Floating Along the L.A. River With Psychohydrography


A fitting companion to Joan Didion’s very great essay on the Westerner’s water obsession, “Holy Water,” Psychohydrography is an hour-long travelogue structured around the progress of the L.A. River, from the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, to a concrete trough (best known as the scene of a Terminator 2 chase) running under countless viaducts through the city of Los Angeles until it empties into the Long Beach harbor. None of this geography is explained by filmmaker Peter Bo Rappmund’s mesmeric film, whose only “narration” is an ambient symphony of found-sound. The images are all still frames, ruffled only by blurred traffic, stirring wind, and the rush of water, often rendered icy by stop-motion effects. Rappmund reveals wavering alternate universes within reflections, lapidary glitter and spectrogram patterns on viscous water, arid landscapes striated by California haze, and the lurid colors of industry by night. In one indelible, contemplative frame, rutted mud is shot to resemble a mountain range above a sea-like puddle, which gradually shades with the pink of dawn, as a bothersome fly’s buzz and a turbine rev fill the soundtrack. A Pacific shore whose rolling tide is rendered as a field of static is the final, remarkable image—though the water cycle film might work best on loop.