Driving around Judge Gordon Sullivan's hometown only takes a minute. Not good for filmmaking.
"Ian shows us the British expatriates, all sizes, shapes, and types."
One-hit wonders are one of the most fascinating parts of pop music history. The idea that someone could sell millions of records and be heard by even more millions of people and then fade into total obscurity is amazing to me. It's especially amazing to me when the hit isn't a standard song, but some kind of novelty. Such is the case of Ian Whitcomb, a singer-songwriter who had a novelty hit in 1965 with a throwaway song called "You Turn Me On." It's a jokey little number that includes some orgasmic sounds from Whitcomb during the chorus. Its silly blend of sex and plausible deniability took it to No. 8 on the American charts, and a follow-up single did a bit of business as well. However, his more serious songwriting didn't make a dent on the charts. Still, his money allowed him to make a move out to Los Angeles, where he discovered a number of other British expatriates. This prompted him to make a movie in 1975 about this small community. It's a snapshot of LA from a skewed perspective that will appeal to fans of Los Angeles lore, rock 'n' roll biographies, and experimental film.
Essentially a kind of travelogue, LA is My Home Town features Whitcomb travelling the city, interviewing a series of expatriates on their experiences in Los Angeles combined with his narration of his own experiences.
On the surface, LA is My Home Town sounds like a rather strange proposition. A one-hit wonder rocker takes us on a tour of his adopted home, interviewing fellow ex-pats along the way. Add in a '70s vibe and it could be a recipe for a self-indulgent disaster. However, a few things keep it from abject failure:
• It's short. Never underestimate how much weird stuff an audience will put up with if it's over quickly. Obviously made for some kind of television broadcast, LA is over in 55 minutes. With credits, the actual content is maybe 45-50 minutes worth of material. The film is also well-paced, with no one subject (other than Whitcomb himself) dominating the proceedings for long.
• Whitcomb. He seems like a really nice guy, and his observations on this documentary have a charming naiveté and a dry wit. He seems genuinely interested in his adopted home, and his interest really rubs off on the audience. Obviously, Los Angeles has been the subject of many films, but Whitcomb sets his film apart by not going for that Hollywood-insider vibe, but explicating talking to those who know they don't really belong.
• Los Angeles. Obviously a film like Chinatown documents a particular view of Los Angeles at roughly the same time, but LA is My Home Town takes the viewer to some unlikely places, like a local YMCA. It's the kind of out-of-the-way place that appeals to locals and expats, and Whitcomb lets us see a Los Angeles that's rarely seen by outsiders.
• This DVD. There was obviously not much budget for this feature and it hasn't been kept in the greatest condition, it looks better than I expected. There's lots of print damage, and the film has that '70s color scheme going for it, but the transfer does the best it can with the material. No serious digital artifacts mar the 1.33:1 full-frame image. The Dolby digital mono track does a fine job balancing the interviewees with musical cues. The disc's lone extra really makes the set though. It's billed as a commentary, but really it's an extended interview between Ian Whitcomb and Katarina Leigh Waters. Whitcomb still has the easy charm from the film, and Waters makes an excellent interlocutor. The pair discuss the genesis of the film, some things that didn't make it in, as well as the film's afterlife. It's a fun, conversational chat that might be even more appealing than the feature itself.
This is definitely a niche release. It's likely to appeal to those who enjoy the weirder aspects of Los Angeles history, the more obscure corners of British Invasion lore, or those familiar with British expat culture. It's certainly not for the average viewer or even the average documentary fan. For most viewers, it's just going to look a bit weird.
LA is My Home Town is an obscure release from an obscure rock-star-turned-filmmaker. It looks at the British expatriate community in Los Angeles with a humorous eye and a keen sense of pace. The film's commentary is excellent, offering lots of historical background in a fine conversational format, making this disc easy to recommend as a rental for the adventurous.
Weird, but not guilty.
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