By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Be There or Be Square comes at the city from a present-day Chinese perspective -- the New West approached from the half-communist, half-capitalist New East -- and offers a vision that is half familiar, half foreign. It‘s mirrored by two features from the Asian-American production and distribution organization Visual Communications (VC), which was established in the late 1960s to serve such emerging Asian communities as were ignored by the studios. They examine the ways in which West Coast immigrant experiences differ starkly from the myths and legends associated with Ellis Island. Hito Hata (Raise the Standard) tells one typical story of an aging Nissei in Little Tokyo, nostalgic for his youth as an itinerant fruit-picker but also weighed down by the experience of World War II internment that looms so large in the folk-memory of his generation. Haile Gerima’s rarely seen, African-inflected Bush Mama represents UCLA‘s great school of new black filmmaking of the mid-’70s, though one wishes the programmers had also included Charles Burnett‘s equally hard-to-see Killer of Sheep, or even his more available To Sleep With Anger, both of which engage with the Southern memories ever-present in the minds of his black Angeleno families. And while the omission of Kenneth Anger, demon dad of the old queer cinema and a radical reconfigurator of Hollywood’s sense of itself, is frankly incomprehensible in the context of the series, Gregg Araki‘s Totally Fucked Up represents new queer filmmaking’s take on the City of Night as a comically murderous, cheerfully amoral teenage wildlife documentary. There‘s also a smattering of avant-garde work by the likes of Barbara McCulloch (Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification) and others.
And in the end we come to Blade Runner, which along with L.A. Confidential and Zoot Suit forms the ”Postmodern Perspectives“ program. Each is based on the creative fission that results from the juxtaposition of apparently incongruous elements. Zoot Suit tackles real local history -- the early ’40s Zoot Suit Riots and Sleepy Lagoon murder case -- but the movie brashly retains the radically theatrical, anti-realist methods of El Teatro Campesino‘s stage version. L.A. Confidential engineers a productive clash between mendacious pulp tabloids and classic Hollywood noir, ineradicable police corruption and criminal barbarity, all seething beneath the merest meniscus of sun-soaked civility.
Blade Runner seems to compress all tenses, all nationalities and all L.A.s into one dystopian endless night. The many noir touches (Sean Young’s piled-up Crawford hairdo, the later-excised voice-over narration) are from 40 years earlier, yet the film‘s action unfolds 40 years hence. Like California itself, the present is composed of memory and expectation. And in this future, the corporations are already advertising the next California. One announcement echoes both the fliers posted by railroad and development companies in fly-blown, depressed Iowa farm towns in the ’teens and 1920s to advertise the paradise of L.A., and the similar expectations stoked by promos such as Progress in Los Angeles: ”A new life awaits you in the Off-World Colonies. A chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure.“ Here we go once more, selling new Californias to new Californians.
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