Jean Barker

Hollywood's dirty dreams

2012-08-17 09:18

We all know there's a Paris in Texas, but is there a Hollywood in Africa? Turns out yes, there's a suburb in Swaziland called Beverly Hills, and a section in Langa, Cape Town nicknamed for the city of big dreams.

Hollywood's myth is so strong that Bollywood and Nollywood are its derivatives. All over the world, hotels and apartment buildings attempt to imbue their crumbling walls with some kind of glam using the name that's synonymous with fame. But it's not just fame that people seek here, it's also escape – into a world where explosions aren't real, where happy endings are possible, where unarmed protesting mine-workers don't get shot dead in cold blood.

Hollywood is the American dream – but with boobs on!

This drew me here, thousands of miles from home, too. I didn't expect what I found. The real Hollywood isn't some scene from Californication – a perpetual paradise of hot philandering and magic hour lens filters just laid out for the plundering penises of failed writer divorces.

Instead, it's like a run-down mining town, where there's a lot less gold than anyone expected, and a lot less left over every day. It's a mining town full of false claims, liars, charlatans, whores... packed with people who come here with stars in their eyes and stay, believing that if they just keep digging in the dirt for one more month, if they just meet the right person, if they just crack that one audition, they'll be one of the people who live on the stretch of Sunset Boulevard that leads towards the beaches of Malibu.

Of course, the reality is that most dreamers aren't Charlize Theron. They'll wind up on the other end of Sunset, sharing a decrepit one-bed next door to a motel with the sign letters missing, sweating through summers without air-con, serving drinks to other wannabes in a bar they can't afford to drink in themselves. Until, finally, they give up.

The thing is: Who knows when it's time to stop dreaming? I stopped for coffee in Los Feliz – a funky up and coming suburb in LA – the other day. An old man sat down at the next table. He was soon joined by a friend, also gray-haired and unsteady in the summer heat wave. I eavesdropped on their conversation.
- How's it going with that script?
- Good. I think this is going to be the one. I'm into the second act.
- I had a really cool idea the other day myself.

I looked down at the unfinished screenplay in my own hands. I wondered whether one day, this would be me.

You see, Los Angeles is full of Ghosts of Failure Future.  There's grinning ghouls who lose interest once they assess you as “nobody”, the desperately ambitious who stab you in the back just to spite you, the newbies and fakers who don't yet know enough to know they know nothing, and the people who've given up and stopped caring so completely that they don't even bother faking a smile anymore.

On the other hand, there are the stars, the artists, the exceptions. There are the magic moments when you get to shake these heroes' hands, to remind you that anyone with true passion can make a movie that plays all over the globe and changes lives forever.

I wondered briefly how I'd know when it was time for me to quit. Then I took a sip of my coffee and carried on writing.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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