Lost Angels (Angeles Perdidos) (NR)

Drama 90 December 31, 1969
By Ernest Hardy
Thomas Q. Napper's documentary Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home has the admirable goal of humanizing the denizens of downtown L.A.'s 50-block, city-within-a-city Skid Row. To its credit, it achieves that goal, illuminating everything from the daily violence faced by many (rape, gang attacks, police brutality) to the structural issues in play (the ongoing fallout of Ronald Reagan's shuttering of mental hospitals in the '80s, gentrification gobbling up land and real estate that once provided shelter.) And the half-dozen or so street people Napper focuses on span race, gender, age, and health status (physical, emotional, mental) to underscore the myriad struggles unfolding all at once. It's all captivating cinematic portraiture, narrated by actress Catherine Keener and with additional context offered by doctors, professors, and activists. But Napper falls into a familiar liberal filmmaker trap. With the exception of a heartbreaking bit of information in the film's coda, he arches a bit too hard toward uplift, to showing that the people on Skid Row are actually smart, artistic, and politically astute individuals with more complex backstories than might be immediately apparent. Many of them are that, of course. But the film would have been more powerful if it also included a man or woman who wasn't lovable once you got to know him or her—maybe one of the young crack or meth addicts whose violent demeanors, as explained by an old-timer, have considerably shifted the dynamics of street life. Still, the film Napper has delivered adds necessary layers to a conversation that is only becoming more urgent as the gap between L.A.'s have and have-nots widens at a frightening pace.
Raul Marchand.

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