The Los Angeles River has been in the city long before Los Angeles, but it takes a special medium to make one realize the passage of time, that rushes on even without our notice.
This Saturday, artist and filmmaker Daniel Marlos will screen his 2001 16mm film, "Los Angeles River," at the Echo Park Film Center, an organization devoted to promoting the analog film format. Marlos will also be showing a collection of his previous 16mm work, which includes a 600-mile road trip film around the Los Angeles County called "Breezing through the 20th Century."
A photography professor at Los Angeles City College, Marlos had been constantly exposed to the Los Angeles River, ever since he moved to the city in 1980. "I fell in love with the river ever since I first moved here," says the artist, whose work has been featured at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and Blum & Poe. His public art is also featured at the Woodman Orange Line station.
It came naturally for the filmmaker then to see the river as a subject for one of his 16mm films. For an entire year on the third Sunday of the month, Marlos stationed himself on the Fletcher Street Bridge at Ripple Street, documenting the changing face of the Los Angeles River and the wildlife that inhabit that soft-bottomed spot. Each segment would last for 25 seconds and take up to 100-feet of actual film, the length of a daylight spool of film that fits into a 16mm camera, which would then cut together to form one continuous film.
The resulting film is what the artist calls structuralist, which "privilege structure over narrative." This was no Hollywood blockbuster film with strong characters and thrill-ride imagery. Instead, it was a soundless, contemplative piece that draws viewers back through more than a decade of the city's history. "I have always been struck by the beauty and serenity of the river and I am using the ebb and flow of the river as a metaphor for the passage of time in the film Los Angeles River," explains the artist. Instead of changing floral colors, seasons in Los Angeles are measured in precipitation, which makes Marlos' meditation on the river apt.
Though digital video could capture hours upon hours of river footage, the artist's chosen medium is more painstaking and dear. "With the digital revolution, anybody could shoot something on their cell phones or cameras. You can shoot, shoot, and shoot as much as you like, but with film you have to pay for raw materials," says Marlos, "There's a different sensibility there." One fifteen-minute film would cost several thousand dollars to make, shares the artist.
Because the medium is so pricey, every subject matter it captures connotes a certain gravitas, perfect for the juncture the Los Angeles River finds itself in today. In 2001, the Los Angeles River was still relatively undiscovered, but today it has become the focal point for ecological restoration and urban revitalization. Without words, the constant rush of the river begs the question, "Will the changes the city and its citizen make to its river truly be lasting or beneficial?" Again, only in decades can we answer that question.
Marlos's talk and screening will take place at the Echo Park Film Center, August 9, Saturday, 8 p.m. More details here.