The Inhumanity of Humans

The theme that drives the look, the sound, the story of They Live Among Us is the dichotomy of life in Los Angeles. Feeling alone in a city of millions. The glitz of Hollywood, against the dirty machinations of the Hollywood machine. The incongruous wealth of the Westside set against the abject poverty of homelessness. How humans can be the most inhuman of beings.

I wanted to go Downtown and shoot some location stills; I wanted to find some visual imagery that expressed the rich cultural tapestry of Los Angeles, to find some good visuals for mood/tone, as well as to nail down good second unit shots and principal locations. I hopped the subway yesterday, and traveled towards Union Station. The idea was to stop at Union Station, begin at Olvera street, and head back up, one stop at a time.

Eventually, I made my way up to the Civic Center stop, which rests at the corner across from Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral.

The Cathedral is magnificent; twelve stories high, towering over 2.5 acres. Golden, brilliant, shimmering with triumph… and power. I stood in the plaza as the bells began to ring their call to mass; goose pimples broke out on my arms.

In the gift shop, I learned of the costs of this behemoth structure. $250,000,000.00.

I realized that this place was far from the reaches of the character of Fr. Buer. It was not in these gilded halls that he gave his flocks comfort, but on the streets of Skid Row.

And thus, eventually, I found myself standing in the middle of Skid Row.

Skid Row is all but forgotten in Los Angeles. Originally, it lived between 3rd and 7th streets, bordered by Main and Alvarado. However, a few years ago, developers realized the opportunity to exploit the impoverished; they snapped up building after building, at below market prices, and began the long and painful gentrification of Skid Row.

On the surface it all seemed good. Skid Row would be no more. The homeless would be helped. Celebrities joined the cause; they helped feed the masses on holidays. They took photo opps with homeless children. They threw some money at organizations… and then, they quietly went away.

Skid Row did not disappear. Skid Row was simply relocated – a few blocks east – into an even more inhospitable clime. At the incongruous intersection of Winston and Wall Street.

The first thing you notice as you walk towards Skid Row is the smell. The air reeks of vomit, of urine, and of despair. Trash does not litter the sidewalk; instead it percolates in piles along the streets.

Then, you notice the noise. There is a constant hum, a chatter, the babbling of the damned, for Skid Row is a real-life articulation of Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell.

I have been asked if I was afraid, and I was not. These people were not dangerous. They were victims; every ounce of their being was channeled towards surviving the next minute. People, all of them, living on the streets. Young children scattered among them, eyes wide with fear. A man and a woman, engaged in a brawl, while a group encircled them, cackling and cheering. The horror of insanity. The stench of fear. The degradation of being expelled into this hell-on-earth.

I’ve always believed that poverty was the most insidious form of violence, and here, on Skid Row, this belief was reinforced.

Eventually, the day grew long, and as the shadows of dusk began to descend, we made our way back home. We still had more places to go that night, and the day had exacted an emotional price on both of us.

As I rode the subway back home, I closed my eyes, and I thought of Father Buer, of how he ministered to the supernaturals who populate Skid Row, how he gives comfort to those who have fallen, and how I was grateful that, in the world that I’ve created, Father Buer lives among us.

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The Saint and the Sinner

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n. – John Milton, Paradise Lost

The world of demonology has been a fascinating one to explore. Fallen angels. Grace. Redemption. Madness. Despair.

When angels fall from grace, they become demons. Not only in Judeo-Christian mythos, but ancient Babylonian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Greco-Roman, Hindu and even ancient Arabic tales all embrace the concept of the fallen one as demon. It is universal.

One of the elements that led to the birth of TLAU was the desire to explore the aftermath of a fall from grace. This concept led to the creation of two characters: Father Buer – and Caim.

Father Buer  spends his days tending to the homeless in the streets of Los Angeles. In this world, however, his flock is cut, shall we say, from another cloth. Father Buer ministers to those who have fallen. He gives comfort and aid to demons.

…and this is where Caim, the fallen angel, comes in.

Falling from grace is both tragic and traumatic. Imagine the suffering of the fallen one, when s/he realizes what they have done – and at what cost. Life as an immortal, but on earth instead of heaven. Surrounded by mortals. Outliving them all one by one.

Surviving those you love is a particular form of torment, and for Caim, life as he now knows it is an eternity of anguish. It is enough to drive even the most stoic being mad – and that is precisely what happened to Caim. He wandered the streets, living in the hellish abyss that is Skid Row, amongst the socially untouchables, the insane. Until Father Buer found him.

For hundreds of years, the Church has had one in their midst who gives of self to tend to the fallen ones. A priest who helps to ease their suffering, and, for a few, helps them find their way back to grace. In the City of Angels, this priest is Father Buer. His mission is to restore Caim to grace. For, as he says, “We are all of us God’s creatures. All of us. Even you.”

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© 2011 They Live Among Us Movie