Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

One might think HBO's Entourage would be a no-brainer for this site, but I have to admit I enjoy the show and don't have a problem with it as far as Los Angeles stereotypes go. It always seemed their writers weren't making those broad characterizations about our city that are found so often in media, but instead focus tightly on one highly specific subset of Hollywood denizen. If you want to call a bunch of shallow industry social climbers "shallow industry social climbers," fine by me, as long as you don't generalize it to the rest of us.

However, that was until this season's finale based in their hometown of Queens (where the show's apparently relocating for next season), meaning they've now set up an East Coast/West Coast duality. And you know what that means in TV: the return of the East Coast Realness cliche. This one's kind of an anomaly, too. Usually East Coast Realness is perpetuated by New York based shows making a two- or three-episode arc to a hyper-glossy superficial Hollywood, but it's not often that you get one going West to East.

But this episode sets it up from scene one, in which Vincent fools around with an attractive female attorney in a New York nightclub. "In LA, you could only get an actress or a hooker to do that," says his brother, Johnny. "God, I love this motherfucking town!" That's right, Johnny -- there are no sexual women at all in Los Angeles other than those paid for their attractiveness. Good thing you're back on the East Coast. You'll never meet an actress or hooker out there!

Just to play up the distinction a little further, after that first scene the boys, who whiled away nearly every L.A. episode in trendy, glossy Paris Hilton-type clubs, suddenly eschew the high-end lifestyle to hang in a grungy neighborhood pool hall in Queens. How serious are they about this transition? Johnny purchases the dive and marks it as their territory by even naming it after himself.

You know things are bad when even the cinematography is stereotyping. Check out these scenes of the guys getting out of their taxicab in Queens:

See the earthy sepia tones permeating the houses, the street, the guys and even the clouds? Salt of the earth. Now check out another car on the street, this one belonging to Ari back in LA:

My eyes! The pure white of the buildings, redness of the sportscar and even the staggeringly bluer sky all connote bright shiny things. You know, like bright, shiny, Los Angeles. I've seen Adrien Grenier at cool indie rock shows around town, too, like of Montreal and Ratatat, both times in the decidedly earth-toned and unshiny Troubadour. Can't he do something about this?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In the Warm California Sun

I know, it looks weirdly Photoshopped to me too, but it's a real photo of an old race car canopy out in an apparently-shadowless blazing sun of the Mojave Desert (accompanied by heat-impervious dog). It comes from a recent New York Times article on a trip taken with musician Ry Cooder and a bunch of hot-rodders to the outskirts of Los Angeles, intended to promote Cooder's most recent project, a three-album trilogy and novel which take place in the area.

The article's pleasing enough, even if the New York-centric Times staffer engages in more than a tad of gee-whiz marveling over the quaintness of El Mirage and Palmdale -- I half expected him to praise the damn fine coffee and cherry pie during their stop at a museum in Trona. But my favorite part is the essay by Mr. Jalopy, one of the participants in the trip, on his Dinosaurs and Robots blog:

There is the Los Angeles that people imagine of red carpet premieres,Botox lunches, velvet rope nightclubs, Venice bodybuilders and tony boutiques. It is not a fable. That is real. Or, at least, it physically exists.

Then, there is the Los Angeles that I know. Aerospace surplus hardware stores, smoky and ashtray-less Koreatown English hunt club bars in crumbling hotel basements, perfect beer buzz lunches at the Farmer's Market in filtered sunlight, the wild dogs of Pacoima, sprawling thrift stores, trolling junkyards for old diaries and Polaroids, the drag races at Pomona, chrome plating shops, backyards stacked with 300 bicycles, gold miners eager to show their biggest nuggets, fishing for carp in the Los Angeles River, optimists taking over art museums, the nicad battery selection at Electronic City, the metal patination case at Industrial Metal Supply, Kit Kraft Hobby, the gem vault at the Natural History Museum, the szechuan peppercorns of Alhambra, the churlish bartenders at Hop Louie, the sneaker shops of Little Tokyo, the imported coldcuts at Monte Carlo Deli, the Japanese garden on the roof of the New Otani Hotel, the bicycle swap at the Encino Velodrome, the DDR kids at the Santa Monica Pier, the mustard at Philipes, the dimsum carts of Monterey Park, the carnitas at Carrillos, the buffalo at Hart Park, the Kris Special at the Waystation, the netsuke room at LACMA, the Remington Rolling Block at the Backwoods Inn, the coffee shop at the LA Police Academy, the abandoned restaurant with leather walls at Union Station, the yardage of the Garment District, the abandoned fire station in the Toy District with the quartersawn oak lockers viewable through the crack in the door, the first two rows of lowrider history at the Pomona Auto Swap, Abe Lincoln's hat at the Huntington Library, the camillia forest of Descanso Garden,
the bolt room of Roscoe Hardware that is hidden in a kitchen remodeling home center, the genius at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the chile pepper booth at the Grand Central Market, sneaking to the top balcony of the Bradbury Building, the threadbare and dented Variety Arts Center, the orange groves of the 126 and secret utility salvage yard in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

Ry and I share this Los Angeles and it was fun to show it to Lawrence. He did us proud. Los Angeles tries to throw itself away everyday but we are still gold prospectors, hot rodders and guitarists. Our fundamental awesomeness will not be impinged.

Not only does Mr. Jalopy acknowledge our fundamental awesomeness without first being called out on the carpet about it, but he seems like a super fun guy to hang out with as well. (Thanks to BoingBoing for turning us on to this.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Burn This

Is it me, or is it getting hot in here? Gary Simmons is a visual artist with a new show in West Hollywood featuring renditions of Los Angeles landmarks on fire: the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Hollywood sign, etc. Here's part of it:

Combine this with the last post about the film Burning Palms, which isn't a film about a fire or anything, but is titled to quickly connote Los Angeles, and it looks like we've got anther cliche on our hands: that Los Angeles is burning. Bad Religion certainly believe it is:

And Public Enemy would like it to be:

I mean, come on, Gary Simmons. These paintings do look kinda neat, made out of paint and wax, but is there really, truly a statement here or are you just dittoing yet another sad old Los Angeles cliche? The LA Times kindly points us to this Ed Ruscha painting, Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, from way back in 1968:

They also reference Day of the Locust and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which "inspired" the collection (okay, I admittedly haven't seen that one, but I'll trust that Los Angeles burns in it), so the Times isn't buying this as an original idea either. So what kind of person would be so fixated on hating Los Angeles to spend a significant portion of his life's work replicating a tired anti-LA trope/fantasy of destruction?

Gary Simmons lives and works in New York City. He graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1988 and went on to receive an MA from Cal Arts in 1990. The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York organized a mid-career survey in 2003 that traveled to the MCA, Chicago and Site Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 2006, Simmons' work was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Bohen Foundation, New York.

Oh, got it.