Guest Column: Mid-summer night narratives


By Howard Hills


Our critical response to art implicates subjectivity Kant called “judgment of taste,” so others obviously are free to disagree, but my wife and I think this year’s Pageant of Masters is the most compelling, dramatic and entertaining ever. This season’s exposition is the intellectual and moral equivalent of a brilliantly presented university humanities course, a delightful sprint through transformational aesthetic and epistemological epochs in the art, science, invention and religion of western civilization.

Even after a day on the beach or a shift on their summer job, your kids might not just stay awake this time!  The pageant’s 2012 fare presents parents an all too rare opportunity for an evening of festive family togetherness, transcending the quotidian distractions of summer.

Our pageant experience stands in contrast to the real bummer we had watching “Savages” at the South Coast Theatre.  We went after seeing an Indy headline article about “Savages” that alerted readers to “Get ready for Laguna Beach’s next wild ride in the national spotlight.” As veterans of local political culture wars over gratuitously provocative portrayals of Laguna the last time Hollywood put our town in the national spotlight, my wife and I wanted to know how our town will look to the world through the lens of this movie.

“Savages” is MTV’s “Real Laguna Beach” (aka RLB) meets “Pulp Fiction” on steroids. Unfortunately, instead of the nameless, faceless scenes amid L.A.’s urban sprawl Martin Scorsese selected as gestalt for his gruesome pop satire about drug trafficking violence, Oliver Stone chose to mimic RLB and capture audience identification with Laguna Beach as a landmark location already heavily promoted by MTV.

Just as the hilarious Jon Stewart Show’s 2006 send-up of the “Real Laguna Beach Show” was a brilliant parody of MTV’s RLB production values, the cinema-photography in “Savages” has the look and feel of the MTV show set in Laguna. The story line and character development scenes overtly and unapologetically pay homage to the same flashy gloss of MTV’s RLB.

The indebtedness of “Savages” to MTV ‘s “Real Laguna Beach” is a conscious and conspicuous commercial rip-off that probably suits MTV just fine. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then “Savages” can only be seen as a revival of the RLB genre, likely to boost MTV’s returns on re-runs and DVD sales.

In op-ed articles appearing in the Indy back in 2004 it was my prediction that the MTV show would lead to on-going commercial exploitation of the most cherished sites, scenes and places in our town.  Regrettably, “Savages” vindicates that prediction, and once again I am left doubting that we gain anything by encouraging this kind of notoriety.

We pay a price for not merely allowing, but for enabling and even exalting in these superficially alluring ventures on the dark side of commercial image branding. Like the MTV series, “Savages” promotes the business interests of corporate backed movie moguls just passing through to make a killing, using our natural and civic treasures to deliver instant audience gratification at the expense of the unique village milieu we strive to preserve for the next generation.

It starts with a loss of cultural and personal intimacy connecting us to our own living archeology. The impersonal infamy to which our most treasured localities are exposed devalues the created and the preserved physical culture at the heart of our small town tradition.

If not mitigated, indifferent stewardship of our town’s character can culminate in loss of our carefully cultivated local, national and international identity. Indiscriminate marketing of our beach town’s iconic images can overshadow our true branding as a thriving contemporary arts enclave, with cultural integrity grounded in the legacy of our early masters.

The efficacy of a more discerning ethic about movie making in our town was underscored by another Indy headline this week that read, “Town’s Economy Fueled by Arts.” Did anyone think reality TV and sexualized snuff flicks are what brings people here from all over the world?

Have we forgotten the controversy when a few misguided local officials conspired against our art colony heritage, changing the local high school name from the “sissy” Artists to the more macho Breakers? The same people who tried to tell us “Breakers” was about waves brought us exploitation of our public school students by MTV, and tried to tell us it would be a “documentary.”

It’s a free country and people can make any kind of movie they damn well want. But if mixed signals about what we value have you confused on family entertainment options, run don’t walk to the Pageant of Masters. In contrast, “Savages” is all about hi-tech desensitization to the dehumanizing effects of depravity. Forewarned is…well, forewarned.


Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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