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Boulevard Nights

Boulevard Nights

With the tagline "Everything happens on the boulevard...and the boulevard happens at night," Boulevard Nights (1979), one of the first films released by a major studio (Warner Bros.) to feature an all-Latino cast, tells the story of two young Latino men in East Los Angeles. One is deep in the gang culture and involved in drugs, the other wants to get out of the gang and out of his neighborhood so he can open his own auto-repair shop and get married, but he finds it hard going.

Director Michael Pressman chose cinematographer John Bailey to create a sense of realism by utilizing locations for all but two days of shooting, "I shot a lot of things on the streets of East Los Angeles where the key lights were practical lights such as store front windows and neons. [...] Consequently it has a very real look. When you're out on the street at night like that and you've got five or six different light sources coming in, you can use them and get an incredibly rich look. But as soon as you turn on one theatrical light, you overpower it all. Then you're back to lighting for movies again. [...] Boulevard Nights for me was primarily an exercise in nighttime street photography. Most of the film takes place along and around Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles."

In the 1970s Whittier Boulevard was one of the most popular cruise strips in Los Angeles for low-rider car owners. Boulevard Nights has been blamed for associating low-riders with gangs and by the early 1980s, the Los Angeles police department closed the street to cruisers. Low-riders were used by Bailey to great effect, "Those cars have a very magical feel; I wanted them to kind of dance, to come alive and sparkle. The scenes with the gangs I wanted to have a much funkier look. So within the element of nighttime street photography, I wanted to deal with the textural difference between the gangs, who were the have-nots, and the car club people, who were the haves. And that's exactly the dichotomy manifested in the relationship of the two brothers. Chuco was a gang kid who walked most places while his brother Raymond, who used to be a gang kid, had this incredibly manicured car. It was bard of the dramatic chasm between them, part of what kept them from really being able to communicate and understand each other." The subject matter caused the film to be boycotted before its release. As Stephanie Greco Larson related in her book Media & Minorities, "In 1979 a group of community college students in Los Angeles formed the Gang Exploitation Film Committee to protest the negative images of Chicanas/os in the gang films prevalent in the late 1970s. They picketed and called for a boycott of Boulevard Nights. This group was joined by other Chicano organizations (such as the Chicano Cinema Coalition and the actor's guide Nosotros). Their protest seems to have convinced Universal to drop some of the other gang films it had planned to produce."

Critic Roger Ebert ran into those protesters when he went to the theater to screen Boulevard Nights, writing in his review, "I was handed a leaflet by a radical group that linked the movie with The Warriors [1979] and other current and violent films as part of a plot by the "fascist ruling class" to "poison the minds of thousands." The leaflet is a great irony, because Boulevard Nights has almost nothing in common with The Warriors. But that is a fact the leafleteers could not be expected to know, since they confidently explain, "You do not have to go out and pay to see this movie to tell how rotten it is." Couldn't they have all chipped in and sent just one brave antifascist in to see for himself?" While Ebert admitted that the film borrowed heavily from a myriad of Hollywood gang films "It's a movie that tries to tell us something about life in the Mexican-American neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, and that sometimes succeeds. [...]Richard Yniguez plays the lead with an attractive authority, Marta DuBois is subtle and sensitive in a role that could easily have been dismissed as "the girl," and Boulevard Nights has its heart in the right place."

Producer: Bill Benenson
Director: Michael Pressman
Screenplay: Desmond Nakano; Michael Scheff (uncredited)
Cinematography: John Bailey
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Film Editing: Richard Halsey
Cast: Richard Yniguez (Raymond Avila), Danny De La Paz (Chuco Avila), Marta DuBois (Shady Londeros), James Victor (Gil Moreno), Betty Carvalho (Mrs. Avila), Carmen Zapata (Mrs. Londeros), Victor Millan (Mr. Londeros), Gary Cervantes (Big Happy), Garret Pearson (Ernie), Jerado Carmona (Wolf), Jesse Aragon (Casper), Roberto Covarrubias (Toby), Eliseo Estrada (Hopper), Mary McFerren (receptionist), Dawson Mays (Jerry Werner).

by Lorraine LoBianco

Chicago Sun-Times film review by Roger Ebert, May 7, 1979
Masters of Light by Dennis Schaefer, Larry Salvato
Lowriders by Matt Doeden, Pete Salas
Media & Minorities by Stephanie Greco Larson
The Internet Movie Database