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Los Angeles As A Character: Screening Review

Los Angeles as a Character

As promised, I attended the Los Angeles as a Character screening event last night. First up, congrats to organizer and curator Charles Doran for a tremendously successful evening. The Echo Park Film Center was packed to literally standing room only capacity. I was lucky enough to grab one of the last seats myself. But, this was on a night when all of L.A. smelled like a massive ashtray due to the raging wildfires around the city. Still, during intermission a few folks were outside smoking, so there you go.

Given the tone of Doran’s own film Westsider, which screened last night and which I reviewed way back when on the Underground Film Journal, it wasn’t surprising that the overall tone of the short films he selected to screen were playful in nature. Some were laugh-out-loud hilarious, some contained humorous moments and some just seemed to have a wistful air about them regarding the city they were produced in. It’s tough to live in this city and not have some sense of humor about it.

Personally, since moving to L.A. over six years ago, I still get a big thrill out of trying to recognize where various movies, TV shows and commercials have been shot. As a recent example, I got very excited when a scene of The Shield the other week was filmed in my veterinarian’s office. I admit, it’s an incredibly stupid thing to get excited by, but I stupidly can’t help it.

So, what was fun about the Character films last night was experiencing those moments of recognition with a big room of my fellow Angelenos, but also experiencing those moments that provided a brand new way of looking at this crazy quit of a metropolis. While there was a playful air about the films in general, each one provided its own uniquely distinct take on different aspects of life here.

And while the popular perception of Los Angeles is that its just a city where movies are made, none of these short films that were produced here even referenced the mainstream entertainment industry. Los Angeles is an extremely lively and colorful city in so many different ways and this night was a celebration of that diversity.

I was also glad to attend this event to finally meet Doran in person whom I’ve corresponded with online since reviewing Westsider. I showed up later than I wanted and only had a chance to chat with him for a few minutes before the show. So, I didn’t get to ask him if he was planning to make Los Angeles as a Character a regular event, but I certainly hope he does.

Below are some short write-ups on the individual films. These are not in the order they were screened. I rather dumbly forgot to bring a notebook to jot notes down, so I’m just going off my memory, which I’m pretty sure isn’t the same.

Iris: Los Angeles, dir. Valentina Martin. The gritty streets of the Echo Park area of L.A. are filmed in an appreciatively poetic way, while director Martin reads an original poem that praises and slightly mocks the city. The images had a pastel, washed-out look about them, respective of how the neighborhood looks in the heat of the afternoon. And while the monologue had some genuinely funny lines in it, one got the sense that they were born out of love, not hatred.

Mr. Freeway, dir. Kenneth Hughes. I’ve seen this film before and encouraged Hughes to submit it. Glad it got picked. The piece worked well on a big screen and good audio where the manic soundtrack really built the tension up to a piercing crescendo.

I Remember Venice, dir. Will O’Loughlen. This was a cubist reminiscence of all the nutty things one might see while strolling the Venice boardwalk, the way a person’s mind will place tremendous significance on tiny details while the grander caucophony would be completely blocked out.

Dance, Eli, Dance, dir. Ava Hess. A pretty young woman performs her own little ballet while lithely gliding across sidewalks all over Los Angeles, moving from the fairly vacant downtown to the hustle and bustle of touristy Hollywood Blvd. The reactions from the bewildered people whose paths she crosses are priceless.

Memories of an Undefined Image, dir. Mason Shefa. Los Angeles is an enormous city and one spends much of his and her time living here in transit from Point A to Point B. Shefa’s film captures the city as one massive blur, much like the fast-forwarding of a videotape. The director is just 15-years-old and thus can’t drive, so this could be his perception of his home passing by his passenger side window.

Rollingman, dir. Mike Sakamoto. This was my favorite film of the night. Shot in a depressing black-and-white, an elderly man eats a frozen dinner while being entertained by a singing tabletop Christmas tree. He then settles in to watch TV shows on circumcision and breast feeding before heading out the next day to live up to the title of the film. Rolling over and over, elbow to elbow to elbow, the man careens out of his driveway and cruises the sidewalks of L.A., rolling past his bemused neighbors onto grimy urban streets. He doesn’t even get up to cross a street and instead rolls across intersections like a living speedbump. Past garbage dumps and railroad tracks, the rollingman eventually ends up at his final peaceful destination atop a lonely hill. Very beautiful little film.

Westsider, dir. Charles Doran. I’ve seen Doran’s film before and loved it, but it was nice to see it again with a crowd of appreciative Angelenos. Doran hits the snobby westside nail right on the head.

Palm Tree Song Line, dir. Dagie Brundert. As I learned not too long ago, palm trees are not native to California, but they’ve become an ubiquitous part of the landscape. In an ingenious move, Brundert films different rows of these towering trees that are lined up like musical notes on a staff and gets an audience to sing them.

Some Los Angeles Apartments and a Dorm, dir. Laura Daroca. This was directed by Westsider‘s director of photography. While Daroca tells intimate stories about her life in different domiciles in L.A., she only films the buildings’ exteriors of where these stories occured. This creates a haunting disconnect, as if she hopes her past bad experiences will eventually be remembered not as events that happened to her but to anonymous people hiding within the shells of these structures.

Roger, dir. Jennifer Stefanisko. A rock musician hides in his Hollywood bungalow, not cowering from the world per se, but from the woman who broke his heart. But rather than finding inspiration in his heartbreak, as many musicians do, he spends as much time as he can avoiding playing real music. Smoking dope with a friend, obsessively tuning his guitar, he dreams of the day he can leave the city and hide out in the desert. It’s not the city he needs to escape, though, but his own wretched miserableness.

Moose, Indian, dir. Nicholas Kokich. An eccentric shut-in — he wears goggles, gloves and a hat with earflaps indoors — only dares to venture outside when a pretty girl passes by beneath his balcony. Grabbing the nearest bicycle, he scours the city streets for his love. But, what’s a man who only knows how to demolish beauty to do when he finally catches up to the object of his affection?

Intoxicated Demons, dir. Donlee Brussell. Another brokenhearted dude drowns his sorrows in a strip club. His best friend can’t cheer him up, but he gets some advice on how to heal from an unlikely source: “Captain” Bob, an older, foppish gentleman who isn’t everything he seems. “Captain” Bob ultimately reveals his tragic past, but his glimmer of hope for a brighter tomorrow actually sounds way more depressing than the life he escaped from. Sometimes “getting even” means having to sell off part of one’s soul.

Hair Cowboy, dir. Patrick Robins. This was a terrific documentary about the infamous Kanu Saul, a sort of guerilla hair stylist who roams the city streets giving passers-by haircuts. He’s a very tall man, so he makes his customers stand while he tugs and pulls and cuts and styles during sessions that might last up to one hour. Robins follows one of Saul’s customers while he tries to track down this elusive character. It’s not easy. Numerous cell phone calls are made, wanted posters are hung on lamposts and countless hours of driving all over town are killed just to get the perfect haircut. Saul’s customers are just that devoted to his work. Tracking him down is an hilarious journey and the man with the golden shears doesn’t disappoint when the film finally catches up to him. Unassuming, but eccentric, he’s one of those kinds of characters you’re only going to find in Los Angeles. You can watch this great short film online in the embedded video below:


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  • Hey Mike!
    thanks for the write-up. The evening was a blast. And thanks to all the filmmakers who submitted their films and showed up in person. 7 LA premeieres! Not bad for such a small screening.