Sunday, May 16, 2004

Terrific program of non-fiction shorts about Los Angeles, '20s to about 1961, last night at UCLA -- I don't know if you call booster travelogues or apparently raw footage of the construction of the Hollywoodland sign 'documentaries.' I'm always up for seeing vanished architecture, but the most fascinating were the last 4 shown:

1948: An observant, light-hearted look around "Muscle Beach" (Venice, I guess?), sharpened by a talking-blues soundtrack by Guthrie-era folksinger Earl Robinson.

1956: A kind of propaganda film commissioned by the U.S. housing authority to argue for 10,000 units of public housing in L.A., and, per the title, "...Ten Thousand More." Dismaying footage of the Chavez Ravine slum.

1957: Five-minute doc, extremely simply done and straightforwardly narrated, describing how the city made nearly everyone living in Chavez move out, w/ the plan that they be returned once the area was filled in with low-income housing. Famously, the political winds changed -- though you'd need more than 5 minutes to say how -- and this 'socialist' project never happened, though $5 million of federally-funded ground-clearing did. Dodger Stadium happened there instead. (Residents of the ravine had unsuccessfully lobbied the city for various public improvements for decades prior; a perfectly decent-looking school in the area went entirely unused for the years between the forced removal and the construction of the stadium). This is all in City of Quartz and a hundred of other places; it's one of the ugliest and most easily forgotten episodes in L.A. history. [One of the booster films also included shots of Kaiser Steel out in Fontana; reading Davis' history of the general area where I grew up was huge for me circa 1992, and also, I believe, for the Callacis. See Refrigerator, How You Continue Dreaming.]

1961: While The City Sleeps, a half-hour produced for KABC, made up of (a) a camera going out and seeing who's up at night (flower market, taxi dispatchers, maintenance guys), (b) an excellent cool-jazz score that I zoned on the author of during the credits, and (c) omnipresent, unintentionally hilarious narration, overheated Chandler by way of Norman Corwin. For instance: A whole house is loaded on an oversize truck in the middle of the night -- "A home...in search of a home." Worthwhile despite this silliness -- I can't even imagine a local tv station commissioning anything so quotidian now.

Followed by Losey's '50s remake of M, set on pre-redevelopment Bunker Hill, complete with opening shot out of the door of Angel's Flight, the aerial trolley that had to be shut down a few years back when it finally killed someone. Unfortunately, I haven't seen Lang's recently enough to make any but the most obvious comparisons. (E.g., the trial scene now takes place in an underground parking garage.) David Wayne, who I'm familiar with only from comedy (Adam's Rib, and the OCR of Finian's Rainbow, pinkest musical ever, by the way) -- is quite something in the Lorre role. Barely says two words until the big mea culpa at the end (which diverges, psychologically, from Lang's), but his body is expressive throughout; a much more method-y performance than I'd have predicted. Tour de force scene in the Bradbury Building (you've also seen it in Blade Runner), but overall, I wouldn't rate it as highly as The Prowler, among Losey's American films -- unlike Wayne, the genre-issue hoods (inc. Raymond Burr, affecting a strange scratchy voice that I've never heard him use) seem to have wandered in from a much more escapist film.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?