“The brain is (…a mass of soft, spongy, pinkish gray nerve tissue…) made up of billions of nerve cells intricately connected to each other.” —The Free Dictionary
The thing I like about Rory Uphold is that she has a brain and knows how to use it. A bold statement to make in a world glory-holed with hype but I’m making it. So there. An actress-director-producer, she lives and works in Los Angeles, CA, one place in this dogforsaken universe where the existence of intelligence is questionable; then there’s the question of what to do with it if you find it at all.
When I first discovered her webseries “Only in HelLA,” I was amused, not impressed. I’d been subjected to countless YouTube videos that prejudiced me against the short form. It seemed too easy to me. Yeah, I’m kind of a jaded old “get off my lawn!” fuck, but at least I’ve earned that grumpy right… punk! Then I learned Uphold was from Hermosa Beach, which is the city I consider home in the grand scream of LA’s wide flung communities. Surf City? Yeah, “my wave, dude!” Skating? Haha. We love ya, Dogtown, but the first skateboard competition ever was in Hermosa in 1963. Rep-Ree-Zent! Let’s not forget late 50s Beat culture or the Insomniac coffeehouse or The Lighthouse (Howard Rumsey’s iconic jazz club) or that grand haven of intellect, the Either/Or Bookstore. There’s some real history there that spawned smart artistic sensibilities and a beleaguered punk rock underground in the late 70s. “Objectivist” developers then turned the place expensively upside down. HB is now a much different city from when I lived a cheap, adventurous life on its streets and Strand.
But, viewing within the context of the above, I looked at the OIHL episodes again and I saw it—that thing I didn’t see the first time because of all the white noise of putting up with all the socially-mediated noise shoved through all the tiny little screens of forced noise. What I saw was the ability to tell a story of rage and frustration without raging over it. Wit is predicated on insight—a rare enough commodity—and Uphold is at her best when relying on elements of silence and timing. Yes, timing. The same thing that made the non-talkies of Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplin work so well, and continue working today in an era of fancy CGI and unchecked shouting. When I lived there, a standard activity was to sit far out on the HB pier, stare at the water and listen to the waves. There’s a lot to learn, day or night, especially at night. It ain’t highfalutin’ but it’s always been a Hermosa Thing no matter what anyone else says.
Not everything was meant to be gotten from the git go, and a lot of my favorite things—books, music, movies, art—took a while for me to get. Uphold’s work is not difficult to get, yet it may take a bit before seeing exactly how her upraised finger is held, then you notice just how the light is hitting it. She’s as much a master of the visual set up and end the refrain; thrust home! delivery as The Minutemen were masters of the less-than-one-minute song that you remembered the rest of the night. Short storytelling is one of the hardest things to do well; particularly in a GoPro, drone-dangled, blast-beaten world of Zoolanderian Final Cut fuckery. But before you think Rory Uphold’s talents are limited to the extreme short form, take a look (if you can find a working video feed) at her longer, dramatic “Safety” and consider what her sense of silence and timing can do in an extended format. She’s got the brain for it and, at the risk of presumption, it might be a Hermosa Thing.