Showing posts with label My Los Angeles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label My Los Angeles. Show all posts

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Los Angeles Gamer Gallery: A New Series at Advanced Dungeons and Parenting

Los Angeles Gamer Gallery is a series of posts discussing the Los Angeles gaming community and some of the wonderful people who play and promote games in Tinseltown and abroad.

Why the Los Angeles Area?

Though the Los Angeles area has long been a vibrant part of the role playing game community, it is often overlooked in histories of the hobby. In my experience the Midwest and Bay Area tend to dominate histories and discussions of the people involved in the promotion of the hobby, because TSR and Chaosium. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I took a few days to drive around the area to seek out game stores and gaming groups. I had expected to find some, but not too many. After all, Los Angeles is a big city with a lot of distractions, beautiful weather, and all sorts of entertainments. Such a place didn't seem to me to be a good growth environment for people who gather around a table to tell collaborative stories. Okay that should read, "to gather around a table to tell collaborative stories without money being involved," as a large part of Los Angeles' economy is based on sitting around tables and coming up with stories collaboratively. I expected hard core gaming to develop in small towns with long winters, where people are looking for constructive things to do with their time that have to take place indoors.

Yes, those were my assumptions. Yes, they are overly reductive and bad assumptions. But I came from a small town with cold winters, and those were my assumptions. What I quickly discovered was that the Los Angeles area had a rich gaming community, one that has been central to several developments in the gaming hobby.

Shortly after the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game was created, members of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society began playing the game and writing about it in their long running fanzine APA-L. In 1975, authors of APA-L branched out to create Alarums & Excursions under the editorship of Lee Gold. Alarums & Excursions is one of the most influential, if not THE most influential, fanzine in gaming.
  1. It was gamers at Aero Hobbies who created the Thief class for D&D in 1974. 
  2. Students at CalTech played a version of the game called Warlock that was published by Balboa Game Company. 
  3. John Eric Holmes, a professor at USC, wrote the first Basic Set of D&D and in his book Fantasy Roleplaying Games can be seen playing D&D at Long Beach's War House game store.
  4. While Superhero 2044 is the first published superhero role playing game Jay and Aimee Hartlove's Supergame was the first point build superhero rpg that was fully playable out of the book. Like Champions, the Hartlove's work is clearly inspired by Superhero 2044 in how its combat system works.
Southern California influenced the early days of the hobby and remains the home to a vibrant and innovative gaming community to this day. I'll leave discussion of Southern California's place in the history of games to those who already make it their career to document gaming history, what I want to do with the Los Angeles Gamer Gallery is to write short posts that highlight members of the community who inspire or intrigue me.

My first post, which will be posted shortly after this one, will be David Nett. I chose David because he exemplifies the way a lot of Southern California gamers incorporate their gaming experience into their lives in interesting ways.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Funicular is Fun to Say: Waiting to Ride Angel's Flight Isn't

Last month Cinerati was chatting with Kevin Roderick of LA Observed about the various hidden treasures that can be found in Los Angeles. Eventually, the conversation turned to Los Angeles' famous funicular Angel's Flight. The funicular has been closed since February 1, 2001 after an accident resulted in one death and 7 injuries, but it has been an iconic LA landmark featured in a number of films and television shows. One might argue that no visit to LA is complete without a quick ride up the funicular.

Sadly, Cinerati has never had the chance to ride this historically important attraction. We have desired to ride the funicular since seeing the Burt Lancaster noir film CRISS CROSS, and the 1955 version of KISS ME DEADLY, in both films the inclusion of the funicular added greater verisimilitude to the atmosphere of the film.

Cinerati moved down to Los Angeles in August of 2000 and by the time we had settled into the city and could make the time to visit the funicular, it had been closed down due to the aforementioned accident. Thankfully, this may soon be remedied. According to LA Downtown News, the famous funicular might open "soon." How long soon is isn't exactly clear, but one can guess it is less than the 8 years we have already waited to ride the contraption. In a city as automobile centric as Los Angeles is, there is something special about being able to take a quick ride on something that has been around since 1901.

Note: The image at the start of this article is from the 1955 version of KISS ME DEADLY. The screen capture came from Electric Earl's ANGEL'S FLIGHT IN THE MOVIES PAGE. Check out the page and buy Images of America Angel's Flight book.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hope and Terror: Denise Hamilton Hit My Literary Radar

"Genre fiction is addictive," so wrote Joyce Carol Oates in her introduction to Tales of H. P. Lovecraft (P.S.). This simple maxim explains why so many fans of SF and Fantasy have piles upon piles of books that they will never read. It also explains why I didn't know who Denise Hamilton was when I saw this blog entry on the excellent LA Observed this morning, and why the name seemed hauntingly familiar. Five books down on my "noir pile," just under The Dain Curse, lies a book with the simple title Los Angeles Noir (Akashic Noir) edited by -- you guessed it -- Denise Hamilton.

If not for that aforementioned blog entry, the name may never have become a highlighted name in my mind. Her introduction in LOS ANGELES NOIR -- as well as her story -- are quite good, but neither would have left me gasping for more by this local modern noir author. But the blog entry had me rushing over to my local independent bookstore, The Village Bookshop, in the hopes of picking up her latest novel The Last Embrace. And it wasn't because of the time travel restaurant tour the author went on with the blogger at EATING LA. Which isn't to say I wouldn't like to do such a tour, just that a restaurant tour isn't going to get me to buy a book...unless it's a restaurant tour book.

What struck me was the phrase, from the EATING LA post quoted in the Observed piece, "But she also incorporated a fascinating plotline about stop-motion animation, inspired by the work of Ray Harryhausen." I re-read that sentence no fewer than five times. I am a huge Harryhausen fan, as anyone who read my November 2005 post stocking-stuffers or this comment on stop motion animation knows. So hearing that a book, taking place in 1949, featured a plotline involving stop-motion animation instantly set my interest-o-meter over 9000. (It's posts like this Hamilton piece that make LA Observed the first place I look for news about Los Angeles.)

Denise Hamilton's most recent book, the one discussed in the blog entries, is THE LAST EMBRACE. The author's official website describes the book as follows:

Lily Kessler, a former stenographer and spy for the OSS, is asked by her late fiance's mother to find out what happened to his sister Kitty, an actress who has been missing from her Hollywood boarding house. Although the aspiring starlets at the house insist that Kitty is off somewhere furthering her career, the next day her body is found in a ravine below the Hollywood sign. Unimpressed with the local police, Lily investigates on her own. As she delves further into Kitty's life, she encounters fiercely competitive actors, gangsters, an eccentric special-effects genius, exotic denizens of Hollywood's nightclubs and a homicide detective who might distract her from her quest for justice.

By this description alone I would likely have eventually stumbled onto the novel. I like reading Noir stories about the city in which I live. I have made a trip to the Glendale train station merely see the depot from the film version of DOUBLE INDEMNITY. In my eight years in the Los Angeles area, I have come to love this most noir of cities -- okay...if you're a die hard Hammett fan it might be San Francisco, or Butte if you think all Hammett except RED HARVEST is trivial -- and I am constantly looking for more fiction that points me into the "shadows created by the Hollywood sign." Or to put it like Denise Hamilton did in her introduction to LOS ANGELES NOIR, "Writers like James Cain, Dorothy B. Hughes, Nathanael West, Chester Himes, and Raymond Chandler understood both the hope and the terror that Los Angeles inspires." I might even have picked the book up at some time during the next few months to place on the bottom of the pile of books I mentioned earlier. But after reading her website's description of the things that inspired the book, it's going right on top. I'll be reading it as soon as I finish NIGHTMARE TOWN. Reading the inspirations was like seeing a collage of many of my favorite obsessions.

  1. Then one day while researching Hollywood's Golden Age, I ran across an L.A. Times story by Cecilia Rasmussen about Jean Spangler, a Hollywood starlet who vanished without a trace in October of 1949. (Who that loves LA stories doesn't like tales of vanished starlets?)
  2. She'd partied in Palm Springs with two associates of LA gangster Mickey Cohen who also disappeared mysteriously that fall. (Gotta have that local mob connection)
  3. It soon emerged that Jean had just filmed a movie with Kirk Douglas.(Star of ACE IN THE HOLE, a noir classic)
  4. I had the great good fortune, around this time, to meet the legendary Ray Harryhausen. With his mentor Willis O'Brien, Harryhausen pioneered stop motion animation. Harryhausen was 86 and hale and hearty when I interviewed him at Dark Delicacies Bookstore in Burbank and learned what the special effects world was like in 1949, the year "Mighty Joe Young" came out.(I had to read this sentence twice...interviewing Harryhausen over food? How cool is that?)
  5. Thanks to the generosity of Chiodo Brothers Productions, especially Stephen Chiodo, I also toured an animation studio and watched stop-motion in progress and was greatly impressed by the painstaking detail, dedication and artistry involved.(I would certainly do a happy dance if I were able to watch the animators of the stop motion animated sequence in ELF at work...oh and they are also working on the sequel to the amazing LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA entitled THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN.)

This perfect storm of interests made this a must read for me. I only hope the book can live up to the hype my sub-conscious has produced. The reviews of the book have been positive, though Booklist asks the absurd question "Ellroy meets women's fiction? Why not?" Has the reviewer at Booklist never heard of Leigh Brackett -- co-author of the screenplays to THE BIG SLEEP and RIO BRAVO and author of the screenplay to THE LONG GOODBYE, not to mention quite the pulp writer herself.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Casanegra and "The Jungle"

Last night I began reading Casanegra by Blair Underwood (with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes), in preparation for an event at the Glendora Library this weekend. I have been a fan of Blair Underwood as an actor, and Steven Barnes as a writer, for some time, which is why I have picked up a book that is outside my routine.

If my reading patterns were hiking trails, the genre hiking trail containing Casanegrafor would be fairly overgrown from lack of passage. I don't read a lot of "straight" mystery stories. When I do read a mystery it tends to fall into one of three categories. They are either extraordinarily noir like a James Ellroy novel, science fiction/fantasy related like Steven Brust's Jhereg books, or "literary" like The Moonstone. Thankfully this book falls into the first category (noir) and takes place in one of my favorite noir cities, Los Angeles.

Those of you who listen to my online radio show probably know that when I read or watch something that takes place in Los Angeles, I really want it feel like it takes place in the city where I live. I don't like things that make Los Angeles look too glitzy, or that overlook the dark sides of the city. I also don't like things that make the darker elements of the city look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Neither is true. Los Angeles is a wonderfully complex urban environment that has a lot to offer a storyteller and a reader/viewer. I have come to love this city and its neighbors, even though (or likely because) my first five years in Los Angeles were spent in the Baldwin Village section of the Crenshaw district. I often describe Los Angeles as a geode. It looks rough on the outside, but when you crack it open you find some pretty wonderful stuff.

I am only a third of the way through Casanegra, but I can already tell that it does in fact take place in the "city I live in." But I did encounter one little bump along the way, and it happened very early. The book describes one of the characters in the following way, [she] "had more brokers on her speed-dial than a girl from the Baldwin Hills "Jungle" had any right to fantasize about." I had to do a quick double take. From my understanding, "Baldwin Hills" is the more affluent area just West of La Brea, whereas Baldwin Village, "The Jungle," is the area East of La Brea is the thoroughly gang dominated neighborhood where I used to live.

If you click on the map below you will be directed to a larger image where you can see three arrows. The green arrow is the intersection of Hillcrest and Martin Luther King Jr. which, according to Wikipedia, marks the center of "the Jungle." You can also see La Brea, as a dividing line, on the far west of the map.
Baldwin Village was not very far from Culver City, where my wife and I went to mass, but the environments were night and day. I still believe that the inner city grocery stores are given lower quality produce and dairy products.

The purple arrow along Rodeo Road is the location of my old apartment, the track across the street is Dorsey High School.

The red arrow marks the location where the body of the Black Dahlia was discovered, it is about two blocks away from the Krispy Kreme on Crenshaw across the street from the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall.

It was after checking the map and reading up on what "exactly" is considered The Jungle that I overcame my little speed bump. I think it would be fair to say that since the "Baldwin Hills" mall is in the Jungle that one might imagine someone referring to the area as Baldwin Hills instead of Baldwin Village. So I was able to jump back into the book and continue my walk along the path. I do have some stories regarding my experience living in the area, but most of those will have to wait for another time. Needless to say, watching Remember the Titans early on a Wednesday afternoon at the Magic Johnson theaters is not on the list of wise choices I have made, but it was a choice I was glad to have made.