So I was walking on Hollywood Boulevard, and I went to see an exhibition at the LACE gallery, a “storefront installation” of photographs by Ave Pildas, titled Hollywood Boulevard The 70s. Pildas worked as an art director at Capitol Records just up the street, and he took thousands of pictures on the Walk of Fame, between 1972 and 1975, although just 50 were on display at LACE.
Pildas says, "At that time people were saying the country was tilted to the West and all the crazies rolled towards California. They stopped just short of the ocean and landed in Hollywood."
I can testify to the essential accuracy of that. This was the time I first set foot on Hollywood Boulevard: in 1974. I was a fairly young, though not entirely naïve, English hitchhiker, absorbing the very last rays of the hippy sunset, and although there was still a “sex and drugs and rock and roll” vibe to Hollywood, it didn’t feel like any summer of love. The place was scary. The people didn’t just look crazy, they looked downright dangerous, and as I remember it, way less benign than the ones who appear in these photographs.
I was saying all this to my walking and exhibition-going companion, the photographer Jason Oddy. Jason has been known to take photographs in the street, though he’s a very long way from being a street photographer. He takes very serious, very beautiful and elegant, and largely depopulated photographs, like this one of Mentouri University, Constantine, Algeria, 2013, from the “Concrete Spring” Series:
We were both struck by this faux Ku Klux Klan photograph in the Pildas exhibition:
Jason said he didn’t imagine you could get away with that kind of thing on Hollywood Boulevard anymore. And I said I was kind of surprised you could get away with it even in the early seventies. These days Hollywood feels like a perfectly safe and civilized place.
I’m not sure just how much of a walker Jason is, but I dug out an interview with him in which he said that Thomas Bernhard’s novel Correction “is the nearest book I have found to a Bible. This relentless novel addresses every major theme: the trials and torments involved in becoming an authentic, autonomous human being; the problematics of writing; even the meaning and possibilities — as well as impossibilities — of architecture. All of it suffused with the blackest of humour and told in Bernhard’s inimitable, incantatory prose. It’s writing taken to the limit.”
I’m a fan of Bernhardt too and although I haven’t read Correction I do know that its narrator writes, "A description of the road from Altensam to us in Stocket and a description of the road from Stocket to Altensam, naturally two entirely different descriptions…" But of course. Later in the book Bernhard says, “Who had the idea of letting people walk around on the planet, or something called a planet, only to put them in a grave, their grave, afterwards?” Well, who indeed?
After we’d seen the Pildas exhibition we went for a brief drift, and I was muttering a few platitudes about Hollywood Boulevard being some kind of crucial indicator of the state of Los Angeles, that of course it had once been seedy and dangerous, but it was gentrifying just like everywhere else in LA, and compared with the bad old days it’s positively a haven of calm and safety.
At which point we were both hit in the face by some kind of liquid, and we looked around and saw a laughing crazy young black man hurrying rapidly away. We could see he had some kind of squirt bottle in his hand, with which he’d no doubt squirted us, but it was all very sudden and we were too slow to think about pursuing him. And of course we wondered what was in the bottle, and then a guy from a local open-fronted restaurant came up and said, “Did that guy just squirt something at you?” And we said yes, and this guy had been squirted too, and we said to each other, “Do you think it’s water or something worse?” and we more or less agreed that it probably was water, but it took us a while before we were absolutely certain. Obviously we agreed that it could easily have been something much worse. And maybe back in the 70s it would have been something much worse. But it did suggest that Hollywood Boulevard hasn’t quite become Disneyland, which on balance is a good thing, I suppose.
Here's a link to the LACE, Pildas Exhibition: