LOS ANGELES — The way Pa,Sacio Davinci tells it, he never wanted to be an actor. “Acting has never been a part of me, ‘cause I don’t like it,” he said. “I had to do it.”
It all started in 1997 during a visit to LA’s Griffith Observatory, when Davinci received a divine message. “It said, ‘Go do Moses,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘Look God, I’m no Moses, I don’t do miracles like that.’ The only way I could do Moses, is I could act Moses.” Davinci bought a robe and wig, picked up a staff from Home Depot, and climbed a peak in Griffith Park. Setting up his camcorder, he preached for about 15 minutes. (“No script … I just did whatever came to me.”) He then intercut his own interpretation of the Biblical prophet with footage he shot of animals at a zoo in Florida: elephants, camels, lizards.
This was the birth of The King Show, a public access program featuring Davinci and a rotating cast staging theatrical performances mixed and remixed with clips from Hollywood films, stock footage, simple costumes, green-screen effects, and a soundtrack featuring soul, R&B, and Gospel composed mainly of Davinci’s own music. On Sunday, February 5, the Velaslavasay Panorama exhibition space and theater in South LA will present Davinci’s Film Festival of Hollywood, an all-day showcase of select episodes of The King Show.
“You could watch one and it’s fascinating in its own right,” Sara Velas, founder of the Panorama, told Hyperallergic. But after watching several clips, she said, “you begin seeing patterns, how he works with other people, remixes stuff, his approach to sampling … This guy is a genius.”
Velas did not first encounter Davinci through his films, however, but through his paintings. In August 2021, she urgently needed signs painted for a project when she came upon a red truck covered with portraits and hand lettering at a supermarket parking lot. She waited for the owner to come out of the store and met Davinci, who ended up painting the signs for the Panorama’s Union Square Florist Shop. He casually mentioned his films. “One of these days I’m gonna bring you some of my movies, you might find them interesting,” Velas recalls him telling her. She was struck by the similarities between The King Show and her Panorama, which revives a pre-cinematic form of landscape painting in the round. “Both of our projects, in different ways, riff on themes of facades, illusions, tropes of cinema, the hopes-dreams-and-nightmares given to us by Hollywood,” she said. In August 2022, the Panorama held its first screening of Davinci’s films to commemorate the 25th anniversary of The King Show’s debut. This week’s all-day screening will present a larger selection and invite viewers to vote on their favorite film and even enjoy a hot dog grilled by Davinci himself.
Davinci’s films play with traditional Hollywood genres — Westerns, sci-fi, romance —reinterpreting them with DIY sets, props and costumes, improvisational dialogue, and low-fi effects. Fiction and reality come together — a cowboy story may be set to contemporary R&B music, intercut with scenes from high-budget films and footage depicting the streets around the South Central strip mall studio where The King Show was shot and edited. Davinci often reused clips in multiple films and even reshot the same film years apart. Notably, these familiar narratives are recast as Black stories with Black characters, made apparent by their titles: “1st Black Tarzan,” “First Black President,” “Black Trek,” and characters like “Black Shane,” “Captain Black,” and “Black Poison.” (Davinci also offered his version on “Blacula,” itself a 1972 Blaxploitation spin on the horror classic.)
Velas notes she also felt a kinship with Davinci based on their shared “extreme do-it-yourself nature.”
“We’re just going to do these things, channel these things, we feel compelled to create these things regardless of whether someone has given us permission or an audience,” she says. “We’ve created our own audiences and peculiar forms of community in doing so.”
Davinci’s “extreme DIY nature” is not limited to his filmmaking but extends across all his creative endeavors. He trained as a sign painter in Delaware where he grew up, and supported himself painting signs and portraits as a young man. He was the singer of a Gospel group, the Supreme Echoes, when he lived in Buffalo, New York in the mid-1970s, and continues to record his own songs that — like his films — sample elements of influences such as Otis Redding and the Manhattans. (His prolific audio-visual output can be found on one of his three YouTube channels, or three websites he’s created.) Above his red Toyota minivan, he has built a painting studio covered with portraits of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Barry White, Selena, and Bonnie and Clyde alongside advertisements for paintings and haircuts (he is a master barber.) The vehicle is usually parked at the corner of Manchester and St. Andrews, just outside the studio where The King Show was filmed.
“I’ve always done too much, everything I do is too much,” Davinci explained. “I always go to the extreme of everything I do. I am an extremist. I go all the way with it, and that’s what it is.”
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