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Stuart Gordon: H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and the Museum of Jurassic Technology

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KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

This week we hear from movie and theater director and writer, Stuart Gordon:

"I came to Los Angeles to direct a movie, 'Re-Animator.'

"Both of my parents were born in Chicago and so was I. I did theater in Chicago for many years. I was the artistic director of a theater company called The Organic Theater when I took a six-month leave of absence to test the Los Angeles waters. I've been here now for 27 years.

"'Re-Animator' was a project I originally thought I was going to do in my hometown, but as things turned out, it was shot in Hollywood at a little studio called Essanay that had been in existence since the days of Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.

"As a result of the success of the film, I ended up being offered a three-picture deal. I moved my family here. This was in 1985. We left on a Friday the 13th.

"We packed everything up into our Toyota Corolla. I drove cross-country and went across Oklahoma and Texas. I think the most sort of dramatic part was when we went through Death Valley at noon -- which was probably the worst thing I ever did.

"My wife and I had two small children with us. My youngest daughter -- who was three at the time -- was lying in the back seat and my wife looked at her and thought that she had passed out from the heat.

"My wife threw a cup of water on her and she immediately woke up and started crying, 'Mom, why did you do that?' So that was our trip here -- our journey.

"One of the first things I remember when we got to town was we were having a bite to eat -- I think it was on Ventura Boulevard -- and we saw a guy dressed as Jesus carrying a cross. He was dragging it along past the window of the coffee shop. That's when we knew we were in L.A.

"Over the years, I've shot about a third of the movies here. The other ones I've done all over the world. As a matter of fact, it turned out that the three-picture deal that I was first offered involved shooting pictures in Rome.

"So we had just moved the family here and then suddenly we're heading off on an airplane to Rome. So yeah, I've shot movies all over -- in Spain, Hungary, Australia. Make a movie and see the world.

"Los Angeles is a place that can take some getting used to because it is very different from any other place. It's one of those cities which the longer you're here, the more you appreciate it.

"It was funny, when I first moved here it always seemed like it was summertime, so my sense of time got kind of messed up. I would say, 'Well, it must have happened last summer,' and it would turn out it was in February or something.

"But the longer you're here the more aware you become of the changes of the seasons. It's much more subtle, but there are those changes. My wife is always kidding me because I'm very much into the idea of, this is in season, this is tomato season, this is corn season.

"The other thing about L.A. is that there's never a dull moment. There's always some sort of crazy thing going on. I often think of L.A. as being like a big circus, that there always are some things that you just cannot believe are happening, taking place here.

"I also love the history here. You go on a movie lot or to Musso and Frank and realize that all of these great people hung out at that bar, like Orson Welles and Raymond Chandler. The deal to make 'Frankenstein' was supposedly made in Musso and Frank with James Whale.

"I've really started to fall in love with Downtown L.A. and the fact that you're right next to Chinatown and you're right next to Boyle Heights and you're right next to Little Tokyo -- it's kind of like being on the yellow brick road, it's wonderful.

"You asked me to name a few places in L.A. that I think have a Lovecraftian feel. [Ed note: H.P. Lovecraft is the science fiction writer (1890-1937) who wrote the original story, "Herbert West - Reanimator."]

"Well I just was at one of them for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It's the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which I think is very Lovecraftian.

"You kind of feel like you've gone back into one of his stories with these kind of crack-pot scientists coming up with all these weird ideas and there's a mood that kind of settles over you when you're there that is very much like being in one of Lovecraft's stories. It's kind of this creepy, very sort of serene kind of feeling. It's weird and otherworldly.

"The other place that I think is very Lovecraftian is the La Brea Tar Pits. You know they have been there for literally millions of years and you just get this sense of -- you see all these weird bones and these animals and statues of giant sloths and things that have been found there. It's like going into another dimension.

"One time I was there and I was thinking, 'How could these animals be so stupid as to walk into a tar pit?' And I was walking across the grass and my foot got stuck in some tar.
Okay, that's how it happened!

You also asked about another writer, Ray Bradbury.

Well, Ray is a good friend of mine and I'm very proud to know him. I met him thirty years ago when we did theater back in Chicago. We did one of his plays called 'The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,' and we brought it on tour to Los Angeles and did it at UCLA and he came to see it. The story involves five Mexican-Americans who all share a white suit and when they wear the suit it makes their dreams come true.

"At the end of the play the audience started yelling 'author' because they knew Ray was in the house. He got up on stage and he said, 'I want to put on the suit,' and literally stripped down to his boxer shorts right in front of the whole audience. When you see somebody in their skivvies, you're friends for life.

Ray is amazing. I think of him as a holy man, because when I go to see him I'm always inspired and see things in a new way. One time he told me his two rules of life, which I thought were great. He said, 'Rule number one is get your work done and rule number two is to hell with it.'"

-- Stuart Gordon
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)

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