I was surfing the net today and came across an amazing artifact from LA’s past. Reyner Banham was an achitectural theorist and historian. He was born in England, but came to America and fell in love with the place, especially Los Angeles. In 1972 he made a film essay about the city for the BBC. He called it Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles. These days that title might not strike you as unusual, but back in the early seventies LA was seen by most architects and planners as a disaster on a massive scale. For Banham, a respected writer and professor at UC Santa Cruz, to proclaim his love for LA, loudly, frequently, unabashedly, was really controversial.
I’m not going to tell you it’s a great film, because it’s not. But I think anybody who cares about this city will be fascinated. First, you’ve got this really smart, perceptive guy giving you his thoughts on what most commentators at the time thought was an urban wasteland. Second, the movie gives you a good, long look at what LA was like back in 1972, and if you weren’t around in those days, you’ll find the contrast startling.
The film is slow in places, and kind of disjointed. Also, because it’s only an hour long, Banham doesn’t have time to take more than a cursory glance at some aspects of LA. The worst part is that the print is badly faded. In some scenes it’s hard to even make out what’s on screen. But you get to see images of Watts, Hollywood, Downtown and Venice as they looked over forty years ago. It’s a real time capsule. Here’s the link.
The film is an entertaining artifact, but it just gives you a taste of what made Banham such an interesting and provocative character. If you want to learn more about him, check out his 1971 book, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Don’t be put off by the academic sounding title. It’s a fresh and entertaining exploration of the aspects of this city that make it unique. I recommend it to anybody who wants to gain a better understanding of LA.