If you’ve ever read an interview with Josh Becker then you know that he’s ruthlessly honest. He doesn’t spare anyone in his presentation of the truth, least of all himself. These traits serve him well in Going Hollywood, an autobiographical tome that flies in the face of the expected conventions of the genre. It doesn’t sing the praises of the title location nor does it apply rose-colored glasses when it looks back at the past. Like the author, it has a mind of its own when it comes to what it is supposed to achieve.
For starters, Going Hollywood doesn’t follow a conventional rags-to-riches template. Instead, it just focuses on a few years in Becker’s life, long before he became a successful director of t.v. and feature films. It begins with the 18 year-old Becker renting his first apartment in Los Angeles, in the heart of Hollywood. He’s within walking distance of Paramount Pictures but his surroundings don’t resemble any kind of dream factory. Instead, it’s a slum populated by the kind of people your parents would forbid you to associate with.
Thus begins the dismantling of Becker’s Tinseltown dreams. In short order, he discovers that moving to Hollywood doesn’t a filmmaking career, the local film schools are mostly useless and no one around him knows how to break into the business. He challenges himself to become a writer as he enjoys some skirmishes with famous people, frequent visits to revival theaters, the occasional bit of sex and a whole lot of drug use.
When he realizes that his dreams are fading and he’s about to become another Hollywood casualty, Becker packs it all in and decides to hitchhike to Alaska so he can gain some life experiences to fuel his flagging writing career. When he reaches his destination, he doesn’t find the magic key to writing or filmmaking success — but what he does find shapes his ambitions and his future.
Like any memoir, Going Hollywood had the potential of drifting into episodic dullness or navel-gazing attempts to justify the significance of his experiences. Thankfully, the book never succumbs to any of those temptations for a number of reasons. The first is that Becker is a disciplined scribe: his pacing is lean, his prose is descriptive without getting cluttered and his authorial voice is likeably unpretentious and self-deprecating.
Also, his short tenure in Hollywood produced a lot of memorable anecdotes: a highlight in this area is a surreal cross-country trip to help a neighbor score a big shipment of dope so he can surprise his on-again, off-again girlfriend in Miami. The hitchhiking tour to Alaska is also packed with incidents that cover the gamut from hilarious to frightening. Most importantly, he never holds back: whether he is chronicling a trip to a massage parlor funded by grandparents’ Christmas money or how he shocked a doctor by managing to contract scurvy in the 20th century, Becker tells it all and finds the humor in each situation.
That said, there’s more to Going Hollywood than just vicarious thrills. His experiences in Hollywood and the lessons they teach Becker will be eye-opening for anyone who has never lived in the City Of Angels. The trip to Alaska really puts it all into focus as Becker is forced to confront his attitudes about life, filmmaking and his illusions about the prior two subjects. As he explains the realizations he came to from these experiences, it allows him to lay out some good common-sense philosophy that will be of use to anyone interested in pursuing filmmaking as a career.
Becker would go on to bigger and more colorful adventures once he started directing films — stories that are chronicled in an earlier autobiographical book called Rushes — but Going Hollywood is worthwhile to anyone who’s enjoyed Becker’s work as well as those interested in an honest, often witty look at what life in Hollywood is like at the entry level.