The loss of the Broad contemporary art museum to downtown L.A. is perceived by some as a blow to the body politic of Santa Monica. But the land we offered Broad is still there, still ripe for a different billionaire philanthropist to build a museum there – not that far fetched given the number of super-wealthy and Santa Monica’s burgeoning cultural scene.
It is indeed burgeoning: Just last Thursday the Twilight Dance Series on the pier wrapped with 60s counter-culture icon Dr. John (“the Night Tripper”). After all these years Dr. John (now 69 years old) didn’t miss a beat as he thrilled a large crowd on a perfect summer evening. It reminded me of riding my bike along the beach path years age and happened upon Richie Havens performing on the pier. Where else can you go for a bike ride and catch an act from the 1969 Woodstock Festival, as immortalized in the film “Woodstock?” While Dr. John is not in that movie, he is in “The Last Waltz,” the 1978 farewell concert movie of The Band, directed by Martin Scorsese and arguably one of the best concert films of all time. Both “Woodstock” and “The Last Waltz” seem to screen about once a year at our local Aero Theater on Montana Avenue, operated by American Cinematheque. The theater’s refurbished excellent sound system does those films justice.
Speaking of the Aero, a couple weeks ago veteran director Ken Russell visited the Aero in person, starting with a screening of his 1971 classic “The Devils.” The evening was a sell-out – seems the Aero’s superb programming sells out often these days. I saw “The Devils” when it first came out and immediately put it on my list of the Ten Best Films. It is a surreal “docudrama” (long before the term was invented) of strange goings on in the French town of Loudun in 1634. What a thrill, decades later, to not only to see “The Devils” on the big screen, but with Ken Russell in attendance – all a two minute walk from my home.
While the Broad museum may not settle in Santa Monica, you can always head up the Pacific Coast Highway for a culture fix thanks to big buck philanthropists. Be sure to stop at the new Annenberg Beach House. The venue hosts a menu of cultural events, including the recently opened “Mountains to Sea” exhibit of 11 artists from Topanga Canyon. The show runs through November 28. For another billionaire philanthropist art fix, the Getty Malibu is only a few minutes further north and it currently features an excellent temporary exhibit documenting the origins of Greek theater (on the heels of an awesome Aztec art exhibit which recently closed).
Santa Monica’s culture pulse is thumping and incredibly vibrant, with or without the Broad Museum. Indeed, perhaps downtown LA is the better location where the Broads can join the other marble museums along Grand Avenue as well as the aluminum clad Disney Concert pile. Me, I’ll be wandering downtown Santa Monica this week hoping to catch a command performance of The Buffalo Skinners, a lively five-man ensemble, performing on the sly in Palisades Park next to the big cannon, who are big fun and a big hit with the crowds.