By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Perhaps it is conditioning from exploitation cinema of long-gone eras, but the presence of wood paneling in an office should make you nervous. Nothing good ever happens in an office with wood paneling. THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD plays with this Pavlovian response to the gritty side of Los Angeles interior design and serves up classic exploitation.
Much of the success of THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD is owed to the queen herself. Rosemary Hochschild stars as Queen Mary, the tough-skinned big boss of a local strip club. Mary rules with iron fist and takes no crap. She wears sunglasses as large as a windshield and struts along with her cane as if she is about to enter a choreographed fight scene.
On Mary’s 60th birthday an old business associate appears to lay claim to her club. Apparently her old debts were never truly settled and her homegrown empire does not truly belong to her. Mary is not willing to go down without a fight, and when they take her son (Orson Oblowitz, the director and Hochschild’s real life son) it just enrages her even more. Mary takes off down a road of revenge and recollection to confront her past and secure her future. The plot is fairly linear, with Mary hopping from one violent confrontation to the next, but one does not typically watch exploitation films for their plots.
“Every single set communicates instantly who inhabits this hovel, and how Mary fits into this world.”
The visual style of THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD is the other major factor that makes the film feel so authentic. As much fun as it is to make fun of wood paneling, it is testament to how much the production design adds to the film. Every single set communicates instantly who inhabits this hovel, and how Mary fits into this world. The club makes you want to take a shower after just looking at the stage. The streets look like they smell of urine and motor oil. The various “business offices” are dimly lit and yet you can still see too much. Overall, the entire film feels just as it needs to in order to understand Mary’s world.
The cast is incredibly strong, even with Hochschild stealing all the scenes. Roger Guenveur Smith is the main bad guy and he is one of the only people in this world who can frighten Mary. He settles in to the classic crime boss role, and relishes in the performance. But the standout support in THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD comes from Michael Parks in one of his final performances. He has a single scene with Mary. They spend the time reminiscing and Parks’s subtle, but strained, delivery sells the deep history they have together.
Even with Mary ruling her club and her town, this is certainly not a feminist film. Within this world the men are mostly in charge and the women are mostly eye candy to be exploited and abused. Even Mary herself barely gives the time of day to her girlfriend. The camera of THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD spends enough time lingering on the asses of the dancers in Mary’s club to convince us that a quick gender swap of the lead role does not evade the problematic representations of women in exploitation film. With the film taking such risks with Mary’s character it would have been great to see more than one single empowered woman in the sea of the powerless.
Overall THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD is beautifully shot and violent enough to quench the bloody thirst of exploitation cinema fans. But beyond those factors, we should all be grateful that THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD brought Queen Mary into all of our lives. All hail the queen!