I like watching movies about Vegas or that take place in Vegas. I’ve seen about ten of them and some I remember well and some of them I remember just fragments. This is not in any particular order.
I think when Casino came out I was still living in Vegas, but I don’t think I saw it until quite a bit later. It was a good movie; parts of it weren’t true to life. I remember the mythical Tangiers was The Landmark, Howard Hughes’ off strip white elephant. When I worked there, briefly, in 1990 the place was under bankruptcy protection. When I got my paycheck, I ran to the bank. There were dealers who worked there for months living on just their tips and were owed back wages.
Whether they ever got them or not— it’s the creditors that get paid first on liquidation, and small beers like employees get hind titty.
The Landmark was a small joint and the film production of Casino, employed various footage of other casinos for the interior. They used the gothic sports book at the Union Plaza, my third dice job. They used some of the interiors of the Flamingo. They used the monolithic sports book screens from the Big Hilton.
There is a scene in Casino when the casino manager, played by Robert De Niro, chews out a lumpy dealer for not healing his bets off right but that doesn’t happen. If the top guy is on the floor everyone can feel it anyway, and besides, why would he lower himself to directly correct a dealer; no, he would tell the shift boss, the pit boss, or a floorman first.
And of course, you don’t do that in front of players. You don’t do that because a weak dealer invites predators and cheats; shot takers, and why do you want to do that? You don’t do that. There are players that play at raw break-in joints; downtown for instance. I got past posted on a seven out on the don’t pass side. It was a 50 or sixty dollar shot. The floorman knew, and he chewed me out, and the player who did it and his friends were laughing at me. I tried to pretend that it hadn’t happened and the floor didn’t call surveillance and, guess what? That never happened to me again.
What about Midnight Run? I don’t remember too much about that movie. I remember it had Denis Farina in it, and he died recently, died young, at 62 I think. I massaged this guy years before that movie. I was working a Bally’s, in the spa as a masseur. He wasn’t too friendly, and he gave me a ten dollar tip, which was fair enough I guess. He was doing the TV show then, Police Story—this was in 1987.
At that time, at Bally’s, this was my first job in Vegas; Tom Jones had a contract to sing one week out of every month. So for four or five days he would be in there using the tanning bed or the sauna. He didn’t take massages because he didn’t like the oil. He seemed like a decent sort, and he had some blond GQ bodyguard with him, both of them low key and towards the end of my working life at Bally’s Jones comped the whole spa, the men’s and woman’s side to see one of his shows. I wore my cheap double breasted suit and afterward we got to go backstage and meet the great man and have a free drink, and I shook his hand, and it was over in a heartbeat.
What movie do I connect this to? Years later I’m living in San Bernardino, and I took my neighbors young son to a movie theater, and it was some kid-appropriate show, but it was sold out, so we went to see Mars Attacks, a ridiculous movie, but a little bit of fun, and it had Tom Jones at the end of it. Some of that film was filmed in Vegas as well as Pahrump. That’s where the Martians first see the doves and freak out and vaporize the crowd with ray guns, including Jack Black.
Honeymoon in Vegas—that was a cute little movie. They used Bally’s, and the iconic Dunes sign was still part of the scenery. That’s a pretty old movie since the Dunes came down in ’93 or ’94. I saw the implosion from the Vegas Club dealers break room, where I was working as a dice dealer. It was on television. A couple of my friends were on the strip, drinking, hanging out, it was like a big party. They got covered in thick white cement dust when the towers came down. There were people sobbing when they blew it up, and some people had spent their entire working lives at the Dunes.
What about Rain Man? I don’t know, maybe. Maybe they let someone keep winning like that. Joints can’t prove that you are counting unless you are using a device. It is almost impossible to count down a six deck shoe. What is more common, and I have seen it, is that they would just cut the player off, “Sir, you got no more action here, you can come back tomorrow.” And they tell him to take his checks and go cash out. And of course they have his picture from surveillance, and that gets scotch taped to every podium in the pit. And casinos share intelligence about known cheats and card counters as well. Casinos don’t have to be fair; they are private businesses. They hate to lose.
Snake Eyes; I’ve seen the movie twice and I still remember very little about it. I like Cage; I happen to like him. This movie takes place in AC.
Bugsy—can’t remember much, just the part where he beats some guy up and sits down to finish his dinner while his real-life wife goes into a sexual frenzy over his animal magnetism.
Okay, The Stand that was filmed right at the apex of Fremont and Main. They used the front doors of our casino as part as the apocalyptic and cataclysmic peroration of the whole movie. So this went on for about a week, making it difficult to get into my casino and cutting into my tokes, my income because players couldn’t get inside our joint. Some of the extras would play at the close of the evening's shoot. David Bey, some guy, called Rat Boy, and he did look like a rat. He was a stroke better, he bet complex, one roll prop bets for quarters, and he didn’t bet for the dealers; not well liked.
I saw King and Rob Lowe out there one evening. It was fun, and it was exciting, and it was a relief when it was over, and everything got back to normal.
The original Oceans 11 was an okay movie if you like that kind of old bullshit. People dressed up to gamble in them days.
I saw The Hangover, and it’s a cute movie. I like Tyson; he’s funny in that movie. One scene shows the opulence of the suite they get for 4200 bucks a night, the suite at Caesars. When I worked there, I occasionally had to do a room massage. This was the Roman Tower, I remember, the old tower. Nice and gold faucets on the sink. You need that one single time in your life.
I saved this one for last because of the power it has for me, and that’s Leaving Las Vegas. This is a haunting and disturbing movie about a hopeless alcoholic that moves from LA to Las Vegas with the express purpose of drinking himself to death. The movie opens with him cheerfully pushing a cart through a liqueur store, whistling and grabbing bottles. He fills the cart up, and it’s all different kinds of booze.
The movie shows him closing out his LA life; he was apparently at one time a successful screenwriter with a wife and young son.
What I like about this movie is that it is a good fifteen minutes into the narrative before the credits come up on the screen superimposed over a backdrop of the Las Vegas skyline at night. The skyline, the way this happens is, it’s very evocative for me. This movie was made on a small budget; there is a genius in this movie.
Is it true factually? Is truth something more than the facts, or something less? I never partied with a whore that looked anything like Elizabeth Shue. I didn’t have eight hundred bucks; I had a twenty dollar rock. Ben, the alcoholic played by Nicolas Cage, well, he doesn’t look bad enough. At the stage he’s at guys aren’t just vomiting and drinking again immediately, they are incontinent. They look bad; they smell bad. So, is their love story plausible? But maybe it doesn’t matter. I never encountered even one prostitute in Vegas who wasn’t also a crack addict. So why was Sara out there? I knew that the women I plucked off the street were damaged goods, but so was I. I felt that we were cut from the same cloth. I felt comfortable. I had found my level.
Why does the movie have such power for me, why does it seem so real? And it is difficult to watch, although I have watched it a least three times.
For me, it captures the nihilism of Vegas, the seductive pull, and it is seductive. Nobody cares, throw your life away, and at periods of time, the time that I lived there, my life did feel like so much dead weight. At one point a friend of mine suggested that it was time to move on, Vegas was over, long gone, I left in 1996, that life is over. Somehow I can’t or won’t let it go. There is something eternal and timeless about that place. There is no time in a casino—on purpose. I’m still consolidating my experiences there. I don’t want to be a bore, but no, I’ll never let it go. It’s not like I haven’t written strong pieces about other times and places, but the Vegas stuff is the strongest.