There is no question that when you are seated inside Grauman’s Chinese Theater it is hard not to take in the grandeur of one of Hollywood’s most famous locals and, regardless of what story is being told, be impressed at how films look on that big screen. Grauman’s and its surrounding theaters are home to AFI FEST, giving the festival a true sense of history from the iconic building to the literal stars making up the sidewalk outside. However one fact about Grauman’s (and this area of Hollywood in general) that people outside of Los Angeles may not be familiar with is the slew of literal characters you have to push through to get there.
Those visiting Los Angeles for the first time usually make a trip to the famous theater one of the stops on their hit list, but despite the inside of the theater being all glamour and class, the street outside is practically the polar opposite. To this day I am not fully convinced the people that dress up as any manner of characters from Toy Story’s Buzz and Woody to Captain Jack Sparrow to Bumblebee from Transformers are not just glorified homeless people. Both essentially ask you for money (a photo with Spider-Man is not free), but these characters do so in exchange for you getting a picture with someone “famous” to go home and show your friends. (Even if Captain Jack really did smell like rum when you stood next to him.)
I understand that it is an opportunity for these performers to make some extra cash and the characters have become a staple of the Hollywood and Highland experience, but as an Angelino trying to bop from movie to movie during a film festival, it quickly becomes a pain when you have to tell a sad looking Cookie Monster, no, you don’t want to take your picture with them and practically have to push them out of your way to get by. Plus I do not want to be fearful walking from Grauman’s to the Roosevelt Hotel across the street that someone dressed like Jason is going to jump out from behind a pole to scare me because it is “entertaining” when I am there to review performances, not inadvertently become a part of them.
These street performers do not convey the same whimsy or magic as the characters who roam around Disneyland or Universal Studios – they come across as sleazy and (even worse) cheesy. The costumes always seem slightly dirty and tattered and a cat call from Mr. Incredible is just as off-putting and offensive as getting it from a construction worker. I know I am not alone in thinking this as I have witnessed children having the same reaction as me, telling their parents, “That is NOT the real Elmo.” Back in 2007 Batman was even arrested for trying to start a fight on the street as a fellow performer (dressed as Chewbacca) backed him up. This imagery is funny, but not a scene that would make anyone walking by feel very safe. A street fight is a street fight, even if its a billionaire crime-fighter and a Wookie from Kashyyyk involved.
But it is not just the street performers you have to wade through, it is the throngs of tourists and other street peddlers trying to hand out CDs for their hip-hop group, flyers for star tours or maps of celebrity’s homes to contend with as well. Tourists will stop every five seconds to photograph anything that moves or gasp at whoever’s star they happen to be standing on, making the foot traffic on Hollywood Boulevard as bad as the traffic on the street itself. I understand that for those who do not live here it is exciting, but when you have two minutes to get somewhere, it is hard not to get miffed when the crowd around you is moving at snail’s pace and suddenly stop, giving Darth Vader just enough time to approach and try to get you to take a picture with him.
Just as you navigate 6th street during SXSW or the icy and snow covered roads during Sundance, it is all a part of the festival experience and the crazy characters that litter Hollywood Boulevard are a part of the Hollywood and Highland life (festival time or not). This is the fun yet frustrating chaos. If you are ever going to Hollywood and Highland, give yourself a good cushion of time and be prepared to make your way down the crowded streets past people, performers and vendors.
And don’t make eye contact with anyone. It only encourages them more.