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Century 16 Suncoast, or Leaving Las Vegas

But no hookers with a heart of gold.  Not enough time for the male protagonist to drink himself to death.  A soundtrack bereft of thick slaps of cheese courtesy of Don Henley and Der Stingel.  Not a sign of - and I can't stress this enough - Julian Sands as a Latvian pimp.

Only a couple of days in Las Vegas.  A third season of the week.  I walked through a late breath of winter on the streets of Butte Sunday night.  Experienced giddy spring in Brigham City and amid the staggering beauty of Capitol Reef National Park on Wednesday.  And then summer in Las Vegas.  100 degrees Friday.  Only in the 90s while many lucky motorists, like myself, were parked on I-15 in the Valley of Fire, 30 miles north of the city, waiting for an accident to clear Thursday afternoon.  Then back to the mod interior of my cabana suite at the El Corrtez.

About 36 hours after my second arrival at the El Cortez, it was time to leave.  Of course, when I returned my keycards to reception at the main building about 4:15 Saturday morning, there were plenty of people at work on their slot machines.   For some reason - I heard something about a weekend race on the radio - North Las Vegas Boulevard was blocked.  I had to jog west and turn down Casino Center Boulevard and head south, taking me right through old Fremont Street, the Binions and Fremont casinos blazing to either side of me.  I was glad for the detour, happy for the smile from old (or older) Las Vegas as I left town.  Eager as I was to leave by that point.

Finally, I returned to Las Vegas Boulevard.  Through the demilitarized zone between downtown and The Strip.  Past the wedding chapels, the relatively cheap hotels (not as cheap as those on Fremont Street, as it extends southeast from downtown) down to the luxury of the present day, among which a few of the older establishments vie like the middle aged at spring break.  At 4:30, there were plenty of people leaving the casinos, walking around.  Probably people entering as well.  Back through through the history of the city, this time forward.  Clear of Mandalay Bay, the darkness of the desert at night began to reassert itself.  Approaching McCarran Airport, it was as if I had driven right onto a runway, open space about me and guiding lights in a straight line to my left and right.  In my sleep-deprived disorientation, I wouldn't have been so terribly surprised if my Chevy Impala had taken flight over the Mojave Desert.

I find that you don't decide when the trip ends, the trip decides for you.  Mine had ended Thursday night at Frankie's Tiki Room on Charleston Boulevard.  I managed to find a seat at the bar, which was inlaid with gaming machines.  After a couple of Hulabilly Honeys - a goodly amount of rum, with some coconut and mango for tropical personality - I decided to call it a night, lest the black Impala weave a bit too much on the way back to the El Cortez.

My Hulabilly Honey perched near a gaming machine in
Frankie's Tiki Room.

Friday was a pleasant enough day, given over to writing and running a couple of errands which took me to parts of town I had not yet seen.  Past those Fremont Street hotels, places with alluring old signs where I would be afraid to sleep.  Slowly along miles of Alta Drive, through west side residential areas of varying fortunes.  But by nightfall, I was hunkered down and into travel mode, escape mode.  Night falls on Las Vegas as it does on that other arid capital of make believe, Los Angeles.  Which is to say heavily, with a profound darkness.  You needn't drift so far from the strip, not at all far from The Fremont Street Experience to feel this.  There are David Lynch films being enacted in those Fremont Street hotels I can't help but think.

Once I got back to the El Cortez the day before, I scraped a week's worth of brown and grey stubble off my face, put on a clean shirt and my black suede loafers and headed out.  It felt good to be in Las Vegas when I felt fresh and healthy.  I would hit Frank's Tiki Room later in the evening, but first I wanted to see a film.  A good film.  

The irony of these movie house road trips is that I often drive long distances to see bad films, sometimes in disappointing venues.  In Las Vegas, there are no old movie theaters.  There is the facade and upright sign of the El Portal on Fremont, but these days it's an Indian arts and crafts shop.  There are nothing but multiplexes.  But I had to return to Las Vegas to see a good film, a new film, for the first time on the  trip.

The Century 16 Suncoast is on the west side of city, well on the way to Red Rock, in an area of development that still has the air of newness and prosperity about it.  I wasn't really surprised to find that the theater is part of a greater hotel and casino complex.  I would be only slightly less surprised to enter a Las Vegas funeral home and find slot machines in the lobby, maybe some video keno.  Through the labyrinth of bright gaming machines and the  requisite Vegas buffet, I found the theater and bought a ticket for the 7:40 screening of Le Week-End.

Le Week-End stars Jim Broadbent and Linsday Duncan as a couple returning to Paris to celebrate their anniversary.  Little about the weekend goes as expected for the couple, or for an audience expecting some cute but ultimately comforting sparring from an appealing pair of sixty-somethings.  Such was the case with the other collaboration between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi, Venus.  That earlier film, in which Peter O'Toole starred as a retired actor lusting after a young woman fifty years his junior, also refused to be the charming May-December (or March-Late-Late-December) story that one might have expected.  Into the realm of the uncomfortable Mr. Kureishi is an especially adept traveler.  He is also the writer of the films The Mother and Intimacy, both of which explore physical intimacy with a frankness and a point of view almost unimaginable in a Hollywood film (or even most American independent film, for that matter).

The lack of physical passion, or at least action, of a couple long married is only a symptom of the problems between Meg and Nick in Le Week-End.  She seems sick of him.  And much as Nick often trails like a puppy dog after Meg, even he acknowledges that "You can't not love and hate the same person...usually in the space of five minutes in my experience."  And there, in a nutshell, is the dynamic at work in Le Week-End, as well as for many couples with a considerable history together.

Is everybody having fun?  Lindsay Duncan and
Jim Broadbent in Le Week-End.
As has been proven more often with good writing on American television than film in the past ten or fifteen years, characters needn't always (or rarely ever) be likable to be compelling, even sympathetic.  Hence, Mr. Soprano, Mr. Draper, et al.  Ms. Duncan (whom I have loved since seeing her as the  Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liasons Dangereuses, a role she created for the stage) is particularly sharp and poignant by turns as the dissatisfied Meg.  And one is reminded yet again what a unique presence is Jeff Goldblum in most any film. Here he plays an old school chum of Nick, the successful hack to his British friend's example of weary integrity, investing his globe-trotting Peter Pan with considerable pathos and charm.

Le-Weekend is not without its contrivances.  These exist in the check-jumping escapades of Nick and Meg, as they immerse themselves in Parisian luxuries they can ill afford.  And for the liberal amount of brimstone in Mr. Kureishi's story, there is some hard-won treacle at film's end, with Nick, Meg and Morgan (the Goldblum character) dancing in a cafe in a bit of homage to a similar dance a trois in Godard's Band of Outsiders.  But in its candor, the quality of its acting, its engagement with reality, even mortality, Le Week-End exists at about 180 degrees from a film like God's Not Dead.  Faint, faint praise for Le Week-End, but a stark relief to a weary filmgoer.

As the film ended, I got up as the credits started and exited quickly, as I tend to do.  But I didn't quite want to let go of mood in which Le Week-End had left me.  Lured partially by Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" accompanying those closing credits, I walked back into the auditorium, letting the four other audience members - two couples; I think they took their laughs where they could - exit around me.

A good film is always a world unto itself, stretching out the time of a day, or just simply existing outside of it. I had enjoyed ten days outside a sense of the days, if not always time.  Experienced shifting and sometimes extreme changes in landscape, those several seasons in the same week.  My own emotions, ever elastic, amplified by the solitude and distance from home.  Gallons of soda, perhaps too many burgers for even me.  Not nearly enough beer.  And now this fine post-film calm, standing as I was in a multiplex, within a hotel and museum complex, in Las Vegas.  What a strange place to be alive, I couldn't help thinking.  That strangeness, I know, a kind of confirmation, a pulse.

So, out past the T.G.I. Fridays and the $18 all you can eat buffet.  Through all the gaming machines - there never seems to be a direct walkway.  Out into the desert night.  Somewhere out there, a tiki bar for me with yet more gaming machines inlaid into its Polynesian-themed bar.  It all made perfect sense, really.

Enter (and exit) through the casino.   There's a movie
theater back there somewhere.  



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