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Gerry Fialka in Venice

LA Land

On LAX arrival from Korea, the previous 4 and a half years in Seoul (mostly) vanished in an instant, and former “home” of Los Angeles immediately became, once again, if briefly,  “home.”    Couch accommodation from friends Ryan and Tiffany in quiet Silver Lake.  Recovered from jet-lag in LA following screenings with the LA Film Forum, the Echo Park Film Coop and Cinefamily, all of which went nicely.  Saw friends, made new ones, acclimated to the laid-back world of palm trees, Mexican food,  and the tone of SoCal.   Despite the superficial shifts of graphics on the signage, and the new buildings, and the constant flush of wealth and accompanying new “hip” neighborhoods, LA was essentially the same place, with the same a weird concentration on looks, fashion, the movie biz, being “hip” LA style:  things changed and didn’t really change at all.

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Alenka in Venice

Ryan GraySilver Lake

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Took Amtrak to Portland for $80, thanks to too much luggage to fly it – brought to deal with the next 18 months on the American road.   To take it likely would have added $300 to the airfare given America’s airlines’ draconian profit-minded gouging policies on extra bags – or even one.   I went coach, and once the sun settled before coming into Oakland, it was the question of trying to sleep.  Dawn saw us in Klamath, Oregon, on the high plateau east of the Cascades which was still graced with snow.  Just as the train was coming down off the Cascades into the Willamette Valley above Eugene a large Douglas fir fell down, derailing the baggage car.  Our 29 hour long journey turned into 38 hours and ended on a bus in a snowstorm in the valley, a very unusual occurrence there.

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Had a nice stay in Portland with friends, Mark and Jane, though thanks to the lengthened train ride I seemed to acquire a terrestrial form of jet-lag taking another few days to get back on the local clock.  Real fun sleeping in upright chairs.  Portland was itself:  laid back, rainy, full of young people sitting in cafe’s buried in their notebooks, good micro-brews and Powell’s.  If I were going to live in a city in the USA I think it would be Portland.  But that’s not in the cards.  Took a ride up the Columbia River Gorge and a bit of eastern Oregon with Mark, a little hint of the coming year and more or travels to come.

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Mark Eifert

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From Portland it was on to Nashville and Vanderbilt University, with a screening, a quick look around and a short night of honky-tonk cruising.  As it turns out the strip of clubs with all-night music cranking out golden C&W oldies has, in my view, descended into something akin to Disneyland, with the clubs and the music aping the good old days about as successfully as the original Disneyland evoked “Main Street.”  Plastic.   Of course Disneyland is enormously popular and surely so is this strip of erstaz “country,”  which saw many a cowboy hat and what amount to “country” costumes.   I was somewhat taken aback by the evident epidemic of obesity, sometimes in the form of two-stepping lady couples emulating the manatees I’d see some days later.   Except they weren’t waterborne and gravity was working triple time.

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The Parthenon in Nashville

Former home of the Grand Old OpryHatch’s Print ShopThe King

Lacking time, and somewhat allergic to the tacky nature of all things Elvis, I skipped the pilgrimage to Graceland, which, I suppose shall be mandatory should life let me return for shooting the upcoming long essay on America.  Nothing can be more American than Elvis.

From Nashville I took a Megabus, for $9, to Knoxville.  2:30 am departure, which had  I been able to book earlier would have cost a mere $1.   The fellow passengers inverted the national figures and I was, along with one other light-skinned soul, the 12% minority.   Arrived at 7:30 and after a breakfast was whisked to a morning classroom presentation at the University of Tennessee, followed a day later with a public screening and a dinner at Calhoun’s, a famous eatery on the river, and an evening at the Preservation Saloon with good beer and music.  Great time, and I happily recommend both joints.   As with many other smaller American cities and towns, the center’s of which had been let go to seed, Knoxville in the last decade has seen a renewal, with old factory and office spaces turned into the ever-hip “lofts” for sale and lease, and an attempt to revivify the area with boutiques and such.   There it appears to be partially working, though many an empty store space suggested there wasn’t really enough wealth around to ape, say, New York’s Soho.    But still far more welcoming and livable than 10 or 20 years ago.

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Kelley McRae at the Preservation

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After workshop and screening at UT, had a few fallow days with my sister Jolly and husband Bob down near Louisville, some 30 miles or so south of Knoxville.  Gorgeous countryside with river meandering through, in foothills of the Smokey Mountains.  They have a lovely house and garden, and some acres surrounding them to fend off impending housing tracts.   A nice relaxing time for me before I headed south to Tampa.

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Bob’s vineyardBob & Jolly

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Flew to Tampa where Charles Lyman put me up in studio space next to his house on river there.   Though nestled in a suburban housing area, the side facing the river plunges one into seeming jungle Florida – a manatee grazes near by with its back a slash of white diagonal lines thanks to the prop of a speeding boat, birds paddle off with their young, and an alligator trolls across a little lagoon.   A dense canopy of trees and moss hang overhead, offering quiet and shade.  I took a little paddle upstream in a kayak, relaxed, and had a nice time lazing in the local manner.   Next day at the University of Tampa I seemed to step into the kind of internecine warfare that academia seems to foster – perhaps more so these days as faculties shrivel, “adjuncts” dangle on their personal tight-ropes, and the fiscal noose engenders ever more draconian save-yourself behaviors out of the usually erstwhile “liberal” persons championing whichever ethnic/gender or theoretical models of the moment (for a full treatment of this see this.)   Per usual, the faculty avoided meeting me, and one got the sense that only the person who invited me, Tom Garrett, wished to have me there.  He informed that thanks to the bloodletting he was, after a few decades, moving on to Texas the next term.   I was glad to see my friend Eli show up, and we decamped the campus (with a lovely old hotel transformed into cultural locus) and had a pretty good Mexican meal nearby.   He’s been wandering America’s back roads the last year or so, in a converted emergency medical truck, making his rather insane YouTube pieces.   Next morning I was off for next leg of this journey – Chicago and friends.  Of which, more later.

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Eli Elliot

Moving too fast and falling behind.  The hazards of such journey’s as this, which largely mirrors a lifetime of being uprooted, sent to a new place to meet new souls, is that the past is instantly erased, and that old ’60’s mantra becomes a living axiom:  be here now.   I’ve never been one for nostalgia, and in this time of less than a month of travels the trail of faces and places already smudges into a strange scrapbook of the past conjunct with present:  here today, gone tomorrow.

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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.”

Echo Park Film Center

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.

Bob Glaudini and John Steppling in ChameleonGlaudini and Winifred Golden

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.

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Glaudini, Golden, Roger Ruffin in Angel City

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?

Adam Hyman of the LA Film Forum

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.

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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.