INSPIRING DAY at the Tales of Two Cities conference at the Central Library downtown. I was on a panel titled “Exiles & Place” with Lisa See, Naomi Hirahara and Hector Tobar. Moderated by Brighde Mullin, the panel was tasked with sorting out the idea of place in a city that constantly shape-shifts and whose “story” often is overshadowed by outsiders’ notions of it.
Great side-chats and vivid anecdotes collected in the common areas with rooms full of L.A. lovers. Wrapping it up, the big group took a quick walk over to the Oviatt and swooped up to the penthouse for an elegant indoor/outdoor after-party.
The above photo, a scene from the roof, was about as dreamscape-L.A. as it gets.
Thanks all for a great day.
THE LAST couple of months have been a crush of trying to make it to the finish line on several projects, but I took a little time out to check out the Esouteric’s Raymond Chandler tour.
Esotouric does a number of L.A. historical/cultural off-the-beaten track explorations of L.A. — you can check them out here. Our four-hour tour in a big fancy air-cooled bus (this seems to be a theme of mine of late — to be a tourist in my own town) was led authoritatively by Kim Cooper and Richard Schave. Deeply researched, it wound us along Chandler’s meandering trail through Los Angeles — downtown and Hollywood — with both historical and literary context provided — even some clips from Chandler-inspired films.
We made stops at the lavish Oviatt building, the Barclay Hotel in the heart of downtown’s historic core, then snaked into Hollywood past Paramount Studios, the Crossroads of the World and then wound back to the industrial district where we’d met up.
Coming at the city from all of these different angles shifts the perspective, allows you to both see L.A. from the inside out and arms you with a ready come-back for those who want to tell you that L.A. has no history. Often the problem, we Angelenos know, is that people just don’t know where to look when they are out to chase ghosts.
Esoutouric seems to know where the best ones are hidden.
I HADN’T had a chance to actually walk through Echo Park since it’s grand renovation. Part of it was trepidation. But Sunday last, I decided to make it my morning walk. It was still, to my happy surprise, filled with the old neighborhood dwellers taking a turn around the water — walking, jogging, gossiping. I feared the worst as so much else has changed — at least my old street that has condos growing out of a lot which used to host an old,decaying Victorian that was eventually removed and transported just across Sunset (we were told) to Angelino Heights.
For the most part, the changes are subtle and tasteful. It was a pleasant turn in the early sun. I was there so early that I wasn’t able to really see the boathouse and the new coffee space in action, but I was quite happy to see that Queen of the Angels (AKA “Lady of the Lake”) statue has been restored to the grounds and now stands on the north end of the park, her back to the skyline, but her face to the neighborhood.
A FEW weeks back, I spent a good part of the day roaming around inside the memory (and studio) of Inglewood-based artist Michael Massenburg — for a piece I was putting together for KCET. He works with found pieces, discards — newspaper, fabric remnants, cast-off pieces of wood — and refashions them into art.
He does the same with the stories of neighborhoods — the faces and voices of those who came before us. Since so much in Los Angeles is quickly jettisoned, discarded, Massenburg has set himself on a path to find value in what has been tossed away and in so doing he carefully creates lost layers and contexts.
His most recent installation at the Farmdale Station on the Expo Line — “Life in A Day” — tells the story of the neighborhoods fanning out around the tracks — not just coordinates and intersections — but the very details and nuances that distinguish one place from another. His work doesn’t just resurrect ghosts but re-assembles history.
My full piece is up here at Artbound|KCET
images: by Michael Massenburg
RESEARCHING VANISHED LOS Angeles for a piece…
So, a visit with sister …
YESTERDAY, I did a quick tag-along with my photographer friend who had a shoot in Hollywood. I don’t make it into Hollywood like I used to when I worked and lived closer by.
It’s a hike. It’s exhausting. It’s its own maze — both physical and mental.
Hollywood is never what anyone expects it to be. Even when you are a native and know better.
I was surprised at the swarming crowds — summertime-size on a hazy March afternoon. I was also, still surprised, how even more so like a brassy theme park it looks. if that could even be possible.
I’ll take the dilapidated fading-glory over the corporate curation any day. But it is a head-spinning mix no matter what you come looking for, because you will always be surprised by what you actually stumble into.
There are lovely pockets of noir splendor.
Some reminders of old-school suit-and-tie glamour
And then of course, there’s spectacle pretending to be normal
So, I took some pictures too — but the picture I didn’t take was an image that lingered with me. It was one of a man standing at the northeast corner of Hollywood and Highland with a hand-printed sign that had — shall we say — an explicative scrawled across it. When passers-by would look at him directly, or point a camera his way, he’d flip them the finger — the finger corresponding to the sign’s expletive — you get the idea.
A good-sized crowd, 10-deep, fanned out before him — an otherwise nondescript man in cargo pants and baseball cap. They cheered him on. They looked and laughed and pointed. They trained the lenses of video cameras, smartphones, fancy DSLR rigs at him — he flipped each one of them off, flashing a quick, sardonic smile, eyes screened off with inky shades — of course.
One teenager — a tourist — diligently snapped a half a dozen shots and then thanked him in a polite, each-syllable-enunciated-accented English.
He flipped her off.
One woman, (who reminded me of the Hollywood I grew up visiting) in a leopard-print one-piece bathing suit, stringy dishwater hair and a face whose eyes were obscured by liberal application of liner and mascara — croaked over the traffic noise : “I mean y’know kids see that. That’s just disgusting.”
He flipped her off too — of course.
Later as I traveled back home, I realized, I suppose, that whole shrill exchange is an a way an apt metaphor for Hollywood itself:
Take my picture, I’m ridiculous, I’m cynical, I’m pushing your buttons. I’m in your face.
And you love it.
Take my picture.
Take one more . . .
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.