To Live and Die in L.A.

To Live and Die in L.A.
Credits: IMDb

Originally published on Letterboxd on 16/12/22

Ain't nothing but muthafuckin' paper

Hadn't seen this in years, so I was concerned that a favourite of mine (as well as both my introduction to the steely visage of William Petersen and the first time Friedkin really clicked for me as a filmmaker) wouldn't hold up. Glad to say that not only does this hold up as his best film, but the jaggedness of the cuts here renders every turn of the head a moment of creeping dread. Documenting cracked roads and abandoned warehouses is of course a conscious effort to strip away any beauty from its neon-hued interiors, but beyond that it also establishes landscapes so barren and empty that they act as mere canvases for the reproduction of identity in much the same way as Dafoe's entire operation necessitates the destruction of everything except replication. Counterfeit money, counterfeit people.

The car chase is the only point at which there exists the notion of life beyond the boundaries of an adrenaline rush, and even then, it is only because of the sheer scale of movement that the ontological shell of The Mission surrounding Petersen is shattered- the writhing, serpentine mass of steel and smoke winding down the streets of LA is disrupted from the security of procedure by the notion that at any point, someone on the highway could decide to endanger everyone's lives by simply turning the wrong way. Wrong place, wrong time.

Less sure of how to describe the almost gothic proceedings of the third act (or at least whatever semblance of an "act" is left in something this unbroken in its rhythms), which seems to draw so heavily from the self-contained apocalypse conjured in the depression-era LA novel. So much attention is paid to the oddities of musculature under the glow of moonlight and fire, fire-and-brimstone cycles of vengeance and legacy, legacy imposed necessarily by the destruction of the damned via immolation and dying howls. Whatever it is, it is as haunting as the film's textures are entrancing.

Also: this would probably make a great pair with New Rose Hotel- sweaty, sensual collections of simultaneous euphoria and loss under the laziness of dawn, propelling an almost alien performance by Dafoe into a whirlwind of late-capitalist transactionalism and decay.