The Reinactors is nearly over, it’s after midnight, and I am on the verge of sobbing. A prepubescent girl with a keyboard on the curb of Hollywood Boulevard is singing the saddest version of “Hotel California” I have ever heard, and behind her, El Capitan’s dazzling marquee illuminates the faces of Freddy Krueger, Shrek, and Captain Jack Sparrow as they watch and listen. Someone in this crowd will definitely want a souvenir of his or her trip to Hollywood, a photo with a bona-fide movie character. Maybe there’s even a casting director out there, a talent scout looking for the next Hollywood superstar (or a body double for Johnny Depp).
David Markey’s latest documentary isn’t about Sonic Youth or Nirvana; it’s about the shabbily costumed “ambassadors of Hollywood” you see every time cruel fate shoves you near Hollywood and Highland. And not even Courtney Love in The Year Punk Broke will prepare you for the desperate fame-seeking hunger in the eyes of The Reinactors’ skinny Superman, or the crazy-eyed Marilyn Monroe who claims to have slept with him, or the shockingly realistic (and white) Michael Jackson, or the weird demon-man with wings and fangs and cat’s eyes who seems to adore a character in his own mind, even if that character is hard to explain to tourists who just want to meet Charlie Chaplin or Minnie Mouse.
These actors playing actors have bought into the true American dream of fame, and they want it bad. They love any camera, and for Markey’s lens, they gush, they affect accents, and they tell personal details about themselves and each other that are by turns desperate and poignant. While Markey treats their stories with sympathy, these costumed buskers never let you forget just how sick they are, and not only with the mental health and addiction problems you’d expect. You’ll see and hear about diabetes and prison beatings, maced faces and missing teeth in this movie—it’s hard to be in lock-up when you’re dressed like Batman! Yet there is also a Dickensian sense of pride, camaraderie, and even love amongst these outcasts. If you work in movies or aspire to, you may just recognize your own career struggles played out here in gruesome miniature—and for you musicians, especially those of you who draw less of a crowd with your own music than with your all-female Misfits tribute band, who’s to say these ambitious actors are more deluded than you?
It’s a rare movie that feels both like a funny clip from YouTube and like a Mike Leigh film, yet The Reinactors manages to mesh the two in a way that is horrifyingly, hilariously bleak. Prepare to cry, but also prepare to watch Superman smoke pot and talk shit about black people. If Hollywood has its own branch of Hell, this would be it, and the damned sculpt their brimstone out of celluloid dreams.