SxSW 2012: The Violet Crown Theater

Outside the restricted area to the east of Congress Street there are several theaters that are part of the film festival; unfortunately, only one is within walking distance. There was supposed to have been a shuttle bus between the Convention Center and the Alamo Lamar multiplex, but whenever I took a look, it wasn’t there.

A couple of others were miles and miles away, and didn’t have the promise of a shuttle bus, so I ignored them. That left the Violet Crown Cinema (434 W. 2nd St) -- a tiny venue with four microscopic screening rooms and a concession stand six blocks west of the Convention Center.

I had an express ticket for a documentary on the history of Sunset Strip in LA, which is going to celebrate its centennial this year, so getting there a half an hour early was clearly an option. However, when I got there, I was told that the theater was full. But it wasn’t.

They had decided that the line was long enough, and even though I was supposed to be able to cut in the front of the line, they decided it wouldn’t be very nice to the people who had gotten there earlier. However, they did put me first on the waiting list. After stewing a while (I waited a hell of a long time early in the morning to get the damn thing) I was told there were a few free seats, and on getting in, I was shocked to discover the place slightly more than half full.

I hate when that happens.

Hans Fjellestad’s Sunset Strip is a straightforward history of what for the most part is Los Angeles’ main drag, from it’s beginnings as a glorified cowpath a century ago, through it’s glory days in the 1930s through the ‘50s, and it’s brief decline and revival in the mid ‘60s and various declines and revivals since. The interviews get more and more diverse as the filmmaker manages to find more people who aren’t dead. Still we learn lots about places like the Garden of Allah (who was an actress, not the Muslim God) and the "House of Francis," the classiest brothel in all California, before going on to places like Ciro’s and it’s successor, the Comedy Cellar.

With a cast that encompasses all Hollywood in all its eras, this film cannot help but fascinate. The closing credits recapitulate the entire film in animation, which is almost as good as the rest of the film.