LA Movies by Paul Pescador
It’s the weekend before Labor Day, the last few days of summer. My summer began late as I spent much of it finishing up a film, which was a collection of shorts that I have been working on for the past few years. Now that this project is completed, I have been spending much of the month of August watching movies. It’s so hot outside, and it is the easier to find a cool dark room to escape into than try to get work done. Not much goes on in late August; my day job has slowed down: a few emails trickle in here or there. Also most of the galleries are officially closed.
Rather than spending the end of summer by the pool or even on vacation, I’m in bed watching films with a rather nasty cold. Everyone I know is sick. This illness seems to be passed between friends, similar to a kale salad at a picnic. I struggle to get out bed: used tissues are piled on the floor at my feet. I sit with a laptop and a stack of dvds. Different from a winter cold, which is so much about shivers and trying to stay warm, a summer cold is all congestion as one struggles to breathe and make one’s way through heat with 90 degree humidity. All the sheets have been thrown to floor as I can’t seem to cool down. My house doesn’t have AC, so instead it’s filled with small fans and all the windows are open. We have dishes of water everywhere for our two chihuahuas, and we constantly take turns taking them out; otherwise they will pee inside from drinking too much liquid.
My week begins as I wake with a terrible sore throat. I get up and go to work for a few hours. Since it is slow, I find a quiet corner to rest and watch a few films on my computer. I watch two films, both titled Swimming Pool; the first is from 1969 and is directed by Jacques Deray, and the second film is from 2003, and is directed by Francois Ozon. The 1966 film takes place in a villa in Italy and opens with the main female lead, Marianne (played by Romy Schneider), sitting around the pool in a bikini, while her boyfriend Jean-Paul (played by Alain Delon), attempts to undress her to have sex by the pool. They are both tanned and attractive. The 60s film focuses on these young hip adults as they lounge around the pool, sipping on wine, dancing a lazy, summer pas de deux until another couple appears, Marianne’s ex-boyfriend (played by Maurice Ronet) and his daughter (played by Jane Birkin) and social dynamics get more complicated. Much of the action of Deray’s film (fighting, dancing, sex and an occasional murder) occurs around the pool. Though Deray’s Swimming Pool takes places in Italy, the feel of the film is very SoCal: from the tiki lights, to the mid-century modern furniture – as well as lots and lots of jazz. I follow up this film with Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool. This later film tells the story of suspense writer, Sarah Morton (played by Charlotte Rampling) who travels to her editor’s town house in France to write her next novel. (Is Morton also on vacation?) Much of the conflict in the film is between Morton and her editor’s daughter, Julie (played by Ludvine Sagnier), a free-spirited teenager who is also staying in the townhouse, and whose sexual recklessness is a constant interference to Morton’s vacation. While watching these films back to back, I find Ozon’s Swimming Pool making many references to Deray’s film, from small details such as the use the black bikini on the female lead and a white bikini on her female predecessor (are there other references you can list here?). More than an homage, this film feel as if Ozon is trying to link the two films. The film feels more than a homage to the first film as if Ozon was trying to link the two films. Could both female leads be somehow connected? Could Rampling’s character be an extension of Schneider’s character, perhaps even the same person but thirty years after? Many of Ozon’s themes, such as subconscious desires, generation conflicts, and emotional projection, are the same themes as Deray’s films; perhaps Ozon in a way is try to resolve and complicate something that happened years earlier.
I want to be in a swimming pool. It’s so hot outside. I leave work with a large headache. I drive by a Foster Freeze on my way to the pharmacy and there is a huge line outside, with families in tank tops and sandals waiting to get ice cream. I wish I could be eating ice cream but with a sore throat, dairy would be a bad idea. I wake up the next morning and the pain in my throat has spread through my whole body and I’m incredibly congested. I text my boss that I can’t go in, and spend the morning sleeping. I wake up and sift through books on my bookshelf. Every summer I read a Joan Didion book, as I find them nostalgic, a different experience of my own city in years past. I pick up Play As It Lays, a story about Maria Wyeth, an unfulfilled actress, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She spends her days driving around the southern California freeways as a way to lose herself in a meditative act. I also pick up a book by Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne’s, Monster, a memoir which focuses upon his and Joan’s experiences writing and rewriting a screenplay, which would eventually become the film Up Close and Personal. The memoir goes into excruciating detail of working within the Hollywood film industry and the process of watching one’s ideas being taken and then taken apart in order to fit into a specific look or demographic. Both books depict Hollywood as an inescapable entity, which exists within your home, your social circle, and your daily life. In Play As It Lays, Maria’s ex-husband is a film director, her close friends are producers; as an actress Maria’s decisions are constantly put on display and judged either by her peers or the evening news. In Monster, the film industry is the financial backbone for the two writers and allows them to maintain their own personal writing practice. We know this story of Hollywood: financial executives crushing the freedom of creative individuals. We are used to stories of tragic starlets, which get played out again and again in the media by actresses such as Lindsay Lohan and musicians such as Miley Cyrus. Yet as an artist and filmmaker I don’t really have a relationship with Hollywood. I don’t understand how the industry operates, though it exists all around me and finances so much of the city I live in. It’s so much more monstrous than than the art world, as it functions on such a larger financial scale and involves so many more people in order to operate it. Since recently finishing my film, I daydream how my no budget mostly silent stop-animation experimental film would function in Hollywood. What would it look like played against the summer blockbuster? A strange fantasy, the LA fantasy, trying finding your place in the Hollywood monster.
My cold has gotten worse and it is more difficult to breathe. I take Advil, vitamin c, and cough drops; it helps a little. I attempt to order soup at a coffee shop but my voice is so raspy that I have to write down my order in order for the barista to understand what I want. I go into work for a couple hours but the AC is broken and it is blowing out hot air instead. We keep the doors open till the repairmen can come and look at the unit. I wander home on my lunch hour and take a nap, but I don’t wake up until later on that evening and accidentally miss the rest of the day of work. I find an angry text message from my boss, stating that I need to let them know if I am not going to come back for the rest of the day. I realize recently that much of my writing centers around injury or malady. I am not particularly interested in either subject, rather I write when I am incapable of doing much but sitting with my own thoughts. Right now those thoughts are about me and the movies.
I watch John Cassavetes’ film Minnie and Moskowitz. The main character Minnie Moore (played by Gena Rowlands) is curator at LACMA, who struggles with an on and off relationship with a married man. After a bad date, she stumbles upon Seymour Moskowitz (played by Seymour Cassel) a car attendant who protects her during a potentially violent altercation. Seymour is a large, brooding, clumsily man who has just moved to Los Angeles. The couple do not mesh socially, Seymour comes from a working class East Coast Jewish neighborhood while Minnie surrounds herself with a more intellectual community. Similar to other of Cassavetes’ films, the characters struggle to communicate with one another, and rely upon alcohol, cigarettes, sex and violence as vehicles for communication. Los Angeles is a constant background for the film: the billboards, the original LACMA building, and famous restaurants such as the Musso and Frank Grill. The film takes place in many of the same street and locations in Didion’s Play As It Lays, LA in the 70s. As Los Angeles is a shifting city, whose buildings are constantly changing and coming down, the film becomes an indicator of that particular time. I think about Los Angeles landmarks. My mind again wanders to swimming pools. David Hockney’s swimming pool at the Roosevelt, the soft pastel colored blues of gestural marks.
I think about the pools in Ed Ruscha’s photographs. Water. The large fountain in front of Los Feliz Blvd by the 5 Fwy where Mexican families take their wedding photographs. Echo Park Lake, filled with paddle boats. The Glassell Park pool, which I was recently thrown out of for wearing regular shorts and not a proper bathing suit. I drink water. I drink water. I drink water. I’m still in bed. Sick. The film is now over. I feel better for a couple hours, try to move around but feel worse. I lay down again and begin watching another film.