It’s a rare Hollywood party that commands you to show your hard-shell entry pass at “the first checkpoint.” Yes, scribe, there will be other muster and security points. Your job: Get past them and the phalanx of cops prowling Sunset Boulevard, guarded this night like a war zone, to stalk famous people at the illustrious Vanity Fair Oscars after-party.
The Los Angeles-based celebrity industrial complex has become so steely serious about itself that it now behaves like security-obsessed Washington — especially on Oscar night, when, in the words of Raymond Chandler, you will see “half the police force of Los Angeles gathered to protect the golden ones from the mob in the free seats.”
It took Chandler, our great noir crime-fiction writer, to call out the repugnantly self-congratulatory spectacle that the Oscars had become by mid-century — and still is. “I have to admit that Academy Awards night is a good show and quite funny in spots, although I’ll admire you if you can laugh at all of it,” Chandler wrote in the Atlantic in 1948.
“If you can glance out over this gathered assemblage of what is supposed to be the elite of Hollywood,” he dared, “and say to yourself without a sinking feeling, ‘In these hands lie the destinies of the only original art the modern world has conceived.’ ”
“If you can stand the fake sentimentality and the platitudes of the officials and the mincing elocution of the glamour queens (you ought to hear them with four martinis down the hatch); if you can do all these things with grace and pleasure, and not have a wild and forsaken horror at the thought that most of these people actually take this shoddy performance seriously.”
If you can do all that, you may ask, then what?
Then it is our privilege, esteemed sir or madam, to welcome you past the barricades into the sanctum of 8680 Sunset Blvd., where the five-buck glossy magazine — a venerable part of the motion-picture-shilling machinery — is putting on its annual ritual of celebrity suck-uppery. The party, which was sputtering out around 2 a.m. Monday, is a boozy, candid exposition of what happens when celebrities party amongst themselves.
How fascinating it is. These acclaimed actors, directors and other industry worthies do astounding things. They swill free drinks, scarf down free hamburgers and suck on free e-cigs. Some of them dance and even use an Oscar statue as a microphone while wailing “Twist and Shout”; some of the ladies wearily remove their heels and walk barefoot; people kiss their dates; until everybody eventually gets bored, and then they leave.
They are just like us, sort of: the bleary-eyed hacks who drew the short straw and had to be there to watch with practiced interest the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Michael Fassbender, Bill Murray, Bruce Dern, Laura Dern, Sally Hawkins, Amy Adams, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen DeGeneres, Lupita Nyong’o, Mr. and Mrs. Bono Vox and . . .
So forth and so on. Those names and many others appeared on a list Vanity Fair released of attendees, not all of which could be confirmed via the process of laying mortal eyes upon them.
In terms of authentication, it complicated matters that journalists were expressly warned not to bring notebooks or tape recorders to memorialize the proceedings.
But by then, we, personally, were too embarrassed to even try to stalk a winner after a weekend of hearing endless, insipid queries posed to celebrities by our brethren: “What advice would you give to your 17-year-old self?” and “How did it feel to [insert accomplishment]?” and “Where will you keep your Oscar?”
It seemed best to remain silent in shrunken self-loathing.
Vanity Fair also forbade the use of social media. Well, darn. If only we could have tweeted or photographed some of the glamorous moments that transpired in the party venue, which appeared to be a makeshift, glassed-in jumbo garden shed. (Vanity Fair described it as “a 12,000-square-foot aerie offering dramatic views of the city below.”)
“She’s freezing cold. Put your arms around her,” Bill Murray said, directing a young woman to a bystander who seemed willing to oblige.
“Why do you keep slapping him?” a nicely begowned young woman — maybe a starlet — asked another, also famous or not.
“Because,” said the second, “I’ve got to sober him up.”
Near the exit, Spike Lee, in spiffy sneakers and hat, munched a bag of Lay’s potato chips and talked serious baseball history with Bruce Dern, who no longer looked like the bloated, nasty old drunk he played in “Nebraska,” but he still looked old.
Anjelica Huston — or, at least, somebody who resembled her in mien and size — squashed into a wall-hugging scribe as her friend warned, “Watch your Dior!”
“How about if I say, ‘This party is like a condensation of Cannes for one night,’ ” said a man with a forbidden notebook to someone closely resembling the writer-director James Toback, who gave his approval to the incendiary quote.
And if only we could have Instagrammed all the false eyelashes that blurred by — enough to build a ladder to the stars or, at least, a balcony you could sing from. (Although they still principally use silicone to build such balconies here.)
Capping the luxe Hollywood stylings were portable toilets — “The Andy Gump ‘Platinum Restroom,’ ” the trailers boasted — clearly a grade well above the Port-a-Potty. Given the aromatherapy candles and T.J. Maxx-issue wall art inside, one could imagine a Gump competing with one of Paris’s finest pissoirs.
“I was in the ladies room and I heard somebody ask, ‘Do they have the lettuce burger?’ Women. That’s just sad,” pronounced a member of the female species to a companion.
Nearby, a hungry crowd lined up to order In-N-Out burgers from a truck serving regular and no-meat treats. With chips.
Limos were rolling out fast.
After 2:30 a.m., the star power had almost entirely dimmed. Two off-duty L.A. policewomen in flashy gowns giggled and bounced appreciatively as the DJ spun a set of golden oldies — way back to Buddy Holly.
Overheated dancers quaffed Voss water but only in martini glasses; all others were gone.
You can take it from here, Mr. Chandler.
“. . . if you can do all these things and still feel next morning that the picture business is worth the attention of one single intelligent, artistic mind, then in the picture business you certainly belong, because this sort of vulgarity is part of its inevitable price.”
Farewell, then, Los Angeles. Farewell, my lovely.