An alien from the fifth dimension lands in Hollywood (with a camera, handily) and takes a fact-finding tour with a skanky seller of psychedelic mushrooms. Mondo Hollywoodland is the result, a weird survey of the territory that makes half-hearted claims towards being a documentary.
Bizarre points to note before the tour gets underway: it’s exec-produced by James Cromwell (yes, that one) and Francis Ford Coppola is namechecked in the “special thanks” credits at the end. Bizarre because Mondo Hollywoodland has that “assembled in the garage” feel, almost as if it’s taken a bunch of random footage and attempted to weld it together into a story, as some kind of bet.
The old joke about California was that it was the muesli state – full of fruits, nuts and flakes. And as the well spoken, slightly over-enunciating alien (who we never see) is given the tour by drug-selling Normand Boyle (Chris Blim) we meet plenty of all three categories. Normand himself is a flake of the first order who spends downtime between excursions trying to gas the rats in his roof, using carbon monoxide from his car exhaust as a lethal agent.
It’s Normand, I think, who first uses the adjective “mondo” to describe what the alien is seeing, kicking off with the roomful of drug-taking skanks Normand hangs out with. Then on to Ted (Alex Loynaz), the motormouth producer whose life runs on cocaine. Paloma (Miranda Rae Hart), the actress with oodles of Instagram followers who’s trying to get her role in a movie rewritten. Caesar (Aaron Golden), who makes giant spheres – “I like to make stuff that speaks to me. And then I speak back to it.” His partner Naya (Palmer Jones), the “astrological priestess”. Daphne (Alyssa Sabo), the passionate antifa activist, arsonist and blader. Barry (Barry Shay), the ageing fitness instructor full of boilerplate encouragement. What links them all is their self-obsession and that they’re all in their own way weirdos. Mondo.
Over three distinct chapters (titled Titans, Weirdos and Dreamers), visually it veers from the chaotically shot and luridly lit to the crisp and clean. Sonically it’s an eclectic and never obvious mixtape of music from Borodin to 1960s garage. And narratively – as activist Daphne starts tracking down a neo-Nazi – it eventually starts to shape itself into something along the lines of a Raymond Chandler noir. Chandler being the bard of Hollywood (though a Brit), this is entirely appropriate.
You say “mondo”, I say “gonzo”. Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is in here somewhere. So, in the way it tracks a demi-monde, is Kenneth Anger. You could also point at the trash aesthetic of John Walters. Or the found-footage and rapid cutting of the 1980s Scratch Video movement.
A bit headache inducing, in other words, especially in its more hallucinatory moments, though it does settle down a bit once it’s done its warm-ups, and by the end Janek Ambros’s film has become relatively slick and easy to follow.
“Mondo, the language, the true cosmic language,” says producer Ted towards the end as Mondo Hollywoodland tries to sum up what we’ve learned. What have we learned? There’s nothing really being said here about Hollywood that hasn’t been said before, but Ambros and fellow writers Chris Blim and Marcus Hart have been properly entertaining and as a viewer you feel like you’ve been given “the tour”.
Mondo Hollywoodland is bookended by sped-up black and white footage from ye olde Hollwoode – with the likes Claudette Colbert and Charlie Chaplin blitzing by – and the main takeaway seems to be that here’s a place where the fictional has bled back into the everyday, to often amusing, sometimes disturbing, effect. If nothing else we learn how hard it is to live in Hollywoodland, a state of mind rather than a place. The sheer effort all these people put into leading their lives, whether it’s being a bitch all day, or a dealer, or a fitness coach. And being “on”. These people are all always “on”.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021