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L.A. Grime, L.A. Glamour

October 04, 1998

Summer slides into fall here as imperceptibly as reality glides toward illusion. "We are the masters of make-believe and fantasy," writes photographer Anthony Friedkin, meaning we here in lotus land, "but that's only part of the story."

The other part of the story hangs on the walls of the Los Angeles Central Library downtown through Nov. 29--another gem of an exhibit from the library's photo collection. Friedkin, who has photographed the Hollywood high-lifers as well as their low-life cousins, says "beyond the world of illusion" there exists a different Los Angeles, "a melting pot" of cultures and a trove of street murals, freeways and assorted oddities.

True. But Friedkin's pictures show us even more than he admits, presenting a vision of this region's natural grandeur. Look at the sun setting over the ocean, viewed from a surfboard skimming the waves. Or the exquisite lace canopy of maple trees over a Beverly Hills street or the mustard plants against a dark sky in the Malibu Hills.

That natural beauty is so easily ignored or obliterated--by smog, blight or sleaze--that we often miss it.

Friedkin also endeavors to show that even our grotesqueries have their own charm, their own vulnerabilities. The giant Oscar that stands sentry each year as the stars file into the Shrine Auditorium lies forlornly on his back like some gilded Humpty Dumpty. And the billboard of an enormous, buxom Angelyne looms over a Hollywood street with an expression at once kittenish and menacing.

Even reality in Los Angeles can seem part-illusion, a movie set in a celestial production. Is the man napping beside a massive concrete sphere in Pershing Square the prop or is it the sphere?

Friedkin paused at one of the sorriest spots along the Los Angeles River, at San Fernando Road past Elysian Park. To be sure, the graffiti's there, along the concrete banks, along with the garbage and weeds. But how graceful the freeway arches over those banks and how magnificent the clouds in the sky. The squalid becomes momentarily elevated to the sublime.

So, we look to the world like a movie set. Really, how bad is that?

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