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[FILM] Spike Lee/John Ridley's 1992 L.A. Riots Film

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  • madchinaman
    Building a mosaic of the 1992 L.A. riots By Jay A. Fernandez, Special to The Times http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2006
      Building a mosaic of the 1992 L.A. riots
      By Jay A. Fernandez, Special to The Times
      http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-
      scriptland13dec13,1,6298743,full.story


      On April 29, 1992, a furious seizure gripped Los Angeles and shook it
      violently for four terrifying days. John Ridley, then a recent New
      York transplant, spent much of that time quarantined in his Fairfax
      district neighborhood, where he huddled on street corners with
      petrified neighbors and denied rides to white friends looking for his
      protection. (As a black man he felt no safer from the random
      brutality and rioting.) An attempt to escape via LAX was thwarted by
      the unrelenting chaos, and he ultimately had to turn back through the
      charred and broken cityscape.

      Ridley has spent the last year researching and reliving that historic
      convulsion, which left 54 people dead and $1 billion in property
      damage in its wake, for a screenplay tentatively called "L.A. Riots"
      that Spike Lee is attached to direct for producer Brian Grazer at
      Imagine Entertainment.

      Lee and Ridley had previously been developing a law enforcement drama
      called "The Night Watchman," for which Ridley had been researching
      the Los Angeles Police Department and its Rampart Division scandal.
      When that movie stalled a year ago, Lee asked Ridley to write a
      script for a film about the riots, so Ridley expanded his research,
      dug up reams of documentation and tracked down some of the people who
      were affected at the street level.

      But the knotty multiethnic cultural history of Los Angeles pointed to
      something more comprehensive — a film with a scope more like Anna
      Deavere Smith's documentary play "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992," which
      was made into a TV movie in 2001.

      Rather than merely focus on the 1992 riots, Ridley's suspenseful
      script begins with a prelude about the Watts riots of 1965 and then
      highlights notable aspects of the complex racial and political
      environment — the murder of black, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by a
      Korean American liquor store owner two weeks after the Rodney G. King
      beating, the maneuverings that went into moving the trial of the
      police officers accused of beating King to a courthouse in Simi
      Valley, the ominous but ignored warnings police officers were
      delivering to their superiors, the National Guard's lack of
      preparedness — that allowed that explosive rage to sweep through the
      city again 27 years later.

      "The idea is to try to get as accurate a picture of how this happened
      as I can," Ridley says. "Beyond race and the hot-button issues, it's
      just these little things together that allow for chaos. It was a
      Katrina-type systemic failure. Literally and figuratively, it wasn't
      just a black and white problem."

      Public figures such as LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates and Mayor Tom
      Bradley are referenced, but mostly the film will follow ordinary
      Angelenos affected by the public outrage triggered by the acquittal
      of the four white officers who beat King. "It's not 'Crash,' where
      these individuals all weave in and out of each other's storylines,"
      Ridley says. "It's more of a mosaic."

      Both Lee and Ridley have well-earned reputations for being
      provocateurs.

      Lee's most recent film was his pointed HBO Hurricane Katrina
      documentary, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts." And
      Ridley is a novelist ("Love Is a Racket," "A Conversation With the
      Mann"), screenwriter ("Undercover Brother," "U Turn") and TV writer
      ("Third Watch") who lately has gone very public with his feelings
      about race in controversial essays for HuffingtonPost.com, Time and
      Esquire.

      But Ridley insists that provocation is beside the point when telling
      a story with such deep reverberations.

      "To me this story is so real and so true that you don't need to go
      out of your way to be provocative," he says. "There's a level of
      balance in that everybody is a little embarrassed, everybody is a
      little outraged."

      *

      Raising a glass to great imbibers

      Do L.A. writers still drink?

      Thursday night in the cozy glow of the Bar Marmont, screenwriter Mark
      Bailey unfurled a detailed dissertation on how writers in different
      major cities court this most intoxicating of authorial accouterments.
      Strangely, he was not holding a drink at the time.

      (My own observations of friends and colleagues lead me to the
      conclusion that, yes, many do enjoy a tipple now and then. But only
      when reading, smoking, despairing, talking, thinking, eating or on
      deadline.)

      The occasion for Bailey's musings on regional imbibition was a book
      party celebrating the publication of "Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending
      Guide to Great American Writers," written by Bailey, a TV and
      documentary writer who's currently adapting the Michael Ondaatje
      novel "Coming Through Slaughter" for the big screen, and illustrated
      by Edward Hemingway, the grandson of one of the most distinguished
      writer-drinker hyphenates of all time.

      Witty and refreshing as one of Fitzgerald's gin rickeys, the slim
      tome highlights 43 famous American writers with each short chapter
      consisting of:

      One part personal anecdote.

      One part drink-besotted excerpt from the writer's work.

      Half-part short bio.

      It's all topped off with a jazzy drink recipe and garnished with a
      playful caricature by Hemingway, whose art has appeared in the New
      York Times, GQ and Gourmet.

      The book, of course, includes legendary sousers who were also
      screenwriters, such as William Faulkner ("The Big Sleep," "To Have
      and Have Not"), F. Scott Fitzgerald ("Three Comrades"), Dorothy
      Parker ("A Star Is Born"), John Steinbeck ("The Red Pony," "Viva
      Zapata!") and Jim Thompson ("The Killing," "Paths of Glory"). But
      noir master Raymond Chandler ("Double Indemnity," "Strangers on a
      Train") is the owner and protagonist of possibly the best drunk-
      screenwriter story ever told, which Bailey recounts in his book.

      Beware that merely reading this could induce a hangover:

      In 1945, Paramount's biggest star, Alan Ladd, was summoned back to
      the war and had only 12 weeks before departure. Chandler, who had a
      deal at the studio, volunteered to complete a screenplay for a noir
      he was working on called "The Blue Dahlia" in which Ladd could star
      with Veronica Lake. But two weeks into shooting, the crushing time
      pressure and a sudden mandate from the studio to come up with a new
      ending forced Chandler into a terrible blockage.

      In desperation, he told his producer and friend John Houseman that
      the only way he could finish the script in time would be if he — a
      now-sober but once world-class boozer — selflessly flung himself off
      the wagon. In a moment of justly canonized screenwriter chutzpah,
      Chandler persuaded the anxious studio to agree to let him work from
      home with two waiting limos ready to run script pages, a doctor on
      call to inject him with vitamins since he wouldn't be eating, and six
      secretaries to take rotating dictation 24 hours a day while he drank
      himself into a perpetual, and theoretically creative, stupor.

      Although there are conflicting accounts that claim Chandler had
      already relapsed and used this whole ruse simply to buy some time,
      his complete obliteration has never been in question. It certainly
      showed in the script. According to Tom Hiney's 1997 Chandler
      biography, the Production Code originally rejected the script for,
      among other things, 13 excessive references to alcohol.

      Here's the punch line: Chandler's screenplay for "The Blue Dahlia"
      was nominated for an Oscar.

      An impressive feat for a man who once said through one of his bare-
      knuckled pulp detectives: "I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy
      who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard."
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