The Vast Immensity of it All: Fear and Loathing on Sunset Boulevard
This is a journey through Los Angeles in all its guises, states of mind, and urban terrains, a narrative in words and documentary photography format that is every bit as engaging as any novel.
One of the most haunting images in the early pages of the book is a staged image in a brick-walled alley featuring five hardcore Latino gangbangers: Godfather, Paco, Kricket, Glimpy, and Dreamer.
“You own what you own and you don’t let nobody take it away from you,” Paco says. “And you have to respect everybody else, that way they have to respect you.”
Author: Shiva Naipaul Book: Journey to Nowhere Subtitle: A New World Tragedy US publication date: 1981-05 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Formats: Hardcover ISBN: 9780671424718 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/columns_art/j/journeynowhere.jpg
The proud bravado on display in this arresting photograph (one of the subjects is indeed armed with a small caliber handgun) brings to mind the words of Octavio Paz, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and essayist from Mexico, who wrote about his first encounter with the Los Angeles pachucos, the progenitors of the modern-day street gangs, in The Labyrinth of Solitude (1961):
“The thing that seems to me to distinguish them from the rest of the people, is their furtive, restless air – of maskers, of creatures who fear the gaze of a stranger as if it could strip them bare. When you talk to them you notice that emotionally they are like a pendulum, a crazy pendulum which oscillates violently and unrhythmically. “This state of mind, or mindlessness, has produced what is called the pachuco – a strange word that has no precise meaning, or, rather, like all popular creations, is charged with a multiplicity of meanings. Whether we like it or not, they are Mexicans and represent one of the extremes to which the Mexican character can go. “Incapable of adjusting to a civilization that spurns them anyhow, the pachucos have found no answer to a hostile environment except an exacerbated affirmation of their personality.”That “exacerbated affirmation of personality” is all over Ecclesine’s narrative like a swarm of part-time waiters at an open casting call. Ken Costanza, an actor profiled in the East Hollywood chapter of Faces of Sunset Boulevard, tells us that he is going to be a leading man, a star actor with a first-look deal at the major movie studios because … well, because he says it is so. “My goals are all I have in my life, you know?” asserts Costanza, one of many too-handsome-for-his-own-good young Hollywood hustlers. “My dreams are not really dreams. It’s just part of who I am. I don’t have a choice, you know? I want a better life than surviving all the time. It’s not the way I want to live. It’s not the way I want to live. I want a better life.” It’s not the way I want to live.
“There is nothing to match flying over Los Angeles by night. A sort of luminous, geometric, incandescent immensity, stretching as far as the eye can see, bursting out from the cracks in the clouds. Only Hieronymus Bosch’s hell can match this inferno effect. The muted fluorescence of all the diagonals: Wilshire, Lincoln, Sunset, Santa Monica. Already, flying over the San Fernando Valley, you come upon the horizontal infinite in every direction. But, once you are beyond the mountain, a city ten times larger hits you. You will never have encountered anything that stretches as far as this before. Even the sea cannot match it, since it is not divided up geometrically. The irregular, scattered flickering of European cities does not produce the same parallel lines, the same vanishing points, the same aerial perspectives either. They are medieval cities. This one condenses by night the entire future geometry of the networks of human relations, gleaming in their abstraction, luminous in their extension, astral in their reproduction to infinity. Mulholland Drive by night is an extraterrestrial’s vantage point on earth, or conversely, an earth dweller’s vantage point on the galactic metropolis.”