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April 07, 2006

City of Angles

crash.jpg

Crash
Paul Haggis - 2005
Lions Gate Entertainment Region 1 DVD

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Higher Learning
John Singleton - 1995
Columbia Pictures Region 1 DVD

I hearby call a moritorium on films based in Los Angeles that attempt to impart life lessons for the rest of us, especially with stories concerning racial diversity. Don Cheadle, I know your heart was in the right place as it almost always seems to be, but you should have known better. I'm speaking as one, who like Mr. Cheadle, is a graduate of East High School in Denver, Colorado. East High School was integrated even before it was mandatory throughout Denver high schools, and was considered such a nationally acclaimed school that children from Denver's wealthiest families made it a family tradition that their children went there. I might as well add What's Cooking by Gurinder Chadha while I'm at it. I'm suppose to believe that none of the four families at one intersection knew each other at all? I guess my question should be: have I lived an exceptional life or is there something about Los Angeles that perpetuates a sense of isolation from other people and the concept of other realities?

My biggest problem with Crash is how schematic it is. One could almost describe Crash as being like a Robert Altman film without any sense of humor. Showing how different people are connected with each other isn't new, Altman wrote the book as it were with Nashville. Guy Ritchie's films are essentially variations of Altman in the guise of crime capers. With Crash though, it is a little too neat and clean to have Matt Dillon grope Thandie Newton one day and save her the day after. Similarly having Ryan Phillippe encounter Terrence Howard two days in a row is just too coincidental. My other problem with Crash is that Paul Haggis seems to be perpetuating stereotypes even while he asks the audience to look beyond them. My memory of 2005 includes a film that had had a racially diverse cast, a smart script, dynamic cinematography, and attempted to ask some big questions, particularly what it truly means to be human. That film was Land of the Dead.

Higher Learning has its moments of unbelievability. I cannot believe that a neo-Nazi student who trashes his room-mate's section of the dorm and flashes a gun would not have been arrested or at least barred from returning to the campus. John Singleton's film is about a group diverse students who cross each others paths. The diversity in question is racial, financial and sexual. It is also a much more ambitious film than Crash. Singleton wants his Los Angles college campus to stand in for the United States and constantly uses visual motifs of the American flag, statues and paintings of Chistopher Columbus and the founding fathers, as a way of illustrating the gap between the ideal and the reality of the United States. Singleton also visually quotes Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia. Lapses of logic aside, Higher Learning may be the best photographed and edited film by John Singleton. I hope that he will make another film that fulfills his early promise.

Posted by peter at April 7, 2006 05:28 PM