L.A. Plays Itself In The Movies: Valley Girl (1983)

She’s cool.
He’s hot.
She’s from the Valley.
He’s not.

Julie (Deborah Foreman) and Randy (a very young Nicolas Cage) are geography-crossed teenagers in love in 1983 Los Angeles. Not long after dumping her popular boyfriend, Tommy, Julie falls for Randy, who is from Hollywood. Her friends do not approve because, like oh my gawd, he’s “different.” He wears red and black instead of pastels, he slums it in a loud, dirty bar, and has friends who look like Sid Vicious. Grody to the max. I’m so sure.

In spite of how much Julie likes Randy, her bitchy “friends” convince her to “do the right thing,” which is break up with Randy and get back together with Tommy. They threaten her with the prospect of losing all of them and her social status. While truly conflicted, the desire to be popular prevails. What a total bummer. Randy is crushed and tries really hard to win Julie back, but she won’t give in.

In one last ditch effort to get the girl, Randy and his best friend crash the Valley High prom and make quite a scene disrupting the coronation of Prom King and Queen, Tommy and Julie. Fists fly and Randy and Julie steal away in the limo that brought her to the dance. Off they go, up the 405, to spend what can only have been an amazing night at the Valley Sheraton.

The premise of this movie, a modern day Romeo and Juliet, depends on Los Angeles playing a strong supporting role. You could even look at the L.A. portrayed in Valley Girl as multiple characters: The Valley, Hollywood, and The Beach. Now that I live in L.A., I definitely suffer from the problem of noticing, and often pointing out, the liberties that are taken in presenting the city. It’s something I didn’t think about before moving here in 1994. I find it fascinating to see how parts of Los Angeles are stitched together to create a version of the city that suits the needs of the storyteller.

L.A. is actually the first character you see and hear about as Valley Girl starts. A radio announcer says, “…they’ll be playing at the Hollywood Bowl…” as we hover above the Lake Hollywood reservoir looking toward Hollywood. We then head over the hills that house the famous sign for a reveal of The Valley. Well, it’s Burbank, but close enough. What I do find amusing is that instead of panning west into The Valley proper, we pan east into Glendale. Anyway, what-EVER! The first place where we encounter the Valley girls is The Mall. Duh. The location used for the opening sequence is the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, not the Sherman Oaks Galleria which is often misstated on various websites. In addition to official location lists, there is a clear shot of a door handle at the mall that says Del Amo on it.

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L.A. Plays Itself in the Movies: Magnolia

When I saw Magnolia the first time, the sum total of what I knew about the movie, going in to the theater, could fit on an index card: This was a movie by the guys who did Boogie Nights but it was about the 90s not the 70s. That’s it; that was what I knew. I rarely go into a film totally blind, but I’d loved Boogie Nights so Paul Thomas Anderson was enough of a recommendation for me.

To be honest, Magnolia emotionally knee-capped me. I cried, and not just in that oops got something in my eye; damn that guy with too much cologne kind of way. We’re talking full blown weeping complete with nose blowing. And so I am loathe to talk too much about the specifics of the movie in case there are some of you who have not seen it.

What I’ll say is this: the “magnolia” in the title is Magnolia Boulevard that runs most of the length of the east valley. The film follows the intersecting stories of a number of different Valley characters, all of whom are damaged and fundamentally isolated.

Twice in the movie, we hear the line, “And the book says, ‘We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.’” And so it seems for our characters who are all, in their way, wounded by their history. Much of the drama in the movie comes from the effort to outrun or deny the past, the personal equivalent of L.A.’s propensity to raze and rebuild, raze and rebuild. After all, California is where people go to reinvent themselves, no? Continue reading “L.A. Plays Itself in the Movies: Magnolia”

LA Plays Itself in the Movies: Repo Man

This is an LA of space aliens, government conspiracies, stoned parents, evangelists,  lobotomies, repo men, debt, “Dioretix: Science of Matter of Mind,” rebellious youth, armed robbery, and most significantly some would argue, punk rock. Repo Man is the story of Otto Maddox (Emelio Estevez), an 18 year-old punk whose parents spend all day smoking weed and sending money they don’t have to a televangelist who preaches, “I want your money, because God wants it. So go out and mortgage that home, and sell that car, and send me your money. You don’t need that car.” Otto gets a job as a repo man, where Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) schools him (“Ordinary fucking people, I hate ’em.”) and the local  crazy shaman bum Miller (Tracey Walter) philosophizes (“There’s like this lattice of coincidence laid on top of everything”). Meanwhile, Otto meets Leila who is being tailed by creepy blonde government agents because she knows too much about a lobotomized scientist and his trunk full of aliens. Ultimately, everyone in the movie is looking for the same thing. Love? Salvation? Nope. A ’64 Chevy Malibu.

And here’s how LA this movie is: According to IMDB, a couple of days into filming, the Chevy Malibu was stolen. They located a replacement, and then the police found the original stolen vehicle and returned it unharmed, which was lucky since one of the actors subsequently wrecked the replacement car. Now that’s LA, ladies and gentlemen.

Continue reading “LA Plays Itself in the Movies: Repo Man”