After my first "Los Angeles Cinema" post, a reader [Cassie] pointed out the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself in the comments and I immediately regretted not mentioning it in my first post. The 2003 documentary from director Thom Anderson is the ultimate in uncovering the way that Los Angeles has been portrayed throughout movie history. It's an exhaustive, comprehensive, nearly three hour film that will likely not be surpassed on the subject. It's recommended if you really want to experience these films rather than just read about the ones I'm watching that will go into these posts. Since I'm just randomly watching Los Angeles films however the mood strikes me, Los Angeles Plays Itself is better if you want to see a larger, cohesive viewpoint of the city. I don't think it is available on DVD, so you might have to be on the lookout for it on TV. Below is a sequence of this essential essay documentary that looks at how mid-century modern homes have been used in a variety of films for the bad guys to live in.
Blood Beach. As I mentioned in my first post in my "Los Angeles Cinema" series, every single genre of film is represented in the geographic sub-genre. In this post, there are two documentaries and a B horror movie from 1980 that is kind of a cheeky Jaws rip-off that doesn't really fool with the ocean being dangerous. No, it's the beach's sand that you have to worry about in Blood Beach. Check the awesome tagline out in their poster. Pretty clever. John Saxon even gets to deliver the line in the film [and in the trailer below] to really hammer the point home.
Equal parts silly, scary and with a dirty edge, Blood Beach is the sort of film I loved when I was growing up. While my tastes changed as I got older, my enjoyment for low-budget, exploitation films is still there. I'm grateful for that as there is so much fun to be had in these kinds of films and I often find myself enjoying something like Blood Beach more as pure entertainment than the prestige pictures that get accolades. This is my roots as a film lover and to turn my back on films like this would be to reject film as a whole. It's kind of comforting to watch these kinds of films as it takes me back to when I was young and just watching everything I could even though I hadn't learned much about movie history. I pride myself on being culturally well-rounded, so why can't you love Blood Beach AND the serious stuff?
The plot of Blood Beach is absurd--an unknown creature is killing people who venture onto the Santa Monica beach. The kills are mostly bloodless, as the sand sort of just sucks the victim into it as they are screaming and thrashing about heedlessly. The script, from writer director Jeffrey Bloom, has its witty moments that were a little unexpected and the cast plays it serious, which makes these films more comical. How can you go wrong when John Saxon and Burt Young are two of the lead actors? The actual monster is ridiculous and Bloom admitted so in a lively post-screening Q & A [also in attendance was Saxon and the film's DP Steven Poster]. Bloom said that no one really even planned or thought out the creature and no one was happy with it. Producer Sidney Beckerman kept yelling out that the monster looked like a "giant shvanz" when it was revealed on the set. It did kind of resemble that part of the male anatomy. I loved seeing the old Santa Monica pier setting as it was in a decrepit state in 1980. SJ and I went there a few weeks ago and it is touristy and scrubbed clean now. I would loved to have gone there when it was empty and forgotten, ramshackle and falling down, a ghost of its former glory. Rating ***
Straight Outta L.A. We've been slowly going through ESPN's documentary series "30 for 30" and most have been worth watching, but Straight Outta L.A. fell flat for me, despite what should have been an entertaining topic: the Oakland Raiders' connection to the city of Los Angeles and its importance to early gangsta hip-hop culture. Directed by Ice Cube, a man who should know the topic back and front as a lifelong Raider fan, original member of NWA and early creator of the whole West coast gangsta rap aesthetic [who now does family movies!]. The problem is Cube might be less a documentarian than he is a storyteller and the film devolves into a disjointed collection of interviews, archival footage and a self-importance [regarding both the football and the hip-hop] that feels too much like a mish-mash of material. Only an hour in length, it felt longer and should have been cut to make it both more cohesive and entertaining. Even though I'm a lifelong Pittsburgh Steeler fan, I do love seeing footage from the rogue Raiders of the 1970s. That never gets old and that era was true football for me. Rough and tumble, full of characters, violent and raw, grass fields of mud and blood and amazing teams. Professional football now? Don't even get me started. Rating: **1/2