By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
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By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
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“This means the end of chandeliers!” sighs lighting designer Anne Militello, who operates Vortex Lighting in Hollywood. The cause for her alarm is Assembly Bill 722, which faces a key vote in the chamber’s Appropriations Committee at the end of May. Assemblyman Lloyd E. Levine’s (D-Van Nuys) legislation would replace the incandescent “Class A” light bulb with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), whose squiggly, gas-filled tubes use only a quarter of the electricity needed to power halogen and tungsten-filament lights. “There simply are no fluorescent bulbs that fit chandeliers,” complains Militello, who has worked extensively both in the worlds of live theater and architectural illumination, including Bloomingdale’s New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum and Disneyland’s Toontown.
Sitting in her Las Palmas Avenue studios, Militello sketches a bell curve in the margins of a blueprint for a lingerie boutique she is lighting.
“The warm spectrum lives within the red, orange and yellow range, beyond infrared,” she says. “And this,” she adds, pointing to the edge of the bell, “is where fluorescent lighting falls — on the cold end, near ultraviolet.”
It’s that cold end that worries designers who make their livings making environments seem warmer.
“When I design a restaurant,” Militello says, “I want to create warm, attractive light that can be dimmed and [project] good skin color. That’s almost impossible to do with an energy-efficient source. I’ve experimented, but fluorescents give off a gray, pinkish tint. You can’t create theatrics, drama with fluorescents.”
When reached by phone in Sacramento, Assemblyman Levine swears CFLs are eminently dimmable.
“I’ve got chandelier bulbs,” Levine says, “in both soft and clear glass. I’ve got fluorescent lights for every kind of incandescent bulb, and every single one of those bulbs except two can be purchased at a Lowe’s or Home Depot. And [those two] can be bought at IKEA or Wal-Mart.”
If Levine sounds like a man on a mission, he also sounds as though he regards those who prefer incandescent bulbs as superstitious cave dwellers who’d resist polio vaccination if it were put to a vote.
“Planes and cars have evolved, but not the incandescent light bulb,” he says impatiently. “If most people in society could just give it a chance and let go of the old ways.” Levine denies having heard complaints from lighting designers — which is news to Dawn Hollingsworth, managing design principal at Visual Terrain, a lighting firm that numbers theme parks as well as Beverly Hills’ Crustacean restaurant and North Hollywood’s El Portal Theater among its clients. Hollingsworth’s projects also include the high-profile LAX Gateway light towers. She claims she has written Levine, who happens to be her assemblyman, and called his office four or five times.
“I haven’t received any replies to my calls,” says Hollingsworth as a small earthquake rattles her Van Nuys office.
Hollingsworth believes the look of everything from stores to theme-park rides is threatened by AB 722. She would have no problem with Levine’s bill if it simply allowed the use of halogen lights, which, Hollingsworth says, are crucial for commercial-lighting designers. She says the bill would also make it difficult for theaters to produce plays in which decorative incandescent lamps called “practicals” (table lamps, porch lights, etc.) play a part in the stage design.
There was a time when incandescent was a good word. In today’s energy-conscious world, however, Thomas Edison’s light bulb sits in the same pillory as the Hummer and gas leaf-blower. Levine introduced AB 722 in February, and the bill was immediately Swift-boated by conservatives and libertarians as another intrusion by the same nanny state responsible for telling parents they can’t spank their kids or making municipalities call pets “animal companions.” Some predicted the creation of “light bulb police” who would inspect private homes to make sure that Grandpa’s favorite duck-decoy reading lamp exudes a ghostly phosphorescence instead of a warm, Thomas Kinkadian glow. More than one blogger sounded a War on Christmas alert by claiming AB 722 would ban Christmas-tree lights. Levine’s proposal even made it as joke fodder on The Colbert Report.
AB 722 isn’t quite as Orwellian as some of the rhetoric suggests. The proposed law only involves bulbs in the 25- to 150-watt range, and exemptions include three-way bulbs, bug lights and lighting required for certain medical conditions. Equally important, it would replace the Soft Whites on your nightstand with CFLs, but not with the ceiling tubes associated with DMV waiting rooms and flicker-induced headaches. Nor would it criminalize possession of incandescent bulbs.
If there is a bright spot, so to speak, on the horizon, it is the development of LED illumination for practical home and commercial use. LEDs, which are today found in flashlights and traffic signals, require minuscule amounts of electricity and last virtually forever. If these solid-state light sources can evolve into mass usage, they would be cheaper to produce and dispose of than CFLs, which require more parts and which contain small amounts of mercury.
“If galleries can find a decent reflector, LEDs could be used as directional lights,” says veteran theater designer J. Kent Inasy. The L.A.-based Inasy says he’s been experimenting with LEDs and sees no reason why they can’t be used onstage.
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