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Less Than Zero

Less Than Zero

“Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city”
Dorothy Parker,
American Writer

More than any other city, the true spirit of Los Angeles cannot be bottled cinematographically. If the above quotation about Los Angeles is true – let the debate begin – than imagine the difficulty in choosing a film that accurately represents 72 suburbs (not to mention writing and shooting it). Just can’t be done. A journey to the center of a city without one.

It’s all a bit like objectivity and perfection; concepts that are strived towards, yet impossible to achieve. With that in mind, we offer 1987s Less Than Zero as one the films that best represent El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles sobre El Rio Porciuncula, also known as LA, and here’s why.

Less Than Zero

The fact that the home of Hollywood hasn’t yet produced a movie that captures its essence is ironic as it is telling. Most of the multitude of films about and made in LA suffer from the same ethnic and cultural myopia that the industry itself does. The largest part of the opus offers white bread pictures with Caucasians cast as their protagonists living in affluent areas characteristically populated by Caucasians, such as the famous Westside enclaves of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Malibu (which in reality are their own cities).

In a city, state and country known for its diversity, LA Films that do not follow this homogeneous path focus on the communities overlooked by it. The city’s ethnic films like Mi Vida Loca, and Boyz in the Hood show the blighted areas of Echo Park (Eco Parque) and South Central and their residents, but little more. Much like their cinematic Caucasian counterparts, and partly in direct response to them, they focus on themselves. Oscar winner Crash goes a step further, very consciously addressing polyglot Los Angeles’ ethnic fault lines, but forgets to show geographical LA in the process.

The commonly held belief is that Los Angeles has no true center. No argument there – the potential of the recent downtown resurgence aside — a quick comparison to New York or San Francisco easily demonstrates what a real urban core is like. OK. So what we are looking for then?

Less Than Zero

Remembering Dorothy Parker’s words, try telling LA’s near 3, 700, 000 residents that they don’t live in a city. There’s definitely something there. The laws of physics validate LA; all objects with mass possess a gravitational pull, and LA’s gravitational pull is unequivocal. Just ask any aspiring thespian waiting on you at lunch, and chances are, they aren’t native Angelenos. Unless you’re a Tongva, Tataviam or Chumash descendant, no one is, depending on how one defines native, or local.

Maybe that is exactly where we got lost – no destination. No center? No problem. Like hitchhikers, let’s get dropped off as close as we can, and we’ll find our way. Explore the perimeter, and see what we discover. The land doesn’t lie.

What we see is a metropolis surrounded by mountains (the only major city in the US bisected by a mountain range), the Pacific Ocean and desert. Now we’re getting somewhere. And here, finally, you arrive at the reason why we chose Less Than Zero. The LA film that best demonstrates Los Angeles’s geographic sense of place.

Less Than Zero

The foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, home to the palm treed streets that welcome Clay home, and whose views grace the background of troubled Julian’s drug-inspired desperate wanderings in and out of hillside mansions. The Pacific Ocean, where Clay catches up to Julian after another of the latter’s all-night benders. And finally, a Joshua Tree populated desert, where Julian sadly succumbs to his vices, albeit stylishly, in a classic Corvette – tre LA.

In Less Than Zero also converge three facets of Los Angeles’ schizophrenic personality — wealth, image and the fast life. Some of the city’s most well-known stereotypes, which of course, for those interested in truth, should never be consumed whole and always with a chaser. However, some kernels of truth can always be found in their ingredients. If the truth must be told, the Great Los Angeles Film, like the Great American Novel, has yet to be made. Who’s up for the challenge?

Alvaro Eduardo Rojas


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