Watch the exclusive premiere of Gharnasi's love letter to LA River’s longest bridge.
Still from “6;” Starring Breanna Box and King Monster, 2015.
You might not think LA has a majestic river studded with ornate bridges but you’ve definitely seen it before. That epic car race in Grease? Kanye’s original version of the Jesus Walks video? Pharrell's Happy? All filmed at the LA River. The arresting bridges have always been an important cultural backdrop.
Among them, the Sixth Street Viaduct is superlative, with its loopy V-shaped steel frame. The longest of the river’s historical crossings, it is also the most tragic: built in 1932, it has been in the terminal stages of concrete cancer for years, liable to crumble in the next earthquake. Its demolition begins February 5th at 10pm, to be replaced by a flashy, $420 million homage designed by Michael Maltzan Architects.
For a city currently undergoing radical change itself, the destruction of an ill-constructed infrastructure becomes symbolic in its replacement by something that is an image of its old self, though newer and more expensive. LA feels nostalgia now, and has to grapple with the existential weight of big decisions. Simultaneously, the preponderance of certain outsize (read: rich) voices hell-bent on keeping the city in its post-WWII straightjacket, hints at an old way of life not willing to go quietly. Maybe they fear the same thing we do: a sense of inevitability cloaked by something we can’t see or control. The bridge’s demise, like our own, is non-negotiable.
In times of uncertainty, we turn to art, which brings us to Gharnasi and their film on the Viaduct, 6. Filmed in collaboration with clothing label nolabel.sc, their lyric to the span is couched as the semantic opposite of a “Dear John” letter, written from the point of view of the personified 7th Street bridge 1500 feet downriver, refusing to let his dear love go.
Premiering exclusively on The Creators Project below, the work by the mercurial duo of LA natives Devin Gharakhanian and Mohamed Bensasi, is a multisensory experience focusing on what is a seminal moment for the city, the living history of today’s LA, on the eve of inevitable change. The film, too, orchestrated as a group effort by young, urban-minded Angelenos, perhaps presages what might yet come: a sense of this place being somewhere other than everywhere else.
On the eve of demolition day, we talked to Gharnasi about their background in architecture, budgets, and inspirations:
The Creators Project: How did this project came into being?
Gharnasi: We were asked by Jai&Jai Gallery and LA Forum to screen a film for an exhibition. We decided to create a site-specific piece about the Sixth Street Viaduct itself; it was an opportunity to make an experimental documentary about and for the most famous bridge no one knows about a month before its demolition.
Are there architects who inspire your films? And filmmakers who inspire your architecture?
We are never overwhelmingly inspired by architects to produce either architecture or films; we find profound inspiration through filmmakers, artists, and new media creatives. Stanley Kubrick, Matthew Barney, and Gasper Noe have absolutely delighted us with nontraditional and abstract ways of constructing narratives through film or architecture. Architects we respect like Bernard Tschumi or Rem Koolhaas, who understand the connection between architecture and film … (they) have indirectly inspired our work (too), allowing us to think of different ways to analogize architecture and use our training in a cross disciplinary fashion.
In fact, in architecture school, both our (thesis) projects were essentially films, just camouflaged through the required representation types. Imagining spaces, scenes, and moments in action ultimately seeded our design projects: it was always the experience of the space we were after, not its required function, assembly, or structure. So it wasn’t a surprise when we separately both made films to represent our architecture projects in school.
What’s it like to make a movie with no budget?
“No budget” sounds limiting, but actuality, it allows a sense of freedom, inventiveness, imperfection, and if lucky, the inevitable failure (that) might just resonate with some magic. That’s one of the underlying reasons why we like film in contrast to architecture, because budgets are amenities not necessities. All you need is a story, that your mind develops for free, and a camera you borrow from a friend. The rest is manageable. We only had six weeks to write, direct, and produce this piece, (not to mention) find the tools, people, and time to put it all together for the exhibition screening.
One of the major lessons learned from making a “no budget” film was to be extremely clever, flexible, and resourceful. This project gave us a chance to collaborate with local LA creatives who are also starting out and looking to produce meaningful work: fashion designers, musicians, performance artists, film operators.
What was it like to work with a homeless person and have them become a critical part of your film?
We knew early on this was a vulnerable situation that would be an experience in itself. We worked to get to know King Monster (the narrator of the film) on a more personal level so we developed a real, strong bond and trust with one another. We wanted to help him and he wanted to help us. (He’s) someone unknown and invisible from the world; we wanted people to hear him, see him, and fall in love along with him, as we did.
Over the years, we met with him so often inside his “club” (on the 7th Street Bridge) that we felt as if we were home, too. He would share countless life lessons, intense stories about Vietnam (he’s a veteran) and spiritual talk over a couple beers. King Monster became not only part of our lives but started influencing them, too.
For more on Gharnasi, see their website.