Steven Quin is a well-dressed man. His lightweight blue wool suit fits his trim frame graciously. His sleeves show just enough cuff, his trousers drape neatly, nipping the tongue of his shoes, and his handkerchief contrasts boldly. He unbuttons and re-buttons his coat unconsciously, in a reflexive gesture that emphasizes the ease of his stylishness — the way an actor might when readying to deliver his lines. The getup complements his smooth blond hair and blue eyes. But it is Mr. Quin’s shirt that makes the man. It ought to. He is wearing a handmade Turnbull & Asser bespoke shirt of blue-striped poplin. The material is exclusive to Turnbull & Asser, and only 240 meters are made — enough for just 120 shirts — and then it is retired. It is the sort of shirt you’d expect Mr. Quin to wear. He is, after all, a master shirtmaker and Royal Warrant holder — meaning His Royal Highness, the Duke of Windsor, a.k.a. Prince Charles, wears shirts made at Mr. Quin’s home office, on Jermyn Street in London. As have Winston Churchill, Robert Evans, Alec Guinness and Sammy Davis Jr. (whose first order was for 50 shirts at $75 each).
Mr. Quin, in from London for a brief stay, is at T&A’s new store on Brighton Way in Beverly Hills to show prospective customers what it means to have a custom-made and -fitted shirt. In Mr. Quin’s capable hands, a man feels as if he is choosing his own shirt — even if Mr. Quin really is guiding his taste. Thumbing the leaves of leather-bound books of cloth patterns and colors the way a croupier counts money, Mr. Quin gently insists, “Every customer here is an individual.”
As I watch, Mr. Quin takes out a tape and then calls out the measurements of a casually dressed man — not the sort you’d expect to find in a Savile Row establishment. He measures the neck, down to the quarter-inch; he checks the centerline of the sternum to place the placket where it belongs; he carefully seeks the man’s counsel on how, exactly, he wears his shirts, tucked in or out, to get the right length. “Your left shoulder slopes a bit down, not like the right,” he notes when he measures each side of the yoke. The man explains that he’d once rolled his car, and this was the lingering result. “Do you always wear a bulky watch?” Mr. Quin asks when he got down to the gauntlet — the part of the sleeve where the buttons are — and then made an allowance in the circumference. From these measurements a paper pattern will be cut in London, a sample shirt sewn, the customer fitted, and, for anywhere from $350 on up, shirts will be made.
Turnbull & Asser is known for its daring hues, purples and oranges, which dress up even a drab physique. Mr. Quin, however, provides a caveat. “I wouldn’t say our shirts would cosmetically change someone. It might give a bit of shape.”
Mr. Quin is speaking in his seemingly unflappable tone when in walks Alan Harris, a 50-year-old deportation lawyer who obviously works out a lot. Dressed in a white T-shirt, black jeans and red Converse All-Stars, Harris immediately undermines the staid tenor of the plush mezzanine salesroom when he announces, “I have a shirt fetish.” He lays three pages he’s torn from the latest Vogue on the zebrawood table where Mr. Quin is working and asks, “What’s going on here?” He points to the collar of a Ralph Lauren shirt on one of the pages. “It’s more extreme than a Regent’s collar,” Harris continues. “I’m not appalled by this. I like it.”
Mr. Quin interjects softly, “I think it’s too extreme, Mr. Harris.” He knows Harris well. “It doesn’t look good. If that were a light tie, that would look terrible.”
“That’s the doctor of shirts talking,” Harris says, slipping on his dramatic black-horn-rimmed glasses. Mr. Quin seems to wish the encomium had never been uttered, but remains cool. “Do you want to try one of those?” he asks, referring to the collar. “It wouldn’t kill me,” Harris answers. “This is what’s in my head: I’ll at least be in style until February.”
Harris then jumps to his next concern. “These ties have a lot more material,” he comments, again pointing to the Ralph Lauren ad. “They’re more Victorian. That’s not what you’re selling me.” His phone rings. It’s his wife. When he finishes, I ask him if he likes solids or T&A’s famous striped shirts. “I’m a very certain person,” Harris states. “I do not do stripes.” He adds, sponte sua, “If you want to be precise about it, I’m wearing $8 shoes from Shoes for Less. They’re seconds.” And then, to a man and his wife waiting to receive Mr. Quin’s advice, he repeats, “The doctor of shirts is in the house.”
Harris exits, and Mr. Quin turns to his next customer — his composure a bit fractured. He quickly regains his poise. He unbuttons and re-buttons his jacket, smoothes his tie and asks, “May I be of assistance?” A well-dressed man, it seems, never really loses his cool.
The L.A. Critics’ Revolt
Last Saturday, I joined the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for its annual bicker over whom to bless with a career achievement award at the annual awards dinner in January. It goes without saying that the Motion Picture Association of America’s ban on screeners came up. Votes for the Film Critics Association’s best picture, best actress, etc., take place in early December, just when workloads are heaviest, and a ban on screeners — tapes or DVDs of the movies to be viewed at home — disproportionately hurts the chances of small independent films, whose distributors can’t afford to set up numerous screenings of their movies. Those who manage to set up screenings must deal with the fact that reviewing the onslaught of (mostly studio) films released at the end of the year for Oscar qualification leaves little time for critics to run out to screenings of movies we’re not writing about. We began crafting the obligatory letter of protest.
From my brief career as a campus revolter in the late ’60s, I knew that while petitions make the petitioners feel marginally better about being slighted, the petitioned almost invariably reply, “Thank you for sharing — now pipe down and get back in your hole.” To be effective you have to withdraw your labor in a way that hurts, and I suggested on impulse that we announce the cancellation of our awards dinner (which is regarded as something of a bellwether for Oscar voting) unless the MPAA rescinds the screener ban.
I expected to be shot down in flames and sent to bed without any supper — after all, we’re talking about the one night in the year when we critics get off our flabby asses and, clad in last year’s gowns and tuxes, drone on about the glories of cinema before a captive audience of heavy-duty suits and stars gnawing away at rubber-chicken dinners. To my astonishment the group voted almost unanimously in favor. We put the word out, assuming there would be a flurry of interest in the trades, followed by a thunderous silence. Instead we were besieged with calls from CNN, The New York Times, Fox News and others, while an Associated Press report guaranteed significant overseas interest. Things must be awfully quiet in Iraq.
On Monday morning Variety reported that the MPAA had decided on a partial turnaround, and would send screeners to Academy voters, but not to critics. I leave it to you to decide whether Jack Valenti was hitting back at us, or whether he genuinely believes that critics, a congenitally stodgy group only marginally less conformist than Academy voters, are a significant source of piracy. Aggro from the likes of Valenti is to be expected. Harder to fathom is the animus we’ve been receiving from colleagues on the East Coast and elsewhere. NPR’s Day to Day wheeled in a Dallas critic who, while conceding that most reviewers’ screeners go no further than their own mothers, basically dismissed us as a bunch of spoiled whiners. And as the New York Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics (of which several of us in L.A. are also members) furiously debated whether to join us and cancel their own awards, it was remarkable how even some of our supporters in the NSFC (a minority at the time of writing) seized the day to assert their intellectual and moral superiority to the Angeleno critics in “the industry’s back yard.” One who shall remain nameless even claimed that “NSFC is the highest court for determining and saluting quality films and the most privileged of acting moments.” Dumb Angeleno that I am, I have no idea what an acting moment is. But let the record show that once news seeped out of Valenti’s snub to critics east, west and in between, some of the naysaying New Yorkers considered changing their votes.
Today’s Porn Lesson
By the looks of the back of his head, I’d say Scott is in his late 40s or 50s, probably not actually named Scott. Scott drove to Old Hollywood tonight, to the Roosevelt Hotel, from Torrance or Reseda, where he works at a job he hates, for a company he thoroughly disrespects but dares not criticize. Instead, Scott keeps track of scores and soundbites, and gnaws away at his own insides. Wears a tie like a noose and sways when the boss says to sway. He’s married, but each day, more and more, he wonders why. Wants to do something more meaningful with his life, but he’s helpless — a man with only marketable skills, for whom meaning is something to be accepted and not created.
It is for these reasons, I believe, that Scott opts to sit directly in front of me at the back of the Roosevelt’s Academy Room, even though better seats are available.
It’s a Thursday evening, 6:45 p.m. The back of Scott’s head and I and the 70 or so other similarly seated Scotts and Daves and their heads are here to learn How To Shoot Your Own Adult Video, a Learning Annex seminar taught by Seymore “Adam Glasser” Butts. At the front of the room are video equipment, a modest monitor and a couch. A camera crew roams the premises, capturing row after row of studious grown-ups taking notes as Professor Butts makes his way down the dry, dry syllabus: an overview of the porn industry; camera equipment; concept, script, casting; fee negotiations, locations, permits; douches, enemas, makeup, towels, lubricant. “I’m very picky about the lubricants I use on set,” says Butts. “Because lubricants can get sticky and stringy. To me, there’s nothing more of a turnoff when we’re shooting a movie than when the guy’s crotch is sticking to the girl’s ass-cheeks, and it’s like . . . strings? Like . . . webs? I don’t like that.”
Butts does not like editing, either; he’s a self-proclaimed practitioner of “gonzo” pornographics. The porno term gonzo is conspicuously unlike the Hunter S. Thompson–spawned adjective, defined in the Oxford Modern English Dictionary as “of or associated with journalistic writing of an exaggerated, subjective, and fictionalized style.” For the porno definition, we must turn to Tricia Devereaux, relatively acclaimed porn historian as wed to porn’s pioneer of gonzoics, John “Buttman” Stagliano. (Note that Buttman is pronounced on par with Superman, Spider-Man or Batman, not with ottoman or Goldman.) Here’s Devereaux:
“Gonzo can take on several different forms. It can vary from the cameraman (in adult, very often the director) interviewing the actors, or participating in the scene with dialogue and/or sex. It can also mean that the actors are simply acknowledging the fact that there is a camera shooting what they are doing. So, although in adult gonzo, the cameraman is usually somehow visible or audible, simply the actors playing to the camera constitutes a gonzo scene.”
As Butts describes his techniques and preferences — hand-held, real-time body-pans — I can’t help but wonder whether his ultimate allegiance is truly to the purity of porn vérité, or to its convenience: “The best scene possible,” Professor Butts tells us, “is the scene with the least possible edits.”
Soon we’re all educated, and it’s time for the demo shoot. Two young women, Mari and Flower, head to the couch, and Butts heads to the sidelines to meet with the Learning Annex authorities. Returns a few moments later to explain: “Here’s the deal. I’ve been arrested many times. You all look like great guys and gals. But I want to make sure that what we’re doing here is not going to get any of us in trouble. We just need to wait for a clarification. We are in Los Angeles, and it’s legal to shoot adult movies here. But I don’t necessarily know under what context this falls: Whether doing this falls under the context of an adult movie, or if it falls under the context of a live performance.”
“Education!” someone ejaculates.
“I would agree,” Butts replies. “Totally. But unfortunately, I can’t get a guarantee that . . . I mean, is everybody going to raise their hands and say everybody here is not an undercover policeman? I don’t think I can even legally ask that question to find out. So let’s just wait for clarification. Either way, I’m gonna say I’m making an adult movie. It’s just whether you’re gonna see . . . the whole deal, or are you gonna see, you know, almost the whole deal.”
Clarification arrives favorably. Butts takes up his camera. Mari and Flower make their ways from licks and moans to O’Gods and O’babys on the couch as Butts pans them up and down, coaching, coaxing, describing for us the various camera techniques he’s employing, as I listen imagining what I might see on the couch or the monitor, if they weren’t both eclipsed by Scott’s enormous head.
“The only thing that will scare me is if they put up flower wallpaper.” Mike Muir, cholo-styling front man of Venice’s seminal punk band Suicidal Tendencies and, later, Infectious Grooves, is in a deluxe RV parked in front of his two-story home in dusty Camarillo. Inside Muir’s living room, five construction workers hustle past cameramen, producers and Steve Watson, the Hotlanta-drawling host and foreman of the Discovery Channel’s extreme-remodeling show Monster House.
“It’s a thinker,” Watson says of Muir’s house, the final project of Monster House’s first season. (The transformation will be the basis for the show’s Halloween episode this Saturday.) Goateed and forever tan, Watson eyes the dimensions of an opening that leads from Muir’s original living room, the walls of which are spray-painted by local graffiti artist Adam Siegal, into a sort of romper room that in turn leads to the backyard, where tools surround the pool. The plan is to convert the romper room into an evil forest.
“We’re trying to confront fear,” says series producer Jeff Kuntz over the noise of hammers, saws and drills. Imagine images of animals peeking from behind trees fabricated out of steel and positioned along the room’s perimeter, with a television and sofas thrown in for domesticity’s sake.
Elsewhere, the build team’s electrical contractor, Rex, configures a timing system for a sliding steel door — essentially a mechanized, portal, featuring flames, a lady praying and a devil — that will go in the entryway Watson is checking out. Outside, measures are under way to add a “sacrificial” table to the barbecue area, thus allowing for the seamless transition of meat.
The key to a successful Monster House is good old-fashioned teamwork. Simple enough, but try putting that in the heads of maverick construction workers concerned with preserving their reputations in front of a national audience. If they complete what would normally be a two-month-long renovation project within the allotted five days, they each win $3,000 worth of power tools and welding equipment — and most important, Watson says, “braggin’ rights.” Watson himself gets his hands dirty and leads ‰
by example — probably the most expeditious way to capture the respect of his crew. “I’m here 18 hours a day with these guys, sweating under a welding mask, in the shit, really.”
Watson reminds me, if not in body at least in temperament, of charismatic self-help guru Tony Robbins in that he must be a constant source of motivation, a tireless cheerleader. Because his troops are indeed human, they hit mental and physical peaks and valleys through the week and, yeah, sometimes want to walk out on the whole damn thing and quit; ultimately Watson needs to convince them that fearless homeowners’ pipe dreams are worth grueling hours, chaotic working conditions and varying personalities — one of the 12 preceding episodes included a fistfight between two builders.
In the end, Monster House panders to the inner caveman by combining swagger, imagination and technical know-how. Consider the amenities of previous builds: a vacuum-tube delivery system connecting kitchen, mailbox, living room and office; a wall-to-wall, multicolored disco dance floor with musically sequenced lighting; and a floor-to-ceiling tiki-god fireplace with a mouth that spits propane flames. No doubt these drastic changes can freak out a homeowner. Surprisingly though, no one has initiated recourse against the show. Not yet, anyway.
With just 36 hours to complete Muir’s Halloween surprise, the singer, jocular as he relaxes by the faux fireplace of his temporary RV residence, already looks like a satisfied customer. When the moment comes for Watson and company to reveal what they have wrought, this is how Muir predicts he’ll react: “I’m either going to go ‘Wow . . . Cool’ or ‘Woooooow . . . Cooooool.’”
It’s 8 in the morning. I’m taking my first bite of a surprisingly decent cheeseburger and watching, warily, as my husband, Mike, swigs a $4 beer. The Bakersfield air, already heavy with the stink of various agriculture products, is slightly sweetened by the smell of burned rubber, nitro methane and the body odor of 10,000 car freaks.
We had awakened at 4:30 a.m. to drive the 1930 Ford hot rod Mike built over the Grapevine to Famoso Raceway for the 12th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion. Mike has a business building hot rods and restoring collector cars, and he was here to convince a guy named Zombie to do T-shirts for his shop, talk to a guy named Newt about featuring his car in a hot-rod magazine and, finally, to get a guy named Squeak to sell a part Mike had just invented.
The names might be funny, but the hot-rod industry’s laughing all the way to the bank. In fact, the automotive aftermarket is like the fashion industry for men, where speed rivals looks in importance. Just as with fashion there are cliques, so don’t let the dirt and grease fool you: The level of snobbery in the hot-rod world makes Anna Wintour look like a community activist.
Famoso has a more than 50-year history of being an outlaw track where speed and performance reign. We walk by a 1936 three-window Ford with a Chrysler Hemi still in primer (not yet painted), the very height of Bakersfield chic. Here, it’s considered prissy to be obsessed with the flawlessly restored cars you might find at the Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach. A bearded, pot-bellied retiree standing near the Track T roadster he built in his Anaheim garage describes those kind of cars — for which owners search the planet for every original nut and bolt, repaint in some garish color and then stash away in a garage never to drive — as “just dipped in shit and money.”
Naturally, the very definition of the words hot rod is in dispute. According to the National Hod Rod Association, a hot rod must be pre-1948. On the other extreme are those who call any car with any alteration affecting speed, performance or aesthetics a hot rod. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, but if your cousin puts a fart-bag exhaust and a spoiler on his 1994 Toyota Camry and calls it a hot rod, feel free to call him an asshole.
At the Concours d’Elegance you strain your neck for a glimpse of Leno or Cage, but here in plain view are “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and “TV Tommy” Ivo. We walk between the rows and rows of “hot rods.” To our right is the racetrack. There, vintage ’50s and ’60s nitro-burning, top-fuel dragsters blast down the quarter-mile at speeds of up to 260 mph, making a sound so ferocious that when they pass you can feel the hollowness in your organs. Beyond a strip of shacks selling beer, sodas, burgers, chicken strips (health-food nuts are shit out of luck) is the vast vendor section offering everything from $5,000 custom wheels to $2,000 vintage intake manifolds.
At the end of the day, Zombie agrees to do the art for Mike’s T-shirts, but we are at an impasse with Newt. “We’d like to put your car in the magazine,” says the 25-year-old, who looks like Donny Most, except that he is about two heads shorter and covered in tattoos. “But our editorial board only accepts cars with bias-ply wheels. If you want to put bias-ply wheels on your car, we might accept it.” Mike says he’ll think about it, but walks away rolling his eyes.
“Bias-ply wheels . . . please.”
We head over to Squeak’s to see how Mike’s part is selling. On the way there, we chat with a guy in his mid-60s who wears a T-shirt from Cook’s Corner, the biker hangout in Tustin. Nearby, the young rockabilly crowd is clustered around a grove of skimpy trees at the far end of the racetrack, hanging with their clubs that go by names like the Deacons and the Choppers and rejuvenated favorites like the Throttlers. “It reminds me of the old days in high school,” the guy says, shaking his head ruefully. “Except these cars are unsafe and slow. Ours were usually one or the other.”
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