Friday, March 16, 2012

City of Sunlight: L.A. Through the Prism

SOMEHOW, I ended up with the film Cyrus, staring John C. Reilly, in my Netflix queue. It was suggested for one reason or another -- one that I'm still not quite clear about. It's a romantic comedy with a tilt, I guess you could say.  Once I began watching it, however, I found myself more interested in not what was going on plot wise, but what was going on in the background --  literally.  The backdrop of the film is Los Angeles.

The architecture, the slope of the hills, the quality of sunlight: Much of it looked as if it was shot in Northeast L.A. -- Silver Lake, Echo Park -- or was meant to be translated as such.  The houses the characters inhabited were California Bungalows or modest stucco domiciles surrounded by vibrant  tangles of bougainvillaea and agave. It was Paradise enclosed and protected by a picket fence or a brief retaining wall. For each character, that plot of land was the postage stamp of Los Angeles' promise -- despite the mayhem exploding in their personal lives. 

This on-screen glimpse, through a filmmaker's eye made me think about how enchanting this Los Angeles looked through the camera and about other films that have chosen to focus as well that quiet natural beauty -- that Arcadia, we've been talking about --  rather than the forced Hollywood plastic glam Los Angeles often seems to be defined by.

Have any of you seen Steve Martin's Shop Girl? I remember watching this film and also making an mental note that Steve Martin really does see the beauty of Los Angeles alongside the complicated lives we work through. Light too plays an important part, as well as the architecture (and the defining characteristics of neighborhoods) that help to delineate  communities and sketch characters.

So, I thought I'd put together a brief list of films that show off Los Angeles' nuanced beauty -- the light, the flora, the sense of personal space and the freedom that comes with that.

Here's the trailer for Cyrus:

This film, Quincinera, also set in Echo Park, feels very much like a walk through the city during a very particular time in L.A. -- the early to mid 90s as the neighborhood began to gentrify.

Check out the Lincoln Lawyer for views of Highland Park and georgeous Echo Park sunset-to-twilight. 

What are some of your favorites? Images of L.A. on film that stick with you?


  1. I just saw Blade Runner for the first time (crazy, I know). I was really impressed by the opening image, which is one filmmaker's idea of what Los Angeles will look like in the year 2019...which now isn't' too far off. To me, this image is just a slightly darker, slightly more grim version of what Los Angeles looks like now at night. This opening image, though a projection of what LA will be in the future, accurately captures the paradoxical sense of doom and optimistic pride that I feel whenever I look out over my city from a high up point.

    I can't figure out how to post the picture here (yikes), but you can see it by googling "Los Angeles in Blade Runner" :)

  2. I will definitely check the photo out -- and post it for you. I haven't seen Blade Runner in a decade or so, which means, I think, it's time to revisit, but I am somewhat apprehensive about it. I remember when L.A. Live went up and from the rise of the 110 looking down on it, with that wash of turquoise, lavender and green light and Jumbo-trons etc., I flashed on Blade Runner and the claustrophobia and anxiety I felt while watching it, so yes, it seems that that projected vision does still hold true. thanks for sharing your memory/insight.

  3. Unfortunately, I feel as though I am a little uncultured when it comes to having seen movies that represent Los Angeles or that are full of substance. Obviously, from one of my previous blog posts, I really enjoyed the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, but rather than Los Angeles as a stage, this was a portrayal of a past L.A. that has been somewhat lost, or rather, altered with time. I think that before I moved here for school, I didn't realize just how many pictures, movies and television shows are taken and filmed here. I always saw these forms of entertainment as created far away on some sort of completely fabricated movie set, but Los Angeles itself IS a movie set. Now that I do live here, I start to recognize little things about L.A. on films that I see, whether it's the Hollywood sign, the LACMA lamp post exhibit, or parts of Venice, like in Falling Down.

    1. Two recent films that stand out to me for displaying a Los Angeles not seen in many films are "(500) Days of Summer" and "Drive." Downtown is used a lot for movie locations, but it often stands in for another city, and rarely is the detail of its architecture, from all heights, highlighted as it was in "500" (it helps that the main character was an aspiring architect). "Drive" does what a lot of noir films do: show the gritty side of L.A. But somehow it managed to make the gritty beautiful in its own uniquely dark and twisted way.