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low lives, street toughs, and punk tramps

by Veronica Paredes

Featured as representative of Downtown Los Angeles, this scene’s characters are tellingly identified as “Punk Tramp,” “Low Life #1-4,” and “Street Tough #1-3” in the film’s closing credits. The moment Kimble exits his car on the 500 block of South Broadway, he immediately witnesses a woman being slapped to the ground, and is then propositioned with a “hey baby” from a scantily clad “punk tramp.” In these first thirty seconds on Broadway, the film depicts downtown LA so grotesquely that it moves into caricature.  

What underlies this depiction of downtown Los Angeles as a site of criminality and violence? There are clues in the language heard and seen on the street, and additionally in the ethnic and racial identities of the stereotyped characters featured in the space. For instance, the scene’s opening action involves a Latino man slapping and throwing a woman to the ground while a crowd comprised solely of men of color watch without intervening. While the explicit display of violence characterizes the location as unsafe, it also associates the characters’ racial and ethnic identities with this violence and this space. Most of the characters in both this clip and the Arcade scene on Broadway are Black, Latino, or Asian. Furthermore, except for a handful of token children of color in Kimble’s Oregon classroom, these broad caricatures are the only persons of color represented in the entire film; not one of them is a main or supporting character, and only three are even granted the most trivial amount of dialogue.

terminator saves compassion for oregon

by Veronica Paredes

In this early scene from the film, Schwarzenegger reprises his role from The Terminator (1984). Climbing up a narrow staircase, Schwarzenegger as John Kimble sneaks into one of Broadway’s in-between spaces, a bar reminiscent of Terminator’s bar, Tech Noir. Comparisons to Schwarzenegger’s machine-character in Terminator (1984) are inevitable: he wears sunglasses at night, carries a shotgun into a crowded nightclub, and shoots liberally. As Kimble clears the nightclub looking for his prey (not Sarah Connor, this time he seeks drug addict-cum-key witness Cindy) he passes as “the typical eighties action hero” (Jeffords 1993: 141).

Once Kimble arrives at his vulnerable female target, instead of killing like 1984’s Terminator, he instead playfully harasses. Kimble cracks jokes (“My place next time,” “I’m the party pooper”) before threatening Cindy with: “It’s nice seeing you again” and “I’m going to hang out with you until the end of time.” Kimble’s verbal pestering, in place of ruthless violence, mirrors the film’s larger subversion of Schwarzenegger’s star persona. In Kindergarten Cop, this brutal killer becomes a cuddly kindergarten teacher. 

Widely known as the vehicle for Schwarzenegger’s transformation that ultimately progressed to a political career, this film also grafts a shift from reckless aggression to warm compassion across geographic space. As the film moves from the urban decay of Downtown Los Angeles to the idyllic suburbs of Astoria, Oregon, its locations reflect more about the film’s ideology of American masculinity than it does about the reality of these actual locations. 

¿A dónde vas?

by Veronica Paredes

As Schwarzenegger approaches the scene, the marquee of the Arcade Theatre glows in the background, it reads “Los Muchachos Perdidos” and lists the headlining stars as Corey Feldman and Jami Gertz.  From the mid-1960s into the early 1990s, Spanish-language films of various sorts screened in several venues in Broadway’s theater district. Exhibited films included features from the Mexican film industry, as well as subtitled versions of Hollywood films. The title “Los Muchachos Perdidos” illustrates this practice, in this scene the Spanish-language version of Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987) is an intertextual signifier, but less as a specific filmic text and more as a practice of translating Hollywood and American media.

Throughout this clip, Spanish acts as a cultural layer that emphasizes the exoticism and otherness of this downtown environment. Unlike any of the film’s other locations, Spanish is the dominant language and persons of color are the majority in the two scenes that take place on Broadway. In this scene, Black American idioms, spoken Spanish, punk and Latino music are used to construct a setting of chaos and lawlessness. As he approaches the secret club, Kimble is challenged by an abusive doorman with the question “¿A dónde vas?” (Where are you going?) Kimble answers with an elbow to the face and a headbutt. As Kimble backtracks to his car warning another group that he loves his car, a character reassures him, “Yo man, I’m just gonna keep an eye on it for you, alright?” Luckily, this is the film’s only dialogue attempt at Black American idiom.

Later in the scene, after Kimble has completely shot up Cindy’s hiding spot, he silences the club’s punk music (Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom’s “The Party Starts Now”) by obliterating the stereo. After the punk music has faded away, a merengue song becomes audible, as though Latin music is the street’s natural pulse. The camera moves into a mid-shot with Kimble and Cindy seated on a couch in the warehouse/ club, while a large “Bridal Shower” sign in red neon shines behind them. These are certainly signs of Broadway, and in attempting to portray the street the film include the sign, the music, the people as cultural, linguistic, and racial signifiers. However, this is precisely the problem. By reducing the street’s cast of characters to signifiers for the white, main characters’ narrative, which include Kimble’s journey away from the urban and its motivated violence, and Cindy’s caricatured descent into drug addiction and death, the film does a disservice to the location’s complexities. In fact, the film’s only character who changes is John Kimble. Broadway is depicted especially broadly to provide a stark contrast to the utopia Kimble is to be rewarded with at the end of his transformation.

Schwarzenegger on Broadway

After his partner’s failed attempt to convince a murder witness to testify against the film’s villain Cullen Crisp, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s John Kimble uses a more aggressive method of persuasion. Kimble inexplicably finds Cindy (the witness) in a seedy club on South Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles.

from Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Creator: Ivan Reitman
Distributor: Universal Home Entertainment
Posted by Veronica Paredes