Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive
from the Webmaster: In March of 2003, The
University of Southern California hosted a three-day
film festival called “From Sunset Boulevard
to Mulholland Drive: Los Angeles and the Cinematic
Imagination”. Panelists and speakers explored
the many ways in which Los Angeles has been imagined,
reimagined, and refracted through the camera lens.
The keynote speach was delivered by John Rechy on
March 27, 2003.
video presentation of this talk can be viewed at
The Research Channel online. Click
Is it possible to define a "real" Los Angeles,
or has the city been so forcefully imagined in literature,
art, and especially in films that only a mythological
city now exists? The mere mention of Los Angeles in the
title of a film arouses presuppositions. "To Live
and Die in L.A.," the title of a William Friedkin
film, resonates, just as does the phrase "Only in
L.A.," with implications of edginess. To Live and
Die in Fort Worth? To Live and Die in Rhode Island? To
Live and Die in New York?--not even that creates a strong
as definitive an impression.
other modern city draws more fascinated attention than
Los Angeles as depicted primarily by film. In Rome, London,
Paris, mention the city, and intrigued questions pour
out, along with repeated expressions of longing to come
here, where there is still the offer, at least the offer,
of dreams fulfilled; that is, of getting into the movies.
Angeles is a city of daily apocalypse--fate swirls on
the freeways. The city constantly prepares for natural
disasters (and, now, very unnatural disasters), disasters
that include Sant'Ana winds, fires, earthquakes, floods,
sliding cliffs--no tiny catastrophes; they're immense,
dramatic, extreme, even melodramatic. Los Angeles is not
only metaphorically edgy but literally on the edge. Nightly,
the sun falls off the Malibu cliffs and sinks into the
ocean bringing night.
such a dramatic backdrop, this last frontier that at any
moment may tremble toward apocalypse, this last-chance
frontier, against all that, almost-biblical concepts of
good and evil, morality, ethics, explorations of complex
identity--these themes play well. After all, this is the
City of Angels, a city of promiscuous spirituality--every
religion and cult group settles here--and of physicality,
a city of bodies and souls. It might be the place of exile
for rebellious angels who refused to sing the praises
of the celestial dictator.
a result of so much inherited mythology and associations,
Los Angeles has become a readied set for films. A set
is prepared for performance; and Los Angeles inspires
grand performances, as exemplified by the films to be
shown during this conference. Furthering that sense of
performance is a strain of self-reflectiveness running
through these films; of film looking at film looking at
a Los Angeles recorded by Hollywood.
are ample locations for unique performance: Forest Lawn,
with its glamorous statues shrugging off death in Tony
Richardson's film version of Evelyn Waugh's "The
Loved One" extends its commentary on silly death.
When Ma is about to "get it" in the back in
"White Heat," the dark Sant'Ana wind, rustling
leaves ominously, adds heat to the treachery. The racist
betrayal by a rich white man of his mulatto lover in "Devil
in a Blue Dress" is rendered profound by its being
played out in the distance, silently, against the backdrop
of a deserted Griffith Park Observatory at night. The
same setting elevates the rebellion in "Rebel Without
A Cause," just as it augments the universal implications
of Robert Wise's "The Day the Earth Stood Still."
other great cities, Rome, Pompeii, and as a city of daily
apocalypse, Los Angeles has been destroyed in movies over
and over, but unlike those ancient cities demolished by
the same disaster depicted over and over, Los Angeles
has been destroyed by a spectrum of grim calamities. It
has been wiped out by a volcano erupting on Wilshire Boulevard.
It has been stung to death by giant spiders, ants, and
killer bees. It has been set aflame by asteroids, and
gnawed at by moll people. It has been ravaged even by
a giant baby seeking gallons of milk and intent on finding
his mother--even in the sewers of Los Angeles--in order
to eat her up; the latter occurs in that underrated masterpiece
"It's Alive! Part One."
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Original material by John Rechy appears
frequently on these pages.