The Bradbury Building…Plays Itself

Photographer Mike Jiroch

Perhaps the Bradbury Building’s best-known role was in 1982 when it served as a key setting in the movie, Blade Runner.

I (JH) spoke with historians turned filmmakers, Pauline Sarris (PS) and Andrew Kael (AK) about their project to edit together all the visual references to the Bradbury building into a film.

Due to various constraints, the following is a transcript of my interview with them.

JH: What can you tell me about your project?

PS: We got inspired to edit together a collection of film and video clips, along with stills, of the Bradbury Building after seeing Christian Marclay’s video installation, The Clock, in 2010.

AK: We also watched Thom Andersen’s film, Los Angeles Plays Itself, from 2003.

JH: Both of those are so engaging. There’s so much subtlety to them, I think that’s one reason why it’s easy to watch them over-and-over.

PS: Well, at least The Clock for a few hours at a time.

AK: I started watching The Clock in two-hour increments. I’m up to 18 hours at once now.

JH: So, you’ve seen the first two hours nine times, is that how it works?

PS: [laughs]

AK: Yes.

JH: That must do something to your sense of time…

AK:…it does. I don’t wear a watch anymore and I removed all the clocks in the house.

PS: His sense of time now is…

AK: Uncanny.

JH: …with the Bradbury project, you’re planning a supercut…it will be chronological or structured in some other way?

PS: Chronological but we don’t want it to be a wild and rapid montage.

AK: We’re still working on the structure and mostly in analog mode.

PS: Collecting, digitizing material. It’s all still a ways-off and we know there’s more out there for us to include. We’re in the high hundreds with unique appearances.

JH: What can you show me, as far some of the raw materials you have now?

[video editing console]

JH: hmm…Broadway was a dirt road with horses, carriages, a streetcar, when the Bradbury was built. So hard to imagine, but there it is…

AK: It’s easier to work backwards because the truly historical material takes longer to track down and locate the copyright holders, to get permissions and everything else.

PS: So much of the post-war material is already available in some form online, or on VHS, DVD.

AK: Even laser discs.

JH: I’ll try to identify what I’m seeing as the footage plays.

PS: Right now, it’s a little random.

JH: JC Penny’s, Under Armour, Cadillac, Twix, Ray-Ban, Samsung, Remy Martin, Nike, Subway, Sony. CSI, Bosch, The Outer Limits, Glee…Ha. I bet my brother saw that episode. A Russian music video?

AK: Yeah…that’s Egor Kreed with Arina Kuzmina.

JH: Hmm.

AK: There are other music videos…Janet Jackson, Genesis.

PS: Dozens and dozens of films were shot in the building, The White Cliffs of Dover,

AK: …when it played a hospital with soldiers.

PS: DOA, I, The Jury, Double Indemnity, Lethal Weapon, Wolf, Murder in the First, Disclosure, Chinatown, 500 Days of Summer.

JH: Cher!

PS: She filmed a TV special in the building in 1979. Charles Bronson in The Mechanic. Like I say, it’s random right now

AK: We think China Girl from 1943 was the first appearance of the building in a film.

PS: The Artist.

JH: I loved that film.

PS: The building truly has a long visual history. At some point we’ll be adding titles to the Wikipedia page for the building.

JH: There are already many listed on it. Kind of fun to see the various titles and years.

AK: Here are some photographs…

Photographer Julius Shulman (1953). © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).

JH: You know, Disney Hall and Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22 may be the most photographed building exteriors in Los Angeles, but the Bradbury Building may be the most photographed or filmed interior in southern California.

AK: There was an art gallery, called Inner City Art Gallery, on the fifth floor. They also had theatrical performances in the space.

JH: I didn’t know there was an art gallery in the building. Oh…and that’s Ayn Rand and Henry Miller!

PS: This other photograph is of artist Yanco Varda who showed at the gallery.

JH: Any relation to director, Agnes Varda?

PS: Yeah, they were cousins.

JH: This photograph I know. It’s one taken by Julius Shulman. I interviewed Julius several times for different projects. I once asked him, what is your favorite building in Los Angeles. You know what he said?

AK and PS: The Bradbury Building.

JH: Yup. I was surprised. I would have thought something more modern, something more obvious.

PS: He photographed the building three times, in 1953, 1970 and 1980.

JH: Some might say your project is academic, but I think it’s original, creative and certainly fun and interesting. Thanks for talking with me. I’ll look forward to seeing the film.

AK and PS: It’s our pleasure. Come back when we have a rough cut.





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