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  •  REVIEW: TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES



    Twilight: Los Angeles

    The fire last time

    Anna Deavere Smith's brilliant one-woman show "Twilight: Los Angeles" — now a film — holds a mirror up to America in a documentary-style exploration of the 1992 L.A. riots.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    Leave it to a Hollywood agent to describe the horrors of the 1992 Los Angeles riots this way: "The violence! The destruction! The terror! I mean, I have never seen a movie like that!" You can almost see him shopping the movie rights.

      
    TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES
    Directed by: Marc Levin.
    Written by: Anna Deavere Smith.
    Cast: Anna Deavere Smith.
    Cinematography: Maryse Alberti and Joan Churchill.

    Related links: Official site
    This moment from Anna Deavere Smith's "Twilight: Los Angeles" so perfectly describes the cauldron of conflicting emotions that boiled over in the aftermath of the Rodney King police trial. Americans in and out of L.A. watched the torching of that city with a mixture of anguish and exhilaration that only Smith's amazing work has captured.

    In the aftermath of the riots (and again after the Crown Heights riots in New York), Smith developed a whole new kind of theater in which she explored every aspect of the story through interviews with hundreds of people involved, then skillfully told many of the people's stories in their own voices. Her stunning one-woman shows — in which she assumes characters from self-satisfied middle-aged white men to angry young black men to a devastated Korean woman — humanized the events of 1992 and let us begin to understand what in the American psyche created this tragedy. And this new film of her performance loses none of its impact, even after eight years.

    Twilight: Los Angeles

    Some of these characters, as you would expect, have suffered immensely from the riots, including a Korean woman whose shopkeeper husband was shot, a pregnant woman who was shot, and a mother whose daughter's death contributed to racial tension before the riots. And some have suffered in unexpected ways, like a depressed juror who recalls being ambushed, as police hustled him out of the courthouse, by a reporter who shouted, "Why are you hanging your head in shame? Do you know that people are dying and buildings are burning in South L.A. because of you?"

    And there are others who voice a certain sense of excitement that we sometimes forget surrounded the riots. After years of urban neglect and official contempt, the riots finally brought the attention of Reagan-Bush America to the nation's deteriorating race relations; they finally put the rage of the nation's ghettos in the one place that really matters: on TV. We see people on both sides who seek to capitalize on these events. Rep. Maxine Waters proclaims, "The fact is, whether we like it or not, the riot is the voice of the unheard!" And Charlton Heston recalls his shining moment sitting gleefully in his home in the hills while (he claims) scared Tinseltown liberals called frantically to borrow guns. Heston gloats: "My friend, . . . a screenwriter, said, 'Nope, they're all being used!' "

    We also see clearly the roots of racism, violence and indifference among whites, like a police official who wishes cops could use a killer chokehold that's now banned, and among blacks, including one who says Koreans are "like roaches." Most shocking, a rioter shamelessly boasts of helping to beat truck driver Reginald Denny into a coma and then compares himself to giants of the civil-rights struggle for his achievement.

    There is much, much more fascinating material in "Twilight: Los Angeles," including stories of compassion and courage, and words of almost poetic truth and beauty. As a play, this was already one of the most exciting pieces of theater of our time. The film is every bit as gripping, and it invites us to understand the minds of the complex people behind the news — and our collective psyche as Americans. You won't see a better movie this year.

    OCTOBER 10, 2000
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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