Thursday, January 28, 2010
Let it be known that as a graduate student in Boston, I made extra cash working for an entertainment company called Siagel Productions, for whom I was a "party motivator." * Anyone who's been to a fancy Bar/Bat Mitzvah knows what this means: I arrived in tight black pants with a DJ and danced at the front of a hotel ballroom, handing out party "props" like plastic fedora hats and glow sticks, teaching 13-year-olds line dances, and helping with the candle-lighting ceremony, the hora, or the motzie. This job was part camp-counselor, part go-go girl, part hostess. I loved it. I can do a MEAN electric slide.
That's right everyone, I've been to something like 150 of these events. There are certain characteristics to each party that can set them apart, such as the quality of the food, the ingenuity or expense of the decor, the type of entertainment, etc. But I've seen it all: french fries to filet mignon, 70s disco DJs to live string quartets, roller skating basketball tricks to chocolate fountains and instant-photo keychain machines, life-size posters of a plucky teen posing via Photoshop with various celebs, yards of translucent white fabric lit with supremely expensive LED lights that change color with the music. Party planning is serious, serious business, and it is as intricate an art as stage or set design.
All this as intro to the story: on Jan. 17th, Linz and I got to go to one of the very most beautiful Bar Mitzvahs **I've ever seen, for Jeff Bridges***, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel with our friend from NBC, Ted Chen, and another new friend, makeup artist Rachel Wood. Rachel took all the pics here, except for one fuzzy gem Ted took, which you'll get later.
The security at this party was utterly ridiculous.
At one point we were told that the fire marshal had demanded no more people enter the very exclusive rooftop room, for which there was a long and irritable queue, and then, when we got in by virtue of being "press," we found the room draped in gold and nearly 2/3 empty. At this Bar Mitzvah, I saw Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, both looking quite fine, posing for pictures. There were a lot of "very important people" there, actually, but many of them I didn't recognize because I don't watch TV. And I don't understand the celebrity grading system--someone is on the "D-list?" Who?
I met eyes with sexy men in tuxedos who not only seemed to expect me to have a flash of recognition when I saw them, but seemed also to be studying my face for their own sense of recognition. I did a lot of staring. I imagine I looked a bit crazy.
Linz and I are sure, in fact, that we went a bit crazy. Every conversation was surreal. People somehow didn't seem to want to talk about how proud we all were of Jeff Bridges becoming a man. We met people who proclaimed the entertainment industry to be full of assholes and idiots, while they danced to "Play That Funky Music" and smoked weed openly on the dance floor. Rachel and I stood outside in the rain, huddled under an umbrella, while two bartenders told us we were the most impressively "real" women they'd met all night. I was wearing fake eyelashes, more makeup (gorgeously done by Rachel) than I ever have without being on stage, and had a dress with built-in boobs. So the "real" came from something other than my appearance. Maybe it was how I demanded a vodka soda?
"What about Jeff?" I asked them. They looked at me blankly.
I talked to Steve, a happy person who left his very-important-person position at HBO to live in New York and produce independent movies. He said he liked coming to big parties in LA because he could see people he'd forgotten about. "If you forget about them, doesn't that mean they don't matter much?" I asked. "Not necessarily," he said. "It could just mean I forgot about them."
I discovered that when press people talk about high-profile celebrities, they put them in one of two categories: "down-to-earth" or, not. For example, I hear Sandra Bullock is "down to earth." It is very difficult to get someone to name a celebrity who is not "down to earth," but I know they exist, simply by their absence in a conversation about "down to earth-ness."
Ted and his camera-magician Mark explained that the difference is simply a level of humility perceivable within the first few seconds of talking to a celebrity. The famous person either understands that they are playing a game in all but the creative aspects of the entertainment industry, and they know how to put others at ease with their awareness of the game, or, they play the game without irony, which means they see themselves as actually more important than other people. Tricky, I think, to stay down-to-earth when in fact, the security at the Beverly Hilton can be clearly heard to say into their walkies: "Don't let anyone else in unless they're press or a celebrity." Poor guy at the door, who has to make that decision. Does he let a B-lister in? What about a D-list celebrity, who has on a very, very nice dress?
"This is such a fun game," I said, to a man standing in line ahead of me, for the single and only open bathroom outside the main dance floor at the most expensive party I've ever seen. "Game?" he said. "The wait-for-the-bathroom game," I said. "Not everyone gets to play this one."
Do you know you're playing a game? The best way to see it, that I know of, is to take mushrooms or acid, but going to a big Hollywood party can work, too.
Ted introduced me to The Edge, one of my heroes, and I was startled to frustration. "Thank you for changing things for more than one generation," I said, flustered and without any preparation. "Oh thank you, Vanessa," he said. I didn't know how to tell him I knew about the game, and I really am one of the people who uses his art outside of it as well as I can. I didn't say, "I don't care what the purists say, Popmart was brilliant and changed the way I think about all of pop culture." I didn't say "Your playing is fundamentally the most honest guitar I've ever heard and helps me tell the truth as a writer." I didn't say, "I don't belong here." How could I? I was at a party that was, by definition, part of the Big Game. And so was he. He looked me directly in the eyes and smiled warmly. He was very down to earth. "See?" said Ted. "I think so," I said.As with every other big fancy hotel Bar Mitzvah I've been to, there were no long conversations, no new real friendships made, no revelations, no creative explosions. We drank watered-down cocktails, we danced to Earth, Wind, and Fire, we slipped past men with earphones and severe faces to marvel at the Godiva chocolate room (I shoved two white chocolate bars into my tiny clutch like a sugar addict does), we spotted people we recognized and didn't say hello to them. Linz and I tried to undermine a rampant social impulse to chit-chat, and were occasionally a bit successful. I think our success was largely due to the fact that we were young pretty girls who looked otherwise "appropriate" for the situation, and so no one expected us to say things like, "What's a party like this for, really?" or "Don't you think Star Wars Episodes 1-6 were the most important movies of the 20th century?" or "Isn't this the best Bar Mitzvah you've ever been to?"
Although I didn't get to talk to Jeff all night, because you know, it's just so hard to say hello to everyone at your own party, it was a pleasure to be part of the celebration. Mazel tov, to the entire family!
* That's true.
** a.k.a. The Golden Globes after parties. No, I'm not making a tired joke about Jewish Hollywood. I'm making a very different tired joke about how self-congratulatory Hollywood is, and how it promotes its own according to an internally-organized set of arbitrary requirements. Much like most religions do.
***I do, in fact, admire Jeff Bridges, and think it's wonderful that he got recognized for Crazy Heart.
at 3:47 PM