California Dreaming, Responsibly

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


Directed by Steven Peros

At The Quad

Runtime: 80 min.

Most people who go to the movies
have never been to Hollywood. They never see Hollywood as a factory town where
movies—and the idea of movies—are manufactured and marketed, which is probably
why they don’t understand the political economy behind its product (although
they’ve probably seen it featured in a movie). Some filmmakers and journalists
like to promote the myth of Hollywood as a wonderful, harmless dream machine
but that disingenuous notion is touchingly subverted in Steven Peros’ Footprints.

Peros (who wrote the script for The Cat’s Meow, Peter Bogdanovich’s
William Randolph Hearst-Mary Pickford-Charles Chaplin love triangle movie)
wrote and directed Footprints from
native inspiration about his hometown’s myth, starting with the courtyard of
celebrity footprints and signatures in cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
It’s where his protagonist (
Sybil Temtchine) first
appears—out of nowhere, unconscious of how she got there or her background. She’s
among the displaced drifters, tourists, wannabes congregating on Hollywood
Boulevard. Their vagrancy represents allegiance to the dream factory myth by
people without any practical relationship to the industry.

Footprints explores this universal
deception explored sociologically as the lost girl searches for her memory and
identity, her cause generously taken up by transients, celebrity impersonators,
working-class residents and other sympathetic lost souls (including a
Scientology proselytizer). A black homeless man (Jeris Lee Poindexter)
introduces himself with a fascinating rant about Hollywood’s tacit racism,
evident in the Grauman’s imprints, those artifacts of ritualized deification
identifying moviestar status: “You got to step on Sidney Poitier to get to the
ATM machine! Only Eddie Murphy’s [prints are] up front!” 

Peros’ critique sharpens when a
former B-movie actress (played by Pippa Scott) refers to industry habit: “I
think it’s so silly—all those newscasters talking without an accent all night
and then suddenly, when they say their name, in two words they have an ethnic
identity.” To this particular L.A. observation, the lost girl reflects, “I don’t
have an ethnic identity,” which makes her a perfect symbol of Gen Y naiveté and
Gen X consumerist anonymity. 

It’s time that we replace the A Star is Born canard of guileless
people venturing to Hollywood to become movie stars—not with Ashton Kutcher’s
ludicrously cynical/sappy Hollywood exposé, Spread,
or even the nihilist fantasy that David Lynch’s Inland Empire became. Peros substitutes his understanding of Los
Angeles’ real Inland Empire, a socially specific interior aspiration that he
localizes in movie land’s allure. “Hollywood’s like a black hole sometimes,” an
elderly, string-tie cowboy type says. He has a Peckinpah face—like William
Holden’s or Gig Young’s—of youth in desuetude, lined with experience. And if
you’ve ever visited Hollywood, you’ve seen that pathos amidst the ads, posters and
beneath the hilltop Hollywood sign landmark, as a fact of street life. 

But Peros doesn’t just explore
Hollywood Boulevard’s tawdriness; he has empathy for it. His sensitivity
deepens when the old actress graciously dubs the amnesiac girl “Daisy”—the F.
Scott Fitzgerald dream name of desire and ambition, linking it to a literary
legacy. Footprints earns a place
alongside Delmore Schwatz’s short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibility” and Frank
O’Hara’s poem “Ave Maria” for its insight into the effect movie culture has on
our psyches. (Schwartz’s famous story quoted Yeats but changed the tense of “begins
responsibility.” Peros restores how Yeats demarcated dreams from life itself
and depicts everyday life in Hollywood responsibly.) “Who am I? Please tell me
who I am!” Daisy pleads to fans who mistake her for someone famous. As
trenchantly as Nathanael West’s The Day
of the Locust
, Peros sees the unlucky, yet looks past layers of glamour,
empowerment, wishfulness, destitution. 

Blocks of pavement seen in this
passing parade (providing its route and signposts) visually symbolize Peros’
journey through Hollywood mythology. A montage of sidewalk art proclaiming, THE
ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD, prompts Daisy’s astonished “I don’t know what brought me
here!” It’s an Alice in Wonderland
puzzlement befitting our fame-crazed media culture where tabloid media leaves
consumers envious and bereft. This social, personal truth is pierced so
poignantly that Footprints feels like a spiritual documentary.

Recognizing Hollywood as a place
were con artists and dreamers converge, Peros avoids industry hypocrisy. His
sentiment is based in humane feeling that suffuses each character portrait. The
close-ups have a soulful Bogdanovich quality that extends to Peros’ recall of
Hollywood history. “Sometimes Hollywood has so much clutter: past, present—even
the future,” is how the old cowboy explains the way of all flesh to Daisy. Footprints opens lingering on a mural of
Liz Taylor, and Peros conjures the beautiful, sad legends of Gene Tierney and
Rita Hayworth—ideally invoking the sensual, tragic masterpiece The Shanghai Gesture, because Josef Von
Sternberg certainly understood the politics of eroticism and ambition. 

Going where Von Sternberg pointed,
but beyond where Schwartz, O’Hara, West and Fitzgerald could see, Peros pursues
lost memory, lost history, lost identity, letting Footprints reveal the
deceptions of our idol-worshipping age.