Architecture on Film: Communion Los Angeles

Tracing the route of California’s oldest freeway, stunning, stuttering images enmeshed in a tactile tapestry of sound offer a very different kind of road movie; a mesmeric, psychogeographic trip down 35 miles of blacktop into LA. UK Premiere.


04:00pm, Saturday, 30 March 2019


05:10pm, Saturday, 30 March 2019


Cinema 1
Barbican Centre, Level -2
Silk St, London, EC2Y 8DS



AF Members:
£9.60 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


Young Barbican:

Tel (9am-8pm):
+44 (0)20 7638 8891

This is a past event

Due to the first screening selling out, we are now mounting an additional second screening: 

Screening 1: Tuesday 12 March, 8.30pm
Followed by conversation with directors Adam R. Levine and Peter Bo Rappmund in person, chaired by Architecure on Film Curator Justin Jaeckle.

Screening 2: Saturday 30 March, 4.00pm
Repeat screening due to public demand.

Communion Los Angeles [UK Premiere]

A road movie, a freeway symphony, a highly crafted journey through urban space, Communion LA conjures an experimental masterpiece out of its stunning images and remarkable collaged soundscape, as it traces 35 miles of California’s oldest highway, Route 110, through Metropolitan Los Angeles.

Eight years in the making, the intricately made film stitches together individual frames at a varying pace to transform its images into a stuttering rhythmic flow, interwoven with a rich tapestry of overheard conversations, radio, field recordings and music, to produce a very different kind of road movie; a mesmeric, psychogeographic trip from the San Gabriel Mountains into a baroque, nocturnal City of Angels, towards the Pacific Ocean beyond.

The film’s Dodge Challenger protagonist carries influences from Thom Andersen (with whom both directors have worked) (Los Angeles Plays Itself, Reconversão) and James Benning in the back-seat, but drives off in a direction all of its own. A tonal voyage through architecture and communities, centre and periphery, day and night, Communion Los Angeles both maps an urban artery and crafts a unique artefact out of it, conducting crosstown traffic into a freeway symphony.

Following screenings at festivals including Locarno, Doclisboa, Mar del Plata, and MoMA’s Doc Fortnight, we’re delighted to bring the film to the UK for its premiere.

USA, 2018, Adam R. Levine, Peter Bo Rappmund, 68 mins

Programme Notes by Justin Jaeckle

The city symphony and road movie have extensive histories as cinematic forms. The road movie takes a trip down the blacktop as it’s narrative, to produce a journey film of rights of passage encountered from point A to point B, often motivated by a quest or escape. The city symphony first emerged in the 1920s as a sensorial cinematic depiction of the modern metropolis; a form of experimental documentary both born out of and reflecting upon modernity, through the equally new technologies of filmmaking and urban living.

Communion Los Angeles might best be described as a ‘freeway symphony’. It takes these two established genres and transforms them into an idiosyncratic third of its own; taking the linearity of the road movie as a structural device and expanding it through the roving gaze and technical experimentation of symphonic filmmaking, on a quest to discover the tone of a specific place. Out of this a cinematic object emerges: a highly crafted audio-visual artefact both composed out of and documenting a piece of urban infrastructure, taking the pulse of an urban artery.

 The film travels the 35 miles of California’s oldest freeway through metropolitan LA – from Pasadena at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains to the Port of Los Angeles and the ocean beyond – once by day, and once by night. The film’s rigid conceptual framework places it within the legacy of structural film, while its collaged montage of recorded images and sounds takes musique concrete into the audio-visual realm.

The film, around eight years in the making, is composed of tens of thousands of impeccably framed still images, meticulously stitched together into stuttering movement. Fluctuations in the speed at which these still images are interlaced conjures changing rhythms on the screen, visual music, to which is added the film’s intricately composed and tactile collage of sound. The aural and visual enter into a syncopated dance with one another. We’re offered sonic and visual signposts – some more legible (‘Southbound’) some less (the numerical codes on a billboard) – to guide us on our journey. Snippets of dialogue act as verbal GPS, Hip Hop reminds us we’re rolling on the 110, signage alternates between taking on literal and semiotic roles.

Given its composition of static images, perhaps we could refer to this film as an animation, but that would be to neglect that every film is a result of a sequence of single frames – ‘truth 24 frames per second’. Levine and Rappmund’s film seems keen to draw attention to the embodied subjectivity of its construction, denying desires for it to be thought upon as a pure document or map, whilst still allowing the possibility of it operating as such. The truth sought here seems to be of a decidedly more ecstatic than ‘real’ typology, in order to allow us to fully ‘commune’ through a drive-dérive. A map is not the territory, after all.

The directors are not alone in the congregation that finds transcendent possibility in the rhythms and rapture of the road. Levine and Rappmund’s Communion Los Angeles, both references a 1976 essay by Joan Didion (Bureaucrats, collected in The White Album) through its title, and enacts a proof of its thesis:

“The freeway experience… is the only secular communion Los Angeles has. Mere driving on the freeway is in no way the same as participating in it… Actual participants think only about where they are. Actual participation requires a total surrender, a concentration so intense as to seem a kind of narcosis, a rapture-of-the-freeway. The mind goes clean. The rhythm takes over. A distortion of time occurs.” 

In the same essay, Didion goes on to quote from architectural critic Reyner Banham, whose thoughts on Los Angeles’s ‘Four Ecologies’ (Surfurbia, Foothills, The Plains of Id, and Autopia) were immortalised in the 1972 BBC film, Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles:

“As you acquire the special skills involved, the freeways become a special way of being alive … Seem[ing] to bring on a state of heightened awareness that some locals find mystical.”

In the BBC film, Banham takes us on tour of the ‘super city of the future’, directed by his car’s fictional ‘BAEDE-KAR Visitor Guidance System’. Communion LA similarly has a car as its protagonist: a resplendent, seemingly autonomous, black Dodge Challenger, which we may see somewhat infrequently, but always know to be the motor of our cinematic journey. It’s the same model of vehicle that starred in one of the ultimate road movies, Vanishing Point (1971), a title which leads the mind to drift to LA denizen Brett Easton Ellis’ de facto motto for his home city: ‘Disappear Here’.

Midway through Communion LA, as the film flips from day to night, from sunlight to neon, the car itself appears engaged in a sublime commune with the city, as the Dodge Challenger overlooks LA from a bluff. The car takes in the vista of the City of Angles, to the dulcet tones of angelic voices, Caspar David Freidrich’s painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) is recalled; its Germanic mountains in the mist exchanged for the nocturnal, smog cloaked lights of LA’s urban sprawl, its ‘Wanderer’ replaced by a Challenger. Pace and tone changes as the film continues through the night, its mapping moves from light-filled objectivity to seductive neon-noir, rendering the nocturnal city as a quasi-baroque urban son et lumière – the perfect film lot in which to flex filmmaking’s technical tools of audio/visual capture and montage to the maximum.

Levine and Rappmund’s film offers a communion not just with LA through the lens of a piece of its architectural infrastructure, but also with cinema itself – its methods, history and the experimental possibilities that remain within the medium. It’s no coincidence that Didion’s words on the freeway’s rapture ring equally true of the experience of watching films, and of watching Communion Los Angeles in particular:

“The mind goes clean. The rhythm takes over. A distortion of time occurs.”

Enjoy the ride.