THE 'CRASH' OF '05 PAUL HAGGIS EXPLORES INTOLERANCE AND ISOLATION IN MODERN L.A.
Paul Haggis' provocative new movie, ``Crash,'' focuses on the racism of 15 Los Angeles residents, black, white, Korean, Latino, Iranian. Sometimes the bigotry is subtle, sometimes brutal. But it's there, expressed with a toughness rarely experienced in American cinema.
Haggis, who lives in Santa Monica, wrote the movie with friend Bobby Moresco five years ago. Since then, much has changed. Haggis' screenplay for ``Million Dollar Baby'' caught the eye of Clint Eastwood and copped Haggis an Oscar nomination, not to mention another assignment from Eastwood. (Haggis just adapted ``Flags of Our Fathers,'' an account of the men who raised the famous flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima.)
Haggis says the idea for ``Crash'' began percolating in his head in 1991, after he and his wife were carjacked in the parking lot of their neighborhood video store. A decade later, following a lucrative but dissatisfying career writing for television, Haggis sat down at his computer and revisited that night, using it as a starting point for the film.
Here, the 52-year-old Haggis, who makes his directorial debut with the movie, talks about the problems he sees in the city he loves.
Q: Let's start with a line from ``Crash'' where you have a black character saying, ``Sherman Oaks, Santa Monica, Toluca Lake. Those are scary places for a brother.''
A: That came from a friend, Anita Addison. She'd ride a motorcycle over to my home in Santa Monica and say, ``Santa Monica, Toluca Lake, Burbank ... these are scary-ass places for a black person to find herself.'' It's just because they're so white.
Q: Are Angelenos uncomfortable when taken out of their element?
A: We segregate ourselves to such an extent that we can start off our mornings, have breakfast, go to the office, go out to lunch, come back to work, go home, deal with our friends and never see anybody who doesn't look like us or is in our class.
Q: Whereas in New York or Philadelphia that's harder to do.
A: Exactly. And I just have a feeling we're missing a lot. We're missing the interaction that comes with strangers, with people who are different from us. I think we crave that on some cellular level.
Q: Which might explain destinations like Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, where you actually do have that kind of interaction.
A: That's why I started writing this project, because I saw that we had these places we've built, these totally false streets, places like the Universal City Walk and Third Street Promenade.
People come from 50, 60 miles to go there, and they say it's to see a movie or to go to dinner, but I think it's so we can rub up against each other and feel the touch of people who are different than us.
Q: Though our actions would indicate otherwise.
A: We segregate ourselves and we move away from each other and we put up little fences and live in walled communities, but I think we need to be around strangers to actually feel safe, to actually feel human.
Q: That kind of human contact is harder to come by here. As one character says early in the movie, ``In any real city, you walk.'' In L.A., you drive.
A: We're behind metal and glass. We insulate ourselves. And once we're in there, it's our little clamshell. We're little hermit crabs who run around and get bigger and better shells.
Q: It's unbelievable how big they're making shells these days.
A: (Laughs) It is. And we feel we can act ways in those cars that we'd never act if the person was standing right next to us. When we feel safe to let the horrible things in us come out, they come out. And we're usually surprised.
Q: But they're in us, all of us, certainly in all the characters in your movie.
A: We're very sanguine thinking we know who we are and judging ourselves very, very easily. We say, ``Oh yes, we're good people.'' But then we love to judge others harshly and quickly based on the tiniest of evidence.
Q: Which is a universal thing, not just L.A.
A: A lot of people see this movie and think I hate Los Angeles. I love the city. I love the people. I wish our city fathers had been smarter and didn't just divide everything up for real estate.
At least in the eastern cities and San Francisco, they were smarter about how the city should expand. We just grew further and further away from everybody. And it comes with a cost.
no caption (Paul Haggis)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||May 8, 2005|
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