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Hollywood illusions

by Brian Bromberger

Hollywood illusions

Justify My Sins: A Hollywood Novel in Three Acts by Felice Picano; Beautiful Dreamer Press, $19.95

Any writer who has attempted to get their work adapted into a Hollywood film will empathize with the two-decades-plus struggle of Victor Regina, the protagonist in Felice Picano's new roman a clef, to accomplish that goal. Though "Justify My Sins" is a novel, it's based on Picano's own experiences of living in mid-1970s Hollywood working for actor Cary Grant, who wanted Picano to adapt one of his own books into a screenplay vehicle for him. Picano has cleverly revamped his observations and the stories told to him by mostly closeted personalities into his new novel, alluding to well-known stars through references any movie fan will decipher. His novel is about the perils for artists in Hollywood. How much integrity are they are willing to sacrifice for fame and money? It also comments on the shifts of being gay from the 1970s to the century's end.

Divided into three acts, the novel depicts different periods in gay novelist Victor Regina's life. He starts out living in New York, his books selling well. He is popular and eager to attend the upcoming circuit Black Party. Bååut it's winter and Regina is lonely, looking for a lover. So when he gets a phone call from his agent saying a celebrated director wants him to write a screenplay based on his latest novel, Victor seizes the opportunity and moves to "El Lay." He loves the weather, the cuisine, and the men, but Victor wonders whether Hollywood is serious about wanting to make his novel into a film. He misses New York.

In Act II, "Notes on a Revisited ReWrite," it's 1986, and Victor is trying to get his screenplay produced in LA, complicated by a relationship back in New York. He's juggling movie producers, prima donna actresses and the sexual temptations of Hollywood, not to mention the threat of AIDS. Act III jumps forward to 1999. Devastated by the effects of AIDS, Victor decides to leave New York and relocate permanently to LA. Once again the Holy Grail of filming "Justify My Sins" might become reality.

Underneath the witty dialogue, Picano is questioning the shallowness of Hollywood and its soul-crushing impact on artists. Is fulfillment possible when you can never trust people at their word? Picano is adept in contrasting East and West Coast attitudes and social mores, seeing their virtues and flaws. What is the meaning of authenticity in a city that prides itself on manufacturing make-believe, both on and off screen?

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