REYNER BANHAM LOVES LOS ANGELES
Guest curated and introduced by Joseph Ziemba
November 23, 2016
@ Squeaky Wheel
$7 General | Free for Squeaky Wheel Members
This rarely screened 1972 documentary fllm about British professor and author Reyner Bahham’s discovery and investigation of the strange land called…Los Angeles marks Squeaky Wheel’s third event in our sci-fi series OTHERWORLDS! Austin-based programmer, author, and VHS publisher Joseph Ziemba will introduce this fascinating, hilarious and oft-forgotten film by the influential architectural critic and former University at Buffalo professor, via skype. Be sure to join us for this special occasion!
Joseph A. Ziemba was born and raised in the greater Chicagoland area. He is the Director of American Genre Film Archive, and Genre Programming and Promotions for the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. Joe is the creator of BLEEDINGSKULL.COM, the co-author of BLEEDING SKULL! A 1980s TRASH-HORROR ODYSSEY (Headdress, 2013), and the co-creator of BLEEDING SKULL! VIDEO. He has toured extensively as a member of the bands Wolfie, The Like Young, Beaujolais, and Taken By Savages.
Notes by Joe Ziemba
Los Angeles is a beautiful place to fall in love. Trust me. And trust Reyner Banham.
Thirty seconds into Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, the late Mr. Banham, a self-assured British professor and author, slinks into a sedan. He adjusts his mirrors. Surveys the landscape. Describes his love for L.A. as “a passion that goes beyond all sense and reason”. And then, we cut to a keychain in the ignition, which reads “BAEDE-KAR” in a sci-fi display typeface. A finger flicks. The BAEDE-KAR springs to life! Lasers! Fog! Computers!
Actually, no. It’s just a sedan with a cassette deck.
Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles is an easy film to over-intellectualize. Originally broadcast as part of the BBC’s long-running documentary series, One Pair Of Eyes, its scholarly pursuits are obvious. Reyner was a bright and intuitive man, notably active within his respective circles of architecture and academia. This valentine to Los Angeles, something of a critical exploration of urban incongruity, was an extension of Banham’s earlier book, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. You see? Big words. Bigger concepts. It’s easy. But I can’t do it. I can’t analyze a film in which a grown man gently berates a fake talking-car tour guide, then interviews someone named Brad who lives in his piano-outfitted van because “It got to the point where I just wanted to play the piano. A lot.” Of course, that’s the whole point. Reyner was a smart guy. Smart enough to know that, on occasion, it’s healthy to let emotions run wild and politely ask your brain to shut the fuck up.
Much like the city of Los Angeles, there’s no established rhythm or structure to this film. It’s simply a series of odd, beautifully photographed adventures spurned from R.B.’s enthusiasm for singular L.A. locales, architecture, and social mores. Think Man With The Movie Camera, but 1972. And instead of Futurist collage and childbirth scenes, this self-as-camera-eye shows us a smooth jazz waltz under the Watts Towers. A breezy, informal tour of the Eames House. An inexplicable and semi-surreal film noir parody. Venice Beach interviews and lunch with Ed Ruscha and stripclub boobs and Beach Boys hits. Sprinkled throughout are hilariously weird asides from Reyner (“It’s like the Balkans before 1914!”) and his talking car (“Now entering Watts…see what the city of the future is doing to cure the evils of the past!”), all funneled through a prevailing sentiment of child-like wonder. Both in the visualization of Reyner’s eagerness, and our enjoyment in witnessing it. There’s nothing to criticize. I wouldn’t know where to start.
Early on in the film, a slight explanation is given for Banham’s obsession. As a young child in dreary Norridge, he was completely taken by “penny picture” screenings of Buster Keaton films, prompting a psychological (and eventually physical) means of escape. Towards the end of the film, and prior to a lovely sunset rumination, Reyner says, “Nevermind film stars and private palaces…lots of ordinary people come here, too.” I can relate. Because I’m one of those ordinary people. And I’ve discovered, like Reyner Banham, that there’s a lot to love about Los Angeles. Warts and all.
Just as Los Angeles imposes its style upon the world, so too does Reyner Banham. Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles is a casual, infectiously fun document of an idealized subject. But in this case, idealization manifests as eccentric distinction — this is Banham’s thing. He throws in whatever he feels like throwing in, says whatever he feels like saying, and talks to a car. Why? Who knows. Love is strange.
Now where’s my BAEDE-KAR?
About The Series
From cybernetic futures to voyages across space and time, our Fall/Winter screening series OTHERWORLDS focuses on alternative science fiction, including experimental films, rare documentaries, and cult classics.