Manohla Dargis, taking off from the new Paul Haggis film Crash in her critic's notebok in the New York Times, writes that "Los Angeles is in love with the idea of its own self-destruction."
It is a curious form of romantic self-aggrandizement, one familiar from untold numbers of novels, short stories, films and songs that has now spread to video games, including the forthcoming "187 Ride or Die," about a street racing thug...
In "Crash," Mr. Haggis presents a city teeming with men and women of different races, ethnicities and socioeconomic contexts slamming into one another, at times literally, as in the two rear-end collisions that bracket the film.
Despite their differences, the men and women almost all connect (or try to), and all turn out to be fundamentally good (if foolish), including the young black carjacker who justifies his black-on-white crimes by invoking 1960's radicals like Bobby Seale. The carjacker finds his redemption by saving a van filled with smuggled illegal aliens. It's as if in between jacking Lincoln Navigators this soulful thief had watched "Magnolia" and decided to heed the plaintive request in that film's signature song: "Save Me."
To watch a movie like "Crash" or to peruse a Los Angeles bible like Mike Davis's "Ecology of Fear" (1999), the second book in his proposed trilogy about the city (the first is "City of Quartz"), is to know that Angelenos have met the enemy and he is us. In "Ecology," Mr. Davis writes that Los Angeles residents live in a near-catastrophic world of our own poor design that threatens to drown us in rain, engulf us in flames and bury us in rubble. He's not all wrong, as the Hummers and perilously perched McMansions remind us. But in his exceptionalism, Mr. Davis sounds an awful lot like a Californian Chicken Little: read him and you want to run for the city limits, until you remember that a lot of places are as bad, if not worse. The truth is that Mr. Davis's alarmism has only made the city seem more interesting, even sexy. For many of us, Los Angeles may look like a succession of suburban towns loosely strung together by an endless ribbon of freeway, but for Mr. Davis the city is a wayward Eden. The idea of Los Angeles as a lost paradise has long clung to the city, helping to make it the subject of contemptuous mockery or worse from the rest of the country. In this not much has changed since the 1940's when the social historian Carey McWilliams wrote of the city that "no phase of its social life has attracted more attention than its utopian politics, its flair for the new and the untried a tendency dismissed by all observers as 'crackpotism,' still another vagary of the climate, a byproduct of the eternal sunshine."
Also Tuesday: L.A. Times media critic Tim Rutten writes that the Huffington Post is not yet living up to its potential. By the way, Rutten's column is not announced on the main LATimes.com page, or on the news or entertainment pages. You have to go looking for it by clicking on Columns. Of course, not everything can go on the front pages. But Rutten is one of the most talked-about Times columnists. Casual readers should at least be told when he's in the paper, especially when writing about a web-centric story such as the Huffington blog.