Monday, July 16, 2018

The Formosa

An Iconic Hollywood Venue Recreated in Second Life

By Klaus Bereznyak

The Formosa in second life is an authentic virtual recreation of the iconic restaurant and bar situated in West Hollywood, California. It's real-life counterpart has a long history of being popular with stars, who have been hanging out there since it was built in the 1920s, and it even appears in a few movies.

It is the latest labor of love by Gardenia Malheur, who has already brought some of her favorite movie sets to life here with characteristic affection and an eye for detail. She co-built a replica of the infamous Sheats-Goldstein house by architect John Lautner (which appeared in "The Big Lebowski"). She has even recreated the whole set of the 1964 movie "The Night Of The Iguana", directed by John Huston, including the hotel, as is it still found (in ruins) on Mexico's west coast, plus the beach bar, and the amazing coastal landscape. Gardenia tells me that taking that whole installation down was the hardest thing she ever did in SL. Add to that the two mid-century modern builds inspired by Motorola ads of the late 50s and 60s that she sells on Marketplace, and you'll get the picture of someone who has mastered the art of imitating bygone life in a virtual setting.

Gardenia kindly took the time to tell me all about The Formosa in her own words. I asked her what inspired her to build a virtual replica of the venue:

"I'm a huge classic movie fan and I found out about The Formosa on my first viewing of the movie L.A. Confidential. That scene where Jack Vincennes and Ed Exley barge in on Lana Turner's tete-a-tete with Johnny Stampanato made a great impression on me. We can see the interior decor of the bar as it was in the late 1940s, with its black and lacquered red oriental influence. And that bar!! I loved the low ceilings, low light, rows of bottles, green cylindric lamps... And the rows of pictures of movie stars! It was so incredibly evocative of Old Hollywood, and it spoke - no, it SANG - to my movie buff heart. I started wondering if I could recreate it using the building tools in Second Life. I wanted it to be as realistic as possible, because I wanted to feel what it would be to walk around, sit in a booth and sip a drink at the Formosa, in the 1940s and 1950s."

She quickly discovered that, for all its notoriety, there were only a few resources available when it came to really getting the detail she needed to make an authentic recreation. Relying on photographs of the place and its surroundings and using stills from a handful of YouTube clips, she felt out the space and put all the pieces together.

"I wanted to recreate not only the inside of the Formosa, and the build, but also the street corner, the way we see it in L.A. Confidential from Exley's car parked in front of the Formosa, on the other side of the street. I also wanted to add the old Universal Studios, where the stars would cross the street for their lunch break at the Cafe, or end the day and evening after a long day of shooting."

I have walked through the build several times and always been amazed how convincing it is. It's a perfect piece of time-travel tourism, and I wondered where Gardenia might have had to use some artistic licence. There were parts for which she had no visual documents:

"I had to create something that would be an acceptable extension of the Bar and Railcar areas. I decided it would have a seedy, eclectic look, mixing different decades. For the garden, I decided to indulge in my love for exotica and tiki and go swanky-loungey with a few nods to the Asian theme of the original spaces. I mean this is Hollywood: no need for too much realism!"

Round every corner, there's something a little surprising or delightful. I loved the moody yellow lighting of the booths and the green glow around the bar. I asked Gardenia to tell me about the most surprising thing she discovered while creating the venue:

"Actually, there are two. The first one would be the little 'shrines' on the outside wall facing the bar. The owners were obviously Elvis fans as there was a collection of memorabilia on a kind of bookshelf over one of the booths: tickets to Elvis shows, statues of the King, ephemera, photos. It was cute and uncanny, and  gave the place a whimsical touch - totally complementary to the movie stars' photo strips. The second one is the railway car part of the establishment, which is a recycled Red Car from the old Pacific Electric transit system and was in fact the original Formosa Cafe! That's where it all started in 1925 when prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein opened the place. The other parts were added through time."

The Formosa is not just a sterile facsimile, it's a living venue in Second Life, intended to be used. Quite apart from the joy of finishing the build, Gardenia tells me that her best moments so far have been "the opening, in the presence of my closest friends! And, vanitywise, reading about it with Pearl Grey's lovely piece on her blog 'Million Happy Endings'," which was also highlighted by 'Kultivate Magazine'.

There have already been a few themed parties at the venue, and there are more to come:

"It's a bit on hiatus for the summer weeks, but I want to show movies and have more pool parties and a few romantic soirees in the months to come. It's hard hosting and DJ'ing and I hope I can find at least another DJ to help rock the place. I'm working on a realistic schedule for future events."

"For vintage movies lovers, it's a curiosity, especially if you've seen and loved L.A. Confidential. Everybody's welcome to visit; it's a sweet vintagey place to sit, chat and cut a rug... because after all, I have some of the best dances in all SL - if I may say so myself (coughs)."

Million Happy Endings:

Klaus Bereznyak

No comments:

Post a Comment