Jon Jost, independent film-maker. The early films
6. Angel City
Jon Jost's ‘Angel City’ (1976) appears as a transitional work in that while it is held loosely together by a thread of narrative, it makes many of its overtly political points through digressions, and sequences which deliberately disrupt the narrative. The film is a simultaneous attack on capitalism and Hollywood films, two evils which, in Jost's view, go hand in hand; the latter helping to spread the corrupt and dehumanising values of the former throughout society.
The narrative, featuring the familiar Hollywood figure of a private detective, is used to hold our attention, while at the same time, by playing on our expectations, undermining the conventions of the genre. Frank Goya, the detective, has been hired by a businessman to investigate the murder of his wife, and all the usual stages in the build-up of the drama are undercut and discredited by the fact that Goya explains this directly to the camera, with the already dead body draped over the edge of the pool beside him.
Goya begins his investigations with a visit to the businessman's mistress, and she, perhaps in keeping with Jost's ‘female spider’ image leads him through the labyrinthine corridors of her house towards the bedroom. She is the feminine embodiment of capitalism, a corrupt, seductive, consumer of men.
But while Goya pursues his investigations at ground level, we, in an interpolated montage sequence, are whisked up to view Los Angeles, including the conspicuous HOLLYWOOD sign, from the air. As the camera drifts slowly across the seemingly endless web of streets and houses, now reduced to an almost abstract pattern of light and shade, the sound-track gives us two contrasting commentaries on the scene; a poem, and a list of statistics.
The function of this sequence is to distance us, in every way, from the action. We look down not just upon the scene of the crime, but on its context, geographical and political. Who, Jost is implicitly asking, is responsible for the murder from this point of view? It cannot be the personified LA evoked by the poem, nor can it be one of the millions of tiny units which go to make up the statistics; births, marriages, divorces etc. It has to be something bigger, something which has power over both the city and its human population.
It doesn't take Goya long to discover that capitalism, represented by the businessman himself, is responsible. The generic convention of the detection has been transformed into the adoption of a political perspective, and the convention of the confession, or unmasking of the villain consists, in Jost's version, of the businessman strolling along the beach extolling the virtues of corporate capitalism. This scene looks and sounds conspicuously like a TV advert, with the businessman using the suave, persuasive, sinister language of a professional public relations job.
The convention of the film chase is also parodied and ridiculed by Jost; the scene cuts back and forth between Goya and the businessman-villain, denuded of cars, running along in front of a painted back-drop shouting: “I'll get you, you son-of-a-bitch. " “Oh no you won't. " The scene is patently artificial and absurd, and ends with a long-shot which destroys the illusion by showing us the camera, camera crew, and actors working in the street in front of a mural.
'Angel City’ is an amusing film, largely due to the cool sardonic manner of Bob Glaudini, who plays Goya. But the underlying message is deadly serious, and an important reference point for the development of themes in later features. The message is that American corporate capitalism is a system which corrupts and destroys human life, and that it has powerful accomplices, such as Hollywood, which both perpetrate its dehumanising values, and distract its victims, (with stories), while the villain goes in for the kill.
Having identified the villain, Jost turns his attention, in ‘Last Chants for a Slow Dance’ and ‘Slow Moves', to the victims, or, as he calls them in ‘Stagefright', the casualties.
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Ian Mackean runs the sites http://www.literature-study-online.com , which features a substantial collection of English Literature Resources and Essays, (and where his site on Short Story Writing can also be found), and http://www.Booksmadeintomovies.com . He is the editor of The Essentials of Literature in English post-1914, published by Hodder Arnold in 2005. When not writing about literature or short story writing he is a keen amateur photographer, and has made a site of his photography at http://www.photo-zen.com