Simultaneously adaptive and original, the music video lays claim to both sources of inspiration through disjunctive unity and its own originality. Is this a Didion adaptation, a distinct music video for Kahane’s song, or a Lewis Klahr video? Like the lead character in all three forms, LA maintains this wonderful, contradictory status.
by James Hansen
Adapted for Gabriel Kahane's single "LA" and based on Joan Didion's novel Play It As It Lays, Lewis Klahr's music video LA echoes the soft repetition of Kahane's song as it quietly reflects upon the larger narrative of Didion's novel. (You can view the video here). Klahr’s work may be the third element of connective tissue here, yet its unique assemblage harmonizes origin and adaptation by placing them in direct dialogue with one another. At the same time, Klahr’s LA is a dual adaptation of each dialogic element thereby becoming its own link in this inspired chain. Simultaneously adaptive and original, the music video lays claim to both sources of inspiration through disjunctive unity and its own originality. Is this a Didion adaptation, a distinct music video for Kahane’s song, or a Lewis Klahr video? Like the lead character in all three forms, the video maintains this wonderful, contradictory status.
Beginning with a highway of unsettled lights, a blonde woman drives. If not on the road, she sits in various rooms staring towards an out of focus television, busily rotating a tuning signal. The object is so unsettled it fails to serve its own function – providing a proper image. A shot of loose, dangling keys puts the woman back on the road. Shuffling through an endless array of cars and flashes of newspaper clippings, she seems to settle, briefly, near City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
As Kahane begins to sing (“The color wheel and the western sky...”), Klahr's video fades to black then comes back to the same location. The black-and-white female figure enters the scene. She arrives in a split plan – the corner of the Klahr’s cutout of the building creates a harsh black line, separating her from the landscape. A dangling tree limb on the right side of the plane nearly matches her eyeline. Hidden from view behind this figurative tree, she recedes behind the picture plane as she moves toward the building, disappearing into an invisible, non-existent (perhaps psychic) space beyond the city. (“The reflection of a stranger in a strange fluorescent light”) Her shadow reflects on her plane – in her private space – but it cannot carry over into the public space of the city.
Suddenly amidst a colorful crowd, she wanders through a group of dancing couples who provide a view of life drastically different than her own. Echoing Didion's novel, Klahr, in this moment, reveals her detachment from and inability to communicate with the people of Los Angeles and the modern world at large. Colorless, she is unable to place herself among this crowd. Instead, she wanders through these spaces in order to pass the time. She smokes, drinks, and has casual sexual encounters with men. Distressed and exhausted, she doesn't live in her own world. Rather, as seen in the several moments throughout the video, she hovers above it, fades in and out, and is also pulled down - literally and figuratively - into endless malaise.
Through the rest of the song, Klahr reveals a series of events caused by this cycle. A series of different colored circles unites the video. Floating through the space or spinning in place, the circles rotate like a tire across a neverending landscape. Klahr plays off the imagery of Kahane’s song (“The man puts on the yellow gloves,” “She sees herself in stereo”) and Didion’s novel (needles, pills in hotel rooms, mental anguish, frozen clocks in clinics, rain) creating a dialectical narrative through his signature, cutout style. Where does this all lead? The woman continues to drive, but, caught in a closeup, a sharp, white light burns her memory away. The road is her pathway to nowhere. Still, she has to keep moving. The selfish city wins again.