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Imperial Bedrooms

They had made a movie about us. The movie was based on a book
written by someone we knew. The book was a simple thing about four
weeks in the city we grew up in and for the most part was an
accurate portrayal. It was labeled fiction but only a few
detailshad been altered and our names weren't changed and there was
nothing in it that hadn't happened. For example, there actually had
been a screening of a snuff film in that bedroom in Malibu on a
January afternoon, and yes, I had walked out onto the deck
overlookingthe Pacific where the author tried to console me,
assuring me that the screams of the children being tortured were
faked, but he was smiling as he said this and I had to turn away.
Other examples: my girlfriend had in fact run over a coyote in the
canyons below Mulholland, and a Christmas Eve dinner at Chasen's
with my family that I had casually complained about to the author
was faithfully rendered. And a twelve-year-old girl really had been
gang-raped --- I was in that room in West Hollywood with the
writer, who inthe book noted just a vague reluctance on my part and
failed to accurately describe how I had actually felt that night
--- the desire, the shock, how afraid I was of the writer, a blond
and isolated boy whom the girl I was dating had halfway fallen in
love with.But the writer would never fully return her love because
he was too lost in his own passivity to make the connection she
needed from him, and so she had turned to me, but by then it was
too late, and because the writer resented that she had turned to me
I becamethe handsome and dazed narrator, incapable of love or
kindness. That's how I became the damaged party boy who wandered
through the wreckage, blood streaming from his nose, asking
questions that never required answers. That's how I became the boy
who never understoodhow anything worked. That's how I became the
boy who wouldn't save a friend. That's how I became the boy who
couldn't love the girl.

The scenes from the novel that hurt the most chronicled my
relationship with Blair, especially in a scene near the novel's end
when I broke it off with her on a restaurant patio overlooking
Sunset Boulevard and where a billboard that read disappear herekept
distracting me (the author added that I was wearing sunglasses when
I told Blair that I never loved her). I hadn't mentioned that
painful afternoon to the author but it appeared verbatim in the
book and that's when I stopped talking to Blair and couldn'tlisten
to the Elvis Costello songs we knew by heart ("You Little Fool,"
"Man Out of Time," "Watch Your Step") and yes, she had given me a
scarf at a Christmas party, and yes, she had danced over to me
mouthing Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?"and yes,
she had called me "a fox," and yes, she found out I had slept with
a girl I picked up on a rainy night at the Whisky, and yes, the
author had informed her of that. He wasn't, I realized when I read
those scenes concerning Blair and myself, close toany of us ---
except of course to Blair, and really not even to her. He was
simply someone who floated through our lives and didn't seem to
care how flatly he perceived everyone or that he'd shared our
secret failures with the world, showcasing the youthful
indifference,the gleaming nihilism, glamorizing the horror of it

But there was no point in being angry with him. When the book
was published in the spring of 1985, the author had already left
Los Angeles. In 1982 he attended the same small college in New
Hampshire that I'd tried to disappear into, and where we had
littleor no contact. (There's a chapter in his second novel, which
takes place at Camden, where he parodies Clay --- just another
gesture, another cruel reminder of how he felt about me. Careless
and not particularly biting, it was easier to shrug off than
anythingin the first book which depicted me as an inarticulate
zombie confused by the irony of Randy Newman's "I Love L.A.")
Because of his presence I stayed at Camden only one year and then
transferred to Brown in 1983 though in the second novel I'm still
in New Hampshireduring the fall term of 1985. I told myself it
shouldn't bother me, but the success of the first book hovered
within my sight lines for an uncomfortably long time. This partly
had to do with my wanting to become a writer as well, and that I
had wanted to writethat first novel the author had written after I
finished reading it --- it was my life and he had hijacked it. But
I quickly had to accept that I didn't have the talent or the drive.
I didn't have the patience. I just wanted to be able to do it. I
made a few lame,slashing attempts and realized after graduating
from Brown in 1986 that it was never going to happen.

The only person who expressed any embarrassment or disdain about
the novel was Julian Wells --- Blair was still in love with the
author and didn't care, nor did much of the supporting cast --- but
Julian did so in a gleefully arrogant manner that verged on
excitement,even though the author had exposed not only Julian's
heroin addiction but also the fact that he was basically a hustler
in debt to a drug dealer (Finn Delaney) and pimped out to men
visiting from Manhattan or Chicago or San Francisco in the hotels
that linedSunset from Beverly Hills to Silver Lake. Julian, wasted
and self-pitying, had told the author everything, and there was
something about the book being widely read and costarring Julian
that seemed to give Julian some kind of focus that bordered on hope
andI think he was secretly pleased with it because Julian had no
shame --- he only pretended that he did. And Julian was even more
excited when the movie version opened in the fall of 1987, just two
years after the novel was published.

I remember my trepidation about the movie began on a warm
October night three weeks prior to its theatrical release, in a
screening room on the 20th Century Fox lot. I was sitting between
Trent Burroughs and Julian, who wasn't clean yet and kept bitinghis
nails, squirming in the plush black chair with anticipation. (I saw
Blair walk in with Alana and Kim and trailing Rip Millar. I ignored
her.) The movie was very different from the book in that there was
nothing from the book in the movie. Despite everything --- allthe
pain I felt, the betrayal --- I couldn't help but recognize a truth
while sitting in that screening room. In the book everything about
me had happened. The book was something I simply couldn't disavow.
The book was blunt and had an honesty about it, whereasthe movie
was just a beautiful lie. (It was also a bummer: very colorful and
busy but also grim and expensive, and it didn't recoup its cost
when released that November.) In the movie I was played by an actor
who actually looked more like me than the characterthe author
portrayed in the book: I wasn't blond, I wasn't tan, and neither
was the actor. I also suddenly became the movie's moral compass,
spouting AA jargon, castigating everyone's drug use and trying to
save Julian. ("I'll sell my car," I warn the actorplaying Julian's
dealer. "Whatever it takes.") This was slightly less true of the
adaptation of Blair's character, played by a girl who actually
seemed like she belonged in our group --- jittery, sexually
available, easily wounded. Julian became the sentimentalizedversion
of himself, acted by a talented, sad-faced clown, who has an affair
with Blair and then realizes he has to let her go because I was his
best bud. "Be good to her," Julian tells Clay. "She really deserves
it." The sheer hypocrisy of this scene must havemade the author
blanch. Smiling secretly to myself with perverse satisfaction when
the actor delivered that line, I then glanced at Blair in the
darkness of the screening room.

As the movie glided across the giant screen, restlessness began
to reverberate in the hushed auditorium. The audience --- the
book's actual cast --- quickly realized what had happened. The
reason the movie dropped everything that made the novel real was
becausethere was no way the parents who ran the studio would ever
expose their children in the same black light the book did. The
movie was begging for our sympathy whereas the book didn't give a
shit. And attitudes about drugs and sex had shifted quickly from
1985to 1987 (and a regime change at the studio didn't help) so the
source material --- surprisingly conservative despite its surface
immorality --- had to be reshaped. The best way to look at the
movie was as modern eighties noir --- the cinematography was
breathtaking --- andI sighed as it kept streaming forward,
interested in only a few things: the new and gentle details of my
parents mildly amused me, as did Blair finding her divorced father
with his girlfriend on Christmas Eve instead of with a boy named
Jared (Blair's fatherdied of AIDS in 1992 while still married to
Blair's mother). But the thing I remember most about that screening
in October twenty years ago was the moment Julian grasped my hand
that had gone numb on the armrest separating our seats. He did this
because inthe book Julian Wells lived but in the movie's new
scenario he had to die. He had to be punished for all of his sins.
That's what the movie demanded. (Later, as a screenwriter, I
learned it's what all movies demanded.) When this scene occurred,
in the lastten minutes, Julian looked at me in the darkness,
stunned. "I died," he whispered. "They killed me off." I waited a
beat before sighing, "But you're still here." Julian turned back to
the screen and soon the movie ended, the credits rolling over the
palm treesas I (improbably) take Blair back to my college while Roy
Orbison wails a song about how life fades away.

The real Julian Wells didn't die in a cherry-red convertible,
overdosing on a highway in Joshua Tree while a choir soared over
the sound track. The real Julian Wells was murdered over twenty
years later, his body dumped behind an abandoned apartment
buildingin Los Feliz after he had been tortured to death at another
location. His head was crushed --- his face struck with such force
that it had partly folded in on itself --- and he had been stabbed
so brutally that the L.A. coroner's office counted one hundred
fifty-ninewounds from three different knives, many of them
overlapping. His body was discovered by a group of kids who went to
CalArts and were cruising through the streets off of Hillhurst in a
convertible BMW looking for a parking space. When they saw the body
theythought the "thing" lying by a trash bin was --- and I'm
quoting the first Los Angeles Times article on the front
page of the California section about the Julian Wells murder --- "a
flag." I had to stop when I hit upon that word and start reading
the article againfrom the beginning. The students who found Julian
thought this because Julian was wearing a white Tom Ford suit (it
had belonged to him but it wasn't something he was wearing the
night he was abducted) and their immediate reaction seemed halfway
logical sincethe jacket and pants were streaked with red. (Julian
had been stripped before he was killed and then re-dressed.) But if
they thought it was a "flag" my immediate question was: then where
was the blue? If the body resembled a flag, I kept wondering, then
wherewas the blue? And then I realized: it was his head. The
students thought it was a flag because Julian had lost so much
blood that his crumpled face was a blue so dark it was almost

But then I should have realized this sooner because, in my own
way, I had put Julian there, and I'd seen what had happened to him
in another --- and very different --- movie.

The blue Jeep starts following us on the 405 somewhere between
LAX and the Wilshire exit. I notice it only because the driver's
eyes have been glancing into the rearview mirror above the
windshield I've been gazing out of, at the lanes of red
taillightsstreaming toward the hills, drunk, in the backseat,
ominous hip-hop playing softly through the speakers, my phone
glowing in my lap with texts I can't read coming in from an actress
I was hitting on earlier that afternoon in the American Airlines
first-classlounge at JFK (she had been reading my palm and we were
both giggling), other messages from Laurie in New York a total
blur. The Jeep follows the sedan across Sunset, passing the
mansions draped with Christmas lights while I'm nervously chewing
mints from atin of Altoids, failing to mask my gin-soaked breath,
and then the blue Jeep makes the same right and rolls toward the
Doheny Plaza, tailing us as if it were a lost child. But as the
sedan swerves into the driveway where the valet and a security
guard lookup from smoking cigarettes beneath a towering palm, the
Jeep hesitates before it keeps rolling down Doheny toward Santa
Monica Boulevard. The hesitation makes it clear that we were
guiding it somewhere. I stumble out of the car and watch as the
Jeep slowlybrakes before turning onto Elevado Street. It's warm but
I'm shivering in a pair of frayed sweats and a torn Nike hoodie,
everything loose because of the weight I dropped that fall, the
sleeves damp from a drink I spilled during the flight. It's
midnight inDecember and I've been away for four months.

"I thought that car was following us," the driver says, opening
the trunk. "It kept moving lanes with us. It tailed us all the way

"What do you think it wanted?" I ask.

The night doorman, whom I don't recognize, walks down the ramp
leading from the lobby to the driveway to help me with my bags. I
overtip the driver and he gets back into the sedan and pulls out
onto Doheny to pick up his next passenger at LAX, an arrivalfrom
Dallas. The valet and the security guard nod silently as I walk
past them, following the doorman into the lobby. The doorman places
the bags in the elevator and says before the doors close, cutting
him off, "Welcome back."

Excerpted from IMPERIAL BEDROOMS © Copyright 2011 by Bret
Easton Ellis. Reprinted with permission by Knopf. All rights

Imperial Bedrooms
by by Bret Easton Ellis

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0307266109
  • ISBN-13: 9780307266101