In 2003, the documentary Venice: Lost and Found, produced by Brad Bemis, was shown for three months at the Laemmle Theater in Santa Monica.
The movie is a look at Venice, past and present, and is now available in DVD form for people to take the tour themselves.
Brad added a self-interview explaining why he did the film and added additional footage that he hadn’t had time to put in the earlier version.
“It was pretty truncated,” he says. “There was a lot to get through in 100 years.”
Venice was 100 years old in 2005. Its short but colorful life evokes fond memories and interesting stories.
The documentary captures the essence — social, political and economic — of our ever-evolving community.
The segments, or “pods,” as Brad calls them, portray the passion of a vibrant and eclectic community.
“Venice has a soul,” says Brad. “It’s a community and there aren’t many communities in Los Angeles. You can walk to the coffee shop. You can walk to the post office. You bump into people you know.”
The film was five years in the making. “It was a journey,” says Brad. Camera in hand, he would bike around looking for his stories.
“The city has a story and the people themselves — everybody — has a story,” he adds.
Or at least an opinion. In addition to the specific interviewees, you’ll hear from seniors, surfers, boardwalk regulars and tourists with their personal take on what Venice means to them.
Visuals also tell a story. Photos of the old Venice juxtaposed with images of today make a compelling statement for the “lost and found” of Venice’s diversity.
The music, too, as a background, is part of the tale of Venice.
The film provides insight into both the past and present allure that has attracted people to Venice.
The film opens with Venice historian Elayne Alexander giving a snippet on how Venice actually came into being.
From the toss of a coin in 1904 that won swampland to the loss of a lease that ended the family’s hold in 1945, Abbot Kinney’s Venice of America went through numerous transitions — and it has continued to do so to this very day.
Through the years several accounts of unknown origin have circulated in the rumor mill of what might or might not be true.
Did Isadora Duncan really dance atop Thornton Towers? Did Charlie Chaplin really live at what is now the Gingerbread Court?
One rumor can now be laid to rest. Yes, the band, The Doors, did start in Venice.
It was happenstance that college friends Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek ran into each other on the beach. Neither had much going on in their lives.
“I said, ‘Have you been up to anything?’ ” says Ray. “He said, ‘Yeah, actually I’ve been writing songs.’
“When I heard that, writing songs, I told him, ‘There you go, that’s it. Sing me a song.’
“The legendary story — Jim sang Moonlight Drive to me right here on Venice Beach. That was the beginning of The Doors. Just like that.”
In the film, you see Ray Manzarek standing below the immortalization of Jim Morrison on a mural by Rip Cronk at Speedway and 18th Avenue.
“This was the perfect place to get stoned,” says Manzarek. “We did it and we had one hell of a good time. Right here in Venice, California. My buddy up there was one of the kings of stoners. May he rest in peace.”
Venice has long been home to artists.
Dennis Hopper is familiar with the art history in Venice.
“It didn’t go past the ’50s really,” he says.
He first mentions Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernest as artists who came to Los Angeles during World War II.
“They didn’t do much work here, if any,” Hopper says.
The next wave included Sam Francis, Richard Diebenkorn, and Wallace Berman.
“My contemporaries — Billy Al [Bengston], Niki DeSant Phalle, Marcel Reyes, Claes Oldenberg — they all had studios in Venice,” Hopper says.
“Warhol had his first shows in Los Angeles, not New York. I made a movie with Warhol in Venice called Tarzan and Jane Revisited. It was made in and around the canals. So Venice figures very keenly into that whole history.
“So my whole history of being involved with the art world all started really in Venice,” Hopper says.
Early on, Venice was a popular place for artists due to the low rents. Bengston had a choice between Venice and Pasadena.
“Those were the two cheapest places to live and Venice had the surf,” Bengston says. “I was a surfer. I worked on a $30 a month budget. I had to do weird jobs to get it. I was probably the only non-drug-dealing artist in the community.”
Bengston remembers the lack of cars.
“When I first moved to Venice, seriously, on the street that I lived at the time, I had the only car,” he says. “I could stand on Pacific and if you saw ten cars going by in an hour, it was amazing.”
When Robbie Conal came to Venice, the only place he could find was a two-car garage on Fifth Street and Rose Avenue.
“I had everything I ever needed,” Conal says, “An answering machine, hot plate, Porta-Potti, a bank of clip-on lights. That was about it. And my cat.”
This is where he first created paintings that were translated into his street poster art to communicate with the public.
“The greatest thing about Venice for me was in that neighborhood,” he says. “It was the heart of the funk by the beach.
“In Los Angeles you have elbowroom in every sense of the word. In Venice you bump into everybody while you’re stretching your elbows and stay in touch
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Tony Bill was attracted to Venice by the proximity to the ocean and its affordability.
“Venice was one of the least attractive and least valued parts of Los Angeles,” he says. “In addition, and even more importantly, Venice was not show business obsessed.”
People would say that he was so far away from everything.
“What am I far from?” Bill would ask them.
“I’m close to clean air, I’m close to interesting people, I’m close to the ocean, I’m close to my boat” he would reply.
“Where would I rather be? I wouldn’t find anywhere near the interesting supply of real life that I do in Venice.”
The late Gregory Hines first lived in Venice from 1972 to 1978.
“Everybody was active,” Hines once said of Venice. “It was a natural recreation area. Everyone was running, playing tennis, playing basketball, rollerskating. I really liked it.”
In what was probably his last local interview, Hines said, “I’d like to think that Venice will always have the people living there who care about it and who recognize its specialness and want to add to that specialness.”
The DVD is available at www.venicelostandfound.com