Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 581

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Gavin Lambert has written extensively about films and Hollywood as the founder of Sequence, former editor of Sight and Sound, and author of On Cukor (1972) and The Making of “Gone with the Wind” (1973). He has written or co-written such screenplays as Bitter Victory (1957), Sons and Lovers (1960), and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977). The themes of “The Slide Area” are also examined in other stories in The Slide Area: Scenes of Hollywood Life (1959), his 1963 novel Inside Daisy Clover, and his screenplay for the 1965 film version of the latter. Lambert’s Hollywood fiction is in the tradition of such British examinations of the Los Angeles scene as the novels Prater Violet (1945) by Christopher Isherwood and The Loved One (1948) by Evelyn Waugh, as well as Paul Mayersberg’s nonfiction Hollywood: The Haunted House (1967).

The protagonist of “The Slide Area” is less the narrator than Los Angeles itself, which Lambert sees as representative of the United States, a metaphor for the aimlessness of twentieth century life. Los Angeles lacks any definite identity because it is constantly in a state of flux, is “a comfortable unfinished desert” in which “between where you are and where you are going to be is a no-man’s land.” The crumbling cliffs of the Pacific Palisades perfectly embody the way in which chaos always lurks beneath the insubstantial surface. The narrator sees Los Angeles as having “nothing at all to do with living. It is a bright winking mirage in the desert; you are afraid to look away in case it has vanished when you look back.” The narrator describes how a development site is built over where a prehistoric animal has recently been excavated, as if to ask whether all the history since this creature roamed the earth has led illogically to this.

Lambert comments frequently in “The Slide Area” on the nature of reality. On the back lot, the narrator considers the replica of a residential street to have “as much and perhaps more reality than the real thing.” It is difficult to distinguish the real from the unreal, for the real world persists in imitating the world of film. Indeed, this phony world can almost be seen as superior because the artificial canvas sky is bluer than the real one and spotlights are always standing by “to reinforce the sun.”

Leaving the film sets does not lessen the narrator’s sense of unreality; there is always something “almost supernatural” in the air, sometimes described by Los Angeles television weather forecasters as “neurotic.” The physical and psychological spheres become inseparable. This lack of distinction is appropriate, according to the narrator, because “In America, illusion and reality are still often the same thing. The dream is the achievement, the achievement is the dream.” With so little grasp on reality, even time becomes irrelevant. The narrator does not tear off the calendar leaves in his office: “Let time stand still or move back, it doesn’t matter.”

Lambert’s themes are most effectively conveyed when the narrator goes to a drugstore and finds Countess Osterberg-Steblechi surveying the paperback crime novels. She is interested in The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde but will not buy it because at thirty-five cents it is too expensive. The widow of a wealthy European banker, her chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce awaiting her, the countess claims that she is “heartrendingly poor.” Swollen like a balloon, her dyed-red hair looking like a wig, she personifies the decadence and decay that Lambert associates with the United States.