The essence of Los Angeles is not easily expressed, but that has not kept everyone from essayists to auteurs to muralists from trying to capture it. Perhaps this is part of the eternal allure of the city: the fact that it can neither be easily described, nor readily dismissed. The upside to all of this is that we are now the inheritors of some magnificent works that, while failing to capture the city in full, continue to add definition to the Angeleno Mosaic.
Music, as we have suggested here before, is a part of that mosaic, and a serious effort has begun to revive and rejuvenate some of the earliest efforts to capture Los Angeles in song. The Library Foundation of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Public Library, and USC professor Josh Kun have collaborated in a project to select some of those early tunes and provide a modern interpretation. More than just covers, these are thoroughly modern renditions of almost forgotten tunes that give them a modern feel.
The songs are available for free download in a link from this story. I will not critique the music – I leave that to better tuned ears. What appeals to me about each of these tunes, though, is that their ability to transcend time also suggests something timeless about Los Angeles. I recognize that this thought will stick in the craw of a lot of people: the suggestion that there are timeless elements to American cities less than three centuries old – much less one whose maturity is of a far more recent vintage – is probably a joke to a denizen of London, Paris, Rome, Jerusalem, or Beijing.
But this music is guaranteed to touch something deep inside any Greater Angeleno, local-born or immigrant. There are themes, feelings, ideas in all of these that resonate to us today in a way that they did to locals eighty or more years ago, and that certainly still enchant those among us who live far away yet are still, somehow, Angelenos.
For those of us who love movies and fancy ourselves as “writers,” there is something mysteriously alluring about screenwriting. Essays are hard. History is harder. Novels are a stone bitch. But what can be so difficult about the mechanics of plot, dialogue, and stage direction? “Surely,” one thinks, “I could write a better script than half of the idiots doing so for a living.”
Obligingly, a small industry has emerged designed to help the cinephile scribe get his scriptwriting thing on. For those of us hovering on the edge of writing our first treatment, Jonathan Zimmerman offers a warning that is at once delightful and foreboding: don’t even go there.
Leaving aside the possibility that Mr. Zimmerman is simply trying to limit his potential competition, there is something that rings true in his gently recounted frustration with the modest-sized shelf of books he has devoured about the screenwriting craft. This is not a success story – yet. Mr. Zimmerman is still writing “spec” scripts, cranked out in the hopes that someone will buy them or, seeing a talent in the words, hire him for some paid work.
I am pulling for Mr. Zimmerman to succeed. Even though it is a fickle business and the screenwriter is as dumped on by the literary establishment as by everyone else in the Hollywood food chain (from the studio heads all the way down to craft service), the work is underrated. My favorite films are the well-written ones, and I have a gut feeling that Hollywood’s competitive future depends more on great writing than anything else.
What I am not sure is that certificate programs at UCLA, seminars at The Writer’s Store, Final Draft 8, and a shelf of how-to books are going to get us there. We need something more.
The question is “what?”
Meanwhile, I’m back to work on my treatment of a Miami Vice-meets-China pilot.
Garth Trinidad, a DJ at Santa Monica public radio station KCRW, has put together a playlist in remembrance of the 1992 riots. It’s a fascinating list, but the funny thing is that I remember playing none of these during those days.
I’m thinking about putting together my own April 1992 playlist. Let me know if you have one to share.
Someone once told me that design is where style meets business. California has long played a major role in industrial design for American industry, and increasingly it is doing so for companies around the globe.
In this quick and thought-provoking read, San Francisco-based designer Brett Lovelady explains why this is the case.
Just as we have, the Los Angeles Review of Books has grown beyond its origins on Tumblr, and has now built a fantastic website at the above link. If you have not yet found LARB, you are in for a true delight.