Four days back, still a bit out of the local time, jet-lagged. On arrival the four years absence seemed instantly erased, which seems my usual pattern: a life of travel and constant moves has made some kind of mechanism that really puts me in the old 60’s mantra, “be here now.” Yesterday is obliterated, and LA, however changed since my last quick visit five years ago, seems more or less the place I lived in in 77-78, and 82-83. Instant “home.”
Likewise, when I entered the Echo Park Film Center the second evening in town, to do my first screening (Chameleon, 1978), I felt instantly at home. How could I not – it reminded of the funk and space of setting up the Chicago Film Coop long ago, in 1967, or the casual Santa Monica place, Focal Point Films, I stayed in while editing Angel City in 1976. Though this time the audience – a virtual full house in a space with maybe 36 seats – was a mix of young people and grayed souls of my vintage. The screening went nicely (except for an over-bright projector), and the response and discussion was lively and long. A very nice experience all around.
The next day to underscore the echo of time’s gone, I met with Mike Gray, who’d let me use his editing bench in Chicago back in 1967-8, and whom I’d known in 1977-78 in Los Angeles as he worked on The China Syndrome. We had a nice talk over beer and wine, with intimations of our personal finality just off-screen. In the evening, I had second screening, at Cinefamily in the Fairfax, not far from where I’d lived in 1978, in the old silent cinema theater. Showed Angel City, to another mixed-age and highly appreciative audience. Inwardly, both these two old films, despite naturally showing their vintage in the cars, clothes, lack of cell phones and other electronic gizmos, seemed to creatively dance circles around the last decade and more of supposed “indie” filmmaking which for me is almost (a few exceptions) all a tired old waltz around utterly conventional cinema, with its only “uniqueness” being that it is about the younger generation of the day, and done by them: mumble-core and other things. But their cinema, whatever they imagine, is a tired old dead horse showing almost nothing that can’t be seen slicker on TV or Hollywood movies. Cinematically DOD. It was at these two screenings a pleasure to see a clearly positive response from younger viewers who seemed genuinely excited at their rather different approaches to filmmaking. I hope for those it might rub off a bit.
I hadn’t seen either of these films for some time, and was – as commented by some of the audience – struck by how pertinent to our current times they still are. Chameleon, done in 1978, seems to have foreseen the coming decades of hustle and greed, while noting the acrid sourness by which such a life eats out one’s soul. Angel City was a critique of capitalism’s tendencies in wise-ass detective-movie lingo, and remains as pointed and appropriate today as it was then. Nothing changes?
The last screening in LA was of Swimming in Nebraska (US Premiere !!), at the Egyptian theater in downtown Hollywood. The audience was very thin, as I think such work is somewhat antithetical to the local community’s interests – AG films in the heart of the US filmbiz is a bit of an affront I suppose, and I think the people who live nearby are in the thrall of Hollywood’s offerings and mentality. I hadn’t seen the film for some time, and found it quite strong – I have the tendency to have to learn to like my own work, and it certainly is the case with this one. The density of Swimming takes some time to absorb, but now it seemed proper. The audience seemed to like it very much, which was nice.
Thanks to Adam Hyman for having set up these screenings in LA, and thanks to my friend Ryan Harper Gray and his girlfriend Tiffany for putting me up and getting me around town a bit.