Part of our ongoing Film Portal series, Mike LeSuer brings us Report From L.A., a recap of the year 1985 in film with the inimitable David Byrne.
As yet another documentation of New York City in the mid-80s as the height of artistic prosperity, Two Moon July, the Tom Bowes-directed glimpse at experimental art space The Kitchen, offers an hour’s worth of idiosyncratic material from the scene’s biggest names, including Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, John Lurie, Arto Lindsay, and David Byrne. Each artist fills two to five minutes with a brief audio or visual performance in the Kitchen’s gallery, while the avant-gardest of video intermissions provide appropriate transitions.
With a handful of unforgettable moments – Anderson’s Andre-the-Giant-like baritone and neon-luminescent teeth, Glass’ customarily moving piano piece, Kit Fitzgerald and David Sanborn’s spastic editing display – Byrne’s running around an art gallery listing movie titles is likely the first to come to mind. In traditional Byrne fashion, what at first comes off as surprising and nonsensical ultimately proves coherent and insightful while somehow appearing utterly and uniquely hilarious.
Entitled Report From L.A., Byrne’s four-and-a-half-minute vignette works as an off-beat exercise in slapstick, as well as a relatable allegory for the cinephilic dilemma of remaining filmically-educated when there’s a constant stream of output from Hollywood. With the peculiar precision and skewed humor he’s come to be known for, the film depicts an anxious Byrne’s circular pacing as he tells no one in particular that it’s his birthday, and following the “natural” train of thought from L.A. to Hollywood, begins listing off a slew of exploitative film titles yielding various successes of Google results.
As the list goes on Byrne’s pace quickens, rattling off the mostly-insignificant (save for Insignificance) blockbusters and B-movies (real and fictitious) of 1985 with a specific focus on sex, violence, and any other subject sure to sell tickets. There’s much to appreciate in his increasingly maniacal circumnavigation of the artistically-installed Kitchen: his reciting ridiculous taglines (“Cassex: Is It Real?…Or Is It…Cassex?”), his ambiguously innocent-or-ironic intonations (“Loose Screws: More Fun Than You Can Shake. Your. Stick. At.”), and, of course, his seeming imperviousness to his own growing mania. Yet Byrne somehow perfectly summarizes the futility of maintaining an interest in the mainstream discourse of a medium becoming more thoughtless as it becomes more based on revenue (and more easily accessible to amateur auteurs) while tackling the absurdity of the moviegoer’s obsession (“I wanna see them all!”).
Above all, Byrne’s performance art is an embodiment of the exciting and overwhelming emotions of exploring the ever-unfolding-blanket of cinematic discovery. Despite the superficial composure maintained while devouring film after film, there’s a sinking feeling inherent in every revelation of a new director, genre, or movement (“Wait a minute – there’s a lot more”). Whether it’s New French Extremity, Cinema of Moral Anxiety, or whatever pocket of filmic existence Ben, Bonzo, and the Big Bad Joe hails from, there will always be more to watch, and sometimes the only thing we can do is stop to catch our breath.
Watch Report From L.A. here.
Author: Mike LeSuer is a freelance writer with a focus on film, music, and media studies. His work has appeared in Bright Lights Film Journal and Flyway Journal of Writing and Environment, and he currently holds the position of Editorial & Media Archivist Assistant at Facets.