Navigating LA's Film Scene: A Problem That You Definitely Want To Have / by Samuel B. Prime


Los Angeles is a city beset by bounty, cursed with a profound wealth of dedicated cinematheques and eclectic, original programming. Aside from New York and Paris, no other city matches how overwhelming it is to ask (or be asked) the question: "What shall we see tonight?" Even so, profusion makes us all rich as potential viewers - that comforting sense that there exists something for everyone, a perfect movie out there meant for every man, woman, and child. Although sometimes frustrating, encumbered by inherent difficult decisions and no small amount of negotiating, the problem of LA's film scene - that it is so gloriously rich that it can occasionally be prohibitive - is in reality a problem that you definitely want to have. That is one major reason this website exists: to stem the tide of movie-born catatonia (not so much a real thing as how I describe the resultant indecision from too many cinematic options) by actively making sense of it. Hopefully, LA Ciné Salon is accomplishing that.

Far too many times in the past I have been faced with difficult cinematic choices. I rarely fret over much else, but somehow even as recently as a few years back I frequently found myself engaged in frivolous internal debate about which movie to watch on any given night, besieged by a feeling that the decision - carefully weighted, of course - mattered. In particular, I remember trying to decide between two campus-based sneak preview screenings at UCLA: Kelly Reichardt's MEEK'S CUTOFF (2010) and Takashi Miike's 13 ASSASSINS (2010). To save a long story, I became so inundated with the pros and cons of each that by the time I looked at a clock, I realized that both films had begun without me in either theater. The proverbial train left the proverbial station without proverbial me. In my bullheaded attempt to figure out which was best and/or to predict the future (re: which would be later playing in my neighborhood), I missed out on both experiences. (Side note: a month later, 13 ASSASSINS would play at the Bruin - only a block and half from my then-home). This didn't just happen once, either. During my first year in LA, it happened a lot - really, if I am honest, an embarrassing amount of times. Even in Chicago, much as I love the city, never was I torn between two must-see, can't-miss cinematic events. There was (previously) always a clear choice. However, in this world of IRL - with respect to LA - and online infinitudes, that is no longer true. The sheer amount of what's available at our fingertips is overwhelming.

The reason that this topic is so fresh in my mind is because of Friday evening, April 18th. If you were in LA on this date and are even the slightest bit cinematically inclined, you know that on Friday there were a frankly stupid (I mean that coyly) amount of variously high-profile and/or must-see screenings. In my case, I quite literally wanted to be in five places all at the same time. Bernardo Rondeau's Academy @ LACMA series continued with two all-new restorations of Penelope Spheeris' THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION - PART 1 and PART 3; The Cinefamily hosted an evening of silent pornography ranging from 1905 until 1930; UCLA celebrated the induction of Billy Woodberry's LA Rebellion thesis film, BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS, into the National Film Registry; the American Cinematheque screened DERSU UZALA (a film that my high school Chemistry teacher recommended to me over a decade ago and that I still haven't watched) alongside THE SEVENTH SEAL (a film of which I will never tire); and The New Beverly screened a posthumous Alain Resnais double feature, LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD and WILD GRASS. Although I ended up watching silent porn at Cinefamily (to my great benefit, as it was an incredible show), I initially intended to see Billy Woodberry's film. However, when a friend offered me a ticket to the Cinefamily show, I reconsidered (since I had previously seen Billy's film on the big screen, as well as two or three other times). More by chance than choice, my decision was made. Even so, were there some mystical way to split myself into five separate consciousnesses in order to have attended all five, I would have done it - but, most important of all, I do not regret my choice in the least.

In college, when I watched TED videos as if my life depended on it, I was turned on to a psychologist named Barry Schwartz. Schwartz wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice. I read that book and, though I was excited by his central thesis at the time - that more is less and that carefully delimited choices rather than infinitudes lead to greater satisfaction and less stress - I now feel very much the opposite. Looking back, Schwartz's book turned me for a brief time into a boring and asexual person - that is, it really fucked me up. I might have been less stressed overall during this time, but my life lacked two of the things that hold inscrutable value: creativity and style. By adopting the tenets of Schwartz's book, I put myself in a kind of horrible little box in an effort to protect myself from something imaginary (or the vagueness that is 'being hurt'). I don't mean to rally against Schwartz or his book, but my point is rather that there is untold and unpredictable value to multiplicity, to the beauty that exists in not knowing the answer to a thing (and then seeking it out), to discovering something true about yourself by a literal or metaphorical wandering - I've already written previously about Keats' concept of negative capability (in its most basic form, choosing to embrace uncertainty or mystery over fact), but it - alongside art, cinema, literature, magnificent serendipity, and love - is the all important antidote. 

What Schwartz's outlook lacks is imagination. He forgets that you can celebrate choice, that not everyone has the luxury - the real, sincere gift - of choice. As a result, he takes it for granted. Now, Schwartz doesn't talk about choice in terms of cinema and who knows if he even sees many movies in his spare time. This post is not about him, but about his idea in relation to LA's repertory scene. As with this past Friday night, faced with (at least!) five stunning scenarios for cinema-going, the evening was not about finding the right choice to make, but about seeing the bigger picture - faced with the incredible fortune of five (five!) choices that make me feel so unimaginably lucky to live in the city that I do, you realize that you cannot possibly go wrong. Each choice is equally excellent, if its own distinct and different experience. For me, at least, I am where I want to be and doing what I want to do - the fact that I get to go out every night (or, most nights) to make such decisions is already a thrill that I find quite impossible to capture. The problem with LA's film scene is that there really isn't one, that the expansive range of cinematic offerings in this city is a boon (if anything at all), that it gorgeously defines it. 

Living in LA is in itself a privilege - alongside that, the many choices (opportunities, even) in terms of cinema awaiting in this landscape of flickering light boxes is practically unrivaled, written about in books, whispered in secret, far-off places. If Paris is a moveable feast (in the sense that Hemingway meant), LA is one of abundance.

- Samuel B. Prime

Founder, LA Ciné Salon