Los angeles

An insight into the American Dream: Table for Two, by Amor Towles, reviewed

Amor Towles was a Wall Street banker before he published his first novel, Rules of Civility, in 2011, at the age of 46. Since then, his books have sold six million copies, and the second, A Gentleman in Moscow (2016), has been made into a Paramount + series starring Ewan McGregor. Towles’s success in banking and publishing has perhaps given him a particular insight into the American Dream. The six stories and one novella that make up his stylish and confident new collection, Table for Two, all feature characters in pursuit of an ambition that puts them in varying degrees of peril – protagonists tasked with missions of differing seriousness.

Restless visionary: Man Ray was always ahead of his time

In the summer of 1940, after almost 20 years in Paris, Man Ray fled the Nazis for the country of his birth. Disliking New York, where he’d spent his youth, he made for the West Coast. He hoped to get as far as Tahiti or Hawaii. But his trip came to an end when, braced by the space, lifted by the lack of skyscrapers (‘made me feel taller’) and swept off his feet by a dancing girl (the latest in a long line of hoofers for whom he’d have the hots), he settled in Los Angeles. Though he would live there for more than decade, he never really liked the

Startlingly sadistic: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, by Quentin Tarantino, reviewed

There’s no doubt that Quentin Tarantino is a movie director of brilliance, if not genius. But can he write? Well he can certainly tell a good story. What we have here is Tarantino’s ninth feature film, a 1960s Hollywood yarn about a fictional actor and his stunt double, but rendered in book form. Rick Dalton is the TV and B-movie actor, while his stuntman, Cliff Booth, ruined his own career by beating up Bruce Lee during a shoot. He’s now reduced to being Rick’s driver and drinking buddy. The two of them are on the slide, but things start to look up when Rick lands a role in a new

Life’s a bitch: Animal, by Lisa Taddeo, reviewed

Lisa Taddeo’s debut Three Women was touted as groundbreaking. In reality it was a limp, occasionally overwritten account of the sexual hang-ups of three ordinary women. It took eight years to research and write. It didn’t seem worth it. Luckily, she was also gathering material for a novel, Animal, a book teeming with the rage, frustration and drama so lacking in the debut. The same motifs and ideas —mothers, desire, shame — appear, but with a story that twists and turns. Animal is the first-person account of Joan, a slightly unhinged 37-year-old woman: ‘I am depraved. I hope you like me.’ She leaves New York after her former lover shoots

Evil under the sun

When James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential appeared in 1990, it introduced us to a world of blatant corruption, casual racism and routine police brutality that, a year before anybody ever heard of Rodney King, might have seemed fanciful to some. Set in the early 1950s, the novel was a landmark in neo-noir writing, in which historical detail mingled with pacy fiction to conjure up a city that was both highly glamorous and rotten to the core. At the same time, Ellroy’s staccato, near-telegraphic prose drove the action relentlessly onwards, with an urgency that seemed designed to swamp not just the reader but also the protagonists themselves with noise, movement and a

No longer the tough guy

Only to Sleep is the third Philip Marlowe novel written by someone other than Raymond Chandler and while the authors of Perchance to Dream and The Black-Eyed Blonde both found freedom to play with Marlowe and explore his potential, it is Lawrence Osborne who has run the furthest with the source material. The novel opens in 1988, with Marlowe living in retirement in Baja, Mexico. He is 72, and enjoying a leisurely life in the sun, when he is asked to take on one last investigation into insurance fraud. A Reagan-era Marlowe unlocks an aspect that Chandler never considered. His Marlowe was ageless (he wrote that the detective was around

Exploring walkable Los Angeles

‘You’re going where? Why? No. No you’re not! On your own?’ This was not the response I’d hoped for when I mentioned to my friend and colleague Mary Wakefield where I planned to go on holiday. ‘What’s wrong with downtown LA?’ I asked. She said: ‘Last time I was there I saw a man stabbed in the public loo.’ I’m no snowflake, but as I touched down in LAX I had visions of corpses piled up on the sidewalk. I needn’t have worried. Mary was last here more than a decade ago and, as I discovered from the moment I left the airport, modern technology has transformed the tourist experience

Ga Ga Land

Los Angeles stinks. Not just of the usual things: sex, money, suntan oil, hipster food, surfer wax — odours that I like. There’s a new whiff in town, and it’s a bad one. Weed. The smell of marijuana hangs over LA like an invisible menace. It’s an omnipresent fug. To walk from one end of a street to the other, whether it’s along the chaotic Hollywood Boulevard or the half-gentrified, half-terrifying Broadway in downtown LA, is to risk developing a skunk habit. I swear I almost got high popping out for a bottle of Dr Pepper. It’s such an awful smell. It’s the smell of a Nietzsche-reading teenager’s bedroom, the

Caveats be damned

You will have registered the buzz surrounding La La Land and clocked its seven Golden Globe wins and 11 Bafta nominations. However, I know you won’t believe it’s wonderful unless you hear it directly from me, so here you are: it’s wonderful. Mostly. It’s wonderful, with a few caveats. I feel bad about the caveats but if you have caveats and repress them, it can make you quite ill in later years. Best to get them out there. But just so we’re clear: La La Land with caveats is still more wonderful than almost anything else. It is written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), who grew up loving old-style

Keanu Reeves’ asshole motel owner is one of the more sympathetic characters: Neon Demon reviewed

The first time we see Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn’s cannibalistic catwalk, she’s reclining on a silk couch in a purple dress, her blonde hair up in an elaborate crown braid and her throat slashed. Colourful gemstones circle her eyes and deep red is streaking all the way from her neck down her arm. It doesn’t take long for us to figure out this isn’t a crime scene but a fashion shoot. In the next scene, Fanning ritualistically wipes the stage blood away while a makeup artist (Jena Malone) undresses her with her eyes. Malone is the first of several women who will look at Fanning

Prince and me

This is only interesting, well a bit interesting, because the poor man died last Thursday and for a few short days almost anything with the word Prince in it stands a chance of getting some traction. So forgive me if this feels a bit rushed. And opportunist. And exploitative. And attention-seeking. It’s all of those things because I’m cashing in. Obviously. If you want nothing more to do it with it, I can only applaud you. But for those of you who want to know more about the incredible untold story of my time with Prince, read on. I met him six years ago. Downstairs in his house in Los

Downtown Los Angeles

There’s a certain kind of Englishman who falls hard for Los Angeles. Men such as Graham Nash, who swapped the Hollies and rainy Manchester for Joni Mitchell, David Crosby and Laurel Canyon. The LA of beaches, semi-rural hills and freeways can work wonders on an English heart. But the city has another side — a place most Angelenos never venture. Downtown. The old heart of the city is a vision of how LA might have turned out. It has skyscrapers, art deco buildings and even an underground railway. It feels like Chicago, except that even on a Saturday afternoon, many streets are deserted. Some of those gorgeous pre-war buildings are

A sex vampire on wheels

The title of this book tells you a lot. Jack Sutherland, who grew up in London and Los Angeles, worked as a personal assistant to Michael Stipe, the singer in REM and, later, to Mickey Rourke. He also worked as a limo driver in Hollywood. A drug addict, he gravitated toward crystal meth, which can make you both wired and horny, sometimes for days on end. So we know to expect a particular brew of glamour, indignity and recrimination that perhaps some readers (including me) have come to enjoy. Sutherland certainly delivers — with a bit of glamour, an awful lot of indignity and not too much recrimination. But there’s

LA runs riot

Ryan Gattis’s novel All Involved is set in South Central Los Angeles in 1992, during the riots that began after four white police officers were acquitted of beating the black taxi-driver Rodney King. The inadvertent coup that the book’s publishers have scored by bringing it out in the wake of the Baltimore and Ferguson riots only underlines how far we haven’t come since then: some lines from this buzzing thriller might still be quotes from yesterday’s news stories, such as the impassioned complaint of one character against the police: ‘If you’re brown or black, you’re worth nothing. Killing you is like taking out the trash. That’s how they think.’ Judging

Isn’t it condescending to call it the ‘special’ Olympics?

Tomorrow sees the start of the Special Olympic World Games in Los Angeles. I’m sure you’ll be watching with great interest. Just one question: what does the word ‘special’, as used by the event organisers, mean, exactly? Is it to alert us to the possibility that the athletes taking part are even better than those who take part in the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, Olympics? And if they are not, then again, what does the word special mean in this context? Isn’t it all a bit condescending?

Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy reviewed: among the best visual evocations of LA there are

It is true that, like wine, certain artists don’t travel. Richard Diebenkorn, subject of the spring exhibition in the Royal Academy’s Sackler Wing, is a case in point: an American painter who is revered in his native land, but of whom few will have heard over here. Will the RA show change that, and — more crucially — does it deserve to? Up to a point. Diebenkorn (1922–93) was no Mark Rothko or Willem de Kooning. He was a second-generation abstract expressionist, almost two decades younger than those two, and a lower-voltage talent to boot. But he created some memorably beautiful pictures, most of the best of them situated in

Life in the LA ghetto was nasty, brutish and short — until one brave detective took on the gangs

Los Angeles ghetto life — thrashed, twisted and black — is not a world that most Americans care to visit. Black Angelinos can be — and for a period in the 1980s and early 1990s, were — murdered for a trifle. The slightest act of ‘disrespect’ may call for a tit-for-tat killing, where an entire family is rubbed out to avenge a perceived affront. Such disregard for human life is unknown in the white neighbourhoods of LA. Is there a specifically black predisposition to gun crime? Or is that too narrow an assumption? The violence endemic to Watts, Compton and other black LA suburbs is reckoned (by some) to be

Joan Collins’s diary: The joy of fake Christmas trees

Every year Christmas comes earlier and earlier in America. Cards, baubles and imitation trees were being sold in the big department stores in August, and the street decorations have been up in Beverly Hills since well before Halloween. From late October onwards, it’s the season of dressing up and showing off in downtown LA. Street parades are all the rage and hundreds of thousands of people saunter around in costumes, some gorgeous, most grotesque. Infants and children are usually done up as baby chicks or bunnies, which is inoffensive — but some adults go beyond the boundary of what is acceptable. On Santa Monica Boulevard I saw one inordinately fat

David Hockney interview: ‘The avant-garde have lost their authority’

‘I just stay here and do my thing,’ David Hockney told me soon after I arrived at his house and studio in Los Angeles this August. ‘I’m not that interested in what happens outside. I live the same way as I have for years. I’m just a worker.’ Hockney has been labouring prodigiously for more than 60 years now, since he entered Bradford School of Art at the age of 16. ‘There is something inside David,’ his assistant Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima noted, ‘that drives him to make pictures.’ In the summer of 2013, after a series of disasters — including a minor stroke and the terrible death of a

James Ellroy’s latest attempt to unseat the Great American Novel

Aficionados of detective fiction have long known that the differences between the soft- and hard-boiled school are so profound that, as P.D. James observed, it seems stretching a definition to place both groups in the same category. Over here we have, or used to have, a comforting story concerned with restoring order to the mythical village of Mayhem Parva; across the Atlantic, the detective novel is expected to tackle the rotten, usually urban, underbelly of the American Dream. Violent, cynical and disquieting, it has also become a significant challenge to the more refined attempts at the Great American Novel. James Ellroy’s detectives are not only inured to confronting vice but