La La Land
Brisbane has a LA sky today. The Brisbane winter, always short and mild and hardly worthy of the term has now days become a non-event. Four weeks of put a hoody on and then it is gone. And gone quickly too. Fuck spring, lets just leap straight into 30 degree plus days now, in early September. Today a hot but mercifully dry wind is blowing from the outback causing dangerous bush fires, dust and smoke haze. The cloudless sky is hazy and the horizon looks like cold porridge and just like the horizon in Los Angeles. We seem to be getting closer to L.A’s desert influenced weather as the drought and global warming make us drier and hotter.
Now Brisbane and Los Angeles do have a lot in common. They always have, just look at the beaches, the north south sprawl, the enclosing mountain range, amusement parks, movie industry [obviously of vastly different sizes but nevertheless,] highways, a certain sunny disposition. A rural heritage, now I suspect largely forgotten in LA’s case and being forgotten here as we grow.
As destinations for tourists both cities are almost gateways to elsewhere. LA has always been the Australian starting point in the USA thanks to Qantas but as we have become more sophisticated it seems to be New York that calls more and besides, if you don’t have kids to hit up the likes of Disneyland the attractions of LA are harder to define. I suspect Brisbane itself is a bit that way too for a mature visitor. The stuff you want to see is all around it but not really in it.
As you can see I have been thinking a lot about LA lately and for that you can thank Mr Quentin Tarantino and his latest movie, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. It made me think about the last time I went to LA and how for the first time after at least four visits I finally got it.
I am a huge fan of Tarentino and his movies and that sometimes make me think I could be a bad person. This is because nobody makes me enjoy violence in a movie like Tarentino. In a split second you are shocked, then horrified, then laughing, then cheering then wondering what sort of person you are. His moral ambiguity becomes yours and it can be unsettling even whilst you are celebrating his enormous skills as an action director.
I loved Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. I think it is my favourite Tarentino film which is really saying something because that by default puts it in my top 10 films ever. But I struggled with the violence when it finally comes. The graphic nature of it is one thing but there is also a cruelty this time that I think out ways the story’s need for it. I am not sure that has been there before.
Tarantino’s other genius skill is his referencing of the history of film and TV and of course showing those mediums’ home of Los Angeles. Nobody does Los Angeles and its surrounds better than Tarentino. He is to LA what Woody Allan and Scorsese were to New York in the late 70s and 80s and in this movie he gives it everything.
And unlike NY, LA is less aspirational and more cautionary. Or to look at it the other way NY is where you go to make it as the best “you” you can be. In LA it’s about reinvention. Who do I want to be? It is a city of neighbourhoods shaped by recent history, race, money and interests. Rich or poor, White, black or Latino, local or a drop in, you live where you do by the ramifications of history and what you do and what you can afford.
What Tarentino does better than anyone is present in recognisably modern day stories, characters shaped by that history, those outcomes and those neighbourhoods. The greatness is in those scenes and little vignettes on the streets and houses, in the cafes and bars and in the neighbourhoods. So if you buy in, you feel that you are kind of there in his LA based movies Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Once upon A Time.
And I realised that is what I did the last time I went to LA. I made a movie in my head. Logically I know it was a vast urban sprawl with a number of areas we might call a CBD but there was no real centre. Obviously this means that attractions are scattered far and wide. LA doesn’t put all its treasures in one place for you to easily schlep to; you have to seek them out.
You have to behave like a local. That means really knowing why you are there and what you want to see and do and then basing yourself accordingly. You can’t just walk out of your hotel, go down the subway or metro and be somewhere world famous in ten minutes. When you make that adjustment the adult visitor is much more satisfied and the whole appeal of LA becomes clearer.
Anyway, for me travel is not about visiting a famous location with thousands of other tourists. That is way too general and adds nothing to my relationship with the location.
The best way to do LA is to find an Airbnb in a suburb that is central to what you plan to be are doing, make sure you are on a bus route and that there are local cafes and restaurants nearby. The other 99.999% of LA’s population that aren’t movie stars eat in good quality local cafes and restaurants so follow the families. The range of cuisines is obviously huge.
And then make your movie. Steal bits from all of your favourite films and books. Get on the freeways and revel in the eight lanes of madness, look out for the old LA in the Farmers Markets and around downtown, there are still areas in the city where those funny oil derricks are still pumping oil. If you must visit a shopping mall do it in the Valley for that touch of Valley Girl, Clueless, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Catch buses with the people who can’t afford cars because they are on minimum wage and imagine that life.
Coming from Australia the beaches are ok but the water is cold and for all the fuss about Venice Beach it is pretty much St Kilda and the others equate to variations of Noosa, Sorrento or Manly. For me so so.
There are no 500-year-old castles to visit but if you love 20th and 21st century architecture then LA is an amazing destination.
There is no Louvre but for contemporary art LA has attractions second to none.
Unless you have kids, forget Universal and do the Paramount lot tour instead. Go to Compton and see the Watts Tower.
LA’s surrounding canyons and ridges are quite amazing. There are roads, drives, parks and trails but start at Griffith Observatory at dusk [for the sunset] for one tourist attraction that is worth the crowds.
And obviously if you love film and TV like me, famous locations are of course everywhere. So whether it is scenes from La La Land, Bladerunner, Pretty Woman or Once Upon A time In Hollywood you can dance, visit, gawk and eat there too.
I reckon to do it properly allow two weeks or two months or two years. Just how far do you want to go?
There is nowhere else in the world where you can so easily, for a little while, be someone else.
LA needs more than just six songs. So not only six songs but 14 movies!
Six mostly not so obvious songs about LA
Surf City – Jan and Dean
The Big Sleep – Stan Ridgway
Macarthur Park – Richard Harris
Freefalling – Tom Petty
Sick Again – Led Zeppelin
Low rider - War
Seven must see box office monster LA movies
La La Land
Boyz In The Hood
Beverley Hills Cop
And seven must see, more obscure ones not by Tarentino
The Big Lebowski