Every newly arrived Angelino should see this documentary, for it lives up to its billing as "A history (of Los Angeles) written on celluloid and in between the lines of promotional brochures." Clips from the promotional movies we slept through in junior high are cleverly intercut with interviews from notables like Buck Henry, Joan Didion, James Ellroy, David Hockney and City of Quartz writer Mike Davis. Directors Morgan Neville and Harry Pallenberg keep things entertaining by employing a loose structure that resembles the configuration of L.A. itself: You don't know where you're going, but you think you know how to get there. Somehow it all fits. Elaine Young, Beverly Hills real-estate agent to the stars, must realize she's being satirized, but still gives an honest interview.
- Paul Kolsby, L.A. Reader, Oct. 26, 1995
A breezy, informative look at Los Angeles history and culture, with interviews of famous Angelinos who both love the city and decry its many changes over the decades, Morgan Neville and Harry Pallenberg's documentary is divided into such subjects as Crime, the Beach, Hollywood and the Valley. While most of the content is not controversial or revelatory given the abundance of media coverage the city has always enjoyed, the film's angle and talkative, analytical interviewees stitch together a thought-provoking portrait of a teeming metropolis unlike any other.
Among the dozen or so personalities included are writer-actor Buck Henry, urban theorist Mike Davis, artist David Hockney, retired LAPD homicide Detective John St. John, filmmaker John Milius, mystery author James Ellroy and jazz player Buddy Collette. These and other lament the loss of the Valley's orange groves and the razing of the sprawling barrio Chavez Ravine to make way for Dodger Stadium, and they remember such legendary hangouts as Schwab's on Sunset and the nightclubs on Central Avenue.
Wonderful archival footage and promotional films are included to support the wide-ranging locations captured. One is left wanting much more, which is undoubtedly the filmmakers' intention.
- David Hunter, Hollywood Reporter, Oct. 30, 1995
Found footage of The City That Was - complete with orange groves - and contemporary soundbites (featuring sages such as Joan Didion and James Ellroy) give a very precise, entertaining history of Los Angeles. Filmmakers Neville and Pallenberg do an elegant job of resurrecting (if only in the imagination) the place that has been lost.
- F.X. Feeney, L.A. Weekly, Oct. 26, 1995
Morgan Neville and Harry Pallenberg's irreverent, insightful 'Shotgun Freeway' is surely one of the most ambitious documentaries on Los Angeles ever attempted, but it has two key drawbacks.
First, the role of Asians in local history is slighted, in particular Japanese Americans and their unique World War II internment experience. Second, the film is a 16mm blowup from video, which means most of its splendid, well chosen archival footage is impossibly murky when projected onto a theater screen. Those who have access to the Sundance Channel may want to wait until it shows up on its schedule; it may also eventually air on KCET.
Offsetting these two not inconsiderable detractions are the filmmaker's shrew choices of guides to Greater L.A. Historian Mike Davis, photographed along side the concrete channel that is the Los Angeles River, take us back to the city's pueblo beginnings, and longtime Latino activist Bert Corona calls attention to the discrimination his people have faced for more than a century.
Among the best of the documentary's witnesses is crime fiction writer James Ellroy, who, when not showing off, observes that some people come to Los Angeles who "want to live some Utopian fantasy" and are "driven crazy" when they fail. A droll Buck Henry, who grew up in the motion picture industry, offers astute takes on Hollywood, and veteran journalist Nick Beck, who grew up in Hollywood, laments its decline. Realtor Elaine Young, conducts a breezy, lighthearted tour of Beverly Hills, and architectural historian Margaret Crawford takes us on a revealing ride from one end of Van Nuys Boulevard to the other.
Frank Wilkinson, who was with the postwar public housing authority, relates the repeated betrayal of several housing projects, like the proposed conversion of Chaves Ravine into a Richard Neutra designed low-cost residential community, as well as his own blacklisting in the McCarthy era. The LAPD's late, legendary homicide detective John St. John (Jigsaw John) recalls key cases in his 51-year career, including the lurid, brutal, never-solved 1947 "Black Dahlia" murder case.
Jazz legend Buddy Collette recalls Central Avenue in its nightclub glory days, growing up in Watts and being shooed away by Simon Rodia as he was building his famous towers - and, of course, the hard realities of segregation (Collette is also not the only witness to point out the historic excesses of the LAPD). Also commenting on the local Jazz scene is veteran music impresario Gene Norman.
Writer-director John Milius relates the pleasures of surfing; writer Joan Didion comments on the transitory quality of L.A. life, its lack of a sense of history or permanence; and painter David Hockney, a long time resident, expresses his affection for the city from the splendor of his residence off Mulholland Drive.
There's no way that Neville and Pallenberg could be expected to be all-inclusive, but in their distinctive, personal manner, they and their interviewees do capture an idea of what life is like in Los Angeles and how it got that way. "Shotgun Freeway" sometimes seems to have suffered from arbitrary editing. For example, we're shown a photo of Brenda Allen but not told that she was the Heidi Fleiss of the 40's.
Sometimes, though, the filmmakers have got it just right, as when they show us the long-closed Belmont subway tunnel and power station, not to lament the destruction of LA's once-fine public transportation system but rather to celebrate the richness of the graffiti art that covers this entire area.
- Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1996
TAKE THIS EXIT... TO SHOTGUN FREEWAY
Drivers wanted! Shotgun Freeway: Drives thru lost L.A., which plays July 18-21 at the NuArt, is a hip cinematic backstory that traces an elusive whiteline narrative down the cement veins of this City of Angeles.
Made by first-time filmmakers Harry Pallenberg and Morgan Neville, Shotgun pieces together a map of angelic perspectives as seen through the eyes of hard boiled natives like crime writer James Ellroy, lyrical jazzman Buddy Collette, roadwise novelist Joan Didion and arch screenwit Buck Henry, who talks about his "childhood up until his adultery" in Hollywood. Even unlikelies like L.A. convert David Hockney, painter and dachshund devotee, give an enriching outsider-insider view through the windshield of the city known best by its initials.
Imagine swerving from topics like the early threat of Franciscan theocracy to the French Situationalist theories of the 60's as applied to urban planning (or lack thereof) to the official coinage of the word "smog" (1943) to car culture and the resulting vernacular architecture (i.e. restaurants that look like hats) to Bugsy's toe tag to the last run of Mexican deportation trains to James Ellroy sniffing what he calls "a good panty, not a great panty."
Add snippets of choice vintage LA-related footage, including verite tidbits from 40,000 feet of LAPD crime reels they cleaned up while making Shotgun, and you begin to get a sense of the eclectic horizon line the collaborators are driving at.
It comes as no surprise that the co-creators each worked for Huell Howser Productions once upon a time; though Shotgun is packed with explosive visuals that run closer to a page from Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon than Howser's personable PBS brushes with California culture.
In a way, this film "is about defending LA" notes Neville, who works a day job with a production company that turns out episodes for Biography at A&E. "It shows you just can't dismiss what LA is."
Perhaps this drive thru lost LA is just one uplifting reminder that before there was Nicole, LA's most famous female murder victim was the drawn-and-quartered "Black Dahlia," and that every crisis du jour shall pass, covered by the concrete equivalent of Sandburg's figurative grass, in a city defined by the moving on and changeling nature of the landscape and its residents. That it's just a desert without You, whoever you are.
"I guess you could say (the documentary) is a piece from the post-modern pie," Pallenberg adds, meaning loosely that everything everyone thinks about the city is both true and untrue, both fragmented and completely intact on a personal level.
- Quendrith Johnson, Venice Magazine, July 1996