In mid-April, Biscuit Filmworks director Noam Murro hit the streets of Los Angeles with his long-time collaborator, director of photography Eric Schmidt, to document the City of Angels at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown.
For several days, they drove around town in a pickup truck with a tripod-mounted camera strapped in back. They shot footage of local landmarks: Griffith Observatory, Dodger Stadium, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Bowl.
Images of empty streets and quiet city centers became de rigueur at the height of the pandemic. But Murro's vision in "A Love Letter to Los Angeles" transcends that aesthetic. Despite ample spring sunshine, these frames possess moody, autumnal textures not usually associated with L.A., which looks both familiar and unlike itself, as if we're seeing the place through fresh eyes.
Jose Feliciano's emotional 1968 recording of "California Dreamin' " on the soundtrack heightens the effect. The line about being "safe and warm if I was in L.A." rings with irony, while the verse about stopping at a church for prayer underscores the mystic quality of the visuals.
In the two-minute film, L.A., that shrine to pop-culture glitz and giddy consumerism, mirrors a sprawling house of worship closed during quarantine. Its thoroughfares, beaches and concrete canyons await a rebirth, though their spirit shines through undiminished:
"The beauty of the place reveals itself in a completely different sort of more melancholic way and also in a melodic way," Murro, born in Jerusalem but an Angelino for more than 20 years, tells Muse. "There is poetry in this time. The vacuum it creates is very human and therefore moving. I don't think it is so sad."
At one point during filming, Murro and Schmidt chanced upon a group of nurses changing shifts at Children's Hospital. "It's surprising how they were so very casual," he recalls. Though masked, they filed in and out of the complex as if it were a pre-pandemic workday, seemingly unfazed by the enormity of it all. You think of all these people who do this incredible work to help everybody, and it was just very moving."
This passion project represents the first documentary endeavor for Murro, lauded for his commercials on behalf of scores of brands, including Ancestry DNA, Guinness and Heineken, along with feature films Smart People and 300: Rise of an Empire, and the TV miniseries Watership Down.
In a broader sense, "Love Letter" reflects how we all feel these days: weary from anxiety and isolation, and wary as the pandemic stages a comeback—notably in California and the Sun Belt—but firm in our resolve to forge a better tomorrow.
"The point is that when you see this, you may not recognize all the places, but I think you'll recognize the emotion," Murro says. "It's an interesting and trying time for everybody," he adds, one that binds us all through hope and despair "in some common denominator weird way."
A number of other creatives have expressed their love for L.A. during the pandemic—among them, J. Barbush, who spearheaded his own love letter to the city, primarily using stock drone footage.
"A Love Letter to Los Angeles"
Director: Noam Murro
DP: Eric Schmidt
Producer: Emily Skinner
Editor: Stewart Reeves
These locations appear in the film:
:05 Full Service Coffee Co.
:12 Le Trianon Apartments
:19 Griffith Observatory
:25 Hollywood Walk of Fame
:29 Grauman's Chinese Theatre
:33 Venice Beach boardwalk
:54 Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
1:05 Warner Bros.
1:15 LA River
1:20 Griffith Park
1:24 Taix, Silverlake
1:26 El Coyote
1:28 La Cita
1:36 Dodger Stadium
1:38 Hollywood Bowl
1:42 Venice Skate Park
1:50 Children's Hospital LA
2:02 Hollywood Blvd
2:06 Santa Monica Pier
2:07 Chateau Marmont