mardi, juillet 03, 2007

ZEROVILLE (Steve Erickson)

On Vikar’s shaved head is tattooed the right and left lobes of his brain. One lobe is occupied by an extreme close-up of Elizabeth Taylor and the other by Montgomery Clift, their faces barely apart, lips barely apart, in each other’s arms on a terrace, the two most beautiful people in the history of the movies, she the female version of him, and he the male version of her.

This is the summer of 1969, two days after Vikar’s twenty-fourth birthday, when everyone’s hair is long and no one shaves his head unless he’s a Buddhist monk, and no one has tattoos unless he’s a biker or in a circus.
He’s been in Los Angeles an hour. He’s just gotten off a six-day bus trip from Philadelphia, riding day and night, and eating a French dip sandwich at Philippe’s a few blocks up from Olvera Street, the oldest road in the city.

There in Philippe’s, a hippie nods at Vikar’s head and says, “Dig it, man. My favorite movie.”
Vikar nods. “I believe it’s a very good movie.”
“Love that scene at the end, man. There at the Planetarium.”
Vikar stands and in one motion brings the food tray flying up, roast beef and au jus spraying the restaurant —
— and brings the tray crashing down on the blasphemer across the table from him. He manages to catch the napkin floating down like a parachute, in time to wipe his mouth.
Oh, mother, he thinks. “A Place in the Sun, George Stevens,” he says to the fallen man, pointing at his own head, “NOT Rebel Without a Cause,” and strides out.

Tattooed under Vikar’s left eye is a red teardrop.

Is it possible he’s traveled three thousand miles to the Movie Capital of the World only to find people who don’t know the difference between Montgomery Clift and James Dean, who don’t know the difference between Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood? A few blocks north of Philippe’s, the city starts to run out and Vikar turns back. He asks a girl with straight blond hair in a diaphanous granny dress where Hollywood is. Soon he notices that all the girls in Los Angeles have straight blond hair and diaphanous granny dresses.

She gives him a ride, staring at his head. She seems odd to him; he wants her to watch the road. I believe perhaps she’s been taking illicit narcotics, he thinks to himself.
“Uh,” she finally starts to say, and he can see it right there in her eyes: James Dean, Natalie Wood . . . what will he do? She’s driving and, besides, she’s a girl. You can’t smash a girl over the head with a food tray.
“Montgomery Clift,” he heads off her blunder, “Elizabeth Taylor.”
“Elizabeth Taylor,” she nods. “I’ve heard of her . . .” pondering it a moment. “Far out.”
He realizes she has no idea who Montgomery Clift is. “You can let me off here,” he says, and she drops him where Sunset and Hollywood boulevards fork, at a small theater —

— where he goes to the movies.
A silent European film from the late Twenties, it’s the worst print Vikar has seen — less a movie than a patchwork of celluloid — but he’s spellbound. In the late Middle Ages a young woman, identified in the credits only as “Mlle Falconetti,” is interrogated and hounded by a room of monks. The woman doesn’t give a performance, as such; Vikar has never seen acting that seemed less to be acting. It’s more an inhabitation. The movie is shot completely in close-ups, including the unbearable ending, when the young woman is burned at the stake.


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