THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD cuts an impressive figure – she’s a woman who’s been around long enough to see it all, with flowing black hair, retro sunglasses, and a leopard-print wardrobe. She smokes like a diesel engine and has a grumbling voice to match, dragging herself around the filth-laden streets of L.A. with a gold-tipped cane that doubles as a deadly weapon. Mary (Rosemary Hochschild) is not to be fucked with. She runs a nude revue on Hollywood Boulevard – a club populated with characters so colorful they could have stepped right out of Toontown.
Mary is old-school, ruling her corner of Los Angeles in the tried and tested way – with copious amounts of drugs and violence. When we first meet her, it’s her birthday, and mobster Duke (Roger Guenveur Smith) has come calling for a 25 year old debt, demanding the keys to the strip club. When Mary refuses, Duke takes her son as ransom. Limping into action, Mary ventures into the seedy Hollywood underbelly to get him back, taking innocent rookie Grace (Ana Mulvoy Ten) with her on the quest.
Director Orson Oblowitz turned to Kickstarter to make THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD a reality. From the concept to the colorfully neon faux-grindhouse presentation, it’s clear Oblowitz is a Tarantino fan. It’s a love letter to Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, and Pulp Fiction which in turn paid respect to the 70s grindhouse films that preceded them.
And like much of Tarantino’s work, this is an L.A. film through and through, with genuine on location footage – refreshing for an indie like this. The Kickstarter page talks about needing to make this movie now, before Hollywood Boulevard is cleaned up and loses its grit – before becoming Disney-fied like it’s east coast equivalent in New York City. Oblowitz does a decent job capturing the shady side of the area. I’m not sure of the legality of filming permits and such, but many small productions eschew the outdoors and work with spaces as big as a bathroom. In contrast, THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD has the city as its playground.
And play it does, packing its runtime with exaggerated performances; the actors ham every moment like it’s Christmas dinner. However, it never takes things far enough, betraying its exploitation roots by never straying into true exploitation. There are a couple of nipples here and there and some brief, uncomfortably sleazy scenes, but fans of exploitation from yesteryear will be left thirsty for some edge the films of old were gleefully happy to provide.
There’s a lot of dead air and drawn out sequences that add nothing to the film’s momentum, hurting it’s functionality as a modern grindhouse flick. It’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The Queen of Hollywood Blvd also commits the sin of taking itself too seriously, and ends on an overwrought philosophical note that it doesn’t earn. It desperately needs some laughs. With that said, Mary’s ever-escalating narcotic abuse is pretty funny, although I’m not sure it was meant to be.
I can’t neglect to mention the late Michael Parks, who appears here in one of his last roles. He looks heartbreakingly ill, but it’s nice to see him.
A lot of love has gone into the concept and presentation of THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD, which is a shame because… well… it’s close, but no cigarillo. There’s stuff inside the film that COULD work, but it’s smothered by a lot of stuff that doesn’t. I want to like it. I want to see a movie with this character, with this aesthetic, but it needs to be faster paced, bloodier, and wittier. It needs to punch hard and break some bones, instead of a feebly slapping at the cheek.
THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD had it’s World Premiere last weekend at the Boston Underground Film Festival