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Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles

Overview

Unlike the more forthrightly mythic origins of other urban centers—think Rome via Romulus and Remus or Mexico City via the god Huitzilopochtli—Los Angeles emerged from a smoke-and-mirrors process that is simultaneously literal and figurative, real and imagined, material and metaphorical, physical and textual. Through penetrating analysis and personal engagement, Vincent Brook uncovers the many portraits of this ever-enticing, ever-ambivalent, and increasingly multicultural megalopolis. Divided into sections that ...

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Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles

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Overview

Unlike the more forthrightly mythic origins of other urban centers—think Rome via Romulus and Remus or Mexico City via the god Huitzilopochtli—Los Angeles emerged from a smoke-and-mirrors process that is simultaneously literal and figurative, real and imagined, material and metaphorical, physical and textual. Through penetrating analysis and personal engagement, Vincent Brook uncovers the many portraits of this ever-enticing, ever-ambivalent, and increasingly multicultural megalopolis. Divided into sections that probe Los Angeles’s checkered history and reflect on Hollywood’s own self-reflections, the book shows how the city, despite considerable remaining challenges,  is finally blowing away some of the smoke of its not always proud past and rhetorically adjusting its rear-view mirrors.

Part I is a review of the city’s history through the early 1900s, focusing on the seminal 1884 novel Ramona and its immediate effect, but also exploring its ongoing impact through interviews with present-day Tongva Indians, attendance at the 88th annual Ramona pageant, and analysis of its feature film adaptations.

Brook deals with Hollywood as geographical site, film production center, and frame of mind in Part II. He charts the events leading up to Hollywood’s emergence as the world’s movie capital and explores subsequent developments of the film industry from its golden age through the so-called New Hollywood, citing such self-reflexive films as Sunset Blvd., Singin’ in the Rain, and The Truman Show.

Part III considers LA noir, a subset of film noir that emerged alongside the classical noir cycle in the 1940s and 1950s and continues today. The city’s status as a privileged noir site is analyzed in relation to its history and through discussions of such key LA noir novels and films as Double Indemnity, Chinatown, and Crash.

In Part IV, Brook examines multicultural Los Angeles. Using media texts as signposts, he maps the history and contemporary situation of the city’s major ethno-racial and other minority groups, looking at such films as Mi Familia (Latinos), Boyz N the Hood (African Americans), Charlotte Sometimes (Asians), Falling Down (Whites), and The Kids Are All Right (LGBT).

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
"Brook presents a provocative cultural history of Los Angeles that cuts through the myths and glam often associated with the film industry and the city's historical development and noir setting. An important addition to collections with a focus on Southern California and Los Angeles or film history. Recommended."
Southern California Quarterly

"A unique look at the historiography of Los Angeles."
University of Southern California - Félix F. Gutiérrez
"A compelling, well-researched story of Los Angeles's deep and diverse roots and growth from indigenous settlements to the world's most multicultural metropolis . . . a must-read for anyone hoping to understand the city's past, present and future."
Journal of American History

"Land of Smoke and Mirrors is so referentially rich that it, together with complementary articles and films, could serve as a cultural lexicon for students asigned to research the region's copious imagery."
Choice

"Brook presents a provocative cultural history of Los Angeles that cuts through the myths and glam often associated with the film industry and the city's historical development and noir setting. An important addition to collections with a focus on Southern California and Los Angeles or film history. Recommended."
University of Southern California - Félix F. Gutiérrez

"A compelling, well-researched story of Los Angeles's deep and diverse roots and growth from indigenous settlements to the world's most multicultural metropolis . . . a must-read for anyone hoping to understand the city's past, present and future."
author of Hollywood’s Dark Cinema: The American Film Noir - R. Barton Palmer

"A cultural geography of Los Angeles has never before been conducted with such brio, verve, and insight. This book is something quite unique and special."
University of Southern California - F�lix F. Guti�rrez

"A compelling, well-researched story of Los Angeles's deep and diverse roots and growth from indigenous settlements to the world's most multicultural metropolis . . . a must-read for anyone hoping to understand the city's past, present and future."
University of Southern California

"A compelling, well-researched story of Los Angeles's deep and diverse roots and growth from indigenous settlements to the world's most multicultural metropolis . . . a must-read for anyone hoping to understand the city's past, present and future."

— Félix F. Gutiérrez

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813554563
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,121,445
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

VINCENT BROOK teaches at UCLA, USC, Cal State–LA, and Pierce College. He is the author of Something Ain’t Kosher Here: The Rise of the "Jewish" Sitcom and Driven to Darkness: Jewish Émigré Directors and the Rise of Film Noir (both Rutgers University Press).

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