The Wrecking Crew — Hal Blaine on Drums via LMU Magazine

How much or little work you got was a constant calculation. Denny Tedesco grew up watching his father, Tommy, a prolific session guitarist, practice what he preached. “He kept guitars in the trunk. He had four phone lines in the house. The first thing he’d ask when he hit the door: ‘Any calls?’ ” Conversation wasn’t about that day’s gig, rather always about tomorrow.

from my piece up at LMU Magazine. To read the rest click here.


Out of the wings …

Guitarist Tommy Tedesco

Guitarist Tommy Tedesco

LIKE MANY, I had been long waiting for a look at filmmaker Denny Tedesco’s documentary about the L.A.’s famed group of session musicians, The Wrecking Crew.

Earlier this week, I got a chance to speak with Tedesco, son of session guitarist Tommy Tedesco, about his 19 years behind-the-scene efforts to finish the film and secure the music clearances. I wish I had had unlimited space because Tedesco can spin and loft an anecdote like his father. And there were many.

Like any company town, L.A. had it’s own factories. Evidence of work was everywhere. But instead of smoke stacks churning out soot, Los Angeles’s airwaves were full of the fruit of their labor — music.

“They were in a factory town and they were pumping out music and it was fast,” Tedesco says, “But some factories make Rolls Royces while others make Pintos.”

While the decades-long gig kept him close to home, Denny’s father lived a life on the road — L.A. surface streets, freeways and canyon passes. Paging through his father’s old work books were enlightening. Though Denny says he felt his father was around much of the time, it was, he now realizes, an impression of presence, looking back at all the dates, pages and pages of 10, 13, 15 hour days. “My Dad kept his guitars in the car. Always. We had four phone lines at home. And he had an answering service. This was 1968! There was no way someone was going to get a busy signal. The first thing he’d ask when he hit the door: ‘Any calls?'”

It was all about staying a float. 

My piece goes up tomorrow — I will post it then — but until then here’s the film’s trailer:

“Los Angeles Plays Itself” Is Ready for Its Close-up

I CAN’T express how happy I am to finally hear that Los Angeles Plays itself, Thom Anderson’s inclusive all over the map — literally– look at L.A. on film will finally be available for purchase this Fall.

from Alissa Walker’s post on Gizmodo:

If you haven’t seen it before, Los Angeles Plays Itself is innately entertaining as a cinematic experiment, even to the Angeleno-agnostic. Narrated with Andersen’s own commentary, the documentary features over 200 clips from films about Los Angeles, examining everything from the stereotypes surrounding the city’s automobile culture to an oft-repeated thesis that villains live in modernist houses (below). In short, it’s probably the most important media study ever conducted on the city—maybe any city!—and no one has been able to see it.

When I was teaching my “Telling L.A.’s Story” course, I used the film as a sort of red carpet into a Los Angeles my students hadn’t seen. My hope too was that it would at the same time get them thinking a differently about the city they traversed and interacted with daily. City as set. City as City. Each semester though, I had to hunt around for links because they would often be removed — only to be replaced by others. It will be great to have this sprawling moving canvass at the ready.

I feel a series of “Plays Itself” viewing parties in our near future…

Les Blank, 77

From the San Francisco Chronicle lesblank

Les Blank, the poetic documentary filmmaker who gave voice to the obscure and gap-toothed, died Sunday at his home in the Berkeley hills.

. . . .

Over a span of 40 years, Mr. Blank averaged a film a year. He covered topics ranging from Afro-Cuban drummers to Appalachian fiddlers to flower children to a search for the perfect tea leaf in China. One work, 1980’s “Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers,” was screened accompanied by an in-theater roaster, introducing the phenomenon of “Aromaround” to theater audiences.

More here
From his New Orleans documentary, Always for Pleasure:

(top image via Amazon)

The Fight for Los Angeles’ Soul

SO, THIS afternoon, I was finally finished with deadlines and ducked in to see Gangster Squad. It was at one of the theaters up here where you pick your seat before you go in and you’re not bombarded with advertisements while you wait for the show to start.

The gentleman who “introduced” the film for us this afternoon decided to go personal: He told the five or so of us gathered at the early show that he liked the film because he’d arrived in Los Angeles in 1960 “Before Bunker Hill was all torn down. When the city in places still looked like it does in this film.”

He talked a bit more about what he missed about the old Los Angeles — and about how much had been gutted in the name of progress. It was passionate and startling but welcome little-extra feature, hearing this impromptu oral history.

The film? I liked more than I expected. But if you know enough about this story you’re going to be a little more than a bit frustrated by how liberally facts are bent, time-frames changed. Sean Penn, (as Mickey Cohen) looked as if he enjoyed every mili-second inhabiting this role — thrashing about, throwing fists, eventually wielding a Tommy gun; and Josh Brolin’s performance, as John O’Mara, the head of the Gangster Squad, felt solid and authentic, like something plucked from luminous black and white celluloid — all dead stare, square jaw. But the star of this film is Los Angeles — a reconstructed L.A.: spacious, elegant, untamed — sunlight and neon. That’s the part of the film I didn’t want to walk away from. The usher was right, with so much of the smaller details that comprised the old L.A. bulldozed away — it wasn’t the obvious iconic landmarks — City Hall, the Hollywoodland sign — but the bungalows and dining room the built-ins, the tap rooms and restaurants — even Cohen’s “leisure wear” recalled those old photographs in the papers of “life on the Coast.”

Michael Peña and Anthony Mackie -- from Gangster Squad

Michael Peña and Anthony Mackie — from Gangster Squad

The script also grazed some social/racial issues, with both an African American and Latino member of the detail who are less characters than archetypes. Their presence (and the ensemble’s reaction to it) was a device to communicate racial attitudes of the era.

Even in this “wide-open L.A.” in this motley band of outsiders — these two men existed on its outer-edge.

images — top: Mickey Cohen via all
bottom: via

“It’s Mickey Cohen’s Town …”

"L.A. is my destiny." Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen

“Los Angeles is my destiny…. ” — Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen

IF I were teaching my L.A. class this spring, this would have been part our the mid-semester discussion, in which we spend a week or two on L.A. noir and the city’s underside. I am a big fan of John Buntin’s excellent history of the era L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City,and one of the early chapters we dip into evocatively walks this territory.

Gangster Squad, which opens Friday, is based on New York-gangster Mickey Cohen’s influence in Los Angeles. But this particular slant on the story was set in motion by a series of newspaper articles that ran in the Los Angeles Times in 2008. The pieces explored the history of the LAPD detail that was informally assembled under police chief William Parker to identify and eradicate mob rule in Southern California. Going after Cohen (played by Sean Penn in the film) was like going for the beating heart.

As most long-time Angelenos know (as well as anyone else who even casually studies L.A.’s checkered history), the line between “good and bad” — in that era in particular — was not just fuzzy but fungible.

I’m hoping Gangster Squad delivers — the trailer’s look and feel and the locales chosen as backdrop suggest that there was thought behind what needed to be conveyed and how that might expressed, but sometimes those period Los Angeles stories on the screen are simply vapor: style trumps substance.

Already, as verisimilitude goes, the Jay-Z thumping in the background on the trailer doesn’t bode well…but I will be there. Have to.