World Film Locations: Los Angeles

World Film Locations: Los Angeles

by Gabriel Solomons (Editor)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781841504858
Publisher: Intellect, Limited
Publication date: 12/01/2011
Series: World Film Locations Series
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 581,564
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Gabriel Solomons is a senior lecturer in graphic design at the University of the West of England in Bristol. He is chief editor of both the Big Picture magazine and Intellect’s World Film Locations series.

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World Film Locations Los Angeles

By Gabriel Solomons

Intellect Ltd

Copyright © 2011 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84150-533-6




City of the Imagination


LOS ANGELES IS INDEED a "city of the imagination," but in its population it has engendered feelings equally ambiguous and dogmatic. In cinema, as in life, it remains at odds with itself, its local cultures, and the portrayal of its landscape on screen. But Los Angeles has one thing that no other film location does – it is the creative and spiritual center of the Hollywood filmmaking industry. Since Thomas H. Ince established assembly line production and the first fully functioning studio in Culver City, Hollywood has been the place where mainstream American cinema is formed and fabricated, art is transformed into a commodity, and casting couches are broken in – and these days, given points on the gross.

Hollywood's "imagineering" has visualized Los Angeles as both the destination of dreams and a psychological dead end, Heavenly port (City of Angels, 1998) and a literal Hell on Earth (Constantine, 2005), and in studio back-lot terms, "virtually" everything in-between. From science fiction conspiracy (Blade Runner, 1982) to contemporary urban menace (Training Day, 2001), Los Angeles continues to be utilized as a complex cinematic destination, with real-life locations made iconic through the imaginings of filmmakers. Just a few of the many local landmarks creatively captured by Hollywood cinema include Griffith Observatory (Rebel Without a Cause, 1955), the Vincent Thomas Bridge (To Live and Die in L.A., 1985), and Zuma Beach (Planet of the Apes, 1968). In the early years of Hollywood, location shooting encouraged the development of silent slapstick comedy and gave the burgeoning local film industry a unique "claim" to the surrounding land. With wide-screen technologies, landscape photography became an aesthetic and thematic counterpoint to the dense urban sprawl featured in many downtown L.A.-set films. The bustling backlots of studios like Paramount and MGM were occasionally featured on screen in variously successful attempts to comment on Hollywood's inside machinations (The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952). Lest we think that the industry was sustained entirely through falsified spectacle, the simple, uncomplicated location of the diner has never seemed as spacious or iconic as it is in the Los Angeles of Pulp Fiction (1994).

In the 1940s and 50s, film noir encouraged directors (many of them European immigrants) to artistically enhance their treatment of the Los Angeles landscape; the ambiguous angels of city life were given dirty faces through low-key lighting and ominous shadow-play. As David Bates notes in this volume, The Big Sleep (1946) – shot entirely on studio lots – is a "tribute to the L.A. of the imagination." Kiss Me Deadly (1955), considered by many to be the creative climax of first generation film noir, ends apocalyptically, and many L.A.-set films continue to harbor the underlying notion that Hollywood's dreams can ultimately end with the destruction of everything within, whether in physical or, more interestingly, psychological terms. Sunset Boulevard (1950) deconstructs the life of an aged actress desperate to hold onto her privileged existence, and reveals just how much hold Hollywood's "glamorous" life has over the rich and powerful – "boulevard of broken dreams," indeed.

Alternatively, film can perform an interesting archival function in movies like The Exiles (1961), which memorialized a number of Los Angeles-area locations and residential communities that were later razed for skyscrapers and stadiums. For relics of the past that do remain, cinematic Los Angeles seems to have the unique ability to bring to life stories from the past, future, and alternative dreamscapes. The barren banks of the Los Angeles River in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) helped usher in a contemporary cultural distinction and voice for black audiences, while in Chinatown (1974), water supplies and family corruption highlighted a neo-noir set in the 1930s, but never aging in lessons or meaning. Even an obscure genre sequel like The Crow: City of Angels (1996) has value, as the city's subcultures are played against each other in a dark physiological war of strikingly beautiful, artistically manipulated local iconography. On the bright side, Woody Allen manages to be as observant about Los Angeles in Annie Hall (1977) as he is about Manhattan (1979), giving a lighter touch to the often dense and desolate material which populated American cinemas during the 1960s and 70s. Similarly, L.A. Story (1991) is one of the few contemporary portrayals of the city that manages to be both loving and satirical, while also avoiding the obvious trope of involving the film industry in its narrative.

Los Angeles and Hollywood continue to be at odds in form and function. 2011's Battle: Los Angeles reiterates Hollywood's fascination with appropriating more "gritty" material for its own purposes; the film replicates the visual and audio aesthetics of contemporary war epics like Black Hawk Down (2001) and the innovative science fiction of 2009's District 9 in its hand-held narrative and fractured editing, but ultimately delivers familiar pleasures in an intense but frequently hollow blockbuster attitude. Analyzing Los Angeles as a "city of imagination," one usually finds it much more ambiguous, dense, and rich with complexity than most perceive. David Lynch's Mulholland Drive includes perhaps the most raw, revealingly sub-textual audition scene ever committed to a feature film, and his follow-up Inland Empire (2006) is truly apocalyptic, with a unique vision of Los Angeles and the psychology of contemporary filmmaking that dwarfs any other fiction or "reality." For Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), filmmaker Thom Andersen masterfully combined aesthetic appreciation and cultural criticism in a nearly three-hour visual and audio treatise on how the industry both celebrates and misrepresents the city of Los Angeles on screen.

These days, it's acknowledged by industry veterans and scholars with a hint of irony that Los Angeles and its sound stages are known more for their ability to digitally replicate expensive locations such as New York City – yet Hollywood continues to struggle as a production entity, with steady competition (in the form of attractive tax rebates) from Canada, Eastern Europe, and the Australasian region. That the Los Angeles film industry has survived a century later amidst "runaway production" and blockbuster abandon is a testament not only to the industry's fortitude and rigorous business acumen, but its continually fascinating dark charms as both the city of angels and place of apocalyptic despair.


LOCATIONThe Walter P. Story building at 610 South Broadway, Downtown

LOS ANGELES became home to silent comedians in the 1920s with its very own brand of comedy known as California Slapstick. Establishing himself as one of the greats, an innocent-looking chap named Harold Lloyd became the master of sky-high theatrics. Lloyd's greatest achievement is the classic Safety Last!, a time-honoured scene that reveals Los Angeles in all its glory from above. A dapper young man, awaiting his lady, is persuaded to climb one floor to escape a rowdy scene. Scaling the nearest pillar, he begins his ascent – the hard way. Clambering childishly, he arrives at the first floor embellishment overlooking Broadway and 9th. A reverse shot reveals a line of cars and passing trams, the beginnings of urban sprawl. Los Angeles landmarks cut horizontal lines into the urban backdrop. Masterfully delaying the inevitable, the striking heights of Broadway are resplendent in the sunshine. The key scene takes form as he dangles precariously from the face of a clock above Los Angeles' busiest intersection. Though LA architecture seems initially modest, through Lloyd's masterful suspense, the stunt, rather than boasting height, enlarges LA to proportions beyond film into the realm of iconography. Foregrounding the frantic scrambling of our hero, LA feels serene yet monumental; its rooftops a playground for the daring stuntmen of screen. Far from Coney Island antics and Keaton's coastal escapades, Lloyd made Los Angeles his moviemaking rec room, and brought the thrill of the chase to death-defying heights. ->Nicola Balkind


LOCATIONThe steps between 923 and 935 Vendome Street, Silver Lake

THE STEPS BETWEEN 923 and 935 Vendome Street in Silver Lake are the second most famous in film (or, at least, in films made before Rocky [Avildsen, 1976]). As much as any landmark has ever starred in a movie, they star in Laurel and Hardy's most acclaimed and iconic short, The Music Box. Only the Odessa Steps, as showcased in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925), are better known – though I doubt they are better loved. Stan and Ollie's Sisyphean task is to carry a piano to the house at the steps' summit. In their first attempt they encounter an obstacle that further unites them with (and perhaps references) Eisenstein's Odessa Steps sequence: a mother pushing a baby in a pram. She asks them to let her pass and, as they try to accommodate her, they let go of the piano. In a shot so perfect and improbable it is like live action animation, the piano slides down the steps with film's funniest duo sprinting after it. The scene showcases much of that at which Laurel and Hardy excel: the comedy switches from subtle to broad in a second, as does their desire to help their fellow man and to kick him (or her) up the backside. But the scene's greatest impact is delayed: it foreshadows the scene in which, told they need not have carried the piano to the top of the steps but could have driven up by another road, Stan and Ollie carry it back down so they can do just that. ->Scott Jordan Harris


LOCATIONDietrichson House, 6301 Quebec Drive, Hollywood Hills

'It was one of those California Spanish houses everyone was nuts about ten or fifteen years ago. This one must have cost somebody about 30,000 bucks – that is, if he ever finished paying for it.' – Walter Neff

WALTER NEFF'S (Fred MacMurray) entrapment by femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwick) in Wilder's noir classic begins with his arrival at the Dietrichson house; an exclusive, imposing mansion in the Hollywood Hills. The house is a signifier of urban alienation and dehumanization – isolated, unwelcoming – and inside Phyllis waits for her prey to become ensnared like a spider commanding her web. Behind the palms, the building's high walls suggest the occupant has something to hide, and that once inside and inculcated in Dietrichson's insidious scheme to inherit her husband's wealth, Neff in some ways never escapes. Portents of imprisonment abound inside the house: the bars of the wrought iron staircase that Dietrichson sweeps down to greet Neff that first time; the ball-and-chain of her anklet that we see in close-up; the light filtering through the venetian blinds. In every sense Neff is a dead man walking (and talking – his confessional Dictaphone recording is the narrative's framing device) and the Dietrichson house is as much a mausoleum as it is a jailhouse. Its dusty funereal interiors imply a state of death and decay, and wherever else we see Neff during the film, be it the drab aisles of a supermarket or the empty lanes of a bowling alley, somehow he is still stuck on Death Row. ->Jez Conolly


LOCATION26652 Latigo Shore, Malibu

LABELLED AS 'BOX OFFICE POISON', Joan Crawford was let go by MGM's Louis B. Mayer who was convinced that her star had faded. Crawford went to Warner Brothers and took the part of Mildred Pierce, a role that had even been turned down by Crawford's arch enemy, Bette Davis. Based on James M. Cain's novel, Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce earned Crawford an Oscar. One of the best examples of film noir, the rich black-and-white highlights Crawford's distinctive face perfectly as she plays the title character struggling to keep her family together after her philandering husband leaves. With the help of a playboy financial backer, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), she goes from waitress to restaurant owner. Malibu then, as now, is a scenic, exclusive enclave for the wealthy. It's where Mildred goes to put her business plan to Monte and it's where the film's opening murder takes place. Malibu is the 27 mile strip of prime sandy beach coastline along the Pacific. The exterior for Monte's home where he was murdered actually belonged to Curtiz. Located on Latigo Shore, the house was built in 1929 when Malibu was known as Malibu Colony, but it collapsed into the ocean in 1983. Seven years later, Malibu was incorporated into a city. Curtiz, recognizing that Malibu represented a place and lifestyle to which many aspire, cleverly uses the locale to demonstrate that the road to affluence can have a steep price. ->Deirdre Devers


LOCATIONLaverne Terrace, a fictional location created on a studio lot to represent a street on Laurel Canyon Boulevard

THE BIG SLEEP was shot entirely on studio lots in a city that offered a plethora of real locations. Geiger's house is the fictional Laverne Terrace, which, according to the book, is near Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. An abundance of architectural styles proliferated there, often pastiching one style or another. Geiger's house has rustic pretensions, with stone walls and wooden shutters. Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is alerted to trouble within by a flash in the window and a scream, followed seconds later by the sound of gunshots; an aural disconnect to the flash adding to the overall artifice of the scene. Inside, the set designers provide an abundance of oriental exoticism at odds with the exterior and with Marlowe's sombre attire. He discovers a drugged Blanche standing over Geiger's dead body. The interior is bedecked with drapes, textiles and beads with a Far East theme. Blanche herself is wearing a kimono with a dragon motif; the whole effect is one of treachery and corruption in a film made when the USA was fighting the Japanese. Marlowe finds a hidden camera, the source of the flash, and the intimation is of intrigue, blackmail and double dealing – even Marlowe duplicitously covers the tracks of his rich client's daughter. The house is used in other pivotal scenes, as various sleights of hand are played out, including a disappearing and reappearing corpse. The establishing scene is a tribute to the LA of the imagination, where all things are possible with the craft of Hollywood set designers. ->David Bates


LOCATIONRoyal Beach Inn (fictional hotel), south of Malibu

GEORGE MARSHALL'SThe Blue Dahlia is one of the most recognisable film noirs. Written by Raymond Chandler, it follows Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd), an ex-bomber pilot suspected of murdering his wife, Helen (Doris Dowling), in the Blue Dahlia nightclub. On the run, he meets the beautiful Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake) who, unbeknownst to him, is the estranged wife of the nightclub's owner, Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva). En route to Malibu through the deluge of Los Angeles rain, Joyce offers Johnny a lift. More than a metaphorical use of weather, the downpour magnifies the irregularity of finding a lone figure walking in the wet urban sprawl. Despite their mutual connection to Harwood, the two are strangers, heightening the feeling of coincidence. Pushing against this, Johnny takes his leave at the first possible moment. In the Royal Beach Inn dining room south of Malibu, Johnny takes a seat for brunch in front of a gorgeous coastal vista – the California weather clear after the rain. Catching a glimpse of him in her compact's mirror, Joyce joins him, perching on the white brick wall as waves crash behind them. A distinctive rock stands rugged in the water; a crater in its side concealing inner depths. Having escaped the heavy rain and drama in Los Angeles, they share a moment of confidence, conceding that they must return north. Having reached the 'end of the line' in the form of the coast, Johnny ditches Joyce once again. Like Los Angeles, he cannot escape her; they are bound in ways that cannot be seen. ->Nicola Balkind


Excerpted from World Film Locations Los Angeles by Gabriel Solomons. Copyright © 2011 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents

Los Angeles: City of the Imagination
      Michael S Duffy
Map of Scenes 1–8: 1923–1955
California Slapstick: On Location Film-Making Gets Rolling
      Nicola Balkind
Map of Scenes 9–16: 1955–1977
Black Dynamite: Film Noir and Los Angeles in the Shadows
      Andrew Spicer
Map of Scenes 17–24: 1978–1991
Getting Played: Hollywood, South Central and the Space Between
      Benjamin Wiggins
Map of Scenes 25–32: 1991–1994
Welcome to Hell-A
      Martin Zeller-Jacques
Map of Scenes 33–40: 1994–1997
Living in A Mann's World: Michael Mann's L.A.
      Wael Khairy
Map of Scenes 41–48: 1998–2007
Eurovisions: Alternative Views of the Hollywood Landscape
      Michael S Duffy

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