Sunset Junction is hallowed ground for many ardent music fans. From Spaceland and Silverlake Lounge to Elliot Smith's shrine and that questionably priced, namesake street fair, the area is undoubtedly ripe with history and authenticity.
Whether they are, in fact, local, a legion of hopefuls seems to project its fervent territorialism (and imagination) on Sunset Junction. High on self-importance and the cachet associated with being comped at the Echo, these folk cherish this slice of musical history as if it's either their firstborn or some unique species, as if the area is some elongated music-video set.
To these valued members of society, Sunset Junction is a last bastion of all that counts — something that could be forever lost if they avert their eyes long enough. It's a place where they wistfully gaze, as if conjuring imagined (and dated) fantasies about some indie utopia, with ensuing visions of, say, Elliot Smith, Beck and assorted members of the Silversun Pickups sauntering along Sunset Boulevard after masking their Spaceland hangovers with a carb-heavy breakfast at Millie's.
So it smacks of a little irony, even audacity, that Los Feliz resident Jesus Rodriguez, a Venezuelan-born indie filmmaker/director, recently began publicizing his first film, a musical focusing on the area. Rather than capture some contrived pseudo-art-fashion documentary, he created a traditional, high-camp, all-singing, all-dancing musical, called Sunset Junction.
Add to this a love-triangle storyline, “exploring a struggling star falling in and out of love with her co-stars,” and it seems he's begging for trouble by a staunch legion of hacks scraping a living in L.A.
Indeed, met with a trailer of the film on Web site LAist, one less-than-visible blogger ranted as if defending hallowed turf. The film “makes the most gentrified parts of Silver Lake look like Melrose Place shot by a bunch of amateurs. That, and a general Flashdance/Showgirls vibe, without the metallurgy or the tits.”
Rodriguez says that while he is a little put off by the scornful tone, he is content with the appraisal, stating the obvious and how it underscores what he sees as the naive sentiment behind Silver Lake's apparent “edgy” aesthetic.
“Ultimately it doesn't matter what the backdrop is, it's kind of irrelevant really; it's basically a story about falling in and out of love.
“I think there is a level of irony in seeing people who are supposedly hard-core indie-music types performing in a musical,” Rodriguez says. “It's kind of mission accomplished if that's the sort of reaction that local press will offer.”
Emphasizing that the hipster/indie vibe isn't so elitist anymore, Rodriguez also points out that Silver Lake was one of the first areas in that part of town to undergo gentrification and nowadays may have as many young households making six-figures as the likes of Santa Monica.
That's not to say the film is driven by a cheesy, commercial sound track. It features edgy songs from 13 artists and bands who attempt to extricate Sunset Junction from being the next distraction for the world's Justin Beiber fans. Among them are Helen Stellar, Maleco Collective, Jail Weddings and sound-track composer duo Marc Dold and Judith Martin (Blood Diamond and Little Miss Sunshine).
The film was shot on a budget of less than $10,000, with a Canon 7D, which is originally intended for still pictures. Rodriguez offers additional logistical snippets: “We gathered more than 100 people, who volunteered their time and their work to make this project a reality. We shot for 35 days and used 27 locations, all for free.”
While these days the moniker “indie,” is a little nebulous, given the latent destruction of the record-label hierarchy and infrastructure, Rodriguez feels comfy calling Sunset Junction an indie musical.
As for the perception of his film's backdrop as the antithesis of the Hollywood ethos, he finds that a tad pretentious and “somewhat naive.”
In the face of clichés about passion, artistry and scene-mongering, Rodriguez says he's more a realist. “It's ironic and maybe naive to still perceive Silver Lake as this bastion of indie music, where the exponents aren't remotely interested in attaining any form of success.
“In the end, no matter what they say, people in the entertainment industry want to succeed and get recognition for what they do.”