In Hans Fjellestad's "Sunset Strip" documentary, several of his talking heads declare the mile and a half stretch of Sunset Boulevard dead in 2005 after Tower Records closed. Clive Davis and Lou Adler eulogize the store's closing, Ozzy Osbourne rambles on about Tower's signature yellow "burning into your psyche" and Slash steps into a moment of acceptance saying "things change in this town."
Fjellestad says it's not unusual to write an obit for the strip. "Looking back through the L.A. Times and Herald Examiner it seems like every 10 or 12 years some one is saying it's dead," he says.
In his documentary, which has its world premiere Friday, Fjellestad starts with its roots as poinsettia fields and its designation as "the strip" owing more to the fact that it is the road that connects the studios of Hollywood with the homes of Beverly Hills. In the decades prior to the incorporation of West Hollywood, the Sunset Strip was in Los Angeles County but not the city, which led to nefarious characters financing and setting up a unique nightlife destination. It began with the likes of Ciro's and Trocadero, moved on to Pandora's Box and Whisky a Go-Go and today includes the Roxy and Key Club.
"I really wanted to look at themes of the times as opposed to focusing on the Doors, (the death of) John Belushi and Richard Pryor," he tells Billboard.
Fjellestad joined the project about 2-1/2 years ago after "a ton of research, a ton of writing and a ton of development" had been done including some great shots of the Sunset Strip riots of 1966. (Authors Harvey Kubernik and Domenic Priore are credited as the project's historians.) Shooting began in June 2010.
With no distribution at this time -- Fjellestad says there are talks with six or seven companies -- the film is expected to land at a few more film festivals. It has a significant amount of music: There are 48 songs listed in the credits ranging from Love's "You Set the Scene" that opens the film to Donovan's "The Trip" over the credits with a lot of jazz, heavy metal and punk rock in between.
Among the musician speakers are Slash, Billy Corgan, the Doors' Robbie Krieger and Perry Farrell plus the members of X and Ratt.
Though he is associated with jazz as a composer and the Moog synthesizer as a filmmaker, if Fjellestad had one period to chose to return to the Sunset Strip it would likely be the 1920s and 30s when the Garden of Allah was in full swing. The Garden was a complex of bungalows where wild parties were as much the norm as the literary figures who frequented the place.
"I'm sometimes really drawn to the Bohemian atmosphere, this 25 to 30 year history of these bungalows. I could see a whole other project being dedicated just to that story."