Don't forget to refer to my Contents page for a more convenient reference to past articles.

For More L.A. La Land, visit my writing/art/film appreciation site on Facebook at Quoth the Maven and follow me on Twitter @ Blahlaland. :)

Friday, November 8, 2013

HOT SPOTS in CA: The American Cinematheque (and the "Dark Blood" of River Phoenix)

Exterior wall of The Egyptian Theatre, home #1 to the American Cinematheque.

The benefit of living in Los Angeles is the access to all things cinema. Hollywood, as the home of the Movies, honors the industry like nowhere else. It's the perfect landing place for movie hounds, as it has countless venues for junkies to choose from when selecting where and when they want to see what. Grauman's Chinese (now TLC-- the learning channel???), the Egyptian, the Silent Movie Theater, Old Town Music Hall, the Laemmle chain, LACMA, AMPAS, Fairfax Regency, Cinespia at the cemetery, etc, are some of the community's darlings. They screen the classics, the forgotten jewels, the restored, the cult favorites, whatever your flavor is. Each locale has its own personality and generally cheaper seats than the average movie chain, which only plays the latest block-bruiser. Depending on the monthly menu or retrospective that's happening, one can pretty much spread herself around like a celluloid slut (Oh, I get mine, trust me) and take advantage of experiencing films on the big screen-- the way they were meant to be seen and increasingly aren't.

The American Cinematheque has been in operation since 1981 and is a non-profit organization that presents films, historical or cinematically related lectures, and guest appearances at both the Egyptian and Aero Theatres. The Egyptian is much more notorious (and right in the center of Hollywood), as it was one of Sid Grauman's many over-embellished movie palaces. Renovated and technologically modernized, the interior has changed quite a bit. For example, the seats used to stretch from the screen all the way to the entry door, as there was no popcorn and thus no concession stands in the early days. However, remnants of the former glory remain, and much of the original artwork has been restored. The hieroglyphics outside and ornate pattern detail on the entry ceiling, as well as the still impressive ceiling décor in the theater itself, provide a bit of forgotten ambiance, though the result is nowhere near the original splendor. The Egyptian typically gives tours of the theater and screens a brief documentary called "Forever Hollywood" at least once a month on Saturday, if not every other Saturday, in addition to its many other screenings and programs.

The Egyptian Theatre ~ 6712 Hollywood Blvd. ~ Los Angeles, CA 90028

As its sister theater, the Aero directs its focus into honoring all the different filmmakers, performers, and genres by featuring varying retrospectives, whether these reference the cinema of various countries, time periods, movements, what-have-you. The look of the theater is less exciting and historically relevant than the Egyptian. Aside from the brightly lit marquee, the building is thoroughly contemporary. It's charm lies in the unlikely films it presents, as well as the plethora of celebrity guests it hosts for Q&A sessions regarding particular films. Anyone from Eva Marie Saint to Jane Campion and the Cast of Bright Star may show up, and the movie house plays everything from The Unknown (1927) to The Harder They Come (1972). Located between Brentwood and Santa Monica, it's a bit of a hidden treasure on the West side, and the intimate attendance at most screenings makes one (#me) feel like a member of a very select club-- the Cinemat 'Pack, huzzah!

The Aero Theatre ~ 1328 Montana Avenue ~ Santa Monica, CA 90403

Most recently, just prior to the 20th anniversary of River Phoenix's death, I was fortunate enough to attend a screening at the Aero of his last, uncompleted film with director George Sluizer: Dark Blood. The "lost film" is always a dagger in the heart to flicker aficionados, and-- similarly to James Dean-- River's premature death certainly makes every product of his work more precious. (He would pass away due to a drug overdose in the early morning hours of Halloween, collapsing on the street outside The Viper Room). As the film was left 10 filming days short, there are missing scenes from the finished project, as well as some that Sluizer had to remove due to their lack of coherence within the limited final product. Working with what he had, the director was able to save the film from destruction when the members of the Phoenix family tried to seize it and Ted Turner, the studio, et al refused to refinance further shooting/editing. It took the director some time to face this past demon, but he used the money from his own pocket to put the piece together, restoring the film himself, adding voiceover dialogue where needed to explain missing sequences, and editing the remaining images into a fluid and somehow fittingly detached but provocative story.

Poster handed out at the October 29th screening.

The plot follows a vacationing couple as they travel through the deserts of Arizona (actually Utah, I believe-- the cinematography alone is enough to make the film worth seeing). The brash and irreverent Buffy (Judy Davis) and her stoic but silently boiling actor-husband Harry (Jonathan Pryce) wind up stranded in the middle of nowhere after their vintage car breaks down. The playful tension between the couple quickly takes on a more sinister edge in this isolation, revealing the truth behind their disintegrating marriage. When Buffy spots and hikes toward a distant light in the hills, she finds the small cabin/tee-pee of a character known only as Boy (Phoenix), who takes the couple in and promises to fix their car and see them safely to their next destination. Unfortunately, their three lives become violently entangled as Boy's attraction to Buffy becomes not only threateningly potent but fearfully dominating, his obsession over her creating an oppressive atmosphere, which is only fueled by the sinister history of their surroundings...

The story takes place in the space formerly used as a nuclear testing site by the U.S. government. Many people, including Boy's young wife, died of cancer as a result of the contamination. Certain areas remain condemned-- sad, dusty ghost towns with the lingering stench of death upon them. This stain of history is echoed by the stain in Boy's blood. He is a quarter Native American-- his grandfather married a white woman. Additionally, said grandfather was allegedly an incredibly unbalanced and depressive personality. As such, Boy carries on this "dark blood." Proud of his heritage and unapologetically bitter against the yuppies who destroyed and forgot this wasted land, he frequently bursts out venomous torrents of his own invented wisdom. Crafting Kachina dolls to adorn his handmade bomb shelter-- complete with an extensive candelabra that doubles as a library (you have to see it to believe it)-- he knows that the great wave of man's error will come again. When it does, he wishes to go underground, taking Buffy with him to create a new age of man-- one totally pure and within his control.

Judy Davis and River in Boy's romanticized fall-out shelter of delusion. As she stares
at his altar of hand-made Kachina dolls, she is mesmerized by the deep focus and 

care he has put into this creation and turned on by his deepening fixation on her.
Allegedly, Davis was a nightmare to work with, and she and River were mutually

intimidated by each other, but there is a depth to their love
scenes that is quite compelling.

River is amazing in the role. Wavering between a raging, crazy old man in a 22-year-old's body and an innocent and vulnerable child, he uses his spiritual conspiracy theories to protect him from the loneliness of his isolation and status as an existential cast-away. He believes that he has willed Buffy to him, and when he delivers this information to her, you believe it. Judy Davis, as his increasingly willing and then terrified prey, is equally remarkable, providing layers of sexual tension and surprising softness that escalate into moments of sheer panic. Pryce, for his part, is the frustrated "white man," lost in the maze of his country's past poisons, cleverly exemplified as he literally wanders in the canyons of the desert, desperate to be freed of this collective residual guilt, but unable to escape it until it has had its vengeance on him. The film truly is something 'dark.' Mysterious, poetic, jarring, unexpected... It takes the viewer to places he or she perhaps doesn't want to go, but the voyage of this macabre Odyssey somehow rings so true that one can't help but be on the side of its surprising anti-hero, even when he rattles your bones.

In addition to watching the film, the Q&A with the now 90-year-old Sluizer proved very informative and equally soul-fulfilling, as his recollections, struggles, and triumphs revealed a lot about the process of bringing the film to the screen and additionally honored his departed friend. Also in attendance was author Gavin Edwards, who was signing copies of his recently released biography Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind. This, as with most awesome Hollywood book related events-- including another past Kirk Douglas one I attended at the Egyptian-- was provided by the Larry Edmunds Bookshop. (Keep your eye on these guys. They host cool things all the time). 

Oh this? This is Kirk Douglas' autograph. On my book. That I own.
This is why AC and LEB are awesome.

So, for those living in the area or those hoping to visit, you can add this to your list of things to do in Hollywood. This city can be as annoying as the traffic jams are long, but as my depictions of the aforementioned theaters hopefully prove, there is this one great condolence: there is absolutely no reason one should ever, ever be bored in L.A. La Land.

No comments:

Post a Comment