Author: Nick Nam
On Thursday night for 102 minutes, the Occidental bubble opened up to the outer L.A. area. Hosted in Johnson 200 at 7 p.m., Occidental’s film department showcased the cult film “Boulevard Dreams” as part of Cinematheque, a series of films chosen and presented by the department and run by professor Paul Reinch. The film, made in 1979, dives into the L.A. underground Chicano low-rider culture on Whittier Boulevard. By zip code, Occidental students are residents of Los Angeles. However, our experiences with the different faces of Los Angeles are limited.
This semester’s Cinematheque screenings focus on films that engage in themes of public space, street culture and diversity. “Boulevard Nights” is a piece which breaches different themes such as gang life and public property, as well as the low-riding culture seen through the eyes of two brothers.
The film was able to accurately capture the social and political climate of 1979 in Los Angeles when the film was produced and released. “Boulevard Nights” is a movie with a fast-paced rhythm that consistently leaves the audience caught up in suspense. Like the landscape of Los Angeles, tattooed in graffiti and gang tags, the film itself holds true to the rawness of its portrayal of Whittier Boulevard and Los Angeles.
During the ’70s, much of the world did not know that this subculture in Los Angeles existed. Multiculturalism was lacking sparse in the world of cinema. With an all-Chicano cast, the role of Caucasians played a very minuscule role in the film. Only a few white faces were featured in the film.
Director Michael Pressman, screenwriter Desmend Nakano and one of the lead stars of the film Danny De La Pez all attended the screening, which made this Cinematheque screening especially unique and intimate.
According to Nakano, the film’s portrayal of rival gang dynamics and the Chicano culture at the time was fairly accurate. Also, the film had a full Chicano cast, quite contrary to the films coming out at the same time.
“Many of the films being produced during those days were essentially about a white male lead character stepping into a community and helping them ‘fix’ the inherent problems. This script is more about inside out, as in trying to objectively portray a culture as accurately as possible,” Nakano said.
A large part of the movie focused on the low-riding culture. The cars featured in the film are authentically fixed cars with vibrant paint jobs and wheels which make the cars able to leap into the air and knock down Coke bottles with their sheer force.
AH/VA professor Katie Mills discussed the significance of cars as an art form in Los Angeles. “We consider low-riding to be a form of street art that is inherent to L.A., a form of street art that is Chicano and has a really rich history. So [the film is] sort of celebrating and understanding this sort of pop culture art form and learning how to appreciate it.”
The screening was the first time Pressman, Nakano and De La Pez had reunited after decades, though Pressman attended via Skype. Their chemistry is clear from witnessing the interactions between the three, which leads to such a raw and intense artwork. Though the three have not seen each other in decades, the excitement and passion for the piece seemed genuinely intact, as if they were discussing the film post-production in 1978.
For a school which puts such an emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism, we often forget about even the immediate world outside the boundaries of Occidental College. Los Angeles is indeed a very large city where many stories are waiting to be told. “Boulevard Nights” told a story which aimed to capture a component of life in L.A. to its fullest. Film has the power to transport audience members into a whole new world. For a night, viewers lived in Whittier Boulevard — where the cars are flashy and where each day is a testimony to survival.
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