Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Write Your Name in the Perms

                                             Photo by Michelle Sutor

Years ago -- many, many years ago -- an aging grip I worked alongside turned and gave me a squinty look.

"Hey kid," he grunted. "You wanta make your mark in this business?"

Given that I was still trying to gain traction in an industry than can be slippery in the best of times, let alone when first starting out, I really hadn't thought about my Hollywood adventure in such terms -- but the question seemed to demand an answer. Besides, I was still wide-eyed and eager to hear the voice of experience back then.

"Yeah, sure," I replied.

"Then get your ass up high," he grinned, "and write your name in the perms."


There's a lot of hidden talent lurking below-the-line, some of which finds expression up in the perms. Most take the form of names and dates documenting when a juicer or grip passed through: the film industry equivalent of scrawling "Kilroy was here" by so many who toiled in anonymity on shows over the decades -- in this case Deep Space Nine and Everybody Hates Chris.

Others seem to open a window into the soul of the grip or juicer who -- following a path blazed by early humans after they first descended from the trees -- pulled out a Magic Marker to leave his-or-her mark. While the ancient cave paintings of Lascaux depicted the creatures our homonid ancestors hunted for food, some of these modern-day petrographs reveal what an industry work-bot would rather be doing than toiling in the perms -- like shooting the tube of a perfect wave on a surfboard.

Then there are the occasional gothic images I won't pretend to understand, but can appreciate for the effort and artistry that went into them.

There are others, of course, crudely drawn images of naked women with enormous breasts, kneeling down, bent-over, or spread-eagled while engaged in the usual modes of sexual activity. Some, though, are considerably darker. While working on one of those sacharine Disney kid shows a few years back, every trip up high meant walking past a particularly disturbing image drawn on an air-conditioning duct at the entryway to the perms -- a naked man fucking a Pit Bull. Judging by the contrasting styles, it appeared that one person drew the dog, then some other twisted soul decided to inject bestiality into the equation, thus breathing life into Rick Santorum's bible-thumping fever dream.

I don't recall seeing such drawings when I first went up high at Warner Brothers and Paramount back in the very early 80's -- maybe they were there and I didn't notice, or perhaps the studios were more diligent about scrubbing the perms back in the day. A less savory possibility is that the growing presence of women among the ranks of grip and electric over the past twenty years has spawned a backlash of sorts from the knuckle-draggers amongst us, a this-is-what-we-really-think-of-you stance to make sure those women know their place. I hope that's not it, because the overwhelming majority of female grips and juicers I've worked with are wonderful people, hard workers, and do an excellent job. Whatever misgivings I might have had going in, the presence of those women on my crews turned out to be a huge plus.

Maybe it's just the influence and ubiquity of porn these days that encourages young men to carve these modern incarnations of cave paintings up in the perms. Although they no longer have to hunt for food, some things never change in the human equation, including the biological mandate to reproduce -- and in a society that has fetishized and commercialzed sex to such a high degree, it's no surprise to find such primal drives expressed in these drawings.

I don't know -- I'm an ex-juicer, not a sociologist nor an anthropolgist, which means I'm just guessing here. All I really do know is that after nearly four decades in the Salt Mines of Hollywood, I finally took that old grips advice and went up high, Magic Marker in hand, to leave my mark on the industry. 

Better late than never.