In the past most of my posts for Women’s History Month have focused on historical figures. This year I decided to instead focus on living breathing women who’re contributing to the vibrant cultural landscape of Los Angeles. This week’s subject is Karie Bible, an independent contractor who maintains Film Radar, volunteers for the American Cinematheque in conjunction with the Film Noir Foundation for the Noir City Festival, sometimes volunteers for the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats series, and since 2002 has been the house tour guide for Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Check out her website Hollywood Forever Cinema Walking Tour for upcoming tour dates and more details.
Film wasn’t invented in Los Angeles but no city in the world is more closely associated with the movies and yet film is rarely afforded the respect which it deserves. When I moved to Los Angeles, I discovered the largest collection of picture palaces in the world, the Broadway Theater District, but that all of their huge screens had long ago gone dark. There was no plaque at the site of Edison’s old Kinetoscope parlour in front of which oldest known footage of Los Angeles was filmed. There is no plaque at the former location ofChun Fon’s Sing Kee Laundry, where the first dramatic film shot entirely in California was made in 1908. The storage facility behind my local Jack in the Box had been Mack Sennet‘s Edendale film studio only to spend its second act enabling hoarders as a public storage warehouse. Grand historic theaters, when not churches, were subdivided into closet sized rooms with screens smaller than some peoples televisions.
The areas that gave me hope were the repertory and festival scenes, which seemed to be flourishing if somewhat hard to keep up with. Then I discovered outdoor screenings in parks and thought to myself that someone out to do for art houses, drive-ins, experimental film, film festivals, foreign films, outdoor screenings, revival houses, special screenings, video art what AOL’s Moviefone or NBCUniversal’sFandango do for the suburban multiplex. Unaware of anyone providing this service, in 2008 I tried my hand at it with the intention of providing the service once a month but made only one, finding it way too much work, way too incomplete, and way too Web 1.0. The best thing about my effort (which you can behold, like the subject of an atrocity exhibition, here) was that it led to someone telling me about Film Radar — which it turned out were already providing that service and are therefore, in my estimation, the greatest resource of its kind for the Los Angeles film scene, which is why I wanted to interview Karie Bible.
Do you run Film Radar all by yourself?
I run Film Radar along with Ray McDermott, whose contribution is invaluable. This wouldn’t still be going without his help.
Do you receive funding from the city or any outside sources? Does it operate solely on donations?
We do sell ads sometimes, but otherwise we put our own money into it. Donations would certainly help (hint, hint)! [There is a PayPal donation button on the website]
Do you rely on the theaters and festival promoters to get in touch with you?
We’ve been doing Film Radar since 2002, so at this point most people find us. Ray and I both have full time “day jobs”, so keeping up with the emails and requests is really challenging.
Before I knew about Film Radar I once tried my own hand at creating a similar film calendar focused on independent theaters, revival houses, special screenings, and festivals and found that there were a lot more than I was aware of. How do you keep abreast of it all and how do you decide which theaters to include in your listings?
To be honest, it is a constantly evolving thing. Right now we are currently trying to re-tool the calendar and find a way to make it much less time consuming to create. We have huge lists of venues, links, bookmarks and paper schedules from venues all over town.
Do you think that the city itself should take a more active approach in protecting its cinematic legacy? I’ve never been asked by a tourist how to get to the Broadway Theater District but am routinely asked for directions to the Hollywood Sign, the Walk of Fame, and Hollywood & Highland, things which are only tangentially related to film.
Fortunately there are many organizations that help in preserving our city’s cinematic heritage for example theAmerican Cinematheque, Los Angeles Conservancy, Hollywood Heritage, Art Deco Society, UCLA Film and TV Archive, Venice Historical Society, Echo Park Historical Society… the list goes on and on.
(Image source: Street Food Cinema)
It seems to me that as the grandchildren of the suburban pioneers increasingly choose to live in city centers that there’s seemingly a renewed interest in public space; from farmers markets, community gardens, open streets events, public transit, to outdoor film screenings held in public parks. Does this give you any hope that there’s hope for the future of cinemas and public film exhibition?
There is always hope! I don’t believe that the communal experience of watching a film will ever go away. There are numerous ways to see film all over the city! There is Street Food Cinema (what’s not to love about movies AND food trucks!), movies on Santa Monica Pier, Silents Under the Stars at the Paramount ranch, movies at Hollywood Forever… again the list goes on and on.
The non-multiplex film scene seems to be dominated largely by new indies, “midnight movies,” and cult classics. Personally I wish that there were more places to see experimental, African, and silent films. Are there any other types of film you’d like to see more of in Los Angeles?
Wait, there ARE places to see these things! If you love experimental films, don’t miss Film Forum, which has been showing experimental / avant-garde film in Los Angeles since 1975. They have several events a month. I also recommend Red Cat, which is located in downtown and the Echo Park Film Center. As for silent, well the Cinefamily (aka “The Silent Movie Theatre”) shows silent film on one Saturday per month. You can also find silents at the UCLA Film and TV Archive, Hollywood Heritage and the Old Town Music Hall. The Los Angeles Conservancy usually includes a silent film as part of the Last Remaining Seatsseries. There is also the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which features 20 silent films. The Turner Classic Movies Film Festival has silent film as well. Even though passes are expensive, you can buy tickets on an individual basis. They are showing a newly discovered Harry Houdini silent in a few weeks, which I’m very excited to see! There are opportunities to see silent film all over the place if you look for them.
As for African film, admittedly that is pretty hard to come by. That said, there is a Pan African Film Festival that happens every year and the American Cinematheque (Egyptian and Aero Theatres) do an excellent job of showcasing films from all over the world.
In an older interview with Adrienne Crew, you mentioned L.A. Confidential, Chinatown, and Los Angeles Plays Itself as some of your favorite Los Angeles films. Are there any films that you feel get Los Angeles completely wrong?
That’s a tough question to answer. Los Angeles is a really diverse place with many facets. Most movies only capture one perspective. I always get really irked with movies that are Los Angeles stories, but are shot elsewhere in the world. The movie Battle: Los Angeles was shot in Louisiana. The Black Dahlia movie was primarily shot in Bulgaria. I know this is done for tax credits, but I find it so annoying.
Having grown up in Texas, do you have any Texas-set films that you particularly like or dislike?
I thought the recent film Boyhood did a great job of capturing what it is like to grow up in working class Texas. I also loved Robert Duvall’s The Apostle. Most of the time if you see a preacher depicted on film they are either saintly or evil with no in between. Duvall’s character was a raw, complicated human being. It was a brilliant performance. As for historic films, I will always have a soft spot for John Wayne in The Alamo. My parents took my brother and I out the abandoned set of this film in Bracketville, Texas when I was a kid. Oddly enough, we were far more impressed with the movie set than the real thing, which is in a crowded urban area next to a mall.
If you had a guest who was wide open to ideas and had a month to explore Los Angeles, where would you direct her or him?
I would need a month off to show them a fraction of what our city has to offer! I would start by finding out their interests (art, architecture, film, nature, music) and then I would shape the tour around that. The possibilities are endless. If anyone ever says they are bored or that there is nothing to do in Los Angeles, they clearly aren’t paying attention.
Finally, do you sneak snacks into the theater?
Admittedly I have done this on occasion. Last year at the TCM Festival I was chomping down on a philly cheese steak during one of the films. The guy next to me was really irritated, but I couldn’t help it. There is very little time in between films and there was no way around it. At least it wasn’t something crunchy!
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, or listicles and jobs must pay more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.