But before a show-business apocalypse can commence, we are first seduced by the film world’s glamorous facade even as it is apparent that this will not end well for anyone. William Atherton, enjoying a brief stint as a leading man before lucratively recreating himself as the go-to authoritarian asshole heavy in totally 1980s movies like Ghostbusters and Real Genius, stars as Tod Hackett, a recent Yale graduate who arrives in Hollywood to work in movies.
In an apartment complex whose bad vibes and evil mojo would put the Overlook Hotel of The Shining to shame, Tod instantly falls in love with Faye Greener (Karen Black, at her Karen Blackest), a dizzy sexpot intent on making it as a leading lady, but stuck, talent-wise, at the level of a glamorous extra, perhaps permanently. Faye is another of Black’s broken bad girls; she epitomizes show-business in all its beauty, sex and ultimately, sadness.
Black’s genius as an icon as much as an actress was to make sexiness hopelessly, ineffably sad and hopeless and ineffable sadness weirdly sexy. She is half-forgotten these days not because she didn’t deliver memorable performances, but because she delivered unforgettable performances as the wrong kind of women, women who were loose, trashy, wild, and terribly melancholy. Of course it does not help that she delivered some of her best work in movies like the ill-fated adaptation of Portnoy’s Complaint.
Faye’s father is Harry, a former vaudevillian star turned Willy Loman-like traveling salesman played by Burgess Meredith, who doesn’t enter the action until around forty minutes in, and exits it not long after, but not until he’s amply justified the Best Supporting Actor nomination that was the film’s second Oscar nomination.