By Emmanuel Bonin, Guest Contributor
In its February issue, the prestigious French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma devotes no less than four pages — an article and two interviews — to Los Angeles’ arthouse theaters under the seemingly provocative title: L’art et essai existe-t-il à Los Angeles? (“Is there such a thing as arthouse in Los Angeles?”). Don’t let the title scare you: the study is a rather interesting and factual analysis of the state of arthouse cinemas in the City of Angels.
After noting that out of 2,200 screens in L.A. County, less than 5 percent are dedicated to American or foreign independent films (a label wide enough to encompass movies like Black Swan or The Tree of Life that would be considered rather mainstream in Europe), Cahiers author Aurélie Godet goes on to explain how the geography of Los Angeles hurts its small but passionate population of cinephiles. Try to explain to privileged readers in Paris, who just have to walk a few blocks in the Quartier Latin to go from the Champo to the Saint-André des Arts, what it means to drive 10 miles in traffic to catch Leos Carax’s latest film.
There are some funny moments, as when Los Feliz, Eagle Rock and Silverlake appear in a paragraph titled “badly served hipsters,” or when the author sheds tears on the altar of movie houses turned churches. The article has its flaws and oversights, though: it stresses the imbalance between Eastside and Westside, but forgets to mention the importance of the American Cinematheque or the activities of Film Forum at the Spielberg Theater of the Egyptian. And what about initiatives by the UCLA Film Archives or REDCAT in downtown L.A., all of which strive to solve this very imbalance?
As much as I admire Hadrian Belove (from whom the author seems to get a lot of her information) for his amazing and innovative work at Cinefamily, the American Cinematheque remains a steadfast and trustworthy center of cinephilia in town, one that has managed to bridge the gap between East and West, Hollywood and Santa Monica. And I’ll excuse the absence of the New Beverly only thanks to a previous article on Tarantino that explained the situation there in a recent issue. Luckily for LACMA, Ms. Godet also leaves in a state of well-deserved forgetfulness the fiasco its movie program has become in the last few years.
Even a tireless Los Angeles cinephile may learn a few things from the two quality interviews. Greg Laemmle does a good job of explaining his firm’s strategy and has a few nice lines (“It happens that I do this job because I love cinema, and my employees are not barmen”). He compares the role played by the NY Times and the LA Times in their respective cities, deploring the LA Times readership’s lack of interest in serious cinema. His optimism is rejuvenating, as he finishes the interview by stating that “theaters still have nice days coming, and they will coexist with other distribution schemes such as VOD; the experience remains unique and justifies the effort.” Time to tip our hat to Laemmle for renovating the Royal Theatre in West L.A. and expanding it to three screens. I can’t wait to see the same happen on 2nd Street in Santa Monica.
In the other interview, the Cinefamily’s Hadrian Belove insists on Los Angeles cultural life’s recent evolutions. In a city without any actual center, it’s impossible to meet friends by happenstance, but social networks now make it easier to move and find interesting events. He also contrasts his public with the generally aging cinephile population. (It’s hard to realize I no longer make the cut in his eyes, having gone beyond the 35-year-old age limit under which he puts the majority of the Cinefamily faithful.)
A few weeks before the Academy Awards, French readers and we too are hence reminded that there is a cultural world west of Manhattan, and that opportunities abound in L.A. for those of us who want to see films as they were meant to be seen, on the big screen (and not necessarily digitally restored!).
— Emmanuel Bonin