Category Archives: Fictional LA

LA Plays Itself In The Movies: Speed

Here is why Speed could not have been filmed anywhere other than Los Angeles: You need enough city space for a bus to go 50 mph for a whole movie without running out of city and 2 of the big action plot points count on a) a major freeway being under construction and b) a subway being under construction. Where else but Los Angeles in 1994?

You all remember the plot: Crazy Bomber (Dennis Hopper) is pissed off at LAPD hot shot Jack Treven (Keanu) for fouling up a previous hostage crisis and is taking revenge by putting a bomb on a bus that activates when the bus hits 50 mph and will explode if the bus slows below 50 mph. There is also plucky heroine, Annie (Oscar™ winner Sandra Bullock) and Jack’s LAPD partner Harry (Jeff Daniels).

After a lot of cars being smashed up on surface streets, they get the bus onto the 105 — it’s under construction with no traffic, there will be plenty of room to solve the bomb problem. Everyone relaxes for a moment until they find out part of the freeway isn’t finished and they’ll have to jump the gap, physics be damned. Later in the subway from Pershing Square to Hollywood/Highland, Jack and Crazy Bomber fight it out, (spoiler alert) Jack wins, but Annie is still handcuffed to a pole, the subway driver is dead, the controls shot to hell and the tracks end in a construction zone around a bend up ahead. What do you do? What DO you DO?

Obviously, you speed up the train (though why you could speed it up but not slow it down seems confusing…), make it jump the tracks and hope for the best. “The best” being the train flying up a ramp right onto Hollywood Blvd in front of the Chinese Theater. I love LA Mass Transit!

Click past the jump for some images and tangential info. Find the rest of the LA Plays Itself Series here.

Continue reading LA Plays Itself In The Movies: Speed

LA Plays Itself in the Movies: Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce (released in 1945) opens with gunshots and a the shadowy figure of a woman running away in the dead of night, set against a backdrop of crashing, Pacific ocean waves, as a beachouse somewhere on the coast is transformed from an idyllic retreat to the scene of a crime, committed in cold blood.

Mildred Pierce teases us with this image of a dark, mysterious, dangerous Los Angeles, and then sends us back in time, to years before this moment of high anxiety, to an unlikely origin point for murder: an unassuming house in a Southern California suburb, with Mission-style arched doorways and plam trees in the front yard. It’s here that Mildred, played by Joan Crawford in a career-defining role, slaves away as a housewife, baking pies in her spare time to keep her uppity, unappreciative eldest daughter Veda in piano lessons and fancy dresses. Mildred and her husband divorce because of Veda’s increasingly high-maintenance lifestyle, and Mildred and Veda spin into a mother-daughter tete-a-tete that lasts for years.

Continue reading LA Plays Itself in the Movies: Mildred Pierce

L.A. Plays Itself in the Movies: Barton Fink (1991)

[youtube][/youtube]My first screenwriting instructor told our class not to write movies about writers, because their work, unlike the activities of cops and criminals, does not contain the dramatic action that movies require.  Maybe he was right, at least as far as popular appeal.  “Barton Fink,” written by Ethan and Joel Coen and directed by Joel, only grossed $6 million domestically at the box office.  On the other hand, it won the Palme D’Or at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, as well as the awards for Best Director and Best Actor (John Turturro), and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Barton Fink hits L.A. and L.A. hits back, after the jump

LA Plays Itself In The Movies: Blue Thunder (1983)

Blue Thunder was released in 1983, and shot (I assume) in 1982. My first reaction watching this movie again for the first time in a while was Oh The SMOG! This movie is a time capsule for Stage 1 Smog alerts among other things.

Blue Thunder is about Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider), a Vietnam vet and police helicopter pilot who is assigned to test the most advance helicopter ever built. The cover story is that with the Los Angeles Olympics around the corner, they need a machine to quell potential riots, terrorism and crime. Frank is, uh, an interesting choice for this mission as he suffers from PTSD triggered flashbacks and, as other characters mention in the first act, has recently had a “wig-out” and should be on leave. These were different times. These were real men.

Soon the truth is revealed about the real reason Blue Thunder has been brought to Los Angeles….

Fly across the jump to read more and to see the trailer and a helicopter chase scene through the LA River.

Continue reading LA Plays Itself In The Movies: Blue Thunder (1983)

LA Plays Itself In The Movies: A New Metblog Series

You know LA plays a role when you see the Bonaventure...

Starting on Monday (April 5) your LA Metblog authors are starting a new series of posts called: LA Plays Itself In The Movies. (Similar to our series last year called Songs About Los Angeles.) We’ll write about favorite movies in which LA is not just a backdrop or a random location or even doubling for somewhere else, but in which the city plays a role. These are movies that could not have been made anywhere else other than our awesome city.

As with last year’s song series, this is not a “Best Of” or “Top 25” list, it is more fun and personal to each author. The series will last about three weeks and we encourage you to tell us about your favorite movie in which LA is a star!

(The photo is my own.)

Click past the jump to see the full list of posts in this series.

Continue reading LA Plays Itself In The Movies: A New Metblog Series

What do Howard Hughes, James Ellroy, and James Cameron Have in Common?

Apparently,  a lot.  I was making my way through James Ellroy‘s “The Big Nowhere,” and, not too far in, Howard Hughes appears, along with his head of security, a crooked retired cop named Turner “Buzz” Meeks.  Meeks works at Hughes Aircraft, and it takes him an hour to drive to Studio City for some dirty work in pre-405 1950.  Trying to do the math, I recalled the giant Playa Vista residential development just a few miles from my house.

A couple of years ago, I took some dogs walking down the Westchester Bluffs on the South side of the Playa Vista property.  There were a couple of long drab buildings at the base of the bluffs, as well as a narrow service road.  Someone told me the buildings were film studios.  Another person told me they were part of Hughes Aircraft.

So I did some research and found this amazing website.  The gist of it is, this property was not only the headquarters for Hughes Aircraft, it was also Howard Hughes’ private airport. Howard Hughes buys our backyard, after the jump

The LA That Was and the LA That Will Never Be

Photo used with Matt Loque's permission
Photo used with Matt Loque's permission

I think LA would pretty much be a perfect city if it weren’t for the cars and the air quality (I work in Chatsworth–cough, cough). So Matt Logue’s Empty LA (via Urban Daddy) comes across like porn to me–something approaching post-apocalyptic porn, admittedly, but I am pretty sympathetic to the “hell is other people” school of thought so there you go. Logue’s vision of LA’s streets and beaches emptied of people and cars and all signs of life is exhilarating and kind of terrifying. The book comes in cloth and paper, in two format sizes–13 x 11 and 10 x 8. It’s marvelous.

On the other end of the fantasy LA spectrum are the amazing panoramic photos of ca. 1899 downtown LA–Bunker Hill–posted on Shorpy (see Chris Conkle’s comment for specifics about location) It’s an amazing testimony to this city’s ability to shed its skin. LA is a city that razes and rebuilds. While this opens us for the inevitable “why can’t we be more like San Francisco” criticism that we deny our history, at the same time, it’s part of the fantastic optimism (denial of reality even) of a verdant city in the middle of a desert, populated with folks who come here to recreate themselves. LA is where America arrived at the end of the imperative to “go west.” With no more frontier, we level and recreate this city over and over again.

Driving Mulholland With David Lynch

IMG_1700My theory is that, like Halloween, one is either a fan of David Lynch‘s films or not.  I am.  Recently, I watched Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” for the second time, and the first time since moving to the Los Angeles area.  It was quite eye-opening.

As for the film itself, I understood more the second time around.  “Mulholland Drive” simply cannot be viewed only once (unless you are in the category of unfortunate people who don’t like David Lynch films, in which case once is probably too much).  But then I did some research, and found out some really interesting things.  Since I rented and do not own the dvd, I did not know that Lynch inserted ten clues to watching the movie inside the back cover of the dvd box.
  Get a clue, after the jump

Restroom art of Los Angeles: Johnie’s Coffee Shop

Ex nihilo LA fit
Ex nihilo LA fit

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, and to my dear Fairfax District, I’ve been meaning to eat at the historical Johnie’s Coffee Shop on Wilshire and Fairfax.  Of course, as with most things LA, the shop is a familiar combination of wide repute and complete unreality.  During a week of fiction, simulacrum, and frenzied media creation of a whole lot of expensive something out of almost nothing, it seemed like a fine time for a meal and a photograph: A garish pop star with a history of strange behaviors and legal troubles had died, thereby disrupting all Los Angeles streets, costing the city millions, and turning all national TV news into tawdry melodramatic fiction. Like the city that hosts it, Johnie’s is a movie prop.

Continue reading Restroom art of Los Angeles: Johnie’s Coffee Shop

Is The Informers the new Satyricon?

informersCertainly one of the darkest visions of Los Angeles to ever appear on the big screen, The Informers, adapted from a series of short stories by Bret Easton Ellis first published in 1994, is a brutal look at a group of mostly rich, spoiled twenty-somethings and their families in 1983 as they party, snort a lot of cocaine, have group sex in all variations, contract a mysterious disease and betray their friends, their parents, their friends’ parents and each other.

If you’re the type of person who needs to see fluffy images of sweetness and sensitivity projected in large rooms in 90-minute chunks for entertainment, then this movie of entwined, slimy and squirming characters will probably make your brain swell and explode. Not a single scene relents from the anguish of its characters. It kicks off with a senseless death at a swank party peopled by blonde beauties and descends from there. A pounding ’80s soundtrack, full-frontal nudity and pumping sex scenes make it seem like the new Satyricon, but it isn’t Rome that’s burning– this time, it’s Los Angeles. (R-rated trailer after click.) Continue reading Is The Informers the new Satyricon?

Is this a DUI offense?

Bumper sticker seen on Crescent Heights, Hollywood.


Sorry for the technical limits.  I was driving, and not able to get an actual picture of the sticker.  I think my reproduction captures the essence of it though.  For what it’s worth, car looked to be about a 1990’s Toyota, not obviously falling apart, but also not so pricey as the German cars that inhabit my neighborhood.

(for blind readers and robots: the image reads “I’d rather be reading Bukowski”)

Form follows floatsam

A simulacrum of nothing much
A simulacrum of nothing much

One of the many horrors of L.A. architecture is certainly its over-presentation in movies and television. It is comically clichéd to see stories set in other cities, whose framing shots are the same Los Angeles “skyline” that even non-Angelenos have come to recognize as framing shots of every non-L.A. city that makes it onto filmic representation.  What makes this SoCal-centrism so much the worse is the underlying vacuity of buildings in Los Angeles.  Fredric Jameson, following Jean-François Lyotard, famously advanced the notion of postmodernism as pastiche, and Angelena intellectuals often paint the unthinking, seedy eclecticism of Los Angeles as advancing such post-modern ideals (or its anti-idealism, perhaps).

Continue reading Form follows floatsam

Notes Of A Dirty Old Man

With scores of Angelenos heading to Austin for the annual SXSW music, film, and interactive conference & festival, this is the perfect opportunity to explore the grubby underbelly of Los Angeles.

Tomorrow, Esotouric, the same unconventional tour company responsible for “The Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus” and the “Crawling Down Cahuenga: Tom Waits’ LA” tour, will be leading an excursion through Los Angeles as Bukowski lived it in, “Haunts of a Dirty Old Man: Charles Bukowski’s Los Angeles.”

Charles Bukowski 1920-1994
Charles Bukowski 1920-1994

A dirty realist, Bukowski’s writing was heavily influenced by his hometown of Los Angeles and now you too can get a first hand glimpse of the gritty world he inhabited.

It’s not too late to sign up for tomorrow’s Bukowski tour, as they take reservations up to the morning of the tour. So stock up on scotch and cigarettes and Continue reading Notes Of A Dirty Old Man

Chaparral: New SoCal Literary Magazine


Listen up all you Chandler aficionados, noir novelists, and dark lyricists, there’s a new literary magazine in town (inasmuch as an online periodical can be “in town”), and they are soliciting material for their next issue on noir LA.

Chaparral, which will focus on work from and/or about Southern California, was just announced last week. This inaugural issue features poetry by Amy Gerstler, Douglas Kearney, Dorothy Barresi, Victoria Chang and more. Chaparral will be collaborating with Street Poets for a benefit reading in late May or early June. (Check the Chaparral website for details.)

Following the break is the announcement I got about the upcoming issue:

Continue reading Chaparral: New SoCal Literary Magazine

Los Angeles goes boom

LAvsNukeAngelenos, take some pride in knowing that we can survive just about any disaster.

Riots? Earthquakes? Wildfires? Mudslides? Ryan Seacrest?

Pfft. We got it covered.

And not surprisingly, according to a new Google mash-up called Ground Zero, it looks like no matter where you’d drop a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles, most of the rest of the County would survive. That’s the nice thing about urban sprawl.

To see for yourself, click here, enter an address, then choose your bomb of choice, from Fatman to Little Boy to a more modern Chinese built warhead, and click “Nuke It!” You’ll see who dies first, and who may get off with just a little necrosis (I don’t know what that means either, but I’m betting it’s nasty).

You can even see the impact of an asteroid collision, which actually might finally do us in. On the bright side, it would take Seacrest with us.