Strange rumblings are emanating from downtown SanTana, where the perpetually squabbling merchants of Fourth Street seem to be sobering up to the reality that a new wave of invading immigrants–hipsters, artists, and young professionals with disposable incomes–is nibbling away at their bit of the most Mexican city in America. The long-dormant Yost Theater–for decades the center of entertainment life for Latinos in Orange County–is getting readied to become a multipurpose theater that boosters hope can become a new El Rey, with an occasional night for Mexicans. Developers are begging the SanTana City Council and lining their pockets with money (details to come soon!) to approve the Renaissance Plan so they can begin clearing out old barrios and build high-rise condos and the like. Meanwhile, the members of the Downtown Santa Ana Business Council (full disclosure: milady's the president of this group) decided to commission a film regarding their vision of the area: Primer: A Documentary of Life in Downtown Santa Ana. It premiered last Thursday in the Artist's Village and supposedly will screen repeatedly on SanTana's cable channel. See the trailer here.
While there is already mucho grousing from the Mexis who saw or heard about Primer, I like it. Akorn Entertainment made it, immigrants from God-knows-what-American-badlands. They fell in love so much with SanTana, they decided to dig deeper. They dug so deep into the Orange County core, that their film represents the highest pinnacle of county art: the orange crate label, the gorgeous booster images masquerading as reality that projected dreams while willfully downplaying reality.
Fuller disclosure: I missed the first couple of segments of Primer on Thursday, but the film follows a tight, non-narrative format. The Akorn guys profiled some of the people they think makes downtown SanTana tick. All of the people picked are deserving of love: Memphis bartender Johnny Sampson, Macarthur genius Rueben Martinez, the Crosby guys, and others. But as someone who works in SanTana, I quickly wondered: where are all the Latinos? The mango ladies? The Salvadoran restaurants? The fat moms with kids in tow? Viejitos loitering for hours? An interview with either Sam Romero (of Teresa's Catholic Gift Shop) or Ray Rangel of R N R Sportswear (really, a place for wabs to get Stetsons), men born and raised in the city who have seen downtown SanTana go from the center of Orange County shopping life to abandoned to revitalized by immigrants to its current gentrifying status? A telling scene in Primer is when city gadfly Tim Rush waxes wonders about the Knights of Pythias building on Broadway and Fifth Street but the filmmakers don't bother to go inside and talk with the gals at Breath of Fire Latina Ensemble Theater. Where were they?
Obviously, Akorn can interview whoever the hell they want, but some choices defy their intended purposes of revealing downtown SanTana for others. I had no idea Rickenbacker Guitars made their home in the city, but they operate far from downtown–what's with their inclusion? And while we've always loved the stuff of Aaron Kraten, his spot in Primer is mystifying. Kraten's art occasionally hangs from the Artists Village galleries, but he doesn't operate in the area. More disturbingly, his kudos to graffiti art is shocking considering SanTana's tagging problem–are the Akorn guys really that clueless to realize that hipster aesthetics slam into the face of cholo reality in SanTana?
The production qualities of Primer are wonderful (different film stock, perfect background music, playing around with structure), and we're sure Akorn meant well. But to say Primer is a documentary of life in downtown SanTana is as honest as saying the old orange crate labels was a snapshot of life in pre-WWII OC. Pretty lies the both of them, but nevertheless lies. Nevertheless, see Primer become the official version of downtown SanTana for Papi Pulido and his gang faster than an orange can rot in the sun.