The Exiles

Written by Joe D on August 18th, 2008

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It was worth the wait. The Exiles operates on many levels and succeeds on all. First of all it is extremely beautiful to look at, lush, delicious B&W cinematography, deep blacks, sparkling highlights, rich greys, such contrast and texture. Bravo to everyone involved. Secondly it is a time capsule par excellance. Los Angeles 1959 how cool is that? The way people dressed and slicked back their hair, the music they listened to on old Seeburg jukeboxes, “Play E7!” The incredible cars! There is a scene of two young Native couples driving a late 40’s convertible through the 3rd street tunnel that blows your mind! They’re blasting through the tunnel with the top down, passing a bottle of wine, the radio blaring some rockabilly hit, smoking, flirting, the joy is infectious! I want to do that too!
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Also all the locations are A#1!! They all live on Bunker Hill, the bygone neighborhood of LA’s golden age. In the shadow of Angel’s Flight no less! Right next to it! This is where John Fante set his masterpieceAsk The Dust, the protagonist lived right next to the elevated railway Angel’s Flight.
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They party at a bunch of downtown dive bars, man you can just see Bukowski slumped on one of these barstools. The bars are amazing and the clientele is incredible, even the bums are well dressed, especially compared with today, everybody dressed better, looked cooler and had more fun. At one point they stop off for some gas, the gas station is incredible! All white and chrome, brightly lit, I saw the address 3501 Sunset Blvd. I’m going to have to go check out what’s there today. If you are a fan of film noir or hardboiled LA fiction or Los Angeles history in general you will dig this film. Another thing the actors in this drama are all Native American, just real people not actors at all and they are terrific. The dialog is all post synced and is probably the weak point of the film but it’s not that big of a deal. I guess Kent Mackenzie recorded interviews with his subjects and structured the film around them, reconstructing what they spoke about, an interesting technique. In a lot of ways this film reminds me of early Godard, B&W, shot on the streets and in the bars of a big city, an improvised plot, a crazy dance scene in a bar with a jukebox, the internal monologue of characters expressed in voiceover. Super Cool!
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The Natives all head up a hill that overlooks LA after the bars close, I think it’s Radio Hill or someplace near the Eastern edge of Elysian Park. Here they beat a drum and sing and dance all night! Just like back on the reservation. The Spiritual Life goes on even in a big city. It remimded me of an experience I had once, I walked up the hill to the top of Elysian Park to watch the 4th of July fireworks from Dodger Stadium, there was a car parked up there and an old Indian was beating a drum and singing, several other Indians were there with him, burning sage and dancing. This was all Indian land, there were big settlements of Gabrelino or Tongva Indians all around here. Their Spirits are still here in the Land and Sky. The Exiles makes this point in a timeless way. Finally I’d like to say Bravo again to Kent Mackenzie, he made a film that reflected his interests ,his concerns as a human being and an artist. He didn’t care about commercialism or market research, he created and documented a truth and as a result his film will live forever.
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