By Skeptik Sinikian
Ever since I moved to California–specifically Glendale–I’ve tried avoiding becoming a Hollywood junkie. I don’t follow the Golden Globe Awards–read the trade publications–have a script floating around in my head or stuffed in my glove compartment and I don’t attend Oscar parties where middle class folks eating brie and wine from Trader Joe’s gawk at the hair styles and dresses of Hollywood mega millionaires. But the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the movie industry are all around us–especially when just a stone’s throw from Glendale you have every single major Hollywood studio pumping out blockbuster after blockbuster. It’s compounded by the fact that our Governor is a Hollywood B-movie icon whose claim to fame is such memorable quotes as "It’s NOT A TUMOR!" (Kindergarten Cop–1990) and "Hasta la Vista Baby!"(Terminator 2–1991).
Southern California is Hollywood and Hollywood is one of the major driving forces in global pop culture. This can be a powerful tool for Armenia’s living here and serve as a platform for many issues. World renown director Atom Egoyan broke the silence with his historic Genocide themed movie "Ararat" back in 2002 and the boys of the rock ‘n’ roll band System of A Down (ne Hollywood) are climbing the pop charts with Armenian (not Middle Eastern) inspired melodies faster than an oversized gorilla scaling the Empire State Building. We’re making progress and even I get excited. Before you know it–I’ll be standing in line at the Arclight Theaters–waiting to be the first one to grab a seat for "My Big Fat Armenian Khosgab" or maybe–just MAYBE (crossing my fingers) a real epic film about the Armenian Genocide (Are you listening Mel Gibson or George Clooney?) But until that day–I’ll have to make due with mini-cameo references to Armenia’s in everyday motion pictures. Here’s a sampling of some of the most recent ones I’ve either seen or heard about:
"Sideways" (Fox Searchlight Pictures–2004)was about two friends who embark on a bachelor party weekend through California’s wine country and self discovery. The plot revolves around the groom-to-be cheating on his Armenian fiance and culminates in an Armenian wedding–where else but in Montebello’s Armenian Church! It’s not the ideal reference to Armenia’s but it’s a start. I heard the sequel is going to feature the couple moving to Glendale–California and a scene where the husband confesses his infidelity over a romantic dinner at Zankou Chicken. Plus the DVD will feature never before scenes of the wedding ceremony at the luxurious new banquet hall "Treasure Island." OK–I lied. The chances of a sequel being made for this movie are slim to none. In fact–there’s a better chance that an actual "Treasure Island" or "Luxor" Banquet Hall is going to open somewhere in Glendale.
"House of Sand and Fog" (Dreamworks–2003) revolves around a Persian family who is struggling to carve out a piece of the American dream and meets with tragic results when they purchase a house in an auction that belonged to a woman that’s having a lot of personal and emotional issues with letting go. This movie featured a Persian wedding where Armenian singer Andy Madadian (a.k.a. Andy) croons wedding guests. I didn’t see this movie yet. Heard it was utterly depressing but very well done. The movie never mentions that Andy’s Armenian and it’s not important that it does. But it’s significant because Andy (also known as the Persian Elvis) is an international sensation amongst Persians. It’s also significant because every "barsgahye" in Glendale probably ran out to see it just to have something to talk about the next day over lunch at Raffi’s Kabob.
"Must Love Dogs" (Warner Brothers–2005) is a romantic comedy about a couple that meets through an online dating service and in spite of a series of minor and major setbacks finds true love. Where does true love begin? At an Armenian Restaurant where the couple–played by Diane Lane and John Cussack–has their first date. The restaurant is owned by a vivacious couple named the Parseghians and the movie even includes John Cussack saying a few lines in Armenian. The couples conversations are also in Armenian and subtitled in English. The best part of this movie was the fact that the restaurant owners talk about the couple right in front of them in Armenian. This is classic. There isn’t a single person reading this right now who hasn’t done this before. You’ll be at a restaurant–the waiter will bring the wrong order–and you’ll mutter "aboosh" in a full conversational voice and continue to sip your drink acting like you just said "babagh anoosh" instead of calling the guy an idiot to his face. Albeit rude–it’s one of the advantages of speaking a language spoken by less than 7 million people worldwide. It’s like knowing a secret sign language or code. Of course–this doesn’t work when you’re in Glendale–Burbank–Hollywood–Pasadena–or parts of the Valley.
"Bad News Bears" (Paramount Pictures–2005) was a remake of the 70s classic starring Walter Matthau who (random Armenian connection in 3?2?) married Carol Saroyan–William Saroyan’s twice ex-wife. The remake featured Bill Bob I-can’t-believe-I-used-to-be-married-to-Angelina-Jolie Thornton as the little league coach of a team of hapless misfits. Amongst the loveable rejects is a kid named Garo Daragebrigadian. The confused coach asks Garo if he’s Aztec and the kid responds that he’s Armenian. That’s about the extent of that plug but throughout the rest of the movie you can’t help but giggle like a kid every time Billy Bob yells "C’mon Garo!"
There are other examples of Armenian references in Hollywood movies. I noticed that Steven Zalian who wrote "Schindler’s List" also received a writing credit for "Munich." Over time–as more Armenian-Americans enter the main stream of American pop culture–we will see more of these references and we will have even more of a reason to sit through the entire credits after the movie searching for the elusive "ian" or "yan" ending last name. Incidentally–the kid who played Garo in the Bad News Bears was not Armenian but he looked like he just came off the playground at Maple Park. And just this morning I read that Simon Abkarian–who gave an Oscar worthy performance as Arshille Gorky in Ararat–has been tapped to play the villain Dimitrius in the new James Bond flick "Casino Royal" To any non-Armenia’s reading this–that’s Simon pronounced See-mohn and not Sye-muhn! I’m glad Simon got the nod for this job even though I think that the role of James Bond was probably more appropriate ever since Bond started driving BMWs instead of Aston Martins. Then again–who would believe that the world’s most suave secret agent still lives in an apartment with his parents at the age of 40? Then again–maybe that’s the perfect cover.
That’s my stream of consciousness for this week. My name is agent Sinikian? ?Skeptik Sinikian and until next time–stay classy Glendale!
Agent Skeptik Sinikian has never called a waiter "aboosh" but sent soup back to the kitchen once because there was a "janj" in it. If you would like to help him add to his list of random Armenian Hollywood trivia–email him at SkeptikSinikian@aol.com or visit his regularly updated blog at www.sinikian.blogspot.com.