One hundred and fifty or so movie geeks, including myself, have come on a mercifully cool summer night to Silver Lake’s Vista theater for a 30th-anniversary screening of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 black-and-white comedy, Paper Moon. But first there is a handprints-in-cement ceremony for its director and two of its stars, Ryan O’Neal and his daughter, Tatum, who at age 10 won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the film (beating out her genius co-star, the late Madeline Kahn, as well as The Exorcist’s limber-headed teen, Linda Blair).
Ryan and Tatum are late, so the three-man handprint crew continually refresh their work, muttering apologies as they push a wobbly, cement-dripping wheelbarrow back and forth through the crowd. Bogdanovich, who hasn’t abandoned his 30-year predilection for striped shirts and ascots, has been here awhile signing autographs. With the surprisingly large contingent of flash-popping paparazzi all to himself, he has already been photographed sinking his hands into the Vista’s own eclectic Walk of Fame, right above those of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen and the cast of Swingers.
Unexpectedly, Griffin O’Neal, wayward son of Ryan, is center-carpet, looking tanned, fit and hyperactive. Like his sister, he was a child star (sorta, kinda) but is best remembered for youthful brushes with the law and rehab. Tonight, he’s remarkably attentive to the clutch of frenzied autograph hounds, several of whom will shriek in astonishment a half-hour from now when Griffin offers to take their 8-by-10 Ryan O’Neal glossies inside to be signed by Dad.
A black stretch limo glides into view, and Papa Ryan bounds out, alone, and is immediately encircled by the insistent faithful, who thrust one-sheets and vinyl soundtrack albums at him. O’Neal, who is reportedly in remission from chronic myeloid leukemia, has shed the puffy face of illness and looks terrific. Watching him deftly scrawl his name with one hand while holding an Evian bottle with the other is another kind of reminder: Once a movie star (remember Love Story, What’s Up Doc?, Barry Lyndon?), always a movie star.
Entertainment Tonight reporter Bob Goen — E.T. at the Vista! This is a big night! — quickly snags O’Neal for a “How does it feel 30 years later?” soundbite, and ends by asking where Tatum is, as if hoping for a whiff of scandal. O’Neal waves the query away, “Tatum’s always late,” then darts into the lobby, Bogdanovich at his side.
There’s a pause, then a stir as the autograph freaks turn and take flight, for there is Tatum O’Neal, brilliantly blond, half a block down, getting out of an SUV with her three teenage children. A brief signing frenzy ensues, right there next to the car, and then she’s under the marquee, looking slightly bewildered but lovely nonetheless in a black pantsuit. Just then, a taut, 40-something woman blocks Tatum’s path (there’s zero security here), hands her a small pink-wrapped package, and when the actress thanks her, the woman shakes her head. “Oh, no. Thank you,” she says, and locks O’Neal in a gaze of such alarming telepathic intensity that I think: That’s what John Lennon saw.
Suddenly, Ryan is at her side, his bearish arms wrapping around her, and as her forehead falls forward to rest briefly on his shoulder, I hear her say softly, “Daddy.”
Soon after, star and co-star, along with Paper Moon cinematographer Lazslo Kovacs, are kneeling, legs ungracefully akimbo, as they sink their outstretched palms deep into the Vista’s pavement. Flashbulbs blind, photographers shout, and those of us standing just behind the stars take a half-step back, stunned a bit by the force of those flashes.
Inside the theater, the O’Neal clan settles into one row, and Bogdanovich sits between his two stars. Griffin splits early, Ryan holds court for well-wishers, and Tatum heads for the lobby, her eyes rolling as her son calls out, “Mom! Get me a hot dog!” The lights finally dim and the movie begins, preceded by its original trailer. On cue, the audience applauds the director’s name, cheers Ryan’s, and takes a collective breath, then claps firmly at the sight of Madeline Kahn. And maybe we’re thrown into sudden grief for Kahn, because no one applauds the words “Introducing Tatum O’Neal.” There’s an awkward silence, until her father exclaims, loudly, “Yeah!” and throws his hands together, initiating a swelling round of praise.
I’m standing in line at the Farmers Market Starbucks, one person in front of me, and out of the corner of my eye I see Al: former Vice President Al — more people voted for Al than the current leader of the most powerful nation in the history of mankind — Al. He had ordered already and was waiting — alone. I must have walked right by him on my way in and didn’t notice, which starts me wondering if it really was Marlon Brando I saw in the H2 on my way here this morning.
I go to the counter to wait and try to figure out what to say to Al. Meanwhile, two gals in their 20s are all smiles and compliments to Al on his recent NYU speech. Which I think is rather obvious. I mean, why not ask him about the impending gubernatorial nightmare of Floridian proportions coming in early October. By now, Al’s presence has attracted some tourists who are absolutely amazed that AL GORE is in STARBUCKS. (“I never knew he even drank coffee!”)
It’s been very hot the past month and Al is suffering. I’m in a faded pair of yellow Polo swim trunks, sandals, T-shirt and a Giants hat. (It’s hot, I told you. Queer Eye guys, step back. I’m fine.) Al, on the other hand, looks miserable in his white long-sleeve dress shirt, and the dark-gray dress pants aren’t exactly pool-ready. I’m telling you, he looks like he just walked from LAX carrying his rental car. Very rare to sweat in this town, and certainly frowned upon. Starbucks isn’t exactly Wendy’s — it takes a while to get your drinks — but the place is air-conditioned. What the hell did he do before coming in here?
I’m now waiting next to Al. I have to act fast — the frosty coffee Slurpees (7-Eleven, if you’re reading, you should sue) are almost ready, and nobody’s waiting ahead of Al.
“Hi,” I say. Good and simple. He’ll think I’m an equal. Or an idiot.
I decide to up the ante, but nothing’s coming. Fuck. Did I even vote for him? It was a crazy week and my car was really acting up during the 2000 election. “I really liked your speech at NYU.” It’s all I could think of. It was a good speech. Not great, but good.
“Well, thank you very much.”
You know that SNL skit when Sting hosted and it’s Sting on the elevator in an office building and Kevin Nealon gets on and can’t do anything but stare at the floor in silence because he doesn’t know what to say to Sting? I’m Kevin Nealon. Al is Sting. I would have told Sting that the whole tantric sex thing was just plain weird. He should fire his publicist or divorce his wife for letting that out of the bag. Made him sound like a dick. But what to say to Al?
Me and Al. Silence.
“So, are you giving another speech here in L.A. this weekend?” Okay, are there even speeches given on weekends?
“No, my daughters live here, so I’m out visiting, and I have to do some business, as well.”
“I see.” Pause. “That’s cool.” I’m 31 and ‰ I’ve just said “That’s cool” to Al Gore.
I extend my hand and Al takes it. A good shake, cleanly dry and professional. Like a doctor’s handshake after your 10 minutes on the papered bed-table.
The drinks are coming now; the barrista is separating two lids.
“Well, that speech really was great, and I know you’re still undecided — running, not running but . . .”
“Oh, I’m not undecided. I’m definitely not running. I’ve decided.”
“Well, too bad. But I respect that.” I’m sure he’ll sleep better tonight.
“Two mocha frappuccinos with whipped cream,” calls the barista.
Al takes his drinks, gets two straws from the napkin station, and heads out the door.
The middle-aged man and woman behind me were speaking what sounded like Finnish, but they were all grins as they filled up several disposable cameras with vacation snapshots of our nutty culture, embodied here in a Hollywood parade to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that landmark moment in American culture: the release of National Lampoon’s Animal House.
Animal House, the most popular film comedy of all time, pitted the hedonistic and anarchic Delta House fraternity against the uptight proto-yuppies of Omega House at fictitious Faber College in 1962. To promote the film’s silver anniversary and National Lampoon’s Animal House Double Secret Probation Edition, a new DVD containing a clever segment in which some of the original cast update their characters, Universal shut down a few blocks west of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue last week and re-staged the film’s infamous parade sequence.
Director John Landis plus cast members Tim Matheson, Karen Allen, Stephen Furst, Peter Riegert, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Mark Metcalf, Martha Smith and James Widdoes rode in cars and on floats. So did co-writer Chris Miller, who wrote the two short stories on which the film was based for National Lampoon magazine. Judy Belushi Pisano, widow of John and a former Lampoon writer/art director, represented her late husband. DeWayne Jessie, who led Otis Day & the Knights in the debauched toga party scene, reprised his sweaty version of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” and a pop-punk trio called MxPx packed a punchy “Animal House,” the movie’s theme song. And then there was my father, Animal House producer/Lampoon co-founder Matty Simmons. I was 23 and had already put in eight years working at the ’Poon when the movie was released.
I wasn’t surprised, then, to see a real live elephant plodding down the route, supplying the scatological humor of the parade as the pachyderm’s keepers followed with shovels and garbage bags to hearty applause. The Deathmobile careened down Hollywood Boulevard to “disrupt” the parade, and out popped a Belushi look-alike.
“He should work on the eyebrows,” said former Lampoon editor/Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts, referring to the stand-in’s inability to replicate Belushi’s facial gymnastics.
A food fight ensued between paid extras — the food made of little pink sponges — and if you’re one of the few Americans who don’t know what a Deathmobile or toga party or food fight is, rent the DVD.
Though Hollywood Boulevard was wall-to-wall humanity, there was more rubbernecking than celebration. About a quarter of the crowd seemed clued in to National Lampoon’s history and arrived laden with comedy records, soundtracks, posters, and back (way back) issues of the magazine for autographs. Overall, though, for a film whose name is synonymous with public disturbance, the spectators were orderly, perhaps eerily so. On the one hand, the Day of the Locust vibe was mercifully absent, but people appear so jittery and chastened these days. Those damn party-poopin’ terrorists have successfully deflated the American Way of Fun.
There’s always been a disconnect in my mind between the reality and perception of Animal House. Here’s a film that not only condones but revels in drugs, booze, screwing, anti-militarism, pro-slacking, pro-vandalism, and a profound lack of respect for what is referred to as common decency. Yet it’s earned the love of successive generations of Americans — partly because it’s truly funny, partly because “it’s only a movie” and partly because our nation deeply digs mischievous underdogs fighting authoritarian hypocrites. The Boston Tea Party prefigures 1978’s toga bash by two centuries. The Deltas are closer in action to the Earth Liberation Front than to any current fraternity. It was only a few months ago that I also stood at Hollywood and Highland, then with tens of thousands of others in a vain attempt to stop Dubya’s war. When he was young, President Frat Boy would’ve been one of the minor members of Delta House — now he’s Rush Week Chairman for the Omegas. At the birth of National Lampoon in 1970, America was at war with both a foreign enemy and itself — and so it is again. The sheer savagery of the ’Poon’s satire was a mirror image of Vietnam. Wit-sharp warriors are again needed on the frontlines, armed with barbs to disrupt the parade for real.