Five Cultural Tours of Los Angeles

As an Open Culture reader, you surely enjoy a vast range of interests, and what serves as a more robust nexus of interests than the modern city? Each city produces an infinitude of fascinating case studies in architecture, economics, politics, and social psychology. But even when you examine the less obviously city-relevant intellectual pursuits — language, film, literature, technology, style — countless more connections reveal themselves. Because I’ve found organizing cultural interests by city so fruitful, I offer you here a set of resources to do with Los Angeles, California. These are just a few of the countless possible perceptions of the capital of mainstream cinema, the terminus of mankind’s westward push, the creator and destroyer of new urban forms, and above all the great divider of opinion. Architectural historian Reyner Banham voices his own at the top of Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, a 1972 BBC television documentary in which the architectural historian gives a personal tour of the city: “I love the place with a passion that goes beyond sense or reason.”

“They make movies here,” says CalArts professor Thom Andersen in the narration of Los Angeles Plays Itself. “I live here. Sometimes I think that gives me the right to criticize the way movies depict my city.” But he does much more than criticize in his video essay’s nearly three-hour analysis of the roles Los Angeles has played onscreen: as itself, as other cities, and, most often, as no city in particular. Chapman University’s Huell Howser Archive collects the late California-explorer’s nonfictional video journeys in places like Venice Beach, the ever-rising downtown, and even in a helicopter above the city. For a similarly aerial perspective, but a historical one, watch this 1958 footage of Hollywood from above. And for a point of view more forcefully expressed, look no further than Ice Cube’s celebration of Los Angeles as midcentury design mecca, especially for the work of aesthetic luminaries (and Powers of Ten filmmakers) Charles and Ray Eames. “A lot of people think L.A. is just eyesore after eyesore, full of mini-malls, palm trees and billboards,” he says. “So what? They don’t know the L.A. I know.”

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.



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