From the ArcLight Cinemas to the mural-covered overpasses, from the farmers markets to the secret staircases, Los Angeles is a city alive with storytelling. While this city where the land meets the sea is a breeding ground for surfers, artists, and environmentalists who share an obvious kinship with Moby Dick, the connection to this story has fascinated all walks of Angelenos for decades.
Over the last month, the Library Foundation and the Los Angeles Public Library have been rediscovering the great literary masterpiece, Moby Dick, through the lens of the modern and equally mythical Southern California state of mind. And over the years, Hollywood has again and again tried its hand at Moby Dick inspired films—from John Barrymore’s 1926 silent version to the more recent T.V. mini-series with William Hurt, even Steven Spielberg says Jaws was influenced by the novel. Perhaps most famously, Los Angeles literary icon Ray Bradbury co-wrote the screenplay with John Huston for the 1956 film adaptation of Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck (a champion of the Los Angeles Public Library). Bradbury, still haunted by the whale, later wrote a novel and a short story fictionalizing the notoriously difficult process of making the Moby Dick film.
Furthering the tradition of re-interpreting Moby Dick, the LAPL and Library Foundation collaboration has spawned a new film project by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, the award-winning directors of Little Miss Sunshine. Commissioned by the Library Foundation to cap off their month-long, city-wide celebration, Dayton and Faris’s new work explores the role of the whale in our current thinking in both science and literature through interviews with musician Moby (also a distant relative of Herman Melville), artist Ed Ruscha, comedian Patton Oswalt, author Mark Z. Danielewski, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, screenwriter Howard Rodman, and many other local voices.
For a preview of Dayton and Faris’s Moby Dick interviews, like the clip below with Los Angeles Times Book Critic David Ulin, visit the Foundation’s Vimeo page.