Terrill Lee Lankford is one of the funniest and most opinionated people I know. He’s also got a long and torturous track record in Hollywood, the result of years of grunt labor in the deepest, darkest pits of the industry in a variety of jobs—screenwriter, second unit director, production manager, director, actor. Some of these films he’d probably rather I didn’t mention, some of them are not to be missed (if you can, check out the excellent “South of Reno,” featuring a small role for an unknown named Billy Bob Thornton) and at least one of them exists in a mysterious cinematic quantum state between the two: the sublime and ghastly “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.” These days Doc Lankford walks a classier stretch of Hollywood Boulevard than before, but it’s those low budget days that formed his take on the Damned Movie Business. If you ever get a chance to talk to him on the subject you’re in for a very entertaining earful.
If you don’t get that chance, the next best thing is reading Blonde Lightning. I first read it years ago in manuscript form, when it and its companion novel (“Earthquake Weather,” also available as an e-book and equally worth your time and coin) were a single entity. In these books he nails a certain dank, desperate corner of LA life that’s home to those who are part of the Industry but not entirely accepted within it, who are obsessed with said Industry while being treated brutally by it, who loath it without being able to pull away from it. It’s a lot like a mutually destructive romantic relationship (and the books are full of those, too.)
I read it for the third time not long ago, and it struck me once again as one of the truest accounts I’d ever read of Hollywood culture. Certain Movieland fiction—Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby stories, John O’Hara’s The Big Laugh and Michael Tolkin’s The Player are all good examples––never really get old, because even in the face of massive tumult in technology and in the culture at large, the human forces of artistic ambition pitted against greed and sheer lust for power never change. The technical details of the filmmaking in Blonde Lightning are, in this digital age, already the stuff of history; the story told therein will still be fresh in eighty years.