"The Soloist," which I saw Saturday night in Los Feliz, worked well enough for me as entertainment, as a Los Angeles movie and as paean to the best role newspapers can play. That really was the Times newsroom — my old mail slot flashed by — and of course the score was lovely. Journalist Sharon Waxman's view from north of Montana in Santa Monica, on the other hand, left her "oddly depressed." She doesn't get Downtown much, she writes at The Wrap:
It’s about a city I never see, Los Angeles, and a newspaper that is disappearing before our very eyes, the L.A. Times. Steve Lopez, the central character played by Robert Downey Jr., is a columnist I rarely read, since I no longer get the paper in print. And Disney Hall, the shiny, Frank Gehry gadget that gets a close-up in the movie, is a place I have yet to visit for a concert.
As we lose our local newspaper, we lose our sense of connectedness. We lose a daily reminder of the diversity of life that is part of Los Angeles, and that moves us to reach beyond the confines our individual experiences.
The movie depressed me because it reminded me of the good that conscientious newspapering can do. How just a few years ago, 800 words – the right 800 words – could reach an entire city and move people to action -- a mayor, a city council, a police chief or a principal cellist of the local philharmonic. In the case of Nathaniel Ayers Jr., as the movie tells it, Lopez’s column led to a cello, and lessons and a room off the hard streets of L.A.’s skid row.
The movie foreshadows the ongoing fragmentation of the already fragmented city of Angels. Newspapers have always been one of the identifying principles of this city. What was Los Angeles? Whatever the L.A. Times covered.
But the L.A. Times doesn’t cover the whole city anymore. And it hasn’t been read by the city (whatever that means) for years; its penetration is notoriously low.
And so, the skid row populated by junkies and mentally-disturbed social rejects is not one that has occasion to slide across my radar. Neither do the downtown public schools of L.A.U.S.D. which have inadequate textbooks, inadequate teachers and broken toilets – if I believe the reports I hear on NPR.
It’s increasingly difficult to feel part of this city. Between the Valley, and downtown, and the beach communities and Hollywood, between Koreatown and the West Side and the Persian flavor of Beverly Hills, it is vast and alien and hard to call my own.
My movie companion called it the best ad she had ever seen for the Times. Lopez comes out the tortured hero — and deservedly so, you know. Esa-Pekka Salonen, the L.A. Phil and Disney Hall also come out looking (and sounding) pretty good.