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On Sunday night about 200 people gathered to watch an outdoor screening of the silent classic, "The Passion of Joan of Arc," starring the extraordinary Renee Jeanne Falconetti in her only film role. But unlike the outdoor screenings at Hollywood Forever or 7th and Fig, this location was a little harder to find. "People are always looking for unusual spaces," said Sean Woods, a superintendent with California State Parks, "a way to get out of the car and find the nooks and crannies of the city." And it doesn't get more nook and cranny than The Viaduct.
It's a narrow slip of land under the Buena Vista Viaduct, which sits at the north end of the 34-acre Los Angeles Historic State Park, now under construction along the railroad tracks and Los Angeles River north of Chinatown. "This bridge is called the Buena Vista Viaduct," explained Woods, who oversees this and 5 other urban state parks. "It was built in 1901, one of 12 historic bridges on the river. It was the longest single span concrete bridge when it was built as part of the 'city beautiful' concept. The idea was to build grand neoclassical architecture to create a sense of place in LA. Such a beautiful space shouldn't be closed off to the public. It's public land."
So Woods reached out to the neighboring arts communities, offering the land, which had been used to house equipment, for intimate public gatherings. Micah Greenberg and Mathieu Young, who both produce non-traditional music events, heard about it and started talking. And this evening was born.
The film itself, a unique vision directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1928, still holds up. The faces of Joan of Arc and her tormentors, shot in tight closeup, tell her story with very little exposition. The movie was made on a set built to the director's specifications with twisted perspective to heighten the drama.
Despite the chill in the air, the audience surrendered to the haunting accompaniment of George Sarah's specially composed score for a chamber music string quartet, keyboard, electronic beats and voices, and followed Joan on her sorrowful journey. Every seven minutes the Gold Line would whoosh by, an intruder from the real world, causing the screen to flutter softly in its wake.
Greenberg and Young, who normally runs Kensington Presents, a music and dinner series in Angelino Heights, are already cooking up another event at The Viaduct. "Of the 200 people here tonight," said Greenberg, "I'd say that probably 175 had no idea this place existed. What we want to do is create events that will surprise people." And speaking of cooking, the next should have better food options available. One lone pizza maker, and a one-pizza-at-a-time oven, to feed 180 people made for long waits and some grumbling. They were not prepared for the crowds. Next time will be better.
Woods hopes that Sunday's event will put The Viaduct on LA park-goers' maps. "This is our Redcat," he laughed. His excitement was hard to contain as he talked about future events there and at the State Historic Park when it reopens in December.
"We need to build parks in urban areas that will attract people of color. Our parks weren't relevant to the changing demographic of the state," Woods said. To that end, there is a LA River Campout May 16-17 at another river-adjacent site called The Bowtie. There will be campfire programs, sunset tours, riverbank bird watching and, most important, free tents and camping equipment for first time campers. The fee is $20 per campsite. No one will be turned away for lack of funds, but reservations are needed.
Woods says they are committed to reaching out to new campers. "A lot of the kids who come have never been camping before," he said. "You should come out and see how happy they are."