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Rapper tunes in to the movies

As artist in residence for the L.A. Film Festival, Pharrell Williams makes some, er, odd flick picks.

June 21, 2007|Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

AS one of music's most consistent hit makers, Pharrell Williams of the superstar producer duo the Neptunes has crafted songs for a Who's Who of chart stalwarts that includes Mariah Carey, Gwen Stefani, Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z, often by sonically channeling '80s new wave and '70s funk into cutting-edge hip-hop infused pop.

But when organizers at the Los Angeles Film Festival asked Williams to serve as the fest's 2007 artist in residence, they couldn't have known his penchant for yesteryear genre material would extend to movies as well.

Asked to program a sidebar of films that have inspired his work, the blinged-out Grammy-winning studio whiz picked films decidedly outside the usual filmography you'd expect to find on the festival circuit. In place of, say, Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows," Williams chose schlock comedy ("National Lampoon's Vacation") and cult sci-fi (Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind").

"I don't know that there'll be critical dialogue about them," Williams said without any hint of irony. "Hopefully, there will be people who feel about them the way I feel."

Williams, a platinum-selling rapper-singer in his own right, accepted the festival's invitation to follow in the footsteps of past artists in residence -- the RZA (musical architect of the Staten Island rap collective Wu-Tang Clan), Neil Young and pop music producer Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley fame -- as a means of broadening his understanding of Hollywood machinations.

"It's a learning experience for me," Williams said. "Knowing what the festival is about, what the artist-in-residency thing entails -- I'm not going in as a professional, as somebody who has been waiting for this their entire life. It popped up, I find it intriguing and I am a student."

Because, of course, what the producer really wants to do is produce movies. And toward that end, he said, he has several too-early-to-discuss projects coming up, including several television pilots and a "serious documentary," as well as the co-producing effort with Mark Gordon ("The Day After Tomorrow," "Saving Private Ryan") that Williams announced two years ago: an adaptation of the Saturday-morning cartoon "Voltron."

Still "in development," it's the story of five pilots who travel into outer space to learn to operate small, lion-shaped robots that conjoin to form one massive robot in an effort to save Earth from alien invasion.

Williams will join Elvis Mitchell, host of KCRW's weekly radio show featuring filmmakers and actors, "The Treatment," in conversation at a free event at the Hammer Museum on Saturday night. There, presumably, the producer will make a case for his sidebar programming.

"My favorite film of all time is 'National Lampoon's Vacation,' " Williams said. "You can't say one line without me telling you what happened next. And 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'? That's my life."



Where to catch the shows

The Los Angeles Film Festival begins tonight and runs through July 1. Organizers are trying to create a "hassle-free parking experience" by encouraging festival-goers to park and use the free shuttle service to get around. Some key festival venues (all locations are in Westwood, unless stated otherwise):

* Geffen Playhouse, 10886 LeConte Ave.

* Italian Cultural Institute,1023 Hilgard Ave.

* The Landmark, at its new location, 10850 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

* Landmark's Regent Theatre, 1045 Broxton Ave.

* Majestic Crest Theatre, 1262 Westwood Blvd.

* Mann Festival Theatre, 10887 Lindbrook Drive

* Mann Village Theatre, 961 Broxton Ave.

* Hammer Museum, Billy Wilder Theater, both at 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

* W Los Angeles -- Westwood, 930 Hilgard Ave.

* Box office, 1031 Broxton Ave.

* John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood

* National Theatre, 10925 Lindbrook Drive

* California Plaza, 350 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

* Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood

* Target Red Room, 1028 Westwood Blvd.

* Bel Air Camera, 10925 Kinross Ave.

* Festival info booth, corner of Kinross and Broxton avenues

* James Bridges Theater, UCLA campus, Melnitz Hall near Sunset Boulevard and Hilgard Avenue

* Parking Lot 36 and Structure 32, at Weyburn and Veteran avenues. Shuttles are also available from these parking lot locations.

For more details, go to

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