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Arts and Entertainment

Short Film Explores How Smog Just Showed Up In Los Angeles In July Of 1943

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Bay of Smokes (The Story of Smog in Los Angeles) is a 21-minute film from Aric Allen. It begins with Allen talking about how the window crank in his daughter's room is broken, meaning she can't open it. This sealed window, and his decisions surrounding it, are revealed bit by bit as he explores the history of smog in Los Angeles. Los Angeles regularly comes in as one of the top cities for pollution in America, and other California cities like Bakersfield and Fresno aren't far behind.

Los Angeles, Allen notes in the film, has always been hazy. When Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, an explorer for the Spanish crown, and his fleet came up on it in 1542, he referred to it as the "Bay of the Smoke." Historian Nathan Masters writes that perhaps Cabrillo saw smoke rising from fires used by the Tongva villages for cooking, or perhaps this was at a point when the Santa Ana winds had stirred up a fire. Allen narrates in favor of the former.

On July 8, 1943, Los Angeles became smoggy for the first time as we know it. "The summer sun cooked up an ozone soup that suddenly gushed into view, ready to be consumed," he says in the film.

Angelenos didn't get what smog was back then, and didn't realize they'd created it themselves. At this point, the U.S. was still at war with the Axis Powers, and some believed that the Japanese had launched some kind of chemical attack.

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"I couldn't get my mind around the fact that not only did smog just show up one day in July 1943, but the residents of Los Angeles spent the next ten years arguing about who was attacking us with this pollution," Allen tells LAist. "This [film] is my attempt at understanding how Angelenos could have been so blind to its actual source."

The meandering history lesson also takes us through the discovery of oil on a wealthy heiress' coastal property, and that old extraterrestrial conspiracy favorite, the Battle of Los Angeles.

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