A Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Newsweek Best Book of the Year
It is an August afternoon in 1969. A hippie "family" led by Charles Manson commits five savage murders in the canyons above L.A. The same day, a young, ex-communicated theology student walks Hollywood Boulevard, having just arrived in town with the images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his shaved head.
At once childlike and violent, Vikar is not a cineaste but "cineautistic," sleeping in the Roosevelt Hotel where he is haunted by the ghost of D. W. Griffith. He has stepped into the vortex of a culture in upheaval: drugs that frighten him, a sexuality that consumes him, a music he doesn't understand. He's come to Hollywood to pursue his obsession with film, only to find a Hollywood that's as indifferent to film as it is to Vikar.
While the movies have appeared in a number of Steve Erickson's novels, from Days Between Stations to The Sea Came in at Midnight, they dominate Zeroville with the force of revelation. Over the decade of the seventies and into the eighties, as the old studios crumble before the onslaught of a new renegade generation, Vikar becomes an unlikely film editor, possessed of an astonishing artistic vision. Through his encounters with starlets, burglars, revolutionaries, escorts, punk musicians and veteran film-makers, he discovers the secret that lies in every motion picture ever made. Combining an epic scope with popular accessibility in the spirit of its subject, Zeroville is the ultimate novel about the Movies, and the way we don't dream them but rather they dream us.
|Publisher:||Europa Editions, Incorporated|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.32(w) x 8.27(h) x 1.02(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Steve Erickson is the author of several novels, including Tours of the Black Clock, Rubicon Beach, The Sea Came in at Midnight, Our Ecstatic Days and Arc d'X. His novels have been translated into ten languages. Erickson is the editor of the literary magazine Black Clock, published by the California Institute of the Arts, where he teaches writing. He also is the film critic for Los Angeles magazine and the author of These Dreams of You (Europa Editions, 2012). He lives in Topanga Canyon with his wife and son.
Read an Excerpt
By Steve Erickson
Europa EditionsCopyright © 2007 Steve Erickson
All right reserved.
On Vikar's shaved head is tattooed the right and left lobes of his brain. One lobe is occupied by an extreme close-up of Elizabeth Taylor and the other by Montgomery Clift, their faces barely apart, lips barely apart, in each other's arms on a terrace, the two most beautiful people in the history of the movies, she the female version of him, and he the male version of her.
This is the summer of 1969, two days after Vikar's twenty-fourth birthday, when everyone's hair is long and no one shaves his head unless he's a Buddhist monk, and no one has tattoos unless he's a biker or in a circus.
He's been in Los Angeles an hour. He's just gotten off a six-day bus trip from Philadelphia, riding day and night, and eating a French dip sandwich at Philippe's a few blocks up from Olvera Street, the oldest road in the city.
There in Philippe's, a hippie nods at Vikar's head and says, "Dig it, man. My favorite movie."
Vikar nods. "I believe it's a very good movie."
"Love that scene at the end, man. There at the Planetarium."
Vikar stands and in one motion brings the food tray flying up, roast beef and au jus spraying the restaurant-
-and brings the tray crashing down on the blasphemer across the table from him. He manages to catch the napkin floating down like a parachute, in time to wipe his mouth.
Oh, mother, he thinks. "A Place in the Sun, George Stevens," he says to the fallen man, pointing at his own head, "NOT Rebel Without a Cause," and strides out.
Tattooed under Vikar's left eye is a red teardrop.
Is it possible he's traveled three thousand miles to the Movie Capital of the World only to find people who don't know the difference between Montgomery Clift and James Dean, who don't know the difference between Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood? A few blocks north of Philippe's, the city starts to run out and Vikar turns back. He asks a girl with straight blond hair in a diaphanous granny dress where Hollywood is. Soon he notices that all the girls in Los Angeles have straight blond hair and diaphanous granny dresses.
She gives him a ride, staring at his head. She seems odd to him; he wants her to watch the road. I believe perhaps she's been taking illicit narcotics, he thinks to himself.
"Uh," she finally starts to say, and he can see it right there in her eyes: James Dean, Natalie Wood ... What will he do? She's driving and, besides, she's a girl. You can't smash a girl over the head with a food tray.
"Montgomery Clift," he heads off her blunder, "Elizabeth Taylor."
"Elizabeth Taylor," she nods. "I've heard of her ..." pondering it a moment. "Far out."
He realizes she has no idea who Montgomery Clift is. "You can let me off here," he says, and she drops him where Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards fork, at a small theater-
-where he goes to the movies.
A silent European film from the late twenties, it's the worst print Vikar has seen-less a movie than a patchwork of celluloid-but he's spellbound. In the late Middle Ages a young woman, identified in the credits only as "Mlle Falconetti," is interrogated and hounded by a room of monks. The woman doesn't give a performance, as such; Vikar has never seen acting that seemed less to be acting. It's more an inhabitation. The movie is shot completely in close-ups, including the unbearable ending, when the young woman is burned at the stake.
Afterward, he makes his way farther west along Sunset before cutting up to Hollywood Boulevard. Where once was the Moulin Rouge nightclub at the corner of Vine is now a psychedelic club called the Kaleidoscope. Vikar really has no idea what a psychedelic club is. Along Hollywood Boulevard are shabby old jewelry shops, used bookstores, souvenir stands, porn theaters. He's startled there are no movie stars walking down the street. Still hungry from having sacrificed his French dip sandwich at Philippe's, he orders a chicken pot pie at Musso & Frank, where Billy Wilder used to lunch with Raymond Chandler while they were writing Double Indemnity, both drinking heavily because they couldn't stand each other.
He spends a few minutes looking at the footprints outside the Chinese Theatre. He can find neither Elizabeth Taylor nor Montgomery Clift. At the box office he buys a ticket and goes inside to watch the movie.
As Vikar traveled on what seemed an endless bus to Hollywood, the Traveler hurtles through space toward infinity. Dimensions fall away from the Traveler faster and faster until, by the end of the movie, he's an old man in a white room where a black monolith appears to him at the moment of death. He becomes an embryonic, perhaps divine Starchild. Vikar has come to Los Angeles as a kind of starchild as well, a product of no parentage he acknowledges, vestiges of an earlier childhood falling away from him like dimensions. Vikar tells himself, I've found a place where God does not kill children but is a Child Himself.
He's now seen two movies, one of the Middle Ages and one of the future, in his first seven hours in Los Angeles. Vikar crosses Hollywood Boulevard to the Roosevelt Hotel, built by Louis B. Mayer, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in the year the movies discovered sound.
Vikar walks through the Roosevelt lobby, which has a statue of Charlie Chaplin. With its stone arches and palm fronds, it's slightly seedy; the first Academy Awards were held here forty years before. At the front desk, he asks for room 928.
The young clerk behind the front desk says, "That room's not available." His long hair is tucked into his collar beneath his coat and tie.
"Are you certain?"
"Seventeen years ago," Vikar says, "Montgomery Clift lived in that room."
Vikar restrains the urge to pick up the small bell from the desk and lodge it in the philistine's forehead. For a moment he considers the image of the clerk having a bell for a third eye, like a cyclops. People could walk up and ring it, and every time they did, this infidel would remember Montgomery Clift. "Montgomery Clift," Vikar says, "lived here after making A Place in the Sun, when he was filming From Here to Eternity."
11. The clerk says, "Hey, man, have you seen Easy Rider? I usually don't go to movies. I'm into the Music."
"The Music." The clerk turns up the radio. There's a song playing about a train to Marrakesh: "All aboard the train," the singer sings. It's horrible; they've forgotten A Place in the Sun for this? Vikar also suspects there's something narcotics-related about the song.
"Montgomery Clift's ghost lives in this hotel," Vikar says.
"No," the clerk answers, "that's that D.W. guy."
"It's in the brochure. He died here or something, busted." He adds, "I don't mean busted like by the cops-I mean broke. His ghost rides up and down the elevators trying to figure out where to go."
"I think that's him," the clerk nods, impressed, "yeah, D. W. Griffin." He looks at the register. "Room 939 is available, that's in the other corner at the other end of the hall, so it's like Room 928 except backward."
"By now," the clerk shrugs, "they may have changed around all the numbers anyway."
"The ninth floor is probably still the ninth floor," says Vikar.
The clerk seems slightly stunned by this. "Yeah," he allows, a sense of revelation sweeping over him, "the ninth floor is probably still the ninth floor." In the register Vikar signs Ike Jerome, which is not an alias. No one, including himself, calls him Vikar yet. He pays cash; the clerk gives him the key and Vikar heads to the elevator. "That was heavy, man," the clerk calls after him, "that thing about the ninth floor."
When Vikar steps in the elevator and pushes the button for the ninth floor, one by one all of the other floors light up too.
At each floor, the door slides open. Vikar feels someone brushing past him, leaning out and peering just long enough to determine it's the wrong floor, before continuing on to the next.
Vikar can't see the Chinese Theatre from the window of room 939, but he can see the Hollywood Hills and the Magic Castle above Franklin Avenue. Houses topple down the hills in adobe and high-tech, some rounded like space ships. Leaning far to the right and staring west toward Laurel Canyon Vikar could also see, if he looked for it, the speck of the house that he'll live in nine years from now. The morning after his first night in the Roosevelt, he walks down the hallway and finds, as the clerk advised, room 928 at the other end, and peers in as the maid makes it up. From its window overlooking Orange Street, Montgomery Clift couldn't see the Chinese Theatre either.
That first night in the Roosevelt, Vikar has the same dream he always has after every movie he sees, the same dream he's had since the first movie he ever saw. In his dream there's a horizontal-shaped rock and someone lying on the rock very still. The side of the rock seems to open, beckoning to Vikar, like a door or chasm.
Vikar stays at the Roosevelt three nights. When he checks out, he asks the clerk where Sunset Boulevard is. The clerk directs him south on Orange. "When you get to Sunset," he says, "see if you can hitch a ride west." He motions with his thumb. "That will be to your right, man."
"I know which direction is west."
"That's where the Music is."
"Thank you," Vikar says, leaving quickly, still inclined to lodge the desk bell in the clerk's head.
He sees phosphorescent cars and vans painted with cinemascopic women with stars in their hair and legs apart and the cosmos coming out of the center of them, bearing travelers and starchildren. At Crescent Heights, Sunset winds down into the Strip's gorge, and Vikar stands as if at the mouth of wonderland, gazing at Schwab's Drugstore....
... he knows the story about Lana Turner being discovered there isn't true, but he also knows that Harold Arlen wrote "Over the Rainbow" there and that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a heart attack there. Vikar is unclear whether F. Scott Fitzgerald actually died there; he lived somewhere around the block. Actually, he's unclear about F. Scott Fitzgerald, beyond the fact he was a writer whose work included The Women, starring Joan Crawford, although he didn't get a screen credit.
Across the street, on an island in the middle of the intersection, is a club called the Peppermint Lounge. Another kid with long hair points Vikar north, up the boulevard into the canyon. "Check it out," he advises, staring at Vikar's head, "about half way up you'll come on this old fucked-up house where people crash." The hippie adds, in a manner at once conspiratorial and breezy, "Lots of chicks up there who don't wear anything, man."
An hour later, halfway up Laurel Canyon Boulevard, grand stone steps swirl into the trees, to a ruin a little like Gloria Swanson's mansion in Sunset Boulevard. William Holden's role in Sunset Boulevard was written for Montgomery Clift, who turned it down because he was afraid the character of a younger man kept by an older actress was too much like him; at the time Clift was seeing an older actress, one of the rare romantic relationships with a woman he had. Someone at the country store in the belly of the canyon tells Vikar the house is where Harry Houdini lived while trying to become a movie star in the twenties, making movies with titles like The Man From Beyond, Terror Island, The Grim ... The Grim ... The Grim what ...?
The only chick Vikar finds who doesn't wear anything is three years old. Standing in the clearing of what was once the house's great living room, she has dark curls and a preternatural gaze.
She looks at Vikar, the pictures of the man and woman on his head, the tattooed teardrop beneath his left eye. She's undecided whether to laugh or cry. A paternal distress at the vulnerability of the little girl standing alone before him sweeps through Vikar, and he feels a surge of rage at whoever could have abandoned her here. For a few minutes the man and girl study each other there under the cover of the canyon's trees.
Vikar turns to look over his shoulder at the voice behind him.
The most beautiful woman he's ever seen off a movie screen calls to the little girl. With long auburn hair and a tiny perfect cleft in her chin, in the same gossamer dress that all of the young women in Los Angeles wear, she smiles at the tattooed man a cool, almost otherworldly smile he's never seen, its source a secret amusement. At the same time, he's relieved to sense in the woman the same concern for the girl's safety that he feels. The woman's eyes lock his; he smiles back. But she's not smiling at him, rather she's smiling at her power to enchant him-and it's like a stab to his heart for him to realize that he is the reason for her concern, that she would believe for a moment he could hurt a child. When the woman's eyes fix on his and she softly says the girl's name again, it's as if trying not to provoke a wild animal only feet away.
"Zazi." This time the young woman glides slowly to the middle of the ruins to take her daughter and back away from Vikar slowly, clutching the girl to her. Neither the woman nor the girl takes her eyes off him. The woman looks at Vikar a moment longer as if to make certain the spell will hold long enough to get the girl to safety.
Then she turns and carries the child across the boulevard to a house on the opposite corner, the small girl watching Vikar over her mother's shoulder.
Like the wild animal the woman believed he was, Vikar stalks the grounds of the Houdini House in the dark, pounding on the walls, trying to remember. The Grim ...?
Houdini was related to one of the Three Stooges by marriage. I'll bet I'm the only one in this Heretic City who knows that.
Vikar later learns that the Houdini House has secret passages leading to all parts of the canyon, although he never finds one. The house across the boulevard on the corner, where the young woman took her daughter, once belonged to Tom Mix. Now it's occupied by an extended family of hippies led by a musician with a Groucho Marx mustache. Hippies and musicians everywhere ...
... but something has happened, it's become a ghost canyon.
Above the ruins of the house, Vikar sees caves in the hillside. A fire burns in one and he makes his way to it, climbing through the trees. The cave has two entrances, forming a small tunnel. Inside the cave, a young couple huddles around the fire.
Vikar stands in the mouth of the cave. The young man and woman look at Vikar, at his bald illustrated dome, and spring from the fire lurching for the cave's other opening.
Vikar watches them run off the hillside into the night air, then plummet the rest of the way down into the trees and the stone ruins of the house below.
Excerpted from ZEROVILLE by Steve Erickson Copyright © 2007 by Steve Erickson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author....................333
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read this book in one sitting. If you love any of the following things--old movies, Hollywood, the 1960s, Montgomery Clift, naive main characters, freaking weird main characters, books that are profound because they are difficult to understand, books that seem to make sense after mulling them over for a month, books that stick with you long after you read them--read Zeroville by Steve Erickson. I am not familiar with his other work, but if this book is any indication, he is one of the most criminally ignored writers in America.
There are several things I want to say about Steve Erickson's Zeroville, but none of them really describe what's going on here. The first would be that you really need to love and know vintage movies to get this, but that's not entirely true. Yes, it would add to the experience to know the difference between Rio Bravo and Red River, and to understand what Vikar means when he says that Travis Bickle is in another movie where he's a boxer. But that's also completely unnecessary to get into the quest--and that's what this story is, a quest--that Vikar undertakes. The second is that this story, with its piles upon piles of coincidence, wonder and desperation reminds me, more than any other book, of House of Leaves. I think Vikar and Johnny have a lot in common, but Vikar's quest is absent the unnamed menace of Johnny's.Vikar knows movies. In fact, that's all he knows. He finds his feelings in them, but learns how to communicate with others not through what is said during movies but rather what the people around him say about the movies. That's the thing about Erickson's writing that makes this book so hard to pin down: it's not a book about the movies, it's a book about how we feel about the movies. And in a way, it's a book about how the movies feel about us. Vikar gives his whole life to unspooling a cosmic reel of questions--saying that makes the book sound lofty and sanctimonious, but Erickson brings it down to earth with the grit of Vikar's obsessions, appetites and fears.Like House of Leaves, I'm still not entirely sure that what I have written about Zeroville is even accurate. But to its credit the book was fun to read, even through its ruminations on God and sacrifice, so that I am ready to revisit this, and soon.
I liked it, but it was a probably a bit over my head. I would recommend it, and I loved all of the references, but yeah, I'm not quite sure what happened.
Zeroville by Steve Erickson is a cult novel. You can tell it's a cult novel because it's full of very hip cultural references and it's hero is a disaffected wanderer with tendencies towards violence. I like cult novels and I liked Zeroville.Vikar Jerome, the novels hero, sort of strays into Hollywood without much of a past and without much of a plan for the future. What he does have is a head full of cinematic knowledge; so much so that it is actually visable. He has a tattoo of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from A Place in the Sun on the side of his head. Vikar reminded me very much of Hazel Motes from Wise Blood, probably because I just read it, and of Ignatius J. Riley from A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I think if you crossed the two of them and threw the product into The Day of the Locust you'd be pretty close to understanding Zeroville.I fear that, so far, this probably sounds like I didn't like the book, but I'm just not sure quite what to make of it yet. One of the characters talks about seeing a movie six times and saying "God, I hate this movie," every time, then seeing it a seventh time and saying "God, I love this movie." I think that may be a common experience with readers of Zeroville. After Vikar wanders into Hollywood, he sort of wanders into a series of jobs in the movies culminating with a chance to direct his own film. Along the way he meets various people and befriends them through no real effort on his own part. All he really wants to do is watch movies, and watch movies he does. Erickson spends a lot of time summarizing the movies Vikar sees; sometimes he names them and sometimes we have to guess what the movie is. He does the same things with the people Vikar meets, naming a few celebrities and letting us figure out who the rest of them are. Far from becoming annoying, this is actually fun. In fact, I plan to thumb through the book and add most Vikar's movie lists to my Netflix queue. Throughout the novel Vikar is haunted by a recurring dream and by the idea that all movies contain a secret movie that wants to be released. How readers react to the way this idea plays out will probaby determine whether or not they end up liking the book enough to seek out Mr. Erickson's other work. I'm not really sure what I think of it, but I'll be thinking about it for a while; I'll also be looking into other books by Steve Erickson.I'm giving Zeroville by Steve Erickson five out of five stars.
Much less obscure than some of his earlier works, but somehow I miss the dense atmospherics. I read it yesterday in a single go while waiting at an airport and the imagery has stuck with me, demanding to be deciphered. I think I'll be at it for a while. Like reading Delillo, it subversively takes up residence in your head.
That's a good thing.
Surreal and magical. Hollywood mythology.
i bought this book a few years ago as a gift for a film-buff friend and ended up buying a second copy for myself! it's a phenomenal read that i simply couldn't put down.
I couldn't put this book down. It is gripping and a great read. Also a lot of fun for film fans.