Seventeen years ago, the Rams and Raiders left Los Angeles for St. Louis and Oakland, respectively. Earlier this month, the owners of both teams spoke at press conferences announcing coaching changes and expressed dissatisfaction with their current stadium situations.
First Raiders owner Mark Davis told reporters: "Yeah, Los Angeles is a possibility ... Wherever's a possibility. We need a stadium."
Then, a week later, Rams owner Stan Kroenke refused to commit to St. Louis amidst rumors he's looking at Los Angeles when the team has a clear out-clause in its stadium lease in 2014.
Both Georgia Frontiere and Al Davis have passed away, but given the current state of both franchises, I'd argue the relocation of the Rams and Raiders were two of the dumbest moves in pro sports history.
I'll start with the Rams, since they left first. Their first move out of LA actually came in 1980 when the late Carroll Rosenbloom negotiated a move to Anaheim that his second wife Georgia Frontiere followed through. Anaheim Stadium was always a lousy place to watch a football game. I remember going to a game there as a kid and having to twist my body at about a 60-degree angle to watch the game, while feeling like I was about a mile away from the field.
With the Rams in Orange County, the Raiders moved to LA shortly thereafter and quickly became the city's team. Plagued by years of mismanagement by Frontiere, the Rams became an afterthought in the LA sports scene by the time they left in 1995.
They were supposed to move to a state-of-the-art domed stadium, but the Edward Jones Dome was anything but that. Built by the city of St. Louis to entice a team, it was never constructed for any particular team in mind. As a result, the dome is a dull and imposing structure that lacks charm and many of the modern amenities seen in stadiums that opened just a few years later.
Today the Rams are owned by Stan Kroenke, a man who owns a house in Malibu. They just hired a head coach in Jeff Fisher who's an LA native that went to Taft High School in Woodland Hills and played under John Robinson at USC. The team's COO Kevin Demoff also grew up in Los Angeles. Additionally Kroenke is known to be good friends AEG head Phil Anschutz, and he's reportedly one of the finalists to buy the Dodgers (which could cause issues with NFL cross ownership rules).
The Rams recently announced that they would give up a home game in each of the next three seasons to play in London, angering many people in the St. Louis area. The team's attendance has declined in light of eight consecutive seasons without a winning record. Given all that, many insiders believe the Rams are now the most likely team to move to LA.
The Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and won a Super Bowl in just their second year here. Despite some initial popularity, the team struggled to draw at the Coliseum. Some have claimed this was because LA could not support pro football. But I'd argue that assertion is wrong.
From the moment Al Davis moved the Raiders here, he was at odds with city officials and he constantly threatened to move the team. In the early-1990s, the area around the Coliseum was considerably worse than it is now, and many fans were simply too afraid to attend games. That fear was perpetuated by Raiders fans who became known for their unsavory behavior. Davis did nothing to clean up their act or make games family-friendly.
Despite being a pain to just about everyone in town, Davis still had a sweetheart deal to move the Raiders to a brand new stadium in Hollywood Park. He had a handshake agreement with R.D. Hubbard and a press conference was even scheduled to announce it. Davis didn't show up to the press conference and he backed out of the stadium, even though he wouldn't have to pay for it.
Davis would say in interviews later that he reneged because the NFL wanted to reserve the right to place a second team in the stadium. The league was paying for most of it, after all. But Davis refused to share the building. Reports at the time also suggest that Davis was upset that the stadium couldn't be finished in time for the 1997 season.
Fast-forward to the 2012 season, and the Raiders are playing in one of the league's worst stadiums in Oakland. They share it with the Oakland A's, meaning they'll be only NFL team that has to play on a baseball field this September. The only serious new stadium proposal in the Bay Area for the Raiders involves them sharing a facility in Santa Clara with the 49ers - a situation neither team really wants. I guess it wouldn't have hurt to wait until the 1998 season.
I'd argue the Raiders move was even dumber than the Rams because the Raiders actually had a good stadium plan on the table. But either way, it's likely that the Rams and Raiders would both have considerably higher franchise values today if they had stayed. The Rams left the second-largest media market for the 18th-largest, and the Raiders left to share the less valuable half of the 5th-largest market.
Both teams left just before many parts of LA began to see economic development and improvement. They also left just before AEG came to town and started to show everyone how to get sports venues built here. This is all very hypothetical, but I'd bet that had either team stayed - and had the Hollywood Park facility not been built - then AEG probably would have partnered with one of them on a new stadium already.
Of course, AEG still can. And heck, how strange would it be if both teams moved back here and shared a stadium downtown.
On a personal note, I'd rather see the Rams move here. I grew up a Rams fan and I'm not sure if LA really wants to deal with the antics of Raiders fans again.
But a Rams move to LA isn't so simple. Despite the LA connections I mentioned earlier, I do believe that Kroenke (a Missouri native) and Demoff are going to do everything possible to keep the Rams in St. Louis. They are simply trying to get the best deal they can on stadium renovations.
Furthermore, I don't think NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wants the Rams to leave. It looks bad if you have a city like St. Louis lose the Cardinals in 1988 because their owner wanted a domed stadium, and then have the city build a domed stadium for the next team, only to see them leave too. Cities may be less likely to help with stadium construction in the future, and fans in St. Louis would be hard pressed to follow the NFL ever again.
If I had to make a prediction, then I'd bet the Rams work out a stadium agreement and stay in St. Louis for the long haul. The Raiders' future is much more difficult to predict because we really don't know much about new owner Mark Davis.
Either way, it's hard to look at the Rams and Raiders now and say that they made the right decision by leaving town. But the next question might be... would they be welcomed back?
Los Angelenos are an overpopulated, car-embedded society more inclined to hunt and gather golden currants in the aisles of Whole Foods than collect them in Griffith Park. But here's the thing: In Southern California, where the growing season is 12 months, where the climate ranges from snow to surf in the time it takes to watch a movie, where many animals enjoy not having to hibernate the way we enjoy not having to buy snow tires, you can't help having the occasional encounter with Earth's rougher drafts.
Driving west out of the Coachella Valley last weekend, the sky ahead was dark, portentous, promising rain before Banning. Mount San Jacinto was wrapped in a cloud shroud, and a ferocious wind molested the vehicles traveling along I-10 as if it had a personal grudge against the internal combustion engine. The wind farm spanning the I-10 was in full harvest, the rotor blades spinning frenziedly as if applauding the weather drama.
Suddenly, high over the turbines between Mounts San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, a ROYGBIV-colored smile broke against a pissed-off sky, the fattest, longest, most bodacious rainbow I've ever seen. Now I know that whole pot of gold thing is bogus because I saw both ends of the rainbow. Nothing was there except the gold desert earth, and what could be more precious?
"Go Nature!" I said aloud.
Just a couple of days ago, at a dinky 9-hole golf course next to the Santa Monica Airport I was playing in a drizzle. It was swell--no waiting, no pressure, automatic ball-washing... Then, on hole No. 6, the sun came out, and a full rainbow arched over the fairway, the second I'd seen in three days. That never happens. But it did.
Not all such surprises, of course, are welcome. No one welcomes the tree that decimates the Toyota, courtesy of a Santa Ana wind. The divorce between the chimney and the roof, courtesy of a strike-slip earthquake. The abdominal cramps, courtesy of a black widow spider bite. That's life, death and all the stuff in between, and no one escapes these adventures.
For many people, nature is where you go to repair, recharge and relax. Where you take your chances, fishing in a cold mountain stream, scaling a granite wall, doing the New York Times crossword puzzle in the back garden as a hummingbird pokes its proboscis into the petunias. Unless you have been robbed of your senses, Nature will find a way to move you, even just a little.
I follow mom's orders. I go play outside. Sometimes, my playground is the desert. After a wet winter, Anza-Borrego, Joshua Tree, California City or some Mojave/Sonoran neighborhood that looks like the moon in summer tarts up in spring with color so intense you can feel it. Is there a more erotic palette than a beavertail cactus in full bloom? Anything more delicate than the bruise-blue hue of chia? Anything more in love than tiny lavender filaree embracing its sand?
After a wet winter, butter-colored blankets of desert dandelion greet visitors like a cheerleader's smile. Globe mallow hangs from its bushy infrastructure like orange paper lanterns. Even in dry years, when the spring bloom disappoints seekers of abundance, there's plenty of oily-aromaed creosote, yellow brittlebush, Victrola-shaped datura, a/k/a jimson weed a/k/a locoweed a/k/a don't-eat-me. In dry years, you won't see a lot, but you'll see plenty if you look.
Part of plenty out here is plenty of critters. If you're quiet, if you step lightly, you can meet the desert's denizens. They might startle, even scare, you but what's life without the occasional rush of adrenaline that wonders, "Ya think there's cellphone reception out here?"
One year, at the end of a long, hot spring day in the desert tortoise preserve that proved to be too late in the season to meet any of the eponymous residents, I was walking back to the car along a sandy, washboard road. At what sounded like the world's loudest bee buzzing through the sere air, my companion executed the most physics-defying maneuver I've ever seen, a leap both vertical and lateral. Coiled by the road's edge was a baby Mojave green rattlesnake, objecting to the intrusion. I took a picture. It was blurry.
Last spring in White Water Canyon near San Gorgonio, I was finishing a spectacular three-hour hike along an elevated, switched-back mountain trail that had offered crystalline skies, fields of poppies, lupine, coreopsis and panoramic views. Alas, my new hiking boots had fostered a blister the size of a Buick, and I was hurting, grateful to see trail's end about 50 yards farther on. Picking up the pace, I careened around a brittlebush only to come to a heart-stopping halt at the sight of a cinnamon-colored creature who'd gotten there first. The red diamondback rattler, about three-and-half feet long, was stretched out along the high side of the trail, soaking up the sun. She looked at me as if to say, "What?" She didn't coil, didn't move. She was in charge and she knew it.
I could have detoured around the trail's low side, but that meant traversing through high grass and stepping where I couldn't see. Always a bad idea where grumpy, poisonous critters live. I could have stared at Cinnamon for hours, a gorgeous, muscular serpent with the utterly unconcerned demeanor. But my foot throbbed and I was tired. I shifted my weight, cleared my throat. She wiggled almost imperceptibly, her black pinpoint eyes lasering into mine. For 10 or 12 minutes we communed, one of us silently. Finally, she slid under a scraggly bush and up the hill, and I moved on with mixed feelings about having lost my powers of intimidation.
Golf is a stupid game, but it can be a smart way to go out and play with Nature. When the drive slices into the cattails, when the putts decline to cooperate, contemplate the clover. It doesn't matter if you're wrestling with a municipal course hard by the freeway or out on the links lining the ocean. Something cool is living there. Pay attention.
Westchester golf course is so close to LAX you can smell the jet fuel. If you can't play golf, you can play "name that airliner" as it lands on the north runway. If you're playing at dusk and you're lucky, like I was, you can spot the fox that lives near hole No. 14. Westchester has night lights, and although it's dopey for serious golfers, I've played there using glow balls, ridiculously luminated spheres that are to golf as Silly String is to tennis. One night, my companion whacked a drive down the middle on No. 9 and as we walked toward his glowing ball, so did a possessive ground squirrel fixated by the light. He did not respond to foot-stomping or club-waving threats. He refused to leave and we stood there too long, simultaneously amused and annoyed.
Other animal encounters that were worth the lost concentration, the whiffed shot, the lost ball:
These are not friends you make playing "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3."
Angelenos are an inside-out community. Dining at Topanga's Inn of the Seventh Ray one night, I saw coyotes in the gulch below the patio waiting for scraps. At the Hollywood Hills home of the Australian consulate, we sat in a dining room separated from the pool by sliding-glass doors. Midway through the meal, a raccoon family nosed against the glass, and you just know it wasn't the first time. Once, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by a disturbance in the back yard. At four in the morning I was obliged to extract an opossum from the large plastic jug of dog kibble in which it had gotten its head stuck--it was staggering around the yard, banging its jughead against the barbecue and the laundry room door.
Photo: Rock climbers at Joshua Tree
By the time I'd reached the 405 last weekend after my dramatic weather adventure in the desert, the rain had stopped and the freeway was full. A metallic pink Hummer was in the lane to my right, its female driver wearing a pink parka trimmed in fake pink fur.
I was home, in Suburbania, where weeds needed pulling, tulips were breeching the garden soil and it wouldn't be long before lizards would be skittering across the back patio.
Photos: Ellen Alperstein. Click to see larger.
In the projection room tonight at the Million Dollar Theater, for Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory," with projectionist Tom Ruff.
The UCLA Film & Television Archive will be presenting classic films at the historic Broadway movie palace each Wednesday night through March 28. Upcoming showings include "Bus Stop," "Shampoo," "Bridge on the River Kwai," and "Taxi Driver," among others.
Photo: Iris Schneider
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has inducted 81 men and women in its coaches category. Many of them have local connections ranging from the very famous, such as John Wooden and Phil Jackson, to the ones only slightly associated with the area, like Lute Olson (who briefly coached at Cal State Long Beach), to some whom most would struggle to remember, such as Sam Barry (USC's coach in the 1930s and 1940s).
One coach enshrined, would, if you look at his resume, should be fairly famous. This man coached two different teams to NBA Championships, a feat that only Phil Jackson and Pat Riley have accomplished. He even added an ABA championship. He was an L.A. City high school player of the year at Hamilton High, and then a star at USC. He went on to play in the NBA for eight seasons. He later would coach in the NBA and ABA for 16 seasons. A street in Culver City is named for his father. And it is likely that only a basketball junkie would remember the name of Alex Hannum.
Hannum coached the St. Louis Hawks to an NBA championship in 1958 at the age of 33. He later would coach the Philadelphia 76ers to a 68-13 record and a championship in 1967. And, in 1969, he coached the Oakland Oaks to an ABA championship. And after coaching the Denver Rockets (now the Nuggets) of the ABA in the 1973-74 season, Hannum left pro basketball forever at the age of 50 to become a building contractor in Santa Maria. He passed away 10 years ago on this day (January 18) in San Diego.
When Hannum passed away, it was noted almost entirely in passing. The first notice of his death was a posting on the Philadelphia 76ers website. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times reported the death from that source. And there were no more details. Obituary writers scrambled to come up with stories from former players to provide background, but there wasn't much.
How did someone who grew up in Los Angeles and lived in Torrance and Palos Verdes during his coaching career just fade out of everyone's memory? There are a few reasons. They serve to show just how the NBA has changed so much from the time that Hannum first joined the league until today.
Alex Hannum's NBA playing career was not stellar. He was a 6'7" bruiser, who kept a job in the NBA because of his willingness to dish out and take punishment in the very rough game that basketball was in the 1950s.* He played for teams in Syracuse, Baltimore, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Rochester, and Fort Wayne.
*Some of this was due to rules for a few years that awarded just one free throw for any off the ball foul. It was easier to just trade one free throw for a chance to get the ball back and score two points on a field goal.
Hannum got his first chance to coach at the age of 32 when he took over the St. Louis Hawks as player-coach in the 1956-57 season. The Hawks lost in the Finals to Boston (led by rookie center Bill Russell). Hannum's Hawks would beat the Celtics in the Finals the next year. The Celtics would win the next eight championships in a row until Hannum's 76ers beat them in the Eastern Finals in 1967. Hannum narrated a short video recap of that team.
The NBA of Hannum's era was not particularly prestigious or glamorous. For most of the time, the NBA had just 10 teams in it. And even with teams called Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, games were often moved to neutral sites, like Hershey, Pennsylvania, where Wilt Chamberlain had his 100-point game.
Hannum rarely stayed in one job very long. After winning the championship in St. Louis, he had a contract dispute with the Hawks owner and moved back to Torrance and started a construction business. Hannum knew that NBA coaching was not particularly lucrative and felt he needed a second income.
Once Hannum got back into coaching, he bounced around. Three years with Syracuse, three with San Francisco (including a Finals appearance), two with Philadelphia (including a championship), one with Oakland of the ABA (and a championship), two with the San Diego (now Houston) Rockets (where he frequently clashed with Elvin Hayes whom Hannum felt was a quitter and unwilling to practice hard) and, finally, three seasons with the Denver Rockets (now the Nuggets).
After the 1974 season ended, Hannum knew his coaching days were over. He moved to Santa Maria and threw himself into a contracting business. He would rarely turn up in the local press. He would write letters to the L.A. Times sports section on his construction company's letterhead about basketball, but never would identify himself as a former coach.
In 1979, the Times sent reporter Alan Greenberg up to Santa Maria to interview Hannum, who lived in a house that had no TV or telephone. Hannum claimed to have only seen one NBA game in person since he had left coaching, yet he seemed to know current players very well.
Hannum came off in the interview as a quintessentially grouchy old man. He disliked the stars of the 1970s. He still hated Elvin Hayes. He could not believe Bill Walton took time from his team to be with his wife when she gave birth. He did not believe the NBA should draft players who had left college early, let alone not even played college ball.
He saw his principal rival during his coaching days, Red Auerbach of the Celtics, still enjoying success in the Celtics front office as Boston kept winning championships in the 1970s and 1980s. His USC teammate, Bill Sharman, led the Lakers to an NBA title in 1971-72.
The Basketball Hall of Fame always seemed to pass him by when it came to choose new members. In 1998, Hannum finally was chosen for induction in Springfield, the same year that Larry Bird was elected. Four years later, Hannum passed away in San Diego.
And with Hannum's passing, his low profile became almost nonexistent. The USC basketball media guide makes very mentions of one of its most prominent alums. The last local story I could find about Hannum was written by Karen Crouse of the Daily News back in 1998 after Hannum was chosen for the Hall of Fame. He seemed to have mellowed some, but still disliked Elvin Hayes. (Hayes beat Hannum to Springfield by eight years.)
Despite his accomplishments, Hannum will always remain something of an enigma to basketball fans all over the country. He was always an out-of-towner wherever he coached, as Southern California was his home. But he never coached a Southern California team. Los Angeles basketball was the domain of the likes of John Wooden and the Lakers' parade of stars.
Alex Hannum played and coached the NBA in an era that is long gone. To his credit, Hannum recognized that his time had passed. He was able to move on to something new in his life. If Hannum isn't as well-remembered now as other coaches and players of his era, I somehow don't think he would be all that surprised.
Photo: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
The January 23rd deadline to bid for the Dodgers is fast approaching and there's far more bidders than I think anyone expected. Mark Lacter notes the high number here. I agree with Lacter's explanations as to why there are so many (i.e. Bud Selig's lack of control over the process and the expected high TV rights.) I would also add that any Dodgers owner will have 1/30th stake in MLB Advanced Media, a company that some have valued as high as $5 billion. And anyone who buys the Dodgers and follows Frank McCourt will be viewed as a hero in Los Angeles, so ego may play into this too.
The prospective bidders for the Dodgers range from people I like (Magic Johnson, Peter O'Malley, Rick Caruso) to people I don't know much about (Tom Barrack, Steve Cohen, Jason Reese.) There are people who have close ties to Selig (Dennis Gilbert, Joe Torre, Stan Kasten), and potential groups that have enormous financial resources (Time Warner, Fox, the Chinese government.)
I would be fine with pretty much anyone not named McCourt owning the Dodgers, with a few exceptions. I'd rather not see Steve Garvey buy the team, because the last thing the Dodgers need is an owner with more financial problems than Frank McCourt. And after Fox's ill-fated ownership, I'd rather not see Fox or Time Warner own a percentage of the team. The Dodgers don't deserve to be a chess piece again in a local TV cable sports channel war. And they shouldn't be put in a situation where their TV rights would be sold for a discount.
The best owner for the Dodgers would have ties to Los Angeles, or at least appoint a team president from the area. The best owner would also be well-capitalized, not just to sustain a high payroll (which I've said many times is overrated), but also to finance much-needed improvements to Dodger Stadium. Regardless, whoever buys the Dodgers is going to need to rebuild the farm.
When Ned Colletti became GM of the Dodgers before the 2006 season, the organization had one of the best farm systems in the game. Since then, the farm system has floundered. With a severe lack of low-cost in-house prospects who are capable of playing well at the Major League level, Colletti has been forced to turn to the free agent market to fill out his roster. The results haven't always been pretty.
Over the years, Colletti has shown a penchant for signing aging middle infielders to large contracts. Jeff Kent got $22 million at age 38. Casey Blake received a three-year contract at age 35. Rafael Furcal got $30 million guaranteed when he had already proven to be injury prone. Other old middle infielders to receive millions from Colletti include Jamey Carroll, Nomar Garciaparra, Juan Uribe (whose performance was never good), and Mark Ellis just signed a two-year deal worth almost $10 million at age 35. Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston, Jr. also signed this offseason, both 35 or older.
Colletti's strong preference for veterans has also been seen in areas where the Dodgers do have good young players. After shrewdly trading for Andre Ethier (Colletti's best move) and watching Matt Kemp show flashes of stardom, Colletti did everything possible to keep one or both off the field. Before the 2007 season, he signed Luis Gonzalez, who instead of being a "veteran leader" complained about losing playing time to Kemp and Ethier. Colletti also signed Juan Pierre to an ill-fated five-year deal, and then the following off-season he added Andruw Jones in a move that turned disastrous. Historically, baseball players peak in performance between the ages of 27 and 32 (the "steroid era" notwithstanding), so giving millions to aging veterans is an extremely risky proposition.
Since DeJon Watson was put in charge of player development in 2007, the Dodgers have stopped developing players. Not a single position player drafted in the Colletti era has become a regular Major League player. That could change this year as both Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis project as Opening Day starters. I have some hopes for Gordon, even though he probably only got a chance because of the team's severe payroll constraints. Colletti is doing everything possible to keep Ellis off the field by signing veteran mediocrities Matt Treanor and Josh Bard, and trading for underwhelming prospect Tim Federowicz. What's most troubling though is that there are no other position player prospects in the team's high levels of the minors that project as Major League starters.
To their credit, the Dodgers have seen a little more success with pitching prospects with Clayton Kershaw (who I'd argue was a can't-miss kid when he was drafted), reliever Kenley Jansen (a failed catching prospect turned miracle reliever overnight), and closer Javy Guerra. But the overall failings of the minor league system in the last five years have been costly for the Dodgers. Not only have they attempted to mask their deficiencies by making questionable signings, but they've also lacked the prospects to package in a trade for a top player. The team didn't trade for Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay because they didn't have a more highly-valued prospect than, say, Justin Smoak.
Whoever buys the Dodgers will need to ensure that the player development system is one of the strongest in baseball. Prospects need consistent and quality instruction across all levels of the minor leagues. Having great facilities in places like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Midland, Michigan is important. So is having a strong support system for players who often aren't old enough to drink alcohol.
The Dodgers have lagged behind other organizations internationally, selling half their Dominican complex and not opening up academies in Venezuela and other nations that could produce talent. Other than Hiroki Kuroda, McCourt never signed a significant overseas player.
Some have claimed the Dodgers lack of success with prospects is due to McCourt's refusal to pay over-slot money for draft picks (Zach Lee being one of the rare exceptions.) But the new MLB collective bargaining agreement severely limits spending on draft picks, so the new Dodgers owner will need to make sure that a good scouting team is in place.
Most Dodger fans are hoping that a new owner will be able to sign big name free agents to bring the team back into contention. But historically, the most successful baseball teams are those that build from within and then use their resources to keep their core in tact. The Dodgers current baseball operations department has not proven itself when it comes to drafting and developing talent. A new owner would be advised to bring in a front office that can.
When avant-garde choreographer Pina Bausch died suddenly in 2009, filmmaker Wim Wenders not only mourned his close friend. He felt he could no longer make the film they would have begun shooting two days later. His hope of finally bringing her emotional and ground-breaking work to a larger audience ended abruptly after almost twenty years of collaboration.
"My interest was to see and film Pina's eyes at work. We cancelled the film and pulled the plug," he said. "Only when the dancers made me understand a month or two months later that we could make a different film, not of Pina but for Pina, did I think I could do it."
What Wenders and the Pina Bausch company have created with their documentary, "Pina," which opens in Los Angeles January 13, is an elegy, a meditation, an emotional roller coaster ride through life and all its emotions depicted almost soundlessly through movement.
Recently, Wenders sat down for interviews to talk about the experience of making his latest film. Dressed in a natty but rumpled three-piece suit, and in a blue mood with royal blue glasses framing his eyes, a blue shirt and a blue wristwatch on his arm, Wenders talked passionately about the challenges of making this film. He had pondered for years just how to capture and communicate the power, emotion and simplicity that characterized Bausch's work.
Finally, in 2008, he started playing with 3D technology. "I was convinced that 3D was the perfect language for dance, the answer to 20 years of hesitation, and stalling and ruining my brain wondering how to make an appropriate film of Pina's work. Dance and 3D could bring out the best in each other...But this was before 'Avatar,' and 3D was really in its infancy."
There were many physical challenges working with unwieldy cameras unable to capture the fluidity and elegance of Bausch's movements. "My assistant became a four-armed Indian goddess" trying to move and shoot in 3-D with the bulky cameras available at the time. Wenders also sensed a huge opportunity and he dove in, modifying the cameras and adapting them as he went along. In the end, Wenders was able to stand back and allow the dancers to pay their very personal tribute to Bausch, in the visual language that Bausch taught them to use. "In the best possible sense of the word," he said, "technology was at the service of these emotions."
"I cried my heart out the first time I saw a piece by Pina, not really knowing what hit me," Wenders explained. "Her dance is so physical, it involved the bodies of her dancers so much...Pina's work was not just an aesthetic experience, it is an existential experience. It is about life. She said it best herself. 'I am not interested in how my dancers move, I'm interested in what moves them.'"
The film was shot in and around Wupperthal, Germany, where the company is based. "Wupperthal has an incredibly rich history, industrial landscapes, a richness of possibilities. It was great to be outdoors in the sunlight, have the horizon, the hanging train, the city and industrial landscape," Wenders said. Indeed, seeing the dancers move along mountaintops, on streetcorners, with railways speeding above them or onstage in the pouring rain is shocking, and exhilarating, and gives the film a very unique visual framework. Wenders, who has been a photographer since his teens, used his sharp eye to great advantage.
Moving on without Pina by his side was difficult. "I had to face the question every day: What would Pina think? She was looking over my shoulder with each and every shot. Does Pina like it? Is this good enough? She was very present, for the dancers and myself. Her spirit is there and amazing...Only when I edited the film and first showed it to the dancers and they felt that Pina's universe was well-preserved in the film did I feel that Pina would approve."
Working with Pina's troupe was also a very different directing experience for Wenders, whose films include "Wings of Desire," "The State of Things," "Paris, Texas," and "The Buena Vista Social Club."
"She had assembled a strange utopian humanity around her," he said. "So different than the typical directing experience, where you work with actors for a few months. Pina's relationship with her dancers went on for decades...
"I don't know how I will continue working with actors after this experience. Over the course of one year I did not have one complaint, not one single scene of jealousy. None of that stuff you are used to on every movie crew. I was privileged to work with them."
And ultimately, Wenders was satisfied by the technological accomplishment of "Pina."
"The challenge was big, working with such a new language. We tried to imitate what two eyes are doing, and what the brain does with what two eyes do. To really be in awe of what our two eyes do every day," he said.
He must have done something right. After a brief opening to qualify for Oscar consideration, "Pina" is currently on the shortlist for an Oscar nomination in the documentary category.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Saturday, January 14, 2012
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Chris Burden's Metropolis II installation opens to the public on Saturday. It was previewed for the media yesterday. Read more
Photos: Judy Graeme
Occupy LA protesters demonstrate at the end of the Rose Parade on its route through Pasadena. Photo by Iris Schneider.
The City of Los Angeles float turns onto Fair Oaks Avenue moving into position for Monday's Rose Parade. Latest in the Night Vision series by Iris Schneider.