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Mondo Hollywoodland

by Christie Robb

Janek Ambros’s Mondo Hollywoodland is a play off a 1960s documentary called Mondo Hollywood by Robert Carl Cohen. The original aimed to depict the more extreme elements of life behind the scenes in Hollywood and included appearances by hippies, strippers, psychedelic pioneer and Tim Leary’s buddy Ram Dass, and both victims and perpetrators of the Manson Family killings.

Ambros’s Hollwoodland is part mockumentary part narrative story narrated by a dude from the 5th dimension who visits a magic mushroom dealer named Boyle to understand modern Hollywood and explore the concept of “Mondo.” (Which I guess, like pornography, is something you’ll know when you see.)

Boyle’s life intersects with three archetypes of Hollywood life: the Titans, the Weirdos, and the Dreamers. Each of the archetypes is personified by a few characters and gets its own section before they come together in a somewhat bewildering act four.

The Titans are represented by paranoid, cocaine-fueled, egomaniacal producers and starlets who are catered to by various fawning assistants. The Weirdos are a hodgepodge of political activists, New Age seekers, and untalented artists. The Dreamers are a group of folks who desire financial success or fame, but are unaware that they lack the business acumen or talent necessary to realize their vision.

There’s no nuance to these characterizations. They are the broadest sketches of common tropes. If Ambros was going for a Christopher Guest-style mocumentary or drug-addled comedy, he forgot to make it funny. If there was supposed to be a message to walk away with, it was lost along the way. There certainly wasn’t much new to learn about Hollywood. And if there was any Mondo contained therein, I didn’t see it.

The nods to the original Mondo documentary from the 60s (trippy music, colorful filter effects, swingy camera movements, and the title) seem derivative, if not downright exploitative of a cult classic. The groovy nostalgia vibe doesn’t reflect life in the 2020s and the focus on southern California stereotypes doesn’t add anything that Saturday Night Live couldn’t provide.