Zeroville by Steve Erickson
November 28, 2023 3:58 AM - Subscribe

On the same August day in 1969 that a crazed hippie ''family'' led by Charles Manson commits five savage murders in the canyons above Los Angeles, a young ex-communicated seminarian arrives with images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift - ''the two most beautiful people in the history of the movies'' - tattooed on his head.

At once childlike and violent, Vikar is not a cineaste but ''cineautistic,'' sleeping at night in the Roosevelt Hotel where he's haunted by the ghost of D. W. Griffith. Vikar has stepped into the vortex of a culture in upheaval: strange drugs that frighten him, a strange sexuality that consumes him, a strange music he doesn't understand. Over the course of the seventies and into the eighties, he pursues his obsession with film from one screening to the next and through a series of cinema-besotted conversations and encounters with starlets, burglars, guerrillas, escorts, teenage punks, and veteran film editors, only to discover a secret whose clues lie in every film ever made. - description from Amazon
posted by Literaryhero (4 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know how to describe these types of books. Jim Dodge, Tom Robbins, certain Pynchon, sometimes DeLillo, in a previous post I called it American mysticism or esotericism, and I guess that's a good enough description.

The main problem with these types of novels is that for some reason they are always racist and misogynistic, and this one is no exception, except that the misogyny is mostly replaced with homophobia. The story itself is gripping, but it largely depends on how much bullshit you are willing to put up with.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:04 AM on November 28, 2023

how much bullshit you are willing to put up with.

I think this is fair criticism of the book, though in a half hearted defense of the novel is that it largely takes place in the past, YMMV of course. I guess you could call the genre surrealist or maybe post modern - though I tend to think of it as Philip K Dick-esque (particularly the ending) mixing the stories of Percival and Isaac in with the story of a neurodivergent man in Hollywood from the 50s into the 80s and the various counter culture movements of those eras. The story is fairly dense with Hollywood film references featuring real life characters and thinly veiled ones (John Milius and Montgomery Cliff but more obscure people like Soledad Miranda and Roberta Findlay). You certainly don't need to know these films or people to get the story but I do think it makes the story more interesting if you do. I enjoyed the book at the time (2008) and probably read it in 2 sittings so I also found it fairly gripping (and it has stayed with me since that time) but I was a fan of the author's previous books (particularly Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days).

There is a James Franco film based on the book which you may not want to watch (partially because it is bad, and it sat on the shelf for years before getting a release, but also James Franco).
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:19 AM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

a half hearted defense of the novel is that it largely takes place in the past, YMMV of course

I was actually going to say that the language used seemed less, uhhh, hurtful (?) than in, for example, Stone Junction. However, I am a straight, white, middle-aged man, and didn't really feel comfortable making that judgment. Still, the book is quite a ride. A large number of the film references went over my head, and I was constantly on wikipedia looking up people and movies, but it was definitely enjoyable to me.

Regarding the movie, when I first searched, I saw that an adaptation was made and was excited. Then I saw terribly low RT scores and was a bit deflated (but not totally, I have been known to like movies with terrible reviews!), and then I saw James Franco and was totally deflated. I might still try to watch it, out of a sense of morbid curiosity, but it isn't high on my list.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:30 PM on November 28, 2023

Here's a list of just about every movie referenced in the book that was put together on Letterboxd. As you can see it is pretty eclectic.

The movie was shot in 2014 but due to the distribution company's bankruptcy didn't see the light of day until 2019. It is on Tubi if you care to watch it. The movie is more explicit with its references and focuses on the ones I think most people would know.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:02 PM on November 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

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