Merry Christmas From My Village To Yours

December 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

I moved to Hollywoodland six years ago, just before Thanksgiving. By the time I was settled, Christmas decorations were going up in Beachwood Village. “You picked a good time to move here,” someone said to me, and she was right: the lights and decorations are so beautiful that I look forward to them all year long.

Beachwood Village, 12/23/11/All photos Hope Anderson Productions

This year there’s a new shop in the Village, My Fair Lady’s Flowers. The proprietor has a wonderful selection of flowers and vases and makes lovely arrangements, one of which is my centerpiece this Christmas. Now in addition to having a corner store–Beachwood Market–I have a corner florist.

I’m looking forward to March, when the new Beachwood Cafe will open, giving my neighbors and me the option of walking to our dinners out. (How very un-LA.)

Happy Holidays from Hollywoodland. May your days–and nights–be merry and bright.

When Life Imitates an Action Movie: The Shock of Recognition at the Sunset Vine Shootings

December 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

It happened a week ago, but the horror hasn’t worn off: at 10:19am on Dec. 9th, a deranged young man named Tyler Brehm walked up Vine Street towards Sunset Blvd., shooting at the drivers of passing cars. Before he was killed by off-duty LAPD officers, two of whom just happened to be driving through Hollywood, Brehm managed to wound three people, one of whom later died, firing off at least ten rounds. It might have been much worse: there were scores of cars passing through the intersection, and pedestrians caught in the crossfire. Confusing matters further was a nearby film shoot, which made passersby wonder if the shooting wasn’t part of the movie.

Videos and photos only increased the surrealness of the event. The photo above, in which two police officers approach the downed gunman (who has just been shot), recalls “Southland,” as well as every other police drama set in Los Angeles. Even more stunning was the photo, since vanished from the Internet, of Det. Craig Marquez, an off-duty LAPD officer, striding toward the gunman, weapon in hand. Marquez, who was honored today for heroism along with two other officers, looked like he had walked straight out of (or into) a Michael Mann movie.

Beyond the fast and fortuitous police action, there was an extraordinary (and oddly cinematic) intervention by a civilian. Chris Johns, a resident of the Sunset Vine Tower, saw Brehm from his fourth floor apartment and distracted him by pretending to be suicidal, leaning out the window and yelling, “Come on up here, Buddy!” It worked: Brehm took notice, asking Johns for an ambulance and more ammunition. When the police arrived, Johns identified Brehm as the gunman. Then it was over.

The shock has yet to subside, and not just because those of us who live here drive by Sunset and Vine constantly. What lingers disturbingly is the randomness of the crime, and its lurid imitation of TV and cinema. Since Brehm was a newcomer from Pennsylvania, it’s fair to ask, why take it out on us

And why take it out on Hollywood? Though hardly crime-free, it’s not an area where residents or outsiders fear for their lives. Night and day, crowds of tourists roam the streets, along with locals and suburbanites who come for the movies and plays, restaurants and clubs. At Sunset and Vine, everyone uses the ATMs and shops at Trader Joe’s. For the most part, Hollywood is a very pleasant place. 

But last Friday, a homicidal gunman decided to stage his final act there, like a villain in an action movie. He claimed one life but left his mark on many more.

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Hollywoodland and Hancock Park: Two Silent-Era Los Angeles Neighborhoods, Reunited in “The Artist”

December 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in “The Artist”

Just over a year ago, I was drawn out of my house by the dreamlike appearance of vintage cars–and one 1920s bus–on Beachwood Drive. A PA informed me they were here for a French silent film about the advent of sound. Good luck with that, I thought. The sequence took about an hour to shoot, after which I wrote about it:  Then, because I assumed I’d never see the finished film, I put the episode out of my mind.

The other night, however, I saw the film. Called “The Artist,” it premiered last spring at Cannes, where its lead actor, Jean Dujardin, deservedly won the Best Actor award. Harvey Weinstein is propelling it towards the Academy Awards. The concensus of the audience I was in was charming. As a friend of mine said, “Can a dog win an Oscar? Because that one should.”

But back to the Beachwood sequence: after an establishing shot of the Hollywoodland Sign, we see the cloche-hatted heroine, Peppy Miller, riding the bus down Beachwood Drive, north of the Gates. Although it’s unlikely that an undiscovered starlet would have lived in Hollywoodland, a neighborhood of single-family houses with no rental units, the bus is historically accurate, except that the real one was private. During the 1920s, Hollywoodland ran a jitney up and down Beachwood Drive that took residents as far as Franklin Avenue, where there was a trolley stop . The jitney provided essential transportation in those days of single-car households, not only for non-drivers but for women whose husbands took the car to work.

The Bus in "The Artist"/Hope Anderson Productions

The use of Beachwood Drive also recalls some of the early films emulated by “The Artist.” During the Silent Era, Beachwood often was used for driving shots, while Larchmont Blvd., four miles to the south, was used for pedestrian shots.

Though Larchmont doesn’t appear in “The Artist,” its surrounding neighborhood frequently does. Hancock Park–more specifically, the deluxe subdistrict of Windsor Square–is the location of both George Valentin’s and (once she hits the big time) Peppy Miller’s houses. In the trailer, Windsor Square appears at the 2:10 mark:

Again, the location is apt, if slightly anachronistic. In the mid-teens, as Hollywood grew congested with traffic and movie studios, film stars began moving south to Hancock Park, then a brand new residential neighborhood. Among those who bought houses there were John Garfield, W.C. Fields and Harold Lloyd. But by the late twenties, when “The Artist” begins, most actors actually had migrated to Beverly Hills, a planned community created, unlike the snobby and patrician Hancock Park, for movie folk. Yet for Silent stars, Hancock Park was the original aspirational neighborhood, and its Mediterranean mansions and spacious front lawns inspired similar versions in Beverly Hills.

For me, a former resident of Hancock Park and current resident of Hollywoodland, “The Artist” stirred up feelings of recognition, nostalgia (both personal and cinematic) and delight. Along with “Hugo,” “The Artist” looks back to show not only what film was, but what it should be–and so often isn’t. More on that, and “Hugo,” in a future post.

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After the Windstorm: 24 Powerless Hours in Beachwood Canyon

December 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

No Power, No Groceries/All photos Hope Anderson Productions

The lights went out in Hollywoodland around 1:15am on Thursday morning, hardly a surprise given the 100 mph winds that roared through the Canyon all evening. Power outages occur a couple of times a year here, usually because of windstorms, and generally last a few hours. But this one was different: there was no electricity when we got up in the morning, and none during the day and evening that followed.

It wasn’t just Beachwood that was affected: some 300,000 households in a wide geographic area–including Pasadena, Eagle Rock, Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz–lost power for an extended period of time.  Some areas, such as Sierra Madre and Altadena, were without power for 48 hours or longer.

Having worked late the night before, I didn’t feel pressed to seek out a Wifi connection outside the Canyon. Instead, I decided to see how long I could be productive without electricity–and found enough to keep me busy until 2pm. By that time, I needed to escape the oppressive silence that had descended on my office, and took my dog hiking. On the way up the Canyon, I expected to be impeded by downed trees and other damage from the storm, but there was nothing more dramatic than some branches by the road and an uprooted tree at Lake Hollywood Park. Nevertheless, for the first time I can remember, there were no tourists at the Lake Hollywood lookout and the picture-taking area for the Hollywood Sign.

Mulholland Highway, 3pm December 1st

3pm, Lake Hollywood Lookout

The Lake’s surface was like hammered silver in the afternoon sun.

Lake Hollywood, 2pm

At the head of the trail, a big pepper tree had shed thousands of pink berries that crunched satisfyingly underfoot.

Further along, a downed tree blocked the way.

toyon (California holly) was full of red berries, just in time for Christmas.

Afterwards, I swung by Beachwood Village, where the Market was closed due the power outage.

Around the corner, the Village Coffee Shop, which had closed its doors the previous day (the space will be reincarnated as the Beachwood Cafe in March), displayed Christmas decorations in its window.

Shortly afterwards, outside my house, I ran into a neighbor who passed on the news that we might be without power for another 2-3 days. I called DWP and listened to a recorded message that stated that power would be restored by 3:30pm, but by then it was after 4, and I found no reason to be optimistic about the coming night. I arranged  my flashlights and candles before going to the gym to work out and shower, and arrived home in pitch darkness.

Without electricity, night in the Canyon was hushed and premodern. The only illumination came from the radio tower and ranger station above the Hollywood Sign. Undisturbed by lights, the coyote that normally hunts on my hillside in the small hours started chasing tree rats at 6:30. My routine was no less altered: normally, I stay up late, reading, writing and watching TV. Last night, I cooked by candlelight and washed the dishes (with water boiled on the stove) before 9pm. I tried to read. Then it was flashlights out at ten.

The lights came on almost 24 hours to the minute after they had gone off. I woke up immediately and went downstairs to start the dishwasher. Later, I remembered to take the milk from the freezer and return it to the refrigerator. Sleep was impossible: suddenly everything hummed with electricity, and the previous day and night receded like an odd but compelling dream.

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