Bret calls from Mulholland

February 28, 2010

I met Bret Easton Ellis last April in Los Angeles.  I have been meaning to blog this for a little while. Here is what happened…

I contacted Bret Ellis and told him about my festival, that I had dedicated my new film The Beautiful and Damned to him and that I was a serious fan. I compared him to F.Scott Fitzgerald. He got back to me and suggested a meet next time I was in LA.

I was in LA in April 2009 and Bret was on the cover of the new Fantastic Man fashion magazine that month as I got off the plane. I contacted him again, we spoke and worked out a meet at a restaurant called AMMO, on Highland between Santa Monica and Sunset.

I thought this would be pretty cool meeting him as I consider Ellis one of the most important living authors and an inspiration to me in my work. JG Ballard had just died, so, his stakes went even higher in my estimates with that sad news…

I decided to wear the following as tribute to American Psycho: a shirt by K-Subi, suit pants from a Giorgio Armani suit, shoes by Prada and a black velvet jacket from Ralph Lauren Polo. Bret wore a stylish dark brown top and pants. He looked like he had lost weight from some photos I had seen of him this decade. He appeared fit and healthy. He is tall and charismatic.

He announced he was going to the “toilet” as soon as he arrived. Whether this was to do a bump of coke or just to actually use the toilet, we cannot say. But he announced it in a way as if to imply he was possibly up to something, even if he was not. I have read interviews that try to imply he is often on coke, but I would say he was not that evening. Unless he hides it well. He seemed relaxed and at ease. Elegant and perspicuous in his conversation. He was having dinner later that evening with some friends at the same restaurant.

We ordered some breads and ate as we spoke.

He started by saying what a “man of the people” he was meeting me, a “fan” and admirer of his work. I think this comment was designed to put me on the back foot a little. For my part, I felt comfortable in his presence, not intimidated. His energy reminded me of a couple of higher-powered lawyer pals I have as friends in Australia.

We spoke about my film and my festival by way of introduction. I then quizzed him on his new book that he told me is called “Imperial Bedrooms”. He said he was locking off the final draft that month. He said he had been tinkering with it, and humorously added that it was “no use” and it was time to let it go to print. He appeared modest and self deprecating about his new book and work in general. He said it was a sequel to Less than Zero. My first question, “Is Rip back?”. Rip was one of the most depraved and sick characters from LTZ, a forerunner to Patrick Bateman, who I loved. Bret confirmed Rip was indeed back and was a major character in Bedrooms. He said Raymond Chandler had inspired him and other crime writers and said Bedrooms had a crime narrative. I asked what he thought of the film of LTZ and he said not a lot. But, that he felt it had entered public consciousness, including his own…

We talked about the film adaptations of his work. His favorite was Rules Of Attraction by Roger Avery, who he calls a friend. Then probably American Psycho, he liked Christian Bale a lot in it but not so much Mary Harron’s take. I agreed with him on that. I asked him about The Informers, which I had just seen a few days before, and liked. He said it was a bit of a disappointment. I asked him about working with Australian director Gregor Jordan. He said he worked a bit with Gregor, as he wrote the script with LA writer/producer Nicholas Jarecki, and liked him. But, he felt the film lacked something. I offered that it was a film about really exciting, out there and wild things but that it felt a little boring like an Australian art house movie. He laughed at this. I said it should have been faster paced, more aggressive and exciting. I stated that even though Gregor Jordan’s The Informers is flawed its still the best thing Jordan has ever done and that I liked it, as the material (Bret’s book) was so strong. He said there was a longer cut that was better. I said the Vampire story needed to be in it and Bret said it was cut due to ‘politics’. He seemed most disappointed by the bad BO of The Informers and its mediocre critical reception. It had just opened a few weeks before. I got the impression if it had been a hit, he might have liked it better….

We spoke about Glamourama I commended him for being so prophetic in his portrayal of the two obsession of the coming ten years: celebrity and terrorism. I asked about an adaptation of that to the screen. Roger Avery was going to do one, but it had been put in turn around. I mentioned Zoolander and the similarities of the plot to Glamourama. Ellis said he had taken Ben Stiller to court and settled but cannot discuss the settlement.

From this we got on to his favorite subject, the surface of things. In chit chat Bret displayed an honest and intense fascination and enthusiasm with the superficial and the vacuous. It is no act with him. To him this is what society is all about. He seemed very interested in celebrity, gossip, fashion and various related issues. I asked what he thought of “The Hills”, a show I noticed had his stamp. He went into raptures about it and said it was the best thing on TV, “Ever”. He said LA had never looked as beautiful as how producer Adam DiVello portrayed it in that show. I said that is how your novels should be filmed, like “The Hills”, but with drugs, danger, murder, mayhem, psychos… and vampires! I said what are your favorite films of the past year? He said “The Dark Knight” and some other commercial fair, but also “Hunger”, which he said he loved. I had seen Soderbergh’s “Che part one” and asked what he thought of that? He said he saw part one and two with a friend and hated them and couldn’t wait to leave the Premiere as if the film was a kind of torture.

I got the impression in his enthusiasm for the superficial he didn’t realize exactly how important an author he was. I compared him a bit to F.Scott Fitzgerald in our conversation, who now has countless books on him, but during his life was somewhat ignored especially in his later years as a serious author, before the huge Fitzgerald rediscovery of the 50’s. He seemed a little oblivious to ideas his work is already or should be studied more at Universities and the like. I felt he agreed with Fitzgerald’s notion that, “An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterwards.” To him he was/is still writing for his generation and appeared like he didn’t care too much about posterity or serious critical attention. At least on the surface. Which for Bret is everything, in many ways. Though he was not completely unaware of his actual, shock horror, depth. He would muse on a few things I’d mentioned in this area showing an subterranean intellectual breadth and reflection, that due to his persona, he often tries to hide.

We got onto politics. I discussed my interest in a form of right wing transformative politics, even with hints of fascism, and he tilted his head and said the Right interested him. He confessed to being a Republican sympathiser, but with reservations. He said his family had always been Republicans. We spoke about Bush who he told me loved Less Than Zero (…no surprises there!!) and that he had met him in the 80’s. He said he liked Ronald Reagan in the 80’s and that he thought Bush bashing was “too easy”. I concurred. He said he didn’t like some things Bush had done… but wouldn’t be drawn on details.

We discussed Fitzgerald. He said he had read The Beautiful and Damned at University and that he was a fan of Fitzgerald. He acted defensive when I spoke in detail about Fitzgerald’s oeuvre saying he had studied it all as a Lit Major in college. This seemed odd as he is clearly an author of great genius and need not be defensive on such issues even if he hasn’t read the author in a number of years.

I got him to sign my Fantastic Man issue, that I had brought along. He said the article made him “look a little gay”. As in slightly wimpy, not homosexual. This is from a guy who is, as far as the rumors go, bisexual. It was an odd comment. Bret seemed straight when talking to me. But you really can’t tell. He has something of the mythical Salamander quality about him. I would say this, if he was gay, he was the one doing the fucking and not the one being fucked. He has a certain air of stylish menace and alpha male aggression about him that comes through in his books and characters. In this sense he is a “man’s man”.

We spoke about Hollywood, how “all his friends were no longer interesting as they worked in Hollywood”. This was partly a jest, I imagine. He said the word Hollywood in a way as if he slightly despised it or looked down on it a little. Understandable given its ubiquitousness in LA. He was meeting Hollywood people later that night and he also had a TV Show he was trying to develop called “The Canyons”. So, technically, like Fitzgerald in his later years, he too, was now part of Hollywood.

I felt we built a rapport and an hour or more slide by easily. I invited him as guest of MUFF (Melbourne Underground Film Festival) any time, offering to play a retrospective of all the films made of his work and we agreed to stay in contact. His dinner guests arrived – three Hollywood types – one of whom I maybe recognized as part of a Hollywood power dynasty.

I asked for a photo. And he agreed affably, “No problems”. We took it out the front of Ammo on Highland. I placed my hand on his shoulder in the second shot and it was rock hard. Either from working out… or from being tense. Or maybe both?

It was great to meet BEE, someone whose writings have perfectly summed up the zeitgeist for me in the last 25 years and I look forward to “Imperial Bedrooms” and the return of Rip and Clay with bated breath.

3 Responses to “Bret calls from Mulholland”

  1. Hugh said

    The phrase is “bated breath”.

  2. richard777 said

    Fixed. Oddly enough online they say the baited is being used more often in these illiterate days and might soon become the official spelling. Funny ol’ world. I need an editor for this blog. I paid not a lot of attention in class growing up to grammar or spelling. But do have some ideas to express, so, indulge the odd error of this nature…

  3. John said

    The phrase is “Batemanned breath”

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