When “The New Movie Show” aired on FX, I was in high school and writing movie reviews for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Teentime pages, a golden opportunity run by a kindly woman editor who not only knew the Sun-Sentinel as good as the higher-ups, but was a book reviewer, so she also knew what kinds of opinions to put in a review. Bolstered by the confidence afforded me in that position, I e-mailed Chris Gore asking if it was possible to be on his show. He told me first and foremost that I had to be in L.A. I read that reply and thought to myself, “Los Angeles?!!? Isn’t that on the other side of the universe?” I was born and raised in Florida, so I naturally knew nothing about L.A.
I never subscribed to the “Hollywood dream factor” either, where people see movies stacked heavily with glamour and believe that’s what Los Angeles is all about. I just figured that L.A. was one of those populous cities where each day was something different for all who lived there. When my folks, sister, and I came there for a 10-day vacation/job hunt about two years ago this past April, we walked through LAX after our plane came in and having been enamored with aviation some years ago, I never imagined an airport this size. This was more like another civilization! So I really was in L.A. then.
However, I’m not a Los Angeles citizen by any means. Two years have been spent in the better part of Santa Clarita, in the populous Valencia and way up in Saugus. I’m not exactly one to talk about the intricacies of this most well-known, mysterious, open, and closed city. All I have are the feelings gathered from a few trips there. Those feelings not only stem from the Russian bakery near the heart of Hollywood and next to a Whole Foods or the parking garage under the Kodak Theater where you can catch one last breath of sanity before rising up to the sometime insanity of the tourist district. They come from seeing the buildings up high near Mulholland, up close, and even further back. And the way Phillip Rodriguez sees this remarkable maze of humanity in “Los Angeles Now”, I know those feelings too.
In this documentary profiling what Los Angeles is, what it was, and what it may very well become, Rodriguez is that Los Angeles native exhibiting genuine curiosity and love toward his city. He goes not for the PR-polished faces that could gush over how wonderful L.A. is, but for the writers and artists who have dwelled in the city for such a long time, even going so far as to include an on-screen quote from one of the ultimate denizens, Charles Bukowski. The questions about L.A. are not why the city exists, but how it exists, what cultures and races currently dominate the walking space. Through the lens of Claudio Rocha as well, Rodriguez captures that feeling of what the city is to all types of people. Michael Mann captured perfectly what L.A. meant not only to Max (Jamie Foxx) but also to himself in “Collateral”. Now Rodriguez looks out at it from his point of view too, unvarnished by Hollywood. It’s not only the photographs of the utmost importance nor the footage of the cityscape, but also how it’s used. Rodriguez and Rocha don’t merely show photographs, but Rocha and Humberto Ramirez, Jr. use animation to place the photographs in their proper context. They’re not glossy paper. These people existed and both men use wondrous technology to separate each element of the photograph and show such images as Mexican settlers where they were and what they were doing. They take us through the photograph.
Sometimes it’s even the speed of going through the photograph and the animation that reminds us of feelings toward the city. We may like it or hate it, but surely it’s hard to get this monstrous land out of our minds. Once you’ve been there, prepare to never forget it. Listening to these writers muse about their city, hearing poet Wanda Coleman talk about how people pose for photographs even in times of tragedy, it’s stunning and heartbreaking at the same time. Cultures even blend. There’s now the surfer who knows how to use chopsticks, the Jewish boy who knows Mexican songs. This megalopolis is constantly changing and however it changes, “Los Angeles Now” will be one to keep memories of L.A. and question where it all is going, how it will all be 50 years from now. It’s no wonder that an influx of movies take place in L.A. There’s a reason why shows like “24” are set in Los Angeles. Jack Bauer can set about saving the world while Max drives his cab through the night. Jake Gittes can snoop around in unwanted places while Harris K. Telemacher loves and is frustrated by L.A. at the same time. And even through all this, Phillip Rodriguez and the people he has gathered will always be around, just as much as the humongous populations of varied cultures are. What are we here for? Just think of Los Angeles. Even when we don’t know, we somehow find out.