I live in Los Angeles, about six miles from Mann's Chinese Theater, which sits in the heart of the (mostly) new Hollywood Boulevard. Though not quite the majestic movie palace it was decades ago, it is still quite a sight, and walking through the massive double doors into the grand lobby is nothing to sneeze at.
On this very warm January Los Angeles evening, the Chinese Theater was host to the premier of HBO's glorious new Sunday night series LUCK, and I was fortunate enough to be invited. As I was checking in at Will Call, the autograph collectors were screaming for Dustin Hoffman, just a few feet away. He obliged, patiently, with a round of autographs and photo ops.
Entering the theater, there was THE RED CARPET and, alongside, another red carpet. THE RED CARPET was for media and stars, including Gary Stevens, who over the last decade has made as successful a transition from professional athlete to film actor and television personality as anyone in professional sports. I walked up the regular guy red carpet which was exciting enough, but not as exciting as finding unlimited free bags of popcorn and soft drinks lined up for the taking at the concession stand just inside the lobby.
Thanks to a good friend, I had a great seat and moments after arriving, a top-level HBO executive welcomed everyone to the screening and raved about this magnificent David Milch (creator/ writer) and Michael Mann (director/producer) collaboration that we were about to see. Mann spoke for a couple of minutes offering thanks to, I think, everybody but the horses.
This was the third time I would be watching the pilot episode. The first viewing, when I worked for Santa Anita, was in a makeshift screening room in David Milch's office. Next time was on a 48-inch home television monitor. I thought I got it all, but seeing it at the premier on the gigantic Chinese Theater screen brought to life nuance and subtlety that I hadn't captured before.
I've now watched the first two episodes and parts of the other seven while they were being filmed. This is horse racing's epic. This is great story telling. This is stunning cinematography. This is Sopranos-quality television. Boardwalk Empire is a very tough act to follow, but this is worthy of Sunday night at 9 p.m. on HBO.
Don't ask LUCK to save horse racing. Don't get your panties in a bunch or your nose out of joint because it tells more of the truth than you care to hear. Just let it be from week to week and appreciate the brutal honesty, the magnificent acting, the painstaking detail and the attention to a sport that desperately needs to be taken seriously. This is better than the Academy Award-nominated Seabiscuit and, certainly, the embarrassing and unfortunate Secretariat. It is better than any horse racing film I've ever seen and that includes my two favorites – Let It Ride and It Ain't Hay (the latter featuring the 250-pound jockey Lou Costello guiding the eventual winner in a nine-minute race). Seriously, this is great entertainment.
Across the street from the Chinese Theater is another longtime Hollywood institution that not long ago enjoyed a splendid facelift. The after-party was held on the lobby and mezzanine floors of the venerable Roosevelt Hotel, which was decked out in a gambling theme featuring faux table games and old races on TV screens. Several of the stars and HBO execs mingled with invited horsemen over pasta and potatoes, ceviche and short ribs. Dolled-up drag queens provided gambling “bucks” for guests, and hosts handled “bets” on blackjack and dice. It was a swell time.
Allen Gutterman is a longtime horse racing marketing executive who was a Santa Anita vice president during the filming of LUCK.
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