The current iteration of Hollywood Boulevard is not a place particularly known for its subtlety. Bong emporiums, stripper shoe retailers and Americanized “cantinas” peddling plates of congealed nachos now riddle the legendary Walk of Fame. It is not unsurprising, then, that the latest entertainment option on the boulevard is the Hologram USA theater, a place where one can eat CBD oil-infused concessions in an overstuffed leather recliner while watching a three-dimensional projection of a woman pretending to be Billie Holiday lip sync “Strange Fruit” as a man pantomimes whipping a dancing woman behind her. The technology is not an actual hologram, just the projection of an image through a proprietary foil that makes 2D images appear 3D, a modernized version of a 150-year old illusion called Pepper’s Ghost.
Hologram USA, which finally opened in November of last year after over a year of delays, currently features two shows that play at alternating 30 minute intervals: the aforementioned Billie Holiday: Alive in Hollywood, and Ray J and Kato’s Sexy Hollywood Freakshow, a mercifully brief yet interminably long-feeling combination of sideshow performance and burlesque hosted by a man best known for fucking Kim Kardashian and a man best known for staying in O.J. Simpson's house one time. The adult admission price is $29.95; the kid’s price, $19.95. If you bring your child to Hollywood Boulevard on holiday, you are an unfit parent. If you bring your child to Ray J and Kato’s Sexy Hollywood Freakshow, you should legally be obligated to pay their therapy bills for the rest of their lives.
When I visit Hologram USA, it is 6 PM on a Saturday and, despite a pile of buy one get one free flyers sitting outside the theater (the more children you bring to Ray J and Kato’s Sexy Hollywood Freakshow, the more money you save!), zero tickets have been sold. The woman behind the counter seems surprised by my presence, removing her headphones before pecking away at an iPad to set up the show.
Innards from a Swisher Sweet fill the cup holder of the seat I take in the middle of the empty room, making me feel as though I am patronizing a porno theater without the porno. Were I to find myself walking down Hollywood Boulevard ineffably horny between the hours of noon and 10 PM, I feel as though I could get away with exchanging handjobs with a partner in the vacant theater, so long as we were comfortable doing so to the strains of “Strange Fruit.”
The lights go down and, after a series of ads for coming attractions like a concert featuring long-deceased singer Jackie Wilson, and a talk show featuring long-irrelevant comedian Jon Lovitz, the show begins. Were I in the market for a true Billie Holiday concert experience, I would be disappointed—the drummer has an earring, a dancer does the robot during “Ain't Misbehavin’,” a bearded man wearing Adidas sneakers brings Lady Day her mic stand—the fact that I am on Hollywood Boulevard, however, means my standards have lowered to nonexistence.
Holiday’s corpse thoroughly flayed, the “Sexy Hollywood Freakshow” begins. Holograms of Ray J and Kato Kaelin (why Ray J and Kaelin, two men who would appear at a bar mitzvah for less than the cost of a ticket to Hologram USA, are not physically at every showing is beyond me, but I digress) shuffle out and exchange awkward, confusing banter about engaging in “Rock, Paper, Knives” instead of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” (“I don’t wanna talk about no knives with you!” Ray J laughs. “Two people died,” I say aloud) as way of introducing the “freakshow.”
And oh, what a freak show it is! A magician pulls streamers out of a live chicken’s asshole as a woman in lingerie rubs her pussy. A tattooed little person with no arms balances a pail from his bottom lip while a man who appears to have been picked up outside a Greyhound station apathetically swallows swords. A stacked burlesque dancer in a suit holds a peeled banana against her crotch; Kaelin hesitates and takes a bite. When the show ends, ten minutes earlier than advertised, the lights don’t even immediately go back up, presumably out of complete and utter apathy.
The theater’s Yelp page is riddled with five-star reviews that I assume must either be fake or written under duress. They say things like “Hologram USA is one of the most amazing experiences and seeing talent [sic] that is no longer available for us to see and hear” and describe the bizarre, cutting edge-yet antiquated seeming technology as “a fully immersive one of a kind experience that is changing the world.” There are more believable reviews that give the experience one star: “During the show, a man with several bags walked into the EMPTY theater and sat right next to us and fell asleep,” one reads. “This is somehow beneath Kato Kaelin and Ray J,” declares another.
You wonder how the whole operation makes any money; after a quick Google search, however, you realize it probably doesn’t have to. One in a lifelong series of gauchely self-indulgent pet projects of Alki David, the Greek heir to a Coca-Cola bottling fortune (net worth: approximately $2 billion), Hologram USA can, presumably, operate at a complete financial loss. Since acquiring it in 2004, David has already spent tens of millions of dollars on Hologram USA’s patented holographic technology, $12 million alone on securing the rights to the images of miscellaneous deceased stars of stage and screen.
And besides, David is used to hemorrhaging money on salacious stunts, among them offering $1 million for someone to streak in front of then-President Obama with the name of one of his websites written on their stomach, attempting to fool the press by live streaming a fake assisted suicide, and crucifying a man dressed as Jesus on Easter Sunday while Joey Buttafuoco looked on. The cost of digitally reanimating Billie Holiday is mere chicken feed to the guy who wrote, directed and self-financed a film called Farticus starring Abe Vigoda as Zeus that reportedly cost $1.2 million.
The fact that a technology that can literally bring the dead back to life, owned by a morally questionable billionaire, is currently being squandered on projecting Kato Kaelin into an empty room is appropriately, delightfully, dystopian—a further blurring of the line between reality and an episode of Black Mirror. As I leave the theater, I notice a life-sized cardboard cut out of Donald Trump standing in the door frame, idiotically grinning at passerby, and remember that he is the President of the United States. Hemorrhaging money on projecting Kato Kaelin's haggard visage into an empty room may not make sense. But nothing does anymore.
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