Why We Freak Out When You Smoke in Beachwood Canyon

April 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

No Smoking Sign at Lake Hollywood Park

No Smoking Sign at Lake Hollywood Park

Last night a neighbor of mine went up to the vista above Lake Hollywood to look at the lunar eclipse. So did a number of people from outside the Canyon, some of whom were smoking despite the signs forbidding it. (The photo above is from 2011; since then, Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office has installed even larger signs, including one featuring Smokey the Bear, to little result.) Although all but one of the smokers put out their cigarettes after my neighbor asked them to, one pointedly refused.

Yet one cigarette is all it takes to start a fire in the dry brush. A couple of years ago, a fire caused by a tourist’s flicked cigarette burned an acre at the vista in minutes before firefighters arrived. I wrote about it here:

http://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/setting-our-house-on-fire-hollywood-sign-tourists-and-their-cigarettes/

This year California’s long drought was declared the worst in its recorded history. With below average rainfall for eleven of the past fifteen years, including almost no rain last year and the year before, conditions are now so dry that any spark could threaten every home in Beachwood Canyon. That’s why we have No Smoking signs, and why we get so upset when smokers ignore them.

Postscript: There was a brush fire in Griffith Park during the early morning hours of April 16th–probably a side effect of someone smoking during the lunar eclipse. http://hollywood.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/firefighters-battle-flames-in-hollywood-hills

At Yesterday’s City Hall Meeting, A Reprieve for Beachwood Drive Residents

April 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

About thirty Hollywoodland residents, including many residents of Beachwood Drive, attended yesterday’s Transportation Committee meeting at City Hall. Some of us were able to speak about the City’s proposal to end daytime parking on the east side of Beachwood Drive. Among the consequences of the proposed ban–none of which the Committee seemed to have anticipated–are the following:

1. Every car traveling on Beachwood Drive would have to make a U-turn in order to park on the (legal) west side, since the street is a dead-end accessible only from the south.

2. People whose houses are on the east side would have to cross busy Beachwood Drive in order to get home, a particularly risky exercise for the street’s elderly and disabled residents.

3. Many of the vehicles seeking parking along Beachwood Drive are service vehicles, including large trucks and moving vans. Their U-turns would halt traffic in both directions, increasing congestion.

4. A dearth of parking on Beachwood Drive would create more congestion on Hollywoodland’s already overcrowded side streets.

The Committee granted a 30-day stay for further study and new proposals. Stay tuned for further details.

The City’s Latest Assault on Hollywoodland: A Plan to Eliminate Half Our Street Parking

April 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

An Alternative Sign/Courtesy Eugene Gordon

An Alternative Sign/Courtesy Eugene Gordon

When I’m driving on Beachwood Drive, impeded by stopped tour vans and tourists posing for photos in the middle of the street, I sometimes wonder if Hollywoodland’s many visitors ever think about their impact on those of us who live here. I doubt it: if they did, matters wouldn’t have escalated into the crisis we now find ourselves mired in. A thousand visitors’ cars per day have caused gridlock, trapped us our houses and prevented us from getting home. There have been hostile arguments, car accidents and untended medical emergencies. And at the end of the day, we residents are left to clean up the detritus of our neighborhood’s wild, toll-free tourism: cigarettes and matches in a wildfire area; beer cans and liquor bottles, bottles of urine, bags of excrement and used condoms.

In any other place, a City Council Representative would represent his constituents’ interests, not those of tourists. Unfortunately, our representative is Tom LaBonge, whose determination to be Mr. Hollywood has pitted him against the very people who pay his salary–us. His latest salvo, harebrained even by the standards of his record, is to eliminate street parking on the east side of Beachwood Drive in Hollywoodland during the day, the better to accommodate throngs of tourists who hike to the Hollywood Sign.

Never mind that 100% of polled residents oppose the plan. LaBonge is determined to restrict the mile-long stretch between Beachwood Village and the northern end of Beachwood Drive, making it illegal to park outside our houses from 8am to 6pm, seven days a week. No word on where all the residents’ cars will go, to say nothing of moving trucks and service vehicles. I happen to live on the east side of Beachwood Drive and although I park in my one-car garage, I have friends, family and repair people who need a place to park when they visit. Where are they supposed to go when the west side of the street will be filled with residents’ cars? I guess we’ll find out; there’s a meeting on the matter at City Hall this Wednesday. For those wishing to attend, the details are:

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9, 2014
2:00 PM
ROOM 1010 CITY HALL
200 N SPRING STREET

Correction: Originally the article stated that parking on Beachwood would be restricted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I regret that I was misinformed and have made the necessary corrections.

Vehicular Access to the Hollyridge Trailhead Ends Tuesday, March 25th

March 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

In response to the tourist gridlock at the end of Beachwood Drive, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks will begin construction tomorrow on a wrought iron gate at the northern end of Beachwood Drive, where Griffith Park begins. When the project is completed in 6-8 weeks, pedestrians will have access to the Hollyridge Trail between sunrise and sunset. However, no vehicles will be allowed past the gate, with the exception of Rec and Parks vehicles and those of visitors to Sunset Ranch.

For those who wonder why this measure is necessary, here’s a link to a video shot by Tjardus Greidanus a block above Beachwood Village one Saturday:

https://vimeo.com/83534213

The Urban Magic of “Her”: How Great Production Design Created the Los Angeles of the (Near) Future

March 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) at Home in "Her"/Courtesy  Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) at Home in “Her”/Courtesy Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros

Regardless of one’s opinion about a romance between a man and his OS (let alone whether such a romance can be considered futuristic), “Her” is undeniably gorgeous to watch. It’s also the only film in recent memory to be set in a future that is livable, much less desirable. Instead of the dark, dystopian city of “Blade Runner,” we are dropped into a bright, orderly Los Angeles of tall buildings and excellent mass transit. Though single-family homes still exist, Theodore Twombly prefers a high-rise apartment, and is so well served by public transportation that he neither owns nor needs a car. Why would he, when trains and subways take him everywhere, including the beach and the mountains?

In the near future of “Her,” Los Angeles has grown better as well as bigger. Shots of the Basin show a recognizable skyline, except that there are many more highrises in the areas between Downtown, Hollywood, Century City and Westwood, as there undoubtably will be in the years to come. These new buildings are CGI creations, but the jarringly smoggy scenes featuring elevated plazas and walkways were filmed in Shanghai. In them, one catches glimpses of the Bund, Shanghai’s riverfront commercial district, where old colonial buildings co-exist with new skyscrapers. And though Los Angeles will never have a navigable waterway, the broad curves of Huangpu offer a tantalizing suggestion of the future LA River.

Shanghai Stands In for Los Angeles

Shanghai Stands In for Los Angeles

But many aspects of “Her” didn’t have to be imagined at all, since they already exist. Theodore makes extensive use the Metro, even if it doesn’t yet go all the way to the beach. And he lives in a real place: the South Park district of Downtown, on the 35th floor of the Watermarke Tower (705 W. 9th Street). The buildings seen from his windows are all real buildings, shown to maximum advantage by the production designer K.K. Barrett, who covered the upper window panels and switched the glass from tinted to clear.

Says Barrett, the “focus was to bring the outside city in, and push light towards [Theodore].” The resulting message is unmistakable: Theodore lives in the heart of a dynamic and desirable city. Though he is shy and lovelorn, his location confers an enviable status. In the photo above, Theodore is framed against a view of nine notable towers: (l-r) 777 Figueroa, Ernst + Young Plaza, PWC Plaza, Union Bank Plaza, HSBC, City National Plaza, Bank of America Plaza, AON and Verizon (MCI Plaza).

Arguably, the real love story in “Her” is not between Theodore and his OS but the director Spike Jonze and Los Angeles. Having escaped both the dull suburban sprawl of its past and the ruins of its previously imagined future, Los Angeles appears a beautiful, modern and sustainable place. It’s obvious why Theodore, a dreamer of the first order, would want to live there, and why others would as well.

Sources:

http://www.archdaily.com/480608/interiors-her/

Thanks to Ian McFarren Anderson for identifying the buildings seen from Theodore’s apartment.

“Barbara:” A New CD Recalls Beachwood Canyon’s 1960s Music Scene

March 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

BARBARA  - MOCK CUV copy
As musical canyons go, Beachwood has never been as famous as Laurel, whose reputation was burnished by Joni Mitchell (see “Ladies of the Canyon”). Nevertheless, Beachwood Canyon had its share of 60s and 70s musicians, including The Doors, J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt, as I found out while doing research for my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign.

Though I already knew that The Doors had taken their name from Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception , it was his widow Laura Huxley’s assistant, Stephanie Horsley, who verified that the band also lived in Beachwood Canyon. Horsley lived on Hollyridge Drive in the late 1960s, in a house overlooking the one The Doors were renting. In her interview, she recalled window-rattling jam sessions, after which the band members and their girlfriends would sleep out on the roof.

Another of my interviewees was the musician and producer Alan Brackett, whose band The Peanut Butter Conspiracy was active from 1966 to 1970. The PBC made three albums, contributed songs to movies such as “Run Angel Run” and had a Billboard hit, “It’s a Happening Thing.” Now Alan has announced a new CD featuring (and named for) the band’s late, great vocalist Barbara “Sandi” Robison. “Barbara,” which includes five previously unreleased songs, is available for sale at https://www.createspace.com/2050813

For more information and tracks, visit http://www.peanutbutterconspiracy.com

Rayon, Onnagata and Cubism: Jared Leto’s Singular Creation and Its Unexpected Parallels

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Jared Leto as Rayon in "Dallas Buyers Club"/Courtesy Focus Features

Jared Leto as Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club”/Courtesy Focus Features

Jared Leto’s moving performance in “Dallas Buyers Club,” for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor last Sunday night, would seem beyond reproach. As Rayon, a transgender man who joins forces with rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) in their shared fight against AIDS, Leto disappears into his character, becoming a three-dimensional, third-sex wonder. Total transformation is never easy to pull off and so much harder while starving in heels, wig and a dress. I thought Leto would receive universal acclaim for his accomplishment, but no sooner had he won the Oscar than this article, complete with blackface references, appeared:

http://time.com/12407/jared-leto-oscar-dallas-buyers-club-casting-trans-actors/

It was written by Fallon Fox, a transgender Mixed Martial Arts fighter who believes roles should go only to people who essentially are their characters, rather than to actors capable of becoming their characters. Skill counts for nothing to Fox, who believes any trans actor could have rendered Rayon better than Leto, simply by virtue of being transgender. (By that measure, Matthew McConaughey shouldn’t have snagged the lead, since he is not a sexually promiscuous bullrider/electrician, but Fox makes no mention of him.) At the heart of Fox’s thesis are two assumptions: that shared experience equals authenticity, and that for specific roles, the transgendered, disabled, etc.–should be “just given a chance” to “become stars.” But the latter would render the acting profession an equal-opportunity reality show, while the former is simply untrue.

Far from being an asset, an actor’s close similarity to his character reduces objectivity, the quality essential to the creation of a three-dimensional character. As a non-female, non-transgender actor, Leto had to dig deep within himself to play Rayon. It shows: far being a man in drag (see Lemmon and Curtis in “Some Like It Hot,” Hoffman in “Tootsie,” and any number of Monty Python sketches), Rayon is fully realized. If she is an invention, she appears to be her own invention, not that of the actor.

Rayon has no parallels in western theater or film, but I immediately recognized her counterpart in Kabuki, where all roles are played by men. Onnagata, the actors who play only female roles, are the most celebrated of Kabuki actors, and for good reason. Like Rayon, they are not men imitating women. Rather, they are stylized, idealized females who are brought to life by men. Tamasaburo Bando, the greatest living onnagata, is neither young nor female, yet he provides a mesmerizing example of a young girl in “The Heron Maiden:”

A comparable alchemy exists in Cubism–specifically, in Picasso’s paintings of women. Figures are deconstructed and rearranged until they are radically changed, yet their femininity emerges in full force. The geometry of Cubism shows figures in greater complexity than in realistic painting, with its single viewpoint. There are also messages encoded in Picasso’s shifting angles and planes. In “La Reve,” below, the fact that Marie-Therese Walter’s face forms a heart speaks volumes about Picasso’s love for her, while the triangle of her hands points to her pubis–a scandalous detail that was missed by no one when the painting was new.

"La Reve" ("The Dream") by Pablo Picasso

“La Reve” (“The Dream”) by Pablo Picasso

Deconstruction requires distance, which brings me back to Rayon. It is Leto’s remove from the character that allows him to explore her in archeological detail, something a transgender actor drawing on her own experience could not. The resulting character is profound, a human being that Leto embodies to stunning result. Like Tamasaburo Bando and Picasso, Leto never stoops to imitation; instead, he unlocks Rayon’s essence and reveals it to the world.

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