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LETTER FROM L.A.: Twenty Four Hour Filmgoers? Un-runaway production?
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


Back in the Sixties, Burt Lancaster did a film about a man who swims across the suburbs, swimming pool by swimming pool. It is tempting to make a similar film about Los Angeles in which the main character goes from movie theater to movie theater, seeing daylight only long enough to get to the next showing, but effectively living his waking hours in front of a series of Big Screens. While I’m sure such a vision represents some people’s idea of Hell, it’s a fair bet that some of the hoards of budding screenwriters and producers who find their way out here live lives dangerously close to that fantasy. For someone who’s already a fanatic, the town offers too many opportunities for out and out addiction.

In my own case, as a member of the Independent Feature Project, I already have to pick and choose among a calendar full of screenings. If I joined the SAG Conservatory I’d see even more films. This is not to mention all the series shown in places like the American Cinematheque (the Egyptian Theatre), the Los Angeles County Museum and the numerous cultural centers presenting their country’s cinema. Never mind what’s playing at the multiple multiplexii.

In recent years the IFP has had a number of its screenings at the Los Angeles Film School, off Sunset, near Vine. The school, part of a general revival of that area, is located in the historic RCA headquarters building, whose musical ghosts include Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Eartha Kitt, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Sedaka and Perry Como. (Not to mention, more cinematographically, the scoring of Henry Mancini's “Pink Panther” theme.) The school itself has become one of the hotbeds of student film, and so familiar to many actors looking to expand their reel.

The last film I saw there was “Twenty Four Hour Party People”, based on the life of Tony Wilson, a TV personality in Manchester who nurtured the career of such local bands as Joy Division. It’s one of those loose and slightly manic films that always seems on the edge of veering into exuberant meaninglessness, but in fact stays gleefully on track. More than one scene that seems witty but pointless suddenly gets a “button” that gives it bite. One scene in particular seems most interesting for its quirky use of an old Sonny Terry solo (and a duck.). Until… Well, no spoilers. But the punch comes fast and hard.

Steve Coogan, who plays the lead, is exactly the right actor for this kind of filmmaking, landing his effects in the most off-handed manner. He endows the character with (as the Brits say)  ‘public’ (that is, to us, private) school charm and urbane naughtiness while making it clear that, for all his irreverence, he’s a decent chap. It turns out (as I later read in the New York Times) that he and the film are both quite big in England and that some consider him the English Mike Myers (though with the ‘Austin Powers’ flics, it’s tempting think we already have an English Mike Myers.)  If so, I’m guessing this would be the equivalent of Myers’ turn as club owner Steve Rubell.

By the way, Steve Coogan and the real Tony Wilson (glimpsed in the film) both refer to themselves as ‘Mancs’. A word you might be hearing a lot of soon.

Between runaway production and the recession, it’s become almost second nature this year to say there’s less and less work out here. Certainly, I’ve heard that more often then not these last few months, from below-the-line people as much as actors. A friend who’s done set design for years for instance, and has done well in the past, is turning to interior decoration (also pretty competitive out here.) So I was surprised when I said as much to a woman who does props and set design and she responded that she’s not only been busy on a film but is turning away work. And seemed to think those around her were too.

A sign of real improvement, or just one person’s good connections? Hard to say. When economists can’t figure out if even the general economy has turned around, predicting Hollywood’s trends is a fool game. But it is encouraging to note such glimmers of hope.

Even if the rest of the film in question is now going to be shot in another country….