Wednesday, May 11, 2005

come back manohla

while I'm glad I can finally have online access to the latimes arts and entertainment section, it seems a bit too little too late. the latimes opened access months after it lost its best film reviewer, manohla dargis, to the nytimes about a year ago. purportedly, she felt that prohibiting online access to her reviews was hurting her visibility, although its hard to deny the prestige and power that comes from a staff position at the nytimes.

yet, even as she reviews films for the nytimes, her heart is clearly still here in LA. her review of crash captures the utopian/dystopian dichotomy that is this city, perhaps better than most immersed in the world of urban planning, geography or architecture:

Los Angeles is in love with the idea of its own self-destruction; it's hard to think of another American city so similarly possessed.

To watch a movie like "Crash" or to peruse a Los Angeles bible like Mike Davis's "Ecology of Fear" (1999), the second book in his proposed trilogy about the city (the first is "City of Quartz"), is to know that Angelenos have met the enemy and he is us. In "Ecology," Mr. Davis writes that Los Angeles residents live in a near-catastrophic world of our own poor design that threatens to drown us in rain, engulf us in flames and bury us in rubble. He's not all wrong, as the Hummers and perilously perched McMansions remind us. But in his exceptionalism, Mr. Davis sounds an awful lot like a Californian Chicken Little: read him and you want to run for the city limits, until you remember that a lot of places are as bad, if not worse. The truth is that Mr. Davis's alarmism has only made the city seem more interesting, even sexy.

manohla strikes a nerve for me. I think one of the things I like about los angeles is that our "imminent" self-destruction is two-fold: there is the destruction we have built the foundation for - the traffic, the congestion, the exurbs, the highways, the excess, the pollution and their attendent results: obesity and diabetes. poor health. spatial and social polarization.

there is also the destruction we have no control over. the rain. the earthquakes. the mudslides. the unforeseeable but inevitable.

there is something comforting about both of these. I lived in new york during 9/11. in london when america and britain declared war on iraq. it was bad enough being an american living abroad during a highly unpopular war. what's worse? being a new york jew. a short, fast talking, new york jew. the point being, I felt a strong sense of imminent catastrophe in new york and london as well. but it was the fear of the unknown. and the other. perhaps I should capitalize that since I had a good, PC education. The Other.

on one level, I also understand that its just a matter of time before LA is a target as well. The WTC was a symbol of corrupt capitalism. hollywood is a symbol of moral degradation and corruption for some. its time will come, although I desperately wish that wasn't the case. there are some problems with LA that can be fixed (theoretically) - environmental and structural. and there are some that can't - natural acts of god.

then there are the problems that don't fall under either of these two categories. the ones I witnessed in ny and london. the ones there are no easy solutions to, nor are they inevitable and foregone. these are the ones that worry me most and that I've been, thus far, able to avoid in LA. the weather makes it hard to worry.


At 10:07 PM, Blogger Caron said...

i worry about these things too. and it's not just because i'm also a neurotic jew. i was in d.c. on 9/11. running from the capitol building. so days like today (with the capitol evacuations) strike a serious nerve with me.

i think for new yorkers and washingtonians - more so than other americans - it is much harder to ignore our place in post-9/11 world. the sunshine and l.a. and "the industry" can make it all seem like t.v. fiction, but it's not. and now kim jong-il too. oy.


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