When you're feeling strange ... or just in the mood for an excellent double feature with Venice roots ... go for When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors and The Cool School.
The excellent PBS series, American Masters showed The Doors film last night on PBS, and we simply loved it. It showcases never before seen footage of the band, from its Venice Beach days "Until The End". Jim Morrison is intriguing as ever, and some clips from his own film project HWY: An American Pastoral looked so clear and great that it had us questioning the whole time if director Tom DeCillo had done some recreations with a Mr. Mojo Risin doppelganger. But it was all Jim ... and had us shaking our heads that the world lost yet another musical icon at the super young age of 27.
The Doors came together on the sands of Venice in 1965, and their music still floats on the wind all over town. Every time I stroll through the Canals, I hear "Love Street" somewhere in my mind, and think how the Venice vibe itself could be counted as a member of the band. Speaking of the band, Ray, Robbie, and John are all spotlit as the highly skilled musicians each is in their own right, and what they all put up with for the greater good. Thank goodness there remains such fantastic capturing of it all, as it happened. Jim is perhaps the best example we have of a true "Rock and Roll Poet", and his poetry remained the most important thing to him until the day he died in a Paris bathtub. Scenes of a wasted Jim rolling around on stage pull you back into a time when there were still guys who didn't care at all about what people thought of them, they just went for it ... making it bittersweet when Johnny Depp narrates, "You can't burn out if you're not on fire." (And none of their songs have ever been used in a car commercial). Watching this wonderful documentary, you feel wistful for the time when Jim still prowled around town.
The Cool School is all about building the Los Angeles Art Scene in the 1950's, led by the seminal Ferus Gallery. No one cared about what was happening art-wise here in those days, until Walter Hopps and Ed Keinholz lit the match with that place. Venice ("The Backwater of Bohemia") again played a big part in that, as it was a total slum (jarring pictures of extra ratty Canals and Oil derricks pumping all along what is now the Boardwalk), it was affordable for artists to live and work here ("Nobody wanted to be here, but Look! You can see the ocean right there!").
It also aired on PBS as part of the equally fantastic Independent Lens series, but you can just Netflix it up. Familiar Venice faces like Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari are all over the film, and it actually cuts back and forth between old footage and the Ferus Artists having a reunion lunch at our own Hal's.
These guys (and a few token gals) built the entire L.A. Art Scene (and were in fact the first to show Andy Warhol's Soup Cans, at the Ferus Gallery) into what it is today - with even MOCA now showing the "First 30 Years" exhibit right now, full of basically all these folks' greatest hits.
They were again, different times ... "When you could live a life of poetic poverty." (Though lots of us still do a pretty good job of that now). Having seen this insightful documentary, I can have a whole new appreciation for what these guys, who you see on the regular strolling about town, built up from absolutely nothing.
As Walter Hopps says toward the end of The Cool School, "Art offers the possibility of love with strangers." Having viewed these two stories back to back, I understood that element completely. As what The Doors did, what the L.A. art pioneers did, and what Venice continues to attract and promote at its very heart.
Love with strangers, and people who are strange, alike.