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Sunday March 3rd 2024

Los Angeles for Film Fans: Hollywood 1


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Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard – the heart of tourist Hollywood

As this is a movie site, how can I not start with Hollywood itself?

The ramshackle scruffiness and tacky souvenir shops often come as a bit of a shock to first-time visitors expecting red-carpet glamour and Beverly Hills-style homes.

But, as with many cities, the seediness is being edged out as Hollywood strives to present itself as super-clean and family-friendly. Which is a mixed blessing. Seediness was part of old Hollywood’s charm. Seriously – would Hollywood Village Life have grabbed as much attention as Hollywood Babylon?

Hollywood Boulevard
Nighttime filming on a slicked-down Hollywood Boulevard outside the Dolby Theatre

There’s a danger of losing the very thing that makes Hollywood unique, though in the long term such measures seem destined to fail. Showbiz will find a way. Early laws forbidding the sale of alcohol and the exhibition of motion pictures in the city haven’t held up too well.

There’s been a crackdown on the number of costumed characters hassling passers-by on Hollywood Boulevard, but where else could you have seen a fanboy’s dream come true – Chewbacca and Freddy Krueger facing off over a territorial dispute? Come on, this is why we’re in Hollywood and not Milton Keynes or Fresno.

The Hollywood Sign, Mount Lee
The surprisingly distant 'Hollywood' sign on Mount Lee

The famous Hollywood Sign is surprisingly distant and, though thoughtfully framed by the vast Hollywood & Highland arch, can look disappointingly tiny in your photos.

The sign itself is strictly off limits, and fiercely well-guarded, though you can drive up to Mulholland Drive or North Beachwood Drive to get your souvenir shot. You’ll need to be prepared to face the wrath of residents who’ve chosen to live at the ideal spot to view one of the world’s most famous sights and now act all grumpy when tourists turn up.

El Capitan premiere, Hollywood Boulevard
Just another movie premiere at El Capitan on Hollywood Boulevard

The heart of tourist Hollywood is the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between the fairground razzle of the venerable Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the gleaming new Hollywood & Highland Center, with its Red Line subway station connection to Downtown LA.

The gloriously kitsch Chinoisery of Grauman’s is displayed in Speed, Iron Man 3, The Aviator, Charlies Angels – Full Throttle and Blazing Saddles.

You don’t need me to tell you about the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Wax Museum or the other ever-changing attractions vying for your attention along the main drag. The lobby of your hotel will be overflowing with glossy flyers hyping all the old favourites alongside the newest eye-swivelling attractions.

The Hollywood & Highland Center, Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood Babylon, goodbye! A shopping mall disguised as an epic movie set: The Hollywood & Highland Center – now replaced by Ovation Hollywood

The Hollywood & Highland complex merits a mention, even though it’s basically a themed shopping mall. Alongside the interior staircase, illuminated panels honour the winners of the Best Picture Academy Award. On the terraces outside, mosaics celebrate the success stories of writers, technicians and actors who moved to Tinseltown and achieved their dreams.

Nothing lasts forever and, already the elephants and Babylonian gate have gone. The outdoor mall is being reinvented as Ovation Hollywood. I've not visited yet, but I'm already disappointed. All big cities have ultra-modern malls but only Hollywood could boast rearing pachyderms. Maybe I'd better reserve judgement. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

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