January 16, 2014

Sunset Strip

Hans Fjellestad, 2012
Sunset Strip can be credited with being a rather full story. It has a beginning, middle and an end. And there are a plethora of faces to attempt to recount their experiences (Johnny Depp, Sharon Osbourne, Keanu Reeves, Sharon Stone, Mickey Rourke to name a few). The beginning is clearly the strip in its incarnation. Originally poinsettia farmland owned by a single landowner, it slowly became urbanized and ultimately became an entertainment destination due mostly to it's proximity to Hollywood. The Vegas Strip before there really was Las Vegas. An exclusive hot spot that everyone wanted to get in on. Sammy Davis Jr. Elizabeth Taylor. James Dean. And the popularity grew. The culture evolved, for better or for worse. The middle is the Strip in its gritty heyday. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Very little interference by the law. A lot of pivotal moments. Jim Morrison at the Whiskey a Go Go. Sam Kinison screaming into the microphone at the Comedy Store. Richard Pryor performing his legendary set. And just like any party, it must come to an end at some point. The end is basically closer to the present-day. The Sunset Strip of Los Angeles has turned into a homogenized, corporate version of its former self. The lines of cocaine have morphed into heavily-caffeinated energy drinks, with their very advertisements plastered all over the walls in an effort to cross-promote. The busy streets have turned into promenades to increase the volume of foot traffic. Instead of a historical site it's basically become a novelty display.

The problem with the film is while it treats you to beautiful historical footage early on in the film, it becomes rather aimless and self-indulgent at the end. The camera sits down with a group of mob types and it feels wearisome. It shows some confusing footage of Paris Hilton in a police cruiser. Kelly Osbourne performing with the Pussycat Dolls. Instead of continuing on in some kind of rich historical context, it ends up just playing some live footage of Jane's Addiction and some other bands performing at the Roxy. And perhaps that's whats sad about the Sunset Strip. The inevitability of it all. The old die out and the young are born. Led Zeppelin is no longer renting the entire floor of the Chateau Marmot, because they haven't even performed together in years. You won't find Ozzy at any of the bars. In fact, his own children have undergone their own rites of passage on the Strip and look back on it with nostalgia. What's left are the ghosts of the past. It's turned into a rather unforgiving shell of it's former self. New thrills are now packaged. There are no surprise acts. Just contracted residencies. It's just too bad that Fjellestad wasn't able to maintain the momentum in the final third of the film. This film could learn a thing or two from more entertaining Sunset-Strip based documentary The Mayor of the Sunset Strip

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