Why I Go To The Movies Alone: For Paul Pescador

And there it stood for years, stranded like some gargantuan dream beside Sunset Boulevard. Long after Griffith’s great leap into the unknown his Sun Play of the Ages, Intolerance [1916], had failed; long after Belshazzar’s court had sprouted weeds and its walls had begun to peel and warp in abandoned movie-set disarray; after the Los Angeles Fire Department had condemned it as a fire hazard, still it stood: Griffith’s Babylon, something of a reproach and something of a challenge to the burgeoning movie town – something to surpass, something to live down.
– Kenneth Anger, Hollywood Babylon (1959)

In the shorthand of history, Los Angeles and the American film industry expanded exponentially in the 1920s. The symbiosis of real estate speculation, the rise of the automobile, and incessant local boosterism abetted by national advertising campaigns created the conditions under which the population of Los Angeles swelled from roughly 920,000 in 1920 to 2.2 million in 1930. Simultaneously, the word “Hollywood” came to signify a physical place, a mythic ideal, and a geographically dispersed industry with production studios in southern California and financial offices in New York. After World War I, Hollywood emerged as a powerful corporate entity that, according to historian Steven Ross, worked to “expand [its] audience base and increase [its] profits by creating an experience of fantasy designed to attract millions of ‘middle-class’ viewers, while also retaining [the] loyal working class patrons [who bolstered the industry through the war].”1 Using infusions of capital from Wall Street, the industry replaced traditional theaters across the country with opulent movie palaces featuring lavish productions filmed in and around Los Angeles; as seductive advertisements, these films in turn bore upon the urban and cultural development of the city. 2

Situated at the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, and designed by L.A. Smith, an architect who in the twenties designed numerous movie theaters across southern California, Bard’s Hollywood Theater is one such movie palace that opened in 1923. Although the theater’s façade was executed in the regionally popular Mission revival style, its interior adopted the Egyptian revival style that was also used at entrepreneur Sid Grauman’s fantastical 1922 Egyptian Theater nearby on Hollywood Boulevard. Both were inspired by contemporaneous public interest in the discovery and subsequent opening of King Tutankhamen’s tomb a mere few years before. Bard’s Hollywood and the Egyptian demonstrated the industry’s ability to collapse the boundaries between reality and fantasy both on screen and, as with much of Los Angeles’s vernacular built environment, in the very architecture of the theater-going experience. 3 Significantly, Bard’s Hollywood was built on the former site of the lavish, large-scale Babylonian set constructed for director D.W. Griffith’s four-part film Intolerance (1916). The film, too challenging for early twentieth century audiences, was a financial failure, and as a result the set loomed for years over Hollywood until it was torn down for real estate development. Los Angeles legend Kenneth Anger famously identified Griffith’s decaying film set as the beginning of Hollywood’s “purple epoch” of decadence and scandal.

In the late 1920s, Bard’s Hollywood was renamed the Vista Theater. While the theater was designed to attract a normative and affluent middle-class audience in the postwar period, the Vista began to regularly screen pornography (occasionally in 3D, as in the 1977 film Heavy Equipment) sometime in the 1960s. Around the 1980s, the Vista became a second-run revival theater, although some accounts suggest that the theater remained a reliable venue for clandestine encounters in the dark. Perhaps this theater has always been a site for such activity: although writing specifically on early twentieth century New York, historian George Chauncey has observed that American movie palaces of the 1910s and ‘20s “became known as trysting spots for heterosexual couples [and] a few, particularly in less reputable areas, became places where gay men (as well as straight men simply interested in a homosexual encounter) could meet one another.”4

The Vista and its historical import are a generative context for the final iteration of Paul Pescador’s 3, 4, 5, and 8 (2012), which is both a sequel and a remake of his earlier body of work, 1, 1 ½, 2 (2011). Both projects adopt the syntax of cinema and began as a series of constructed images that have in turn generated books, performance, and films. As a whole, they manifest an organized visual system that is structured equally by color and seriality, as well as a predetermined numerical structure framed by found, fictional, or diaristic texts that recount episodes from Pescador’s private life, ranging from amorous relationships, to physical traumas, to the perils of artistic practice.

Like its predecessor, which has been exhibited in different formats and contexts 5, the earliest iteration of 3, 4, 5, and 8 made its first appearance as an exhibition at the University Art Gallery in Irvine. The UAG exhibition included 3 (2012), the first of a four part-film made up of images and texts from Pescador’s books as well as found footage and musical sequences. In it, handmade puppets and dolls stand in as the starring cast, and human performers are concealed by monochromatic body suits. Six months later, 4, 5, and 8—premiering at the Vista—continues (or, perhaps, is a sequel to?) 3. Where 1, 1 ½, 2 in part examined the relationship between two people and the experiences of one in the absence of the other, 3, 4, 5, and 8 considers the affective possibilities of encounters with multiple interlocutors, perhaps as something to surpass, perhaps as something to live down. Enjoy the show.

—Cole Akers, New York, 2012

1. Steven J. Ross, “How Hollywood Became Hollywood” in Tom Sitton and William Deverell, eds., Metropolis in the Making: California in the 1920s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), p. 262.
2. See Anton Wagner, Los Angeles: The Development, Life, and Form of the Southern California Metropolis. Trans. Gavriel D. Rosenfeld (Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1997).
3. See Charles Moore with Peter Becker and Regula Campbell, The City Observed: Los Angeles (New York: Vintage, 1984).
4. George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994), p. 194.
5. An early iteration of 1, 1 1/2, 2 was exhibited as a short film in “Read Window: Daniel Ingroff and Paul Pescador, with a cameo by David Gilbert," Night Gallery, Los Angeles (February 2011); the entirety of the project premiered at Human Resources, Los Angeles (May 14 - June 1, 2011).