From the Valley to Santa Monica (2012) – By Cary Conley

By all accounts, Jason Piazza is a quirky guy. He has more than a touch of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (his brother recounts tales of their youth when Jason would have to wear the perfect shirt "to keep his head from falling off" or repeat a certain phrase anytime he walked through a door, and Jason himself shows us his check system for ensuring the refrigerator is closed, the oven is off, and the door is triple-locked); he has a fear of losing his sight, and an especial fear of glass in his eyes; he’s asthmatic and has had a drinking problem in the recent past; and he loves to walk. In fact, he loves to walk so much that he has never owned a vehicle before. One of his friends even describes Jason’s five-hour walk to a clothing store where he works a four-hour shift!

Growing up in New Jersey with a love for traveling (18-hour trips to Florida with his family), comedy, and film (Jason and lifelong friend Jon made shorts and posted them to the web), he spent time in Chicago before moving to L.A. where his two best friends and brother are also located. Eventually Jason got the idea to meld his love for walking with his love of filmmaking and to document the 24-mile round-trip journey from L.A.’s valley to Santa Monica and back–all on foot. Some of his friends thought he was a bit crazy, but nevertheless they supported his dream. Jason trained relentlessly and finally, after a false start hampered by an asthma attack, he began his journey across The Valley and towards the Pacific Ocean, generally following historic Route 66.

From the Valley to Santa Monica is equal parts vanity project, documentary, and self-exploration. Using only a handheld video camera, often talking while he continues to walk, Jason not only explores his surroundings but he also explores why he is driven to walk. Along the route Jason shows the audience famous landmarks such as Johnny Depp’s old hangout, the Viper Room; the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, famed for hosting The Doors’ opening shows; The Bad News Bears baseball diamond; Rodeo Drive; Beverly Hills; and the famous Hollywood sign. The film is divided into seven short episodes, each roughly 15 minutes in length, with a total running time of approximately 105 minutes.

The video is interspersed with interviews of Jason’s two best friends and his brother as well as Jason pontificating on everything from urban gridlock and his alcoholic blackouts to the necessary nutrition one must have to walk as well as his bowel movements. Jason certainly doesn’t mind displaying his life, warts and all. The first several episodes explore his personal background, his motivation for walking in general as well as for this particular walk, and his training. The final two episodes actually document his walk.

Although a bit too shaky on occasion as Jason walks and films at the same time, he clearly has some technical skill and the film as a whole is well done and technically proficient. While I found the film generally interesting, there were times I felt like some of Jason’s dialogue was redundant. A bit more editing to tighten up the dialogue during the actual walk could speed the action and tighten the film a bit. While I enjoy documentaries a great deal, many others do not; therefore, I think From the Valley to Santa Monica will probably have a fairly small niche audience. My biggest fear is that it will be dismissed as being inaccessible to a general audience. That being said, the film was fun and I hope readers will try it out. Who knows, you may even discover an innate love for walking!

The film is available in short installments at http://fromthevalleytosantamonica.com/home/watch-the-movie, and includes a trailer you can try before jumping into the film itself. So does Jason actually complete his round-trip walk to and from the Santa Monica Pier? You’ll just have to find out for yourself by watching From the Valley to Santa Monica.