Hollywood Boulevard

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I drove through Hollywood one night and came across a police pursuit. Several squad cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring were chasing a speeding car and a police helicopter flew overhead shining a search light. For a kid from Texas fresh out of college, this was pretty exciting. I kept driving and a few minutes later came across another group of police cars in the middle of the street. This time the street was blasted by lights hanging from heavy stands and cranes. I saw trucks, generators, dollies and people with walkie-talkies, clip boards and huge rolls of tape. These police cars, however, were fake, and so were the cops. Take your pick: real crime or movie crime.

Years before I started photographing Hollywood Boulevard I hung out at Gorky's, a restaurant named after the Russian Revolutionary novelist and poet Maxim Gorky. The decor was red, of course, with a hammer-and-sickle motif and huge posters of the bearded, beret-wearing writer. Gorky's was a cafeteria that served socialist-type food, (meatloaf and cabbage), at capitalist prices. Open 24 hours a day, you could stay almost all day without anyone asking you to leave. The idea was to give writers a place to compose and share ideas. But these poets didn't flinch at dropping twenty bucks on lunch. Most of them, I think, were working on screenplays.

Gorky's closed down around the same time the Russians tired of communism. That's too bad, because it would have made a good addition to these photographs, which I started making in 1995. Hollywood Boulevard, like Gorky's, is a kind of facade. It clings vainly to an image of glamour it had 50 years ago. It can be a sad place because it is home to hundreds of rebellious and ignored teenagers who have no money, no jobs, and nowhere else to go.

A couple times a month the glitz is restored, if only for a few hours. The limousines and paparazzi converge at the Chinese Theatre for a movie premier and fans vie for a glimpse or snapshot of a movie star. The tourists smoke a cig like James Dean and put their feet on Marilyn's shoe prints in the cement. Hallowed ground. Hollywood Boulevard is a lot like Gorky's: it pretends to be something it is not, but people try to have fun there anyway.

David Butow                 
May 1997 - Los Angeles, Calif.
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