Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Spike Lee At Book Soup
More amazing happenings here in L.A for 2011.
Sunday (1/9/11) It's my first full day out since the New Year and as it wasn't as cold or rainy, I decided that I would go to see director, Spike Lee, at a book signing on the Sunset strip at 3pm. After church, I made a quick stop at Bed Bath and Beyond to gave away free 20% coupons to thankful shoppers (I luv doing this, 'cause you get all the thrills of bargain shopping but without the cost). I finally headed up Sunset Blvd. to Book Soup at 4:00 pm (over 1 hr late).
I had never been to Book Soup but I had heard that it was a small trendy and edgy West Hollywood book store that has been known to attract local celebs. Still, I wasn't expecting for Paris Hilton to practically run into me as I was a few steps from the entrance of the place. Paris was checking her phone, as usual(for calls from BFFs I'm sure), so I guess that's why we got as close as we did. Thankfully, she looked up quickly when she sensed the near collision. I said quite officially "hello, Ms. Hilton" and walked by her, she looked at me and said hi" with a little pouty smile then we agilely skirted each other then she was back on the phone. Needless to say she looked pretty out of place in a bookstore like Book Soup and a few people looked very surprised at seeing her there. However, we must remember that Paris is an author and entrepreneur so why not hang out in a bookstore.
I hope Paris doesn't use that cellphone the same way while she drives though cause that could end badly. Funny Recollection: My second day in LA back in '07, I went on a Hollywood tour that began at Paris' former home the week after she had been arrested for another reckless driving charge (Lindsay Lohan was arrested that weekend too, if I recall correctly). Amazingly (and not in a good way), tourists from Sweden got off the bus and took pictures of the trash cans outside Paris' home--the home of a person famous (at that time) for doing nothing- and they took pictures of her trash cans even after knowing she had moved out of the house 3 days prior.
Fashion V.S. Vanity:
It's no news that Paris is a spoiled rich girl with an affinity for the wrong side of the law but she has a good style sense and she was dressed to the nines. She looks thin BUT she doesn't look anorexic-skinny so that's a good thing. Girl has had some work done, too but she keeps it minimal(lips injections etc). Her clothes, accessories and skin/make-up were all very good, too. Even better was that I saw our reflections in the windows as we passed each other and, IMHO, I looked just as gorgeous despite being on a budget(read-with no Paris Hilton hair extensions, no Paris Hilton perfume, no Paris Hilton shoes and no Paris Hilton jewelry). I'm laughing now but I was a bit disappointed in myself that I, as a mature Christian, could think of such vain things at such a time. Still, it was truly what I thought as I straightened my gold metallic sweater, patted my hair and did a pouty smile too. Then I clutched my giraffe print hobo bag, fluffed my faux-fur collar and strutted past Paris into the store in my comfortable but trendy croc knock-offs-lol. Seriously though, I am praying that I'm becoming less vain about myself and just more assured and confident in the Lord and where the Holy Spirit is leading me.
I entered the store with an eagerness that I reserve for a very select few in Hollywood or other-wise. I'm a big Spike Lee fan and I've followed his career closely for nearly 30 years. I've always wanted to meet the man and one of my dreams was to perhaps work with him or for him someday. In fact, when I moved to New Jersey for my fellowship in 2002, I would head to NYC for classes but with the distinct hope of dropping my script treatment off at Lee's 4O Acres And A Mule production company in Brooklyn so you can imagine that I was real eager to see him.
The book clerk pointed me to the back of the store for the Spike Lee signing which was all but over. I stepped further into the somewhat cramped bookstore and squeezed by a line of well dressed 40 something black people who were navigating the narrow book-laddened aisles to exit the store. I was immediately certain that they, like me, had only come to Book Soup on that particular day because of Spike Lee. Spike was there signing the last copy of his book, Do The Right Thing, and talking to some fans as the staff packed up for him to leave. Spike wrote the Oscar nominated script for the movie, Do The Right Thing, then he went on to produce, direct and star in the ground breaking 1989 movie. Do The Right Thing was very controversial 20 years ago but it did lots to promote discussions about race and racism in America. The music for the movie was also ground-breaking, as it's the first award-worthy movie that I remember with a strong hip-hop score and attitude (Public Enemy's Fight The Power and Tina's dance etc).
This new book is a behind-the-scenes retrospective of the making of the film, with photographs and interviews with the crew and cast as well as anecdotes and all the related controversies. It's also about the films historical relevance in this so called "post-race age". (I have even read reports that it was the Obamas' first date movie.) The book is a hard cover with a lovely muted fuchsia hued still photo of the back of Spike Lee as he sits on a bed in his role as Mookie, the main character from the movie.(By chance, I later got the blurred photo above of Spike in the exact same position-genius). The Book Soup staff was all a-twitter by all the in-store traffic Spike had garnered and they happily told me that there were no more books to buy. Apparently, they had sold over 100 copies of Spike's book in less than an hour, which was some sort of record for them. Actually, at a price of $39.95 and in this economy, selling out all the books is practically a miracle but, by all accounts, the book is worth every penny.
I walked up to the table where Spike was signing the last book and chatting with its owner, another devoted fan. I tried to stay calm as I said my "hellos" and I expressed how much I love his work. Spike was real cool about everything so we talked about casual things and things we both liked like basketball. I asked why he wasn't heading to the Lakers v.s the NY Knicks game already. The game was at 5 pm and it was already about 4:20 pm. He said "That's where I'm going to now" and he opened up his sports jacket and showed me that he was decked out in orange and blue Knicks team apparel. We talked sports for a bit longer even playfully argued the outcome of tonight's game. There is a minuscule chance of the Knicks winning only because of the Lakers having recent injuries and big losses but Spike was certain that the Knicks would definitely win (gotta love that NYC swagger). I'm not a fan of either team but Spike is a BIG Knicks fan and his heckling of opposing teams while court-side during Knicks games is legendary (think Reggie Miller and Indiana).
I mentioned to Spike that one of my brothers had worked with him on 2 of his films in New York. Spike smiled and then he asked, "who's your brother?", but before I could tell him a lady (pretty and in pink) snuck up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Spike turned around quickly then whooped in delight to see her. They grabbed each other in a bear hug then they both started laughing loudly and instantly reminiscing. I gathered from their conversation that the lady in pink was a close personal friend and fellow filmmaker but they get to see each other rarely now because she lives here in LA.
Spike and his friend talked at the counter for a while and I marveled at how expressive his face and body was. As they talked further I could tell I would have to put my Spike-mania on hold in order to let the 2 friends reconnect. It was still nice just standing there watching them though cause they talked about a lot of insider Hollywood things ("you missed the party last night" (at another famed director's house)..." I saw your latest work"... then, "how are the kids?" ) and so I got to pretend that I was in the know for a while, too :D I feel really blessed as I had such unbelievable access. I had some great photo opportunities, too but I decided that taking pictures would prove I didn't belong (it's weird how that works-lol).
Under her pink jacket, Spike's friend was wearing a t-shirt with the smiling face of a 10 year old afro-wearing Michael Jackson on it (MJ was really a cute kid whether black or white). She said that the shirt was Spike Lee's own design from MJ's memorial birthday block party held in Brooklyn in 2009. Cheeky me, I told Spike Lee that I wanted one in my size if he could get it. I had forgotten about the Michael Jackson event and I had also forgotten that Spike had directed Michael's controversial "They Don't Care About Us" video in 1991 so I guess that's how they knew each other.
Like I said, meeting Spike Lee was like a life-long dream come true and I could have hung around him all day. He is very animated and fun but at the same time he is very exacting, detailed-oriented and he certainly speaks his mind. Though Spike is only about 5 ' 4" tall, he can be a bit intimidating to some but I liked it because he's a large presence but not in a "I'm a famous director Hollywood snob" kind of way but in an "I'm a brother from NYC with mad-skills” kind of way, which is way more real. I soaked in as much of Spike's atmosphere as I could without looking like a stalker, which is a fine line to walk for a true fan if you ask me but I'm getting the hang of it.
Another 15 minutes flew by with Spike and his friend talking and laughing with Spike intermittently inquiring a about a few business details from the bookstore staffers as they wrapped his book signing event up and prepped for another author's book signing at 5 pm. Spike gifted a signed copy of his book to his friend and the friends did one last hug then Spike was ready to leave. He grabbed a small paperback book by another author that he'd found while at the store and asked the cashier to ring it up. The book was only $7 so I quickly jumped in and told Spike, "let me pay for it as a gift for you!" and I grabbed my wallet and quickly whisked out $7 in crisp bills ($5 and 2 dollar bills) and thrusted them pleadingly at the staffer. Spike looked at me and chuckled but pulled out his own wallet and cash ($5 and 2 dollar bills too—great minds think alike).
The staffer looked at Spike for direction as I insisted. "Please, let me! When will I ever have the chance to treat you, a big-time director?". Then I added the obvious, "I can't afford you"! Spike seemed to hesitate for a fraction of a second and it looked like he would humor me. He exchange quick conspiratorial glances with his friend and the cashier then he smiled and said, "No, I'll pay for it" and he did. As he waited for his receipt, I lamented to him that now I won't have a great true story to tell about my $7 gift to the famed director. Both Spike and his friend smiled kindly and told me to go ahead and tell my story because it was still an interesting one (especially after how strongly I insisted to pay-lol). I could tell that they are both writers at heart because they enjoyed the telling of a good story no matter the conclusion. So I've written about it sort of at Spike Lee's bequest and now you're the first to read about it. God is amazing!
As they are about to leave, Spike's friend reminded him that I had been eagerly waiting in the wings for him. He turned to me expectantly but I thought that I'd better let him get to that basketball game on time so I didn't delay him any further. They left together through the employee exit in the back then Spike returned a few minutes later for a bag he had accidentally left behind the counter. I had to resist the urge to mob him again and so I engrossed myself in a book about the life of musician, Jimi Hendrix and only took sneak peeks over my shoulder at him while he found what he was looking for. I saw him exit again and I heard a car rev-up outside as he finally drove off.
After Spike Lee left, I spent about 30 minutes listening to authors of 2 John Lennon books as they discuss their work at another book signing then I browsed around the store a bit.
Book Soup: My Impression
Book Soup was smaller than I expected and very indie in style with lots of nooks and crannies and tall ceilings and bookcases (see video). It is very unlike Borders or Barnes & Nobles' massive corporate hyper-merchandising style and the patrons seem to love it that way. The store seemed stuck in an 80's time-warp and it seemed to fit in more with the Silverlake neighborhood than the indulgent style of the Sunset Strip. There was even a feel of small town Americana in the back with an American flag and an old fashion cash register.
I love browsing in libraries and bookstores of all kinds so an hour quickly raced by. I saw great books about Peter Falk (TV's Columbo), the life of ballerinas (my interest inspired by the movie, Black Swan) and one on Picasso that I thought I'd get. I liked a few pictorials table-top photo compilations and one or two arts and craft books caught my eye, too but I ended up leaving without buying anything. Maybe next time when I have more time to really browse.
The Sunset Strip:
I left and headed down the Sunset Strip, that mile or so of expensive real estate that's bordered by the exclusive Hollywood Hills and runs along Sunset Blvd. through West Hollywood. As would be expected, I passed some of the most expensive and popular boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs and rubbed shoulders with more bar hopping blond party girls wearing 6 inch stilettos, mini-skirts and fur. Important men whized by me in fast luxurious cars, making important cell phone calls and going somewhere obviously more important than my destination. Sadly, I also saw some of the most desperate looking homeless, drunk and mentally ill people I've ever seen.
L.A. is so night and day... good and bad... amazing one moment and not so great or even stinky the next. Even the weather is getting to be like that these days. After 3 plus years here, I'm not so sure I can or should adjust to its dichotomy. I think I care too much. About Spike Lee. About those busy rich businessmen in their luxury cars. About Paris Hilton and those other giggling party girls trypsing non-chalantly by... and about every glassy-eyed homeless person on the street corner. I am encouraged though by what Jesus said at the pharisee's house in The Parable of the Great Banquet found in the book of Luke Chap 14 especially verses 16-24.
In this passage, Jesus tells us of a certain man who prepared a great banquet and invited many rich and famous guests but they were too busy to attend when it was ready. The man then sent his servant out into the streets and alleyways to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame to partake of his feast and then he announces that none of his previous invitees would ever taste of his banquet. This is a powerful scripture to contemplate as the feast is the Kingdom of God. God doesn't disapprove of being rich, famous or even busy but He asks that we make Him a priority and that we attend when the banquet is ready. Deep stuff!
Later when I got home, I saw Spike on TV sitting courtside at the game. He was hanging out with Lindsay Lohan as they cheered for the Knicks. Everything seems to have come full circle for Hollywood. A happy ending just like in the movies. Spike Lee is back cheering on the sidelines at a Knicks game, Paris and Lindsay are both out of jail and rehab and back enjoying life... and the Knicks are still losing.
Next Up: Sunday 1/16/11 – True Grit Movie review and Golden Globes summary.