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LAist Interview: William Jones

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William Jones is an experimental filmmaker and photographer. While he primarily focuses on issues of gay identity, he's always keen to document his fascination with film and music subcultures. In 2004, he made the film Is It Really So Strange, a documentary about the SoCal subculture of Morrissey devotees. William's work has been displayed all over the world, including England, Brazil, Austria, Slovenia and Singapore. An exhibit of his videos will open at David Kordansky Gallery on June 2, 2006.

Age and Occupation:
43, filmmaker and educator

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in:
I have lived here almost 20 years, most of it in Silverlake. The homeowners association calls my neighborhood "Franklin Hills'" but I don't live on a hill.

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Why do you live in Los Angeles?
Partly inertia, partly interest, mostly because I am extremely homesick when I am away for more than a few days.

What is your latest project about?
The marginalia of gay adult films made before 1985, chiefly non-sexual scenes and establishing shots. They reveal a whole history not readily available: what the hustler strip in Hollywood looked like in the 1970's, how guys looked back then, hippy parties in Venice Beach... a whole world before real estate inflation and grim AIDS realities.

Photo credit: Wild Don Lewis

What is uniquely "LA" about the arts scene now?
Los Angeles is the least provincial art scene in the U. S. There are lots of artists here, but not quite enough art institutions to support them well.

The result is that the moment someone obtains recognition, he or she starts getting on planes to go where the exhibits and recognition are. The result is a scene of artists with truly international perspectives. I recently returned from a trip to the East Coast, and I was amazed at the nearly all-white audiences for many arts events. That rarely happens in Los Angeles. Even at the opera, the crowd is much less stuffy, and there are quite a few people of color in attendance.

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This is another way that Los Angeles resists the provincial. It takes longer to achieve success in the art world if one lives in Los Angeles. Most of the critical discourse still comes from New York, and the vast majority of American art is sold there, so people on the West Coast are not available for the kind of career trajectory that disposes of generations of artists. (1. Who is Jack Smith?; 2. Get me Jack Smith; 3. Get me a Jack Smith type; 4. Who is Jack Smith?) This gives Los Angeles artists greater career longevity, or merely a lingering obscurity, both of which are more desirable than living with the stigma of everyone thinking they understand your art completely and do not need to hear anything more from you.

Is there any LA artist whose work excites you and why?
Mark Flores, whose beautiful drawing based on a male physique photo appears in my movie "Is It Really So Strange?"

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?
L A Plays Itself by Fred Halsted, Killer of Sheep by Charles Burnett, The Exiles by Kent MacKenzie — all independent films making use of the city in ways that official Hollywood productions cannot. I don't watch TV.

Best LA-themed book(s)?
I just go out my door! I spend almost all my time reading books that take place elsewhere.

What's the best place to walk in LA?
Hollywood, since public transportation is so convenient there, and most of what one needs is accessible to pedestrians. (Fifteen years ago, I would have said Silverlake, and in a few years, I may change my answer to Koreatown.)

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If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?
It would have been great to have lived here during the heyday of punk, which I missed by about a decade.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Downtown, which is so diverse and complex that it defies any individual's understanding. Parts of it are incredibly creepy, but more human experiences are available a few blocks away. Whatever is horribly wrong with this city is seen there in stark relief. That's what the center of a city is, I suppose.

If you were forced to live in a neighboring county, which would you choose? Ventura County is a wussy answer.
I am a wuss, then. I have family in Ventura County, and I would be tempted to move closer to them. I prefer the Santa Clara River Valley to the 101 corridor.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
I'd live in a Craftsman bungalow on a quiet street in Hollywood.

Outsiders often stereotype Los Angeles as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?
I do think socializing here is a challenge, but the solitude produces a special kind of art, and that suits me well. If I lived in New York, I would probably make a very different (less interesting, less idiosyncratic) type of work.

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What is the city's greatest secret?
To outsiders, that it is possible to live here without a car. I do. It takes a long time to go anywhere, but I don't experience traffic psychosis, and I have a great excuse for avoiding social obligations I'd rather not have.

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?
I hope you enjoy your winters. We enjoy ours.

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?
Yes, just bolt the bookshelves to the wall, and don't put your record collection over your bed.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
Pushing up daisies in a local cemetery.