Zeroville by Steve Erickson

Steve Erickson is a writer who lives in Topanga Canyon and has a huge cult following. His latest book has a main character who’s obsessed with film. The book itself has more interesting ideas about movies than I’ve read in years. Everyone has something to say about movies. Steve Erickson will happily sacrifice a character to get in one more point about movies. But it’s never more weight than the narrative can sustain.

The book takes place in the seventies and eighties, weaving a credible show biz rise and fall into a recognizable landscape. There are the rewards of figuring out who’s who. Some characters are obvious–Viking Man is clearly John Milius, a great choice as a guide to the scene. Others are either amalgams or more deeply disguised. The main character, Vikar–an Aspergian film editor with a scene from A Place in the Sun tattooed on his head–is the most original creation. His repeated observation, “I believe it is a very good movie,” works on many levels, including that of comic catch phrase.

There is also the satisfaction of reading scenes that take place at the Los Angeles revival houses where I used to watch movies when I was growing up. My best friend Robert worked at the Nuart, so junior and senior year of high school I got to see movies there for free. The night before I left for college, we took over the theater and had a screening and a party. I wonder if that’s when the contest began.

I went to Yale and Robert went to Berkeley. But we were both racing to see who could be the first to watch every movie that ever won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Long distance calls were expensive, so we’d keep each other updated with elaborate attempts at collect calls, which the other person would then politely refuse. Robert would receive a collect call from “Marty,” he would know it meant I’d seen the best picture winner of 1955. Tom Jones was 1963.

Throughout the year, we pushed the limit of what we could get an operator to say.

Yes, I have a collect call from Alla Bouteve…

A collect call from Howgreenwa Smyvalley…

Collect from Fromhere Toetern Ity…

We never paid a penny for a call.

Reading Steve Erickson made me think about that for the first time in years. It made me think about movies and remember that I love them. And it made me realize I’ve still never seen A Place in the Sun.

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