Looking at Los Angeles: launch at Hermès, Beverly Hills

Last night, my blog-pal Jen Collins and I crammed our pockets with tiny imaging devices and crashed the "Looking at Los Angeles" launch party at the Gallery at Hermès on Rodeo Drive. The phonecam snap here is Jen with Ed Ruscha (okay, one of his photos) all over her face.

Rodeo is pronounced "ro-DAY-oh," and Hermès is pronounced "air-MEHZZ", which led us to wonder whether the cultured elite who frequent both places refer to a popular sexually transmitted disease as "air-PEHZZ."

Guests spotted included Ben Stiller, Diane Keaton, Eve, and artist Christian Moeller — he designed a multimedia installation on the boutique's third floor with images from this new book of photography, Looking at Los Angeles (Metropolis), edited by Stiller with Marla Hamburg Kennedy. Lots of cool images in the book. Images of the city's past. The people, the architecture, the place as it ages and regenerates over time. Some projected on walls, others viewable through a long bank of little pinholes; attendees bend forward, peek inside, see a photo.

Paparrazi take more photos, tuna tartare trays float by. Young, hot wall candy chat behind flutes of Veuve Clicquot.

But when Jen and I walk outside, we witness something amazing. Like walking into a David Lynch film, or one of the photos from the book. An elderly gentleman — must have been a vet — drove by in a big white boat of a car. US and Marine flags on the roof; sad, old music blaring from an ancient radio inside. He'd left the interior light on. The car seemed to swallow him. We wondered how his feet reached the pedals. He drove about 3 miles an hour; even stillettoed celebutantes outpaced him. Everyone on the street stopped as the car approached, stared, listened.

"So was that guy a ghost, maybe, or what?," asked Jen. "I wish I could identify the music–I think that would help me understand him a little. What do you think it was?"

Link to crap-o phonecam video of unidentified elder Marine vet driving amazing boat-car with spooky music (.avi, 4.5 MB).

Reader comment: Kit Goode says, "Nightmare by Artie Shaw was playing in the background of the video you posted."

And Michael Gonyea adds, "The gentleman in your video appears to be driving a 1990 – '97 Lincoln Towncar. I instantly recognized it because I unfortunely drive one at the moment."

Link to crap-o phonecam video of Jen and other Hermès gallery opening attendees. (3g2, 450K)
Link to more phonecam snapshots of Jen.

Here's an excerpt from the book — an essay by Ben Stiller:

When I was a child growing up in New York, Los Angeles was always a special destination. Coming here meant Disneyland, sunshine, the Skipper Alan Hale Jr.'s Lobster Barrel on La Cienega Boulevard, Dudley Do-Right's Cartoon Emporium on Sunset, the Universal Studios tour, my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Joanie's cool turreted little Tudor in what I would later learn was Whitley Heights. The Magic Castle, miniature golf, and a long skateboard run on a new Fibreflex with Road Runner wheels down Sunset to where it fed out to the PCH.

It smelled different, it felt different – it was fantasyland. And I loved it. I guess that might be why I moved here eventually. And of course, I grew up, and my impression of L.A. changed. It became real. I discovered that life happened here like everywhere else. The special places of my youth were still special in my mind. But as time went by, it became just the place where I lived. Disneyland was just another exit on the freeway.

Image: Diane Arbus, A Castle in Disneyland (1962). Link to the rest of Stiller's essay, as reprinted in the LA Weekly. If you dig the book, check out this event happening in LA on June 18 hosted by the LA Conservancy (the group benefits from book sale proceeds): Link.