A classic example of Los Angeles movie-theater architecture from the early days of cinema, the Vista on Sunset Boulevard in Los Feliz is a landmark. Built in 1923, it has been a part of the LA urban landscape for nearly a century, from the silent-film era through to the recent “La La Land,” which can be seen promotoed on the theater marquee.
When the late legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor appeared in the 1963 film classic “Cleopatra” in 1963, she unlikely never imagined that her likeness would appear as street art on a now hip stretch of Faifax Avenue in Hollywood. But so it is.
Film immortalizes. Street art, though usually ephemeral, has the power to do so, too, when photographed, now more than ever in the hyper image-capturing world thanks to the billions of us and our default digital habits via iPhones, Instagram and other social media.
This wheat-pasted artwork of Taylor will fade, be torn away or scraped off and disappear. But it has indelibly left itself in the memories of its viewers everywhere it appears whether on the streets of LA or as images saved across the global strata of devices and the cloud.
The artwork is signed by “Van” (no relation to the Van of this blog) and was put up on the window of an emptied retail space that has already been on the receiving end of the graffiti-tagging ritual that descends upon storefronts when a tenant leaves. The neighborhood is neither gritty nor overrun with graffiti, but given its hipster retail quotient (“HRQ”), it has become a home for an above-average volume of street art and, with it, the camptrail of graffiti art and sticker-bombed spaces.
This is due to an unusual confluence of Los Angeles geography, landmarks and neighboring institutions that draws an ideal demographic and market for style-centric retail and street art. At least a half-dozen shops catering to serious sneakerheads and street style sartorialists line both sides of Fairfax Avenue in a short segment between Melrose and Oakwood avenues. These include Crooks and Castles, Diamond Supply, Supreme and Hall of Fame.
The strip is also home to the legenday Canter’s Deli, a long-time late-night hangout for bands and entertainment industry types. Fairfax High School is here, too, where on school days thousands of students traffick in and out of the area.
At one end of the stretch is Melrose itself, one of LA’s most-established and fashionable shopping destinations for designer clothing, high-end and street. At the other end is CBS Television City, and a little further south, Farmers Market and the Grove. For those selling premium, limited edition Nikes and Addidas and complimenting these with hoodies and caps, the neighborhood became an epicenter for a market eager to buy their wares.
As for Elizabeth Taylor and Van’s artwork, she in her glorious, braided Cleopatra hairstyle looks fittingly contemporary. If women (or a dude, for that matter) walked out of the Supreme store with that hair and make-up, it would seem perfectly normal, just another of the myriad styles either intentionally or unwittingly drawing on and referencing pop cultural influences of the recent aughts and late Twentieth Century. Late 1970s disco culture tapped into the chic of the Egytpian-via-Hollywood braids look. It was part of a pornstar’s circa-early-1980’s look in the movie “Boogie Nights.”
For much of her early and middle career, Taylor was a beauty and style icon. She was also the subject of one of the world’s foremost and most famous artists of the post-modern pop-art era, Andy Warhol. Until her passing, she was Hollywood royalty, at the apex of the “A” list before if was even called that, relevant at a distance even long after she was no longer appearing in blockbuster movies and away from the limelight.
In a way then, Taylor is exactly right where she should be immortalized as street art.
Auteur film director Wes Anderson has produced an amusing short Christmas film (see below) as long-form commercial for the global Swedish clothing retailer H&M. It’s called “Come Together” and stars Adrien Brody as the conductor of a train carrying passengers through a winter holiday storm. The four-minute film is an exercise in branded content for H&M. Aside from a logo “bug,” branding itself and commercial messaging has been kept to a minimum at the end of the video. “Come Together” is quintessential Anderson in terms of style, editing, production design and cinematography, and it is as visually charming as anything we’ve seen from the director. Anderson has directed commercials for other brands in the past and you can see some of them online at AdWeek.
“Expencive Porno Movie” (sic) is not your ordinary surf film. Directed by Argentine surfer and filmmaker Tin Ojeda and released in 2014, the movie features the to-be-expected great surf sequences by great surfers (the very talented Alex Knost making a couple of lengthy appearances in the flick) and highly original, arty interludes.
But what is so special about this surf film is that it was all shot on actual 16mm film in an experimental retro-style that celebrates — almost to the point of fetish — the low-fi, rough-hewn early 1970’s-era filmmaking techniques common to independent American Blaxploitation and sexploitation films of the period. All sorts of happy accidents that come with using celluloid — light leaks, dust, scratches and other flaws — can be seen in the footage. And the soundtrack is a beautifully curated set of organ-laden R&B, Afro-pop, funk, and jazz from the era that perfectly matches the film’s aesthetic.
Surfing aside, the movie is a beauty and true original that has raised the aesthetic bar for the genre. Check out the trailer below and this Wax magazine interview with Ojeda.
Acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s 11,” “Solaris,” “Sex, Lies & Videotape”) has released a full-length black-and-white version of Steven Spielberg’s action-adventure classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in HD. Soderbergh also removed the original soundtrack and dialogue and matched the film to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack music from the film “The Social Network.” The effect is mesmerizing. “Raiders” looks magnificent in black-and-white. It’s interesting how B&W makes the film feel like a product of the era in which story itself is set, i.e., the 1930s. Soderbergh mentioned several years ago his habit of watching the movies with sound and color removed as a method to better understanding staging and cinematography.
From Closer Productions, writer-director Matthew Bate’s amusing short film “The Mystery of the Flying Kicks” explores the various origin stories, myths, and interpretations of the curious global phenomenom of people throwing pairs of sneakers onto telephone wires.
Here’s an excellent short video by Tony Zhou explaining how director Martin Scorsese edits sound in his films and employs long silences to great effect. Three great examples cited here are moments from the movies “Internal Affairs,” “Goodfellas,” and “Raging Bull.”