June 28, 2007

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

"I learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original" — Reyner Banham, "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies".

There's something deeply familiar but also quite exotic about the LA shown here (from an old 1972 BBC documentary); it seems transported from another world, both temporally and spatially. It's not just the dated cars, the empty freeways, and the references to Watts being rebuilt (it's difficult to know what to make of his comments about Watts and his visit to the ghetto — that's worth a whole article in itself), but it's also the sense of the vast bits of LA that he just glosses over or ignores completely. Banham takes LA on what I think he thinks is its own terms, but LA's more than just the Usual Suspects (Venice, Pasadena, Watts, Palos Verdes, Wiltshire, Sunset, Santa Monica, the beaches, Hollywood, Griffith Park, etc.), it's also Sun Valley, San Bernadino, Northridge, Simi Valley, even Victorville (well, nowadays, at least). Banham thinks of the sun setting over the Pacific as being iconic, a shared experience for Los Angelenos, and it is in its way (in a way that's definitely not true for that other Californian Pacific city, San Francisco), but most of LA is a long way from the sea, and the sun sets over refineries, hills, freeway on-ramps, housing projects, or the cars stuck in front of you on the Harbor Freeway a lot more than over Santa Monica pier or Hermosa Beach. And there's something deeply significant that by far the most articulate interviewee in the film is a Muscle Beach denizen (who we never actually get to see). Oh, and dig the Ed Ruscha "interview" near the end!

Jimmy Little loves Los Angeles too, but that's partly because I have the option of leaving it when I'm working or visiting down there (and because LA's attitudes can be such a bracing charge after the self-absorbed fog of smugness that so often envelops San Francisco). For all its reputation as a non-city or even an anti-city, LA at street level can feel a hell of a lot more like a huge bustling conglomeration of cultures, interests, people, and businesses (you know, a "city") than those self-centred places with a Real Downtown….

(Part of Flix and California).

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