neck, along with a brown suede cowboy hat, a long cowgirl skirt in a sari-type fabric, and boots.
She embraces Quick and then sits in a chair near his desk, pulling DaVinci, whose dark, shaggy mane falls in dreadlocks, onto her lap. Glickman has been working on Donut Men for more than seven years. She says her career producing films is like a marriage, while her work with Quick plays the role of a lover, fulfilling her real desires. “I've established myself as a filmmaker,” she says, “when all I ever wanted to do was run off and make movies with Beeaje.” They are now in the process of making a documentary about Quick's life — she's producing, he's directing. It's called Rambo to Rembrandt: An Artist's Odyssey. They're doing it, Glickman says, because “I'm sick and tired of explaining him. And so is he.”
As the two talk, Earl pops in to remind Quick that the painter hired by Mann is here to assess the fire damage. He frowns. “I've been here for a year, and I've been living in fear,” he says. “Any time, they could take it back, especially now with the fire.”
But Mann has no intention of taking the theater back. The Chinese is just down the street, and Hollywood, it seems, does not generate enough revenue for Mann to turn a profit at two movie houses so close together. Joanne McClellan, manager of real estate for Weststar Cinemas Inc., confirms that the theater chain has signed a 10-year lease with Quick, that it plans to repair the damage at the Vogue and that Quick will stay on at the theater. “I've seen his artwork,” McClellan adds. “It's incredible.”
I've met everyone, except the real me.
BEYOND A FEW STANDARD LINES THAT HAVE BECOME a part of his mystique, Quick doesn't like to give too many details about his past. What he will say: He lived a comfortable middle-class life with his mother and father and older sister in South America until he was 10, when they moved to Australia. Family fortunes turned, and they struggled to make ends meet. The Australian kids didn't like him; he never really fit in. He didn't go to school much, but he liked to surf and watch movies and dreamed of being a movie star himself. That's about it.
And that's how Quick likes it. He seems to inhabit a slippery netherworld between reality and fabrication. He'll give his romanticized version of events, then, with some prodding, usually hand over the name and phone number of someone who provides a more factual account. He'll tell you he's written several books, then show you palm-size booklets of doodles and what he calls “metaphors.” But far from a calculated cover-up, it's more like an elaborate game. He creates the illusion, and it's up to you to verify or disprove, to accept his stories or to challenge them.
When I ask Quick if I might speak to his mother, Sofia Quick, who lives in Australia, he says she can't talk with me directly — because she recently went deaf — but agrees to let me send her questions by e-mail. When her responses arrive, of course, there's no way of knowing if they are another Beeaje Quick construct.
Sofia Quick writes that her son was born on April 12, 1964, in Buenos Aires, and that she and her husband were both born in Argentina. Beeaje's grandparents on her side were Russian. On her husband's side, his grandfather was Moroccan and his grandmother was Argentinean. The name Quick, Sofia says with her son's gift for gloss, was a matter of convenience. “We worked and traveled in countries where there was political duress,” she writes, “and it was common practice to change your name to suit the sensibility of the political climate.” As for her son's first name, the family called him BJ, which, she says, “eventually became Beeaje.”
Beeaje's father, Emanuel, was an engineer in South America for 22 years, but he “went bankrupt due to a company that wouldn't pay their bills.” When the family moved to Australia, Sofia took odd jobs sewing because her husband was unable to get recertified. She says they felt “weak and dysfunctional,” and that she turned to her son for support. “In these times, I thought it was more important to have a friend than have a son who was going to school.”
She confirms that Beeaje never properly learned to read and write, that he didn't speak English until he was 10. “He hated school and did everything to get out of going,” she says. “He even tried to join the navy, but he was too young, and he worked in a restaurant instead.” However, in his late teen years, Sofia says, her son decided he wanted to be a writer, and “became very self-conscious of having little skill to do so.” In order to learn, he “broke down the dictionary into little pieces of paper and hung them so the walls in his room looked like wallpaper of words and definitions.”
Between working and studying, his mother recalls, Beeaje had little time for socializing. “A beautiful girl used to wait around for him when he was working, and I finally told her my son was strange and to look for someone else. She kept waiting. When I asked him about the girl, he said, 'I'm going to America. I don't have time for that now.'”
Boldness asphyxiates the breath of mediocrity.
PEOPLE WHO KNOW BEEAJE QUICK CAN USUALLY remember the moment they met — it's often a turning point in their lives, or at least the beginning of an unlikely chapter. For Tashia Hales, that moment happened in 1985, the day before her 25th birthday. She was sitting in the shade in a friend's back yard in Sydney when Quick pulled up on a scooter, wearing a three-piece suit. They clicked immediately, and soon moved in together. “He was unique back then, even,” says Hales, who is slight and nymphlike, with clear blue eyes and a warm, open manner. She says she was drawn to Quick's enthusiasm and his ability to accomplish the impossible. “It's his will,” she says. “He'll say, 'I'm going to do this.' It seems insurmountable, but he'll do it.”
Within a year, the two moved to L.A. With no friends and very little money, they bought an old bus through an ad in the Recycler and moved in. Quick says it was “a piece of shit,” and Hales recalls that it was “painted in blue house paint and ugly as sin.” But, she says, “it had a bed and a shower and a heater and a carpet, and we could stand up straight.”
The bus became their constant project. They tinted the windows black, painted the outside red and paneled it with wood. Inside, they installed a bathtub and kitchen â with a working stove and laid a black-and-white tile floor. Then they cut a hole through the ceiling and built a rooftop deck, complete with wood flooring, a patio umbrella and a satellite dish. “Everything we had was going into the bus,” says Hales, who was supporting the effort by waitressing. Quick spent his time scouring the streets for usable stuff — wood, furniture, whatever he could find. “We met a guy who was really eccentric and who knew an incredible amount about construction,” Hales says. “He let us park the bus at his house, and he helped us build the deck.” The overall effect was charming and ingenious. “Everybody who came onto my bus, they didn't say, 'Oh God, I hope you get some money so you can get a real place,'” Quick says. “They all said, 'Wow, I'd like to live here.'”
As he settled in to life on the bus, Quick's thoughts drifted back to movies. “One day this guy came up to the bus, and he said, 'What do you want to do?'” Quick says. “And I told him that I wanted to make a film. So he said, 'Well, if you can make a film as well as you made this bus, you could make a very good film.' And I said okay. So the next thing I did is I said to Tashia, 'Let's make a film.'”
Hales and Quick saved $2,500, bought a Hi-8 camera and spent the next year shooting Street Life. “The film is about myself living in this bus,” Quick says, “in this fantasy environment.” In the 20-minute short, Quick juxtaposes that lighthearted pseudo-homeless existence with the much harsher reality of life on skid row. In 1989, Street Life won the Grand Prize in the American Film Institute's prestigious Visions video contest, whose previous winners included Tim Allen and Steve Oedekerk. Francis Ford Coppola, Billy Crystal and Quincy Jones were among the judges. Sony, which sponsored the contest, hired Quick a publicist, and he was an instant star. He was featured in the L.A. Times and on Entertainment Tonight. “I got offers from studios and from production companies,” Quick says. “I had actors leaving their résumés at my bus.”
Full speed ahead does not guarantee advancement.
ONE OF QUICK'S VISITORS WAS MARK HARRINGTON, an investment banker with a hankering to break into Hollywood. Quick had come up with the idea for Donut Men, and Harrington, in partnership with an old friend, director Marc Toberoff (who recently made My Favorite Martian), immediately signed on. Speaking by phone from his Houston office, where he now runs Harrington and Company, providing advice on corporate mergers for the oil industry, he recalls his fascination with Quick.
“My thing has always been to look for ways to create value from things that appear to have no value,” he says. “When I was introduced to Beeaje, I found him a sort of kindred spirit. He was creating his own artistic value out of nothing. With his bus he created something quite magical. I think it is the mark of a genius that can do that.”
Harrington says he was “a typical L.A. bachelor, running around with a lot of girls” when he met Quick. The cash, he says, flowed freely, and Quick was a major beneficiary. Harrington moved Quick into his Hollywood Hills home. He flew Quick's parents from Australia for the Visions awards and put them up at the Chateau Marmont. He also funded the trailer for Donut Men. “I've forgotten now how many checks I wrote,” he says. “It was not insubstantial.”
Yet Quick says what at first seemed like a miracle of good fortune quickly started to feel like a trap. Squatting on a sofa in the middle of the darkened Vogue theater one afternoon, he seems eager to cast himself as the earnest naif. He worked on Donut Men for eight months, with little success. “I found myself in this big house with a white robe and a heated pool,” he says, frowning. “I got a lot of attention, and out of that attention a lot of people came forward and said, 'We'd like to make movies with you.' But what happened was, I'm a very loyal person. And when a person flies your parents over, when a person treats you to a lot of things you haven't experienced for a long time, and you don't have any experience, you're going to, you know, that person is going to father you. That person is the devil, or God himself.”
Harrington and Toberoff were not happy with Quick's work. “We had a difference as to how the film should be developed,” Harrington says. “I don't think this was a case on our side of wanting to restrain his creativity or supplant his creative ideas with ours, but rather a desire on our part to let him know that if people were going to see his work, there were some general guidelines he should be thinking about to rewrite the script and make it a marketable commodity.”
They might as well have asked for the entire script in Swahili. “I had no idea what it was like to collaborate with people,” Quick says. “I had no idea what it was like to work in a structured environment. They wanted to make a completely different film, and I wasn't a very good listener. These were people with whom I really didn't share a sensibility. So I pretty much” — he pauses, shifts in his chair — “I pretty much slammed the door in this man's face. I left him a note on his answering machine saying, 'Go back to the oil business. You're not cut out for this.'”
Harrington says he was “disappointed,” but took Quick's departure in stride. “I sort of chalked it up to . . . I don't want to say petulance, but it was sort of a petulant reaction. I figured it was highly presumptuous of me to assume that a guy who had to struggle along to see his creative vision come about would be able to think through things in a calm and intelligent manner.”
Ultimately, says Harrington, who hasn't spoken with Quick in years, the experience was “illuminating about human nature.” His work with Quick was his lone foray into Hollywood. “I set my bar of expectations far lower about people after that.”
I'm bullshitting as fast as I can.
WHEN THE HIGH LIFE DIDN'T PAN OUT, QUICK retreated to his bus. “I went back to the street and to all my family and friends in this homeless village with all these gypsy street people, and I was their hero,” he says. “I had turned my back on Hollywood itself. I was the most organized homeless person. I had a cell phone. I had a satellite hookup. During this time, I became a helicopter pilot.”
A helicopter pilot? How can someone who can't read learn to fly? “Well, you know, I had a lot of help,” he says. “By the time I was 25, when I learned how to fly, I could write. But I met a lot of extremely patient, forgiving people. People who devoted a decade of their lives. People who took an interest in me and treated me with respect.” When asked to produce his pilot's license, he says he doesn't have one. But he insists he's logged “about 80 hours” in the air, most of them with random sympathetic pilots he met at the airstrip in Van Nuys. None of these pilots seem to be around anymore. At some point during this time, Quick says, a friend at Paramount allowed him to park his bus on the lot and live in it. It's another one of those stories that's difficult to pin down. The woman he says helped him at Paramount is long gone.
Soon after he returned to the street, Quick embarked on another adventure. He met Phillip Duff, a â 30-something businessman who had made some money launching a surf company in Hawaii and liked the idea of associating with an up-and-coming filmmaker. Duff paid the lease on a warehouse off Hollywood Boulevard, which had formerly been a telemarketing center for Frederick's of Hollywood, and he and Quick moved in. They parked the bus inside and, as Duff says, “We started to do crazy art projects and throw parties. It was just a cool thing.”
Duff got city permits for a café, and Quick installed lifesize sculptures, a mini-planetarium, an Orbitron ride and lots of artwork and toys. “I was just a crazy, restless guy,” Quick says, “who roller-skated in this giant, roller-rink-size place.” He sold sandwiches and lattes, kept the place open late and christened it Young Moguls, Inc., or YMI. It was an instant hit. MTV called it “the Disneyland of coffeehouses,” and Detour magazine enthused over the café's “abundance of sensual stimuli.”
One night, Quick says, Francis Ford Coppola dropped in. “He came at 3 o'clock in the morning while making Dracula, because he had heard about me from a friend of his who had bought one of my line drawings. I had just seen the movie of the making of Apocalypse Now, and I had used portions of his soundtrack in one of my pieces. So he was a bigger-than-life character, and I definitely saw myself in him. You know, he was a helicopter pilot and I was learning, and he just looked like my dad.”
For a while, the good times rolled. But then the bills started coming due. “I was stressing over the money,” Duff says. “Beeaje was basically living there and having a good time. He was the front man. He does give a wacky environment, but that wasn't enough to pay the rent.” Over Quick's objections, Duff got a liquor license and began renting the space out for raves. But “you can't have a rave in a gallery,” Duff says. “You destroy things.”
Just eight months after moving in, Quick pulled out. He's bitter about it to this day, convinced that his former partner “conned me out of the place.” Duff, who still owns the space, now called Moguls, puts it differently. “I saw Beeaje as being very colorful, kind of a peacock almost, and Moguls was the cage,” he says, then laughs. “Problem was, the feathers blew up too big.” He laughs again. “He is a colorful guy, and he will tell you stories if you're willing to listen, and I thought that was a valuable commodity. In the end, though, he was a bit of a parasite.”
Life is magical. The dilemma lies not in this belief, but in whether to be the magician or the rabbit.
AFTER WE'VE SPENT A FAIR AMOUNT of time together, Quick drops off a packet of videotapes of his work, along with a fat, sealed, business-size envelope. The envelope, which gives off a smoky, post-fire odor, contains $10,000 in $100 bills. It's accompanied by a note written in felt-tip pen on a white cocktail napkin: “Per our agreement. Beeaje.” The cash is movie money; it bears the caveat “FOR MOTION PICTURE USE ONLY.” But for a split second, it looks real enough.
Shortly thereafter, he faxes over a note — “It seems many people have an opinion of who I am . . .” — and a poem about himself, titled “Declaration of My Dysfunction,” which he had written the night before. The poem begins, “I am a warrior wannabe-poet/a butterfly with claws/an honest hustler,” and ends with a line that is perhaps intended to make me think twice about writing anything too harsh: “a spiritual person, more often when in trouble/a man coming to grips with the realization that/Judgment is a boomerang disguised as a stone.”
If life pisses in your pool of dreams, add chlorine and keep swimming.
THE MOGULS DEBACLE SENT QUICK into a period of self-doubt. He sought refuge in a downtown warehouse that he rarely left. “I was in a thousand depths underneath obscurity,” he says. “I should have been a drug addict or a drunk, because then I could have become William Burroughs or something.”
He spent the time studying the dictionary, working on his art and writing his metaphors (“Genius, like ketchup, is often used inappropriately,” “In an inspirationally handicapped world, it is the artists who build creative ramps that offer access to the masses”). “I really refined my skills,” Quick says.
By then, Rana Joy Glickman had become obsessed with Donut Men. “I basically sold everything I owned and optioned this material,” she says. “We have an expression in my house: 'making donuts.' Whenever I can't afford something or do something, it's because I'm making donuts.”
Glickman persuaded Melissa Carrey, who had just won several million dollars in her highly publicized divorce from Jim Carrey, to come on board as executive producer. She got Quentin Tarantino to lend the project his film crew, and got her brother to do the cinematography. She introduced Quick to Robert Rodriguez, the director of El Mariachi and From Dusk Till Dawn, and his wife, Elizabeth Avellan. Both of them were impressed with Quick's work as an artist as well as a filmmaker, and ended up helping with the movie — Rodriguez edited and Avellan co-produced. “I love that he uses words for his art,” Avellan says. “I think that has a lot to do with the fact that he didn't learn to read and write until he was 20, so something that to us is so mundane is to him still fascinating.” With the help of Avellan, Glickman and a few dozen other friends, the film was completed.
In March 1997, Donut Men premiered in Austin at the South By Southwest Film Festival. Glickman chose that venue instead of something bigger, like Sundance, in part because her film Full Tilt Boogie was premiering, in part because Avellan and Rodriguez live there, but mainly, she says, because “I wanted him to be the king of something, instead of being last in line.”
Glickman got Mike Judge and Tarantino to wear Donut Men jackets and had their comments videotaped after the screening. Both declined to be interviewed for this story, but Quick provided a copy of the post-screening tape. Standing in the theater lobby, Judge smiles for the camera and says the film was “like, fun to watch all the way through, and very trippy.” He goes into a Beavis imitation. “It kicked ass,” he grunts. “Huh huh.”
The camera turns to Tarantino. He is rocking back and forth and laughing what seems like a hard, forced laugh. “Hey, give that movie a new asshole!” he shouts, then laughs. “You know, like I said, I watched that movie and the hair went all the way down to my balls!” He laughs. “You know, actually, I liked the crazy bit.” He laughs. “It's a piece of shit! Doosh!” He makes a drum noise, laughs. He likens one scene to the French New Wave. “We laughed about that for 10 minutes,” he says. “I had to make myself stop laughing so I could watch the rest of the movie.” He turns to Quick. “It was great, man,” he says. “It was fuckin' funny as hell.”
Then comes a bandannaed and, by comparison, subdued Rodriguez. “Heavily glazed, very sweet, a little yeasty,” he deadpans. “But I liked it,” he adds, with a close-mouthed smile. “It was good.”
The print reviews were mixed. The Austin Chronicle called Donut Men a “hilarious, gonzo rocket ride straight into the greasy maw of urban bureaucracy” and found “Quick's comic flair and cinematic sensibilities astonishingly on-target.” The Austin American-Statesman saw the film as a “lively, RoboCop-esque social satire” that is “punchy and pithy” and believed Quick to be a filmmaker of “wit and deep wisdom.” But Variety was far less enthusiastic, calling Donut Men “a disappointing effort to apply a postmodern sensibility,” “episodic and exceedingly fractured and ultimately more irritating than entertaining.” The reviewer found the film's “self-reflexiveness and deliberately exaggerated drollery . . . tiresome” and predicted that Donut Men “is destined to travel the festival road.” Soon after, the film won for Best Dramatic Comedy at the Long Island Film Festival.
In 10 years your butt will get larger and your head will get smaller, allowing you to stick your head up your ass with little incident.
QUICK HAS NO INTENTION OF SITTING around waiting for Donut Men to take off. He recently decided to break with his policy of not duplicating his work, in order to fulfill a commission for a replica of Chrome Man — the automated guy riding the noisy bike. The buyer, he boasts, is a dealer with a new Beverly Hills gallery who is paying a price “in the six figures.” It turns out that the buyer is actually Dennis Boses, the proprietor of Off the Wall Antiques, a Melrose mainstay for 18 years specializing in “antiques and weird stuff,” who commissioned Chrome Man for OTW, his new, upscale store on La Cienega in L.A. Boses says that Quick “suggested to me that people had offered him as much as $50,000 for the piece, which was not a surprise, but it was not a price I would be able to afford. He gave it to me for a price I could pay.”
Boses, who says that in his 35 years in L.A. he has “met every huckster and producer with a card in his pocket,” first encountered Quick a few months ago. “I was fascinated by the art and his general approach to life,” he says. “It's not often that I'm totally hypnotized.” Boses invited Beeaje and Lorinda to spend a weekend at his beach house in an exclusive gated surfer community north of Ventura. And he commissioned Chrome Man, the only non-antique piece in the store. He was attracted, he says, to the combination of old and new — the futuristic chrome figure sitting atop an Exercycle, which was manufactured sometime between the '30s and the '50s. “When I look at it, I don't think 'newly made,'” he says. “I'm fascinated by its motion.” Boses doesn't seem bothered by questions of artistic value. “What is genuine in Hollywood?” he asks. “Beeaje is a person with an agenda. Sure, he'd like to become successful. But his art is fascinating, and he's more interesting than most people I come in contact with.”
Quick has several other projects under way. He's pitching his next screenplay, Paradise and Purgatory, a period piece set in Greece in 1946 that he likens to both Wuthering Heights (the movie) and Breaking the Waves. He'd like to write a novelized version of the script, even though he says he's only read two books in his life — one of them the novelization of Rocky. He'd also like to open a café next to the theater, and launch a line of fortune cookies.
There's more. Next fall, the AFI Film Festival will for the first time be held entirely in Hollywood — at the Egyptian, the Chinese, El Capitan and the Vogue. And the AFI has asked Quick to serve on the committee that will pick the films by new American independent filmmakers. He's also going to help produce the accompanying auction — he's donated pieces the past two years. “The AFI doesn't know much about art,” Quick says, then quickly adds, “I don't know much about art either, but I can keep them from repeating some of the same mistakes they've made in the past.”
An inspired piece needs to include an action-figure doll you can market.
RANA JOY GLICKMAN SITS CROSS-legged on a cushion on the floor of her living room and sips a cup of milky tea. The walls of the house, inside and out, are done in the same bright yellows, purples, â blues and greens as her clothing. There is no furniture in the room, though there is an elaborately painted upright piano and a bass guitar. She acknowledges that Donut Men “is very weak from a narrative perspective. The storyline isn't that deep. It's more of an editorial or commentary.” But she doesn't see that as a detriment. “It's almost like you have to watch it several times to appreciate it,” she says. “It's like an album that way.”
With that in mind, she says, she's in the process of revamping the film's soundtrack to give the music more prominence. “In a lot of ways the film is almost a series of music videos,” she says. “We're approaching different bands to come onboard.”
The film, she says, has been shown to three potential distributors: Fine Line, Samuel Goldwyn and Miramax, which has handled much of her other work. None has flatly said no, and she still hopes to screen it for Sony Classics and October Films. But, she says with a sigh, “the market is saturated, and he's not economically viable enough for anyone to invest the money to launch him properly.” Even Fine Line's Mark Ordesky, who describes himself as a “personal friend,” questions whether it's worth the risk.
Glickman moves to the balcony for a cigarette. “It's been a really long haul,” she says, taking a deep drag. “We've had to reinvent ourselves over and over again just to hang in there.”
The key to selling Donut Men, she's decided, is to pitch it as part of a complete Beeaje Quick package. “In the past 10 years,” she says, “we've had opportunities to sell off the art, to reproduce it, and we made an economic decision to try to hold on to everything, the rights to all of the works and all of the metaphors — to really, when this moment resurfaced, to be in the position to make a deal.” In a perfect world, the movie would premiere along with simultaneous art shows in New York and L.A. and the publication of the books. “All at once,” she says. “A veritable media blitz.”
“The kinetic sculptures are the Disneyland,” she says, warming up. “Those would be participatory, with sound and light. The metaphors would be the gift shop. We'd have them printed on T-shirts. And we'd sell the books.” The centerpiece, of course, would be Donut Men, augmented by Rambo to Rembrandt. This would give them the chance to, as Glickman puts it, “cross-collateralize all these different modes of expression.”
She sits silently for a moment. “There are so many artists who go undiscovered until after their death,” she observes. “I don't think that will happen with Beeaje. We're ready this time.”