Poker & Pop Culture: 'Freeway City' Helps Share Story of Gardena Poker
The Robert Altman-directed Split is a realistic study of gambling, generally speaking, with poker a favored game of the protagonists. Meanwhile Freeway City presents the story of a Los Angeles suburb where the game of poker had a significant impact on its growth and culture.
Shot, edited and directed over the course of nearly a decade by filmmaker Max Votolato, Freeway City relates the complicated history of Gardena, California. That means going all of the way back to the area's late-19th century agricultural origins, carrying us through its incorporation as a city in 1930 and subsequent response to World War II and its effect on the city's significant Japanese-American population, then moving ahead through the later decades' racial tensions (including the nearby Watts riots in 1965 and their aftermath), political battles, economic challenges and the city's ever-evolving demographics.
Since Freeway City was produced, the owners of the Normandie became embroiled in scandal over violating anti-money laundering laws, having their gaming licenses revoked and being forced to sell. Flynt again was the purchaser, renaming the property the Larry Flynt's Lucky Lady Casino and currently pursuing plans to renovate it further.
All of which further removes us even further from Gardena's heyday as a true "poker capital," although it can still be experienced second-hand via resources like Hayano's Poker Faces, California Split and Freeway City,
Freeway City can be viewed online for free via the film's website. And for more background on the film, check out this PokerNews interview with filmmaker Max Votolato.
From the forthcoming "Poker & Pop Culture: Telling the Story of America's Favorite Card Game." Martin Harris teaches a course in "Poker in American Film and Culture" in the American Studies program at UNC-Charlotte.
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