Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Los Angeles Invented the World

January 19,  2011 at The Getty Center
A program of Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA. 1945-1980

A shuffled replay of this event can be seen: http://zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2011/11/20/was-ever-a-city-more-bewildering/read/the-takeaway/

Panel One - How Los Angeles Created the Good Life

There were three panelists and a moderator - dull / pedantic academics who,
except for one, the curator of photographs at The Huntington Library, exhibited
the enthusiasm of dead fish. The Huntington curator was allowed to show two
photos similar to the one below which demonstrated the innovative Southern
California indoor/outdoor informal life style of the post World War II period
which has since been adapted across America.

Of the three panel discussions, this is the only one which addressed the theme:
"How Los Angeles Invented the World."

Had The Huntington photo curator been allowed to play two minutes of  The
Mammas and the Papas "California Dreamin" as an accompaniment to her slides -

" all the leaves are brown
  And the sky is grey
  I went for a walk 
  On a winter's day 
  I'd be safe and warm 
  If i was in l.a. 
  California dreamin' 
  On such a winter's day" 

there would have been no need for anyone to say another word. The audience
would have been spared thirty minutes of boredom.

Unfortunately, no one mentioned another Pacific Standard Time event, an
excellent exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,  "California
Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way," which documents in well-
organized detail the work of the artists and designers who contributed to this
new vision.

Granted that LA today is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world,
it was hard to figure out why ethnicity entered the picture. East coast cities like
New York and Philadelphia, plus midwestern Chicago, had long ago established
America's urban multiculturalism with its concomitant ability to accomodate
minority cultures. It took a question from the audience to draw attention to the
long burning issue of restrictive housing codes that were endemic in pre-World
War II LA neighborhoods - with the exception of Boyle Heights which embraced
a highly diverse population of immigrants including Jews, Japanese and Mexicans.

At the conclusion of this session, I don't think that anyone in the audience had
learned a thing about "How Los Angeles Created the Good Life" that he/she did
not already know.

Panel Two - How Life Imitated Art

Because of all the local boosterism, I thought that I had been parachuted into a
luncheon of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce; however, I loved every minute
of this one.  It was loaded with an incredible group of extremely talented people
who live and work in LA. For them, LA serves as an ideal background for films,
which is their business. They were: director William Friedkin, critic Richard Schickel,
critic Kenneth Turan, and writer/director Thom Andersen. Reed Johnson of the
Los Angeles Times was moderator.  They considered the inherent instability of the
environment to be one of LA's challenging attributes. Although they alluded to an
LA sensibility, they did not define it. They contrasted the LA image of optimism
with the LA noir image, which they considered equally valid. For them, "Blade
Runner" was an iconic LA film.

Had they addressed the announced theme, "How Los Angeles Invented the World,"
they might have expanded on their contention that Hollywood is the world capital of
film. Had they addressed the announced theme, they might have brought attention to
celebrity culture, the chief product manufactured in LA. There were allusions to
television and cable, but no mention of tv commercials, a local product that influences
more attitudes than movies. Had they addressed the announced theme, they might have
alluded to the space program which was born in Pasadena, a part of Greater LA.

Panel Three - The Past and the Future of LA's Global Image

Another luncheon at the Indianpolis Chamber of Commerce with a panel of brilliant,
creative people. Warren Olney of KCRW was moderator. Panelists were: director
Wim Wenders, director John Singelton, essayist Richard Rodriguez and architect
Eric Owen Moss. How can you not love and enjoy a gab fest with such people? I
don't think that they addressed the announced themes any more so than the previous
panelists, and I don't think that I retain any great ideas expounded here, but, again,
I loved every minute of it.

My conclusions 
It is not easy to run a panel discussion with a bunch of high-powered independent
people; however, there are some methodologies that are often used to keep panelists
focused on the themes to be discussed. I had a good time, but I would have learned
more, which is the reason that I went, if there had been some thematic discipline
evident. It was great entertainment, but not a lot of learning!

This event reinforced New York intellectuals' perception of LA as a place where
entertainment predominates and substance is slight. Overall, I would say that the
organizers of this event blew it. They failed to make a case that LA is beyond fluff.

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