A Scouting Life: Hotel Nevada

March 23, 2010 | Sam Hutchins

The process always plays out differently no matter how long you do it. Each film is a living, breathing entity that has its own quirks and wrinkles. This is true of every show you are on, but even more so with a creatively chaotic fellow like Kar Wai guiding the enterprise. The more I got to know him, the less predictable he became. Places that seemed to fit perfectly into his aesthetic were summarily rejected while other times he surprised me with his interest. Not so with the Hotel Nevada. As as soon as we crossed the street to take a closer look at it I began thinking about where we would park the trucks. It was exactly what we were looking for.

Opening in 1929, things got off to a rocky start when the stock market crashed shortly thereafter. Prohibition was in effect as well and was not a friend to the entertainment or hospitality industries. Nonetheless, illegal booze and gambling were readily available from the first day the place was open. The Hotel Nevada was always shrewdly-run, pioneering the concept of offering free bus service to and from Salt Lake City. The booze and gambling, as well as the town’s multiple whorehouses, proved a effective lure to the residents of Utah, and the hotel has always done well for itself. Amazing considering it was only one of three casinos in a small town in the middle of nowhere. If working with Kar Wai was a search for the hidden histories and the tales of the louche life, we had found what we were looking for.

The hotel was wonderful about welcoming us with open arms. It’s that kind of place. Although the owner was not in town, the manager set us up with a housekeeper who “was perfect for you, because she loves movies.” Without wanting to sound mean or ungrateful, I’m about to be mean and ungrateful. Even though people take time out of their day to help us scout, their presence can so frequently be burdensome. All we really require is access to the rooms. Give us a set of keys and let us wander around. Instead you are often guided by the person most eager to spend time with you, the local film buff. Such was the case here. While trying to take pictures and get a sense of the hotel I braced myself for another boring lecture.

I will admit that the cleaning lady knew her stuff. When she met Kar Wai she point blanked him with, “Yeah, your stuff is good. No one around here cares, though. They just want to see action movies.” This definitely caught us off guard and was good for a chuckle. Unfortunately, the monologue was non-stop from there, going into great detail about every movie that had ever exposed a foot of film in the surrounding 200 miles. As we looked at basic rooms she kept building us up for the suites. Apparently they were, at her insistence, all movie themed. After the big lead-up, we were shown the first of them, the Ray Milland Suite. My hopes for something out of The Lost Weekend were dashed when I discovered that the only distinguishing characteristic of it was a still photo of Mr. Milland sitting on a bed stand. To think, I still had the Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Wayne Newton, Anne Rutherford, Mickey Rooney, Ken Maynard and Wallace Beery suites to tour.

Turning around to leave the room, I discovered I was alone with the Housekeeper. The rest of my crew had snuck out to explore on their own. Those bastards. I continued the tour for a few more of the suites, but upon discovering they were all essentially the same room with different photos, I begged off from seeing the rest. What was in reality only an hour or so of my life had felt like a year in purgatory. Returning to the lobby I discovered my companions chuckling at the slot machines.

“How is your girlfriend?” asked Kar Wai.

“Thanks for ditching me.”

“You seemed like you had plenty to talk about.”

“Ugh. What did you think of the place?”

“I like it. Book us rooms here tonight. We’ll explore the area, then come back and sleep here.”

And so it was.

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