Monthly Archives: March 2009

Notes on a Postmodern Weekend

(Told in “Twitter” style)

I had a very disparate, fragmented, over-mediated, maybe-a-bit-too-breakneck weekend. In L.A., these seem to be the norm rather than the exception, but this weekend struck me as a particularly postmodern pastiche of way too much that any one mind should encounter in a 60-hour period. To my horror, one of the ways I coped with the weekend was to think in status updates. But since I don’t Twitter and only occasionally update my Facebook status via my phone, I could not publicize my disjointed weekend narrative to the world.

The only reason I am doing it now (and believe me: this is something I generally oppose) is because, here in the remaining hours of Sunday night, my mind needs to process the weekend in some way—even if it is a bastardized, truncated Twitter-esque form.

Friday

Lunch at the North Woods Inn in La Mirada. There are peanut shells and sawdust on the floor, and for some reason I ordered a Shirley Temple for my drink. – 1:07pm

Just found out N.T. Wright is speaking tomorrow (Saturday) morning at St. Andrews Presbyterian in Newport. I decide I’m going, and tell my coworker Jason about it. He’s coming too. – 4:59pm

Driving in horrible rush hour to Hollywood for the opening reception of the City of Angels Film Festival. Listening to Kanye West remixes. – 5:45pm

Gas light is on. Emergency stop at Valero gas on Melrose. Bon Iver: “The business of sadness…” – 6:22pm

Just saw an amazing documentary – The Garden – about the South Central garden controversy in L.A. Thought: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is quite the opportunist. – 9pm

Delighted by the chance to meet “Gilliebean,” an avid reader/commenter on my blog, during a break between films. – 9:14pm

Thrilled at the chance to see a recently restored print of the 1962 film The Exiles on the big screen. Love films about L.A. – 11:02pm

Driving back to Whittier to sleep. – 11:46pm

Facebook update: Brett is haunted by the past of the city he lives in (Los Angeles). – 12:21am

Saturday

Six hours of sleep. Picking up Jason in Brea. No time for breakfast. – 8:04am

St. Andrews Presbyterian, listening to the brilliant N.T. Wright wow a packed sanctuary. I make note: there are lots of seminary-style hipsters here. – 9:27am

Vintage N.T. – “The point of the resurrection is that God’s new creation has begun! And we have a job to do…” – 10:17am

Driving back from Newport, trying to process more than 2 hours of N.T. Wright’s stunning discussion of “Paul for tomorrow’s world.” Thinking about how it all relates to art. – 12:40pm

Picked up Chick Fil A for quick lunch at home. Just enough time to update my blog “quote of the week” with something N.T. Wright said. – 1:34pm

Thought about taking a nap instead of heading back to L.A. for more film festival. Little sleep is catching up with me. Decide against it. – 2:00pm

Driving to L.A. again. Animal Collective: “No more running…” Air conditioner in February. Traffic makes me want to die. – 2:50pm

Just screened Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven but dozed through parts. Probably should have stayed home to sleep. – 5:30pm

Between films. Coffee Bean on Sunset across from the DGA. Free wifi. Enough time to write most of a blog post before my thoughts on The Garden and The Exiles fade into mushy memory. Blog ends up being about how film helps us avoid mushy memory. Drinking ice tea and eating fruit salad. – 6:24pm

Just screened the impressive Munyurangabo, which played at Cannes last year and won the AFI Fest Grand Jury prize. Debut feature of Christian filmmaker, Lee Isaac Chung. Definitely the highlight of the festival. Chatted with Chung after the screening about our mutual affection for Hou Hsiao-Hsien. – 9:48pm

Met some friends at a bar in Whittier. Reassured a hipster friend that “I will be kind to hipsters in my book.” Two more stops before the night is through and I collapse in bed. – 11:55pm

Sunday

Up early again. Driving to Long Beach on a lovely Sunday morning. Andrew Bird. – 8:50am

Enjoyed the hipster-friendly 9:30am service at Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach. Perhaps I’ll mention this church in my book.

Listening to Lost expert and EW.com columnist Jeff Jensen give engaging talk on the spiritual aspects of Lost to a crowd at Grace Brethren. He’s a member here. He thinks “Jack’s Grandpa” is actually Jack himself! OMG! – 11:45pm

Eating carne asada tacos and fried ice cream on the grass in Long Beach, post-church, with some hipster friends. – 1:18pm

Driving from Long Beach to Los Angeles. Horrific traffic for a Sunday. All because there is a disaster film being shot downtown and everyone slows down to see whether the piled up cars on the overpass are real or a movie. L.A. is such a Baudrillardian fantasyland. – 2:50pm

Took a wrong turn and ended up in Chinatown. 20 minutes later I’m back on the right track. – 3:12pm

Super late to the next screening at the festival—Silent Light—but manage to get there in time to see the epic opening shot. Love this movie. – 3:40pm

Panel discussion after Silent Light includes Bresson and Dreyer references, and a lot of numbing analysis which kind of ruins a film that is meant to just “be.” – 6:36pm

Back at Coffee Bean, hour-long chat about theological film criticism with the director of the Los Angeles Film Studies Center. I’m invited to lecture to students on Tuesday. – 7:15pm

Driving home. Animal Collective: “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?” – 8:20pm

Still driving. Thinking of my weekend, lamenting not having had any time to work on my book, in awe that I put 400 miles on my car since Friday, and never even left greater L.A. Thinking of blogging the weekend Twitter-style, sort of ironically but also as therapy. – 8:42pm

Finally home. Dinner. Writing blog post while watching the DVR replay of this afternoon’s Kansas-Missouri b-ball game. Rock Chalk Jayhawk! – 9:25pm

Facebook update: Brett is exhausted after a strenuously postmodern weekend. – 9:34pm

Took a break from writing to eat a brownie and watch a screener of the upcoming NBC show, Kings. I enjoy both the brownie and the show. – 10:40pm

Finished proof-reading blog post, typing the final few sentences. – 11:11pm.

Picking out image for blog post. Dead but soon-to-be resurrected John Locke from Lost seems somehow appropriate. Resurrection seemed a thematic constant over this, the first Lenten weekend, from N.T. Wright to Silent Light and so forth… – 11:22pm

One final note before I publish this thing: Check out my article in Relevant magazine, “The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter,” by clicking here. It’s on page 26. – 11:34pm.

Documenting Los Angeles

Los Angeles is without a doubt the most visually documented city in the world. But it is also one of the least known or truly understood. What is this place we call L.A.? Besides all the Hollywood stuff, what is its history and culture? How do we make sense of it amidst all the glittered sidewalks, scientologists, palm trees, car chases, sunset strips and skid rows?

This is one of the questions raised each year at the City of Angels Film Festival, held in Hollywood’s Director’s Guild theater and hosted by various Christian universities and organizations in the Los Angeles area. The festival, which got its start after the Rodney King riots brought the city to its knees in 1992, is a distinctly L.A. festival that has always focused on films with spiritual vitality and in recent years has also probed deeper into the heart of the place of L.A.

This was evidenced last night at the opening night of this year’s festival. The films screened—The Garden (a 2008 best documentary Oscar nominee) and The Exiles (Kent Mackenzie’s recently restored, largely forgotten classic from 1962)—are both very vivid documents of the city of L.A. They are not just films set in this city, but films about this city; and watching them reminded me of why I love living here so much, and why I love cinema.

The Garden
documents the struggle of immigrant farmers in South Central L.A., whose community garden was repossessed by the city a few years ago, setting off a firestorm of controversy and protest that (among other things) brought out celeb activists like Daryl Hannah and Zack de la Rocha. The film is a raw and unpretentious documentary (though not without clear political allegiances) that presents us with the oft-unseen plight of the immigrant communities of urban Los Angeles. Say what you will about the politics of the film, but as a thoroughly “L.A.” time capsule of a specific episode in this city’s storied history, the film is a treasure.

The Exiles is even more of a treasure. This 1962 film—unseen by all but the luckiest few filmgoers—has recently been resurrected, restored, and will soon be released on DVD. A classic of the American New Wave, with strongly neo-realist tendencies, The Exiles brings us back to a time and place (a community of Native Americans in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of downtown L.A. circa 1960) that is now completely vanished from this city’s history. Few remember this place, and watching this film it’s hard to imagine that this world ever really existed in the first place. It’s haunting, gripping, visceral. The black and white photography of “urban exile” Native Americans living one 12-hour, frolicsome night in beatnik bars, expressionist streets and dizzying neon capitalism is a singular gem of cinematic historical documentation.

These films reminded me that, of all its other merits, cinema at its best can offer us unparalleled archival access to the concrete people, places, and circumstances of an always-moving, forever changing world. The “taking in of truth” that the camera provides us, organized by the curator hands of filmmakers with vision, opens up the reality and objective thing-ness of what otherwise are only abstract memory mirages or arbitrary imaginings of “how things were.”