The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 30.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Life and Death in LA not like Miami

To Live and Die in L.A., starring William L. Petersen, William Dafoe, Debra Feuer. Directed by William Friedkin. Opening at Sack Theatres on Friday, November 1st. Rated R.

Sex and violence, suspense and chase scenes: that is the major content of To Live and Die in L.A., a new motion picture presented by New Century Productions, Ltd. and SLM, Inc. This movie is a suspense-filled drama about the revenge of a Secret Service agent, Richard Chance, (played by newcomer William Petersen) upon the cold counterfeiter who murdered Chance's partner. The director, William Friedkin, was in Boston Monday for a press conference to promote the film.

Friedkin makes the violence in this film unusually effective. The excessive amount of gratuitous violence in much of today's drama has caused audiences to be calloused towards acts such as murder and rape, and has been presented in a style where almost every shot is instinctively expected before it arrives.

In To Live and Die in L.A., however, the scenes are shudderingly vicious, often coming as an electric surprise, and rarely occurring when they seem inevitable. Friedkin asserts that one of the most important aspects of a good script is an abundance of "surprising situations -- situations that are unpredictable." Although one might mistake that violence is the sole purpose of this film, Friedkin states "I would not make a film which is a celebration of violence ... [To Live and Die in L.A.] is saying quite the opposite ... the characters live by the gun, die by the gun."

The film is at all times brutally non-heroic. Friedkin emphasizes that all of the characters have "feet of clay." This is true: just when one starts to put faith in a character's superiority, something will happen to demolish the pedestal upon which he was precariously balanced. Friedkin severely puts down the super-hero illusion presented by much of television, calling it an "obscene, distorted view of American life as I have observed it."

One cannot help but compare To Live and Die in L.A. to the popular TV series Miami Vice. When asked if this show had any influence on him, Friedkin replied, "I have never seen Miami Vice ... it isn't the kind of TV I would watch." Although the film does at times resemble the show, it is fundamentally different in that everything is down-to-earth. The characters get their hands and consciences dirty in the vermin-ridden streets of L.A., rather than saunter down the tropical avenues of glamorous Miami: setting trends, never getting hurt, and almost always defeating the evil.

Los Angeles was selected to be, as Friedkin puts it, "a giant chaos of a place ... a metaphor for the inorganic nature of city life, which seems to be crumbling at the seams."

Friedkin defined the attraction of suspense movies as being "interesting dramatically ... [involving] people who are in highly charged, life-and-death situations.... The audience won't admit to identifying with the characters, but finds them fascinating."

To Live and Die in L.A. is certainly not an exploitative splatter film. It will not appeal to all, due to its copious and explicit content of spectacular violence. But on hearing Friedkin expound on his objectives in creating such a film, I could not help detecting a genuine sincerity in his motives.

Friedkin is probably best remembered for the highly appraised The French Connection and for the Horror Genre trend-setter The Exorcist. In To Live and Die and L.A., the emphasis is on the vulnerability and realistic imperfections of the otherwise conventional gun-toting heroes. His aim is to demystify the characters which the one-hour TV series have made almost omnipotent.

It is with this knowledge, that you should see the film. Perhaps, in this light, you will come to appreciate it.

Betty J. McLaughlin->