Welcome Home: 1 Year Back in Los Angeles / by Samuel B. Prime

On October 12th, 2013, I returned to Los Angeles from Austin and spent the first day in over a year-and-a-half back in the city that I fell in love with in September 2012, when I first moved here. I could finally breathe again. Instinct drove the impulse to return to Los Angeles, rather than lucrative job offers, prospects, or interviews promised with other cities. I made a foolhardy choice, but one that felt then - and still feels now - necessary. I felt very sincerely that I would not feel happy, healthy, or creatively inspired - however vague or artificial that final element sounds - anywhere else. I moved back to LA without a job or even a place to stay and the year between then and now has been hard - maybe the hardest that I've known - but one thing is certain: I am home.

I had my doubts, even tried to talk myself out of LA, but everyone I spoke with said the same thing: "sounds like you know where you need and want to be." And those folks were absolutely right. I expect that if I re-read this post a few days from now, parts of it will come off as melodrama, but I hope that - instead - it rings honest and true. This post is meant as an appreciation of the past year, rather than any kind of indictment of what preceded it, however unpleasant, in Texas. It is about making tough calls, trusting that friends will be there for you in a time of need, and the gratitude that results from hard work, dedication, and the support of those who know you.

I was totally terrified. I didn't know for certain that I had made the right decision until I landed in LA. Two friends whom I had met at the 2008 Telluride Film Festival picked me up from LAX at the stroke of midnight. As we greeted each other to the chimes somewhere in the distance, they hugged me hard and said "welcome home" - instead of what I expected, which was "welcome back." That is when I knew that all would be well. The days, weeks, and months that followed solidified this unique, and yet ubiquitous, sentiment. Friends all over the city were uttering this warm, inviting phrase. If everyone was saying it, I figured that there must be some truth to it. 

The above image is a still from Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned). Buñuel's film, which I had first seen during college in a course on New Latin American Cinema, was the first film I saw upon my return to Los Angeles. Bernardo Rondeau, then with LACMA as an Assistant Curator and now the Director of Programming for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, programmed a rare and exhaustive series of Buñuel's collaborations with cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. This extraordinary film in the issued context immediately reminded me how much I loved this city's abundance of culture, that a series so utterly specific and genuinely difficult to assemble (in terms of readily available, English-subtitled 35mm prints), is viable here in LA. More than that, the film's English title (though not so much its content) reflects how I felt upon leaving Austin and returning to Los Angeles: young and damned. After all, I had less than two years before moved myself and literally everything I owned to Austin only to pack up and leave a short time thereafter. Then again, the experience of programming especially high-profile events such as a daylong celebration of Saul Bass in partnership with The Academy and featuring Phase IV's long-lost ending, two very late night premiere screenings with James Franco, and Joel Hodgson's one-man show make for great memories of a time that otherwise registers, parallel to my return to Los Angeles, as necessary - but, rather, a necessary mistake.

Without Austin, I might not have left LA and had the opportunity to return in recognition of all it has to offer. Even though I loved LA before, when I lived here from 2010 - 2012, I took it for granted in that I rarely traveled east of Fairfax and almost exclusively traveled on Sunset or Wilshire Blvd. And I lived in a no-man's-land called Westwood. Now, I live (at least for the moment) in Atwater Village and - as of November 1st - mere blocks away from some of my favorite places in the city - Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, the New Beverly Cinema, LACMA, Canter's Deli, and 88 Chinese & Sushi. In all its richness, the past year has brought weekends in the outskirts with my favorite screenwriter and editor, Ed Neumeier and Leslie Rosenthal (both of whom I am lucky to call pals), dinner parties with stunningly beautiful French actresses and film festival directors, a particularly memorable evening out on the town in celebration of James Hong's 85th birthday, spending my 27th birthday at Monte Hellman's house, in his company, sipping vodka tonics and watching the newly restored Ride In The Whirlwind, and more one-off screenings, all-day or all-night marathons, and festivals than I can or dare count. 

Since my return, I have come to see, know, and do more in Los Angeles than ever before, to love parts of the city that I never knew existed or, even if I did, previously had little or no interest in exploring them firsthand. For instance, the Family Arcade in East Hollywood that from the outside looks like the sort of place where old men with wizened faces smoke, play pool, and swap tall tales, but inside reveals itself to feature the most diverse arcade game selection in LA. I have enjoyed delicious brunches - one of which lasted four incredible hours - at Mohawk Bend, which for the longest time I thought was a comedy club. I also worked up the courage, based on some personal advice that Werner Herzog once gave me - "be a bouncer at a sex club" - to visit a leather bar on what turned out to be - because, of course - underwear night. Despite its gruff, industrial-looking decor, I found the place to be welcoming notwithstanding my insistence on not removing my pants, theme be damned.

Not to be too academic about this, but the past year in LA has been a sort of journey from an appreciation of its exterior - what it represents to someone who was once a student desiring to be a citizen - to its interior - what it is in reality for someone who considers it their home. If you love a thing - truly love it - you have to see it as it really is, warts and all. From the exclusive red carpet premieres on Hollywood Blvd to the husky prostitute who always greeted me with a sultry "hullo, byootuhful" when I would return home late from a screening, I love LA.

In addition to LA Ciné Salon, which will be experiencing a gradual (and Kafkaesque!) metamorphosis in the coming months following a semi-recent period of neglect, there are many additional creative projects in-progress and announcements on the horizon. For example, local LA archivist and PR expert Ariel Schudson (@sinaphile) has come onboard and will assist with press and social media, as well as contribute monthly repertory recommendations. Watch this space, in specific, and the internet, more generally, to find out what's next for me and for the site. I can only say that the past year has been one of the most creative, productive, pleasant times in my entire life and all I want to do is share this barely describable feeling with as many people as possible, especially those who saw an opportunity to help and reached out, those who helped me without question when I asked directly, and those for whom neither were possible but who were simply, observably there. As I said when I raised a glass with one such person this past Sunday afternoon, "here's to what's next!"

- Samuel B. Prime

Founder, LA Ciné Salon