Release Date(s)1976 (December 1, 2015)
Studio(s)United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: N/A
The breakthrough feature by one of the most criminally underrated of all American filmmakers hits Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber with its beautiful release of Alan Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. (1976), a film worthy of rediscovery if ever there was one. Although Rudolph had directed two low-budget exploitation films before L.A. (one of which he took his name off of), it was Welcome to L.A. that established his singular style, a blend of woozy romanticism, tactile geographical and architectural detail, and deftly juggled ensemble storylines casting an almost hypnotic spell on the viewer. In the years leading up to Welcome to L.A. Rudolph worked for Robert Altman as an assistant director, and Altman’s name is on L.A. as a producer. This has led some, I believe, to underrate the film as a mere Altman imitation due to its superficial similarities to films like Nashville and The Long Goodbye.
While Rudolph shares with his mentor a taste for eccentric dreamers, languorous applications of the zoom lens, and a criss-crossing narrative structure, his world view is weightier and more melancholy, and his experimental streak runs deeper than Altman’s. Indeed, Rudolph’s storytelling style is so complex that all of his films require at least two viewings to be fully appreciated; on the first viewing he teaches you how to watch the movie, and then on second viewing one can be swept away by the depth of his feeling and the richness of his ideas. Welcome to L.A. establishes a common Rudolph approach, which is to begin a film in a state of near-chaos and keep it there for close to an hour, before slowly, steadily pulling the strands together in a way that reveals the order that was there all along.
The film is a complicated assemblage of intersecting tales following a group of Los Angeles natives and visitors who are mostly connected to each other through love and sex – as a repeated line from one of the movie’s songs states, this is “the city of one night stands,” and by the end of the picture one would need a chart to keep track of who has slept with who and how they’re all related. The characters include Carroll Barber (Keith Carradine), a songwriter who at various moments sleeps with (or considers sleeping with) lonely realtor Ann Goode (Sally Kellerman), neglected housewife Karen Hood (Geraldine Chaplin), and his own father’s mistress (Lauren Hutton); Hood’s husband Ken (Harvey Keitel), who works with Carroll’s father and has affairs of his own with Carroll’s maid (Sissy Spacek) and Ann; and Eric Wood (Richard Baskin), a singer recording Carroll’s songs who rarely speaks or interacts with the characters but weaves in and out of the narrative throughout. Rudolph, who both wrote and directed the film, sets all of these characters in motion and reveals them to be profoundly romantic, profoundly self-absorbed, and ultimately profoundly sad – the tragedy of the movie is that everyone is always having sex, but rarely with the person that would truly make them happy.
Rudolph’s audacious style as a writer is matched by his directorial adventurousness, as he eschews traditional film grammar in favor of a collage approach that makes liberal use of the zoom lens and off-kilter framing to give the voyeuristic sense that we are dropping in on these characters’ lives from outer space. In fact, there is a slight sense of science fiction to the film, as there is to later Rudolph works like Trouble in Mind and Love at Large; his imagery is rooted in anthropological reality and observation yet presented at a hazy, slightly unreal distance. The juxtaposition of clarity and obfuscation that runs through every aspect of the film, both narratively and visually, is superbly presented on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray transfer, which perfectly presents the film’s many subtle shifts in color and contrast and preserves Rudolph’s messy (if occasionally incomprehensible) sound design. Unfortunately, there are no extra features aside from a few theatrical trailers. The extraordinary film stands alone.
- Jim Hemphill