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L.A. is My Home Town directed by Geoffrey Haydon (review)
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Filmed in 1976, L.A. Is My Home Town (onscreen title: L.A.—My Home Town) was originally broadcast on BBC 1 in 1977 as an episode of the weekly arts program Omnibus. As a personalized travelogue of the Anglo community in Los Angeles, it represented a slight departure from the typical Omnibus formula, which trended toward profiles of single artists in their working contexts. L.A. is My Home Town is very much the brainchild of pop personality Ian Whitcomb, a former teen idol [his hit single "You Turn Me On (The Turn On Song)" breached the Billboard Top 10 in 1965] who settled California in order to pursue a career in writing and musical history. The central conceit of this short documentary is that Los Angeles has been a constant beacon for Britons, attracting entertainers and retired administers of Empire alike. Situating his inquiry in the traces of the British community in and around the city, Whitcomb sleuths for second opinions on the questions that concern him so greatly: Where can the British go to find the goods and customs from home in Los Angeles? How can a city so sprawling and outwardly postmodern contain the vestiges of British village life? Despite the opportunity, money, and climate of Hollywood, what do exiled Britons lose of their old lives?

The film covers a remarkable breath of territory for its short length. Whitcomb visits bona fide institutions—most notably the Huntington Library, a stately research resource and botanical garden—and favorite retailers like the Tudor House (since closed), a restaurant and market that specialized in British culinary culture. The real attraction is Whitcomb's interactions with the celebrities who have decided to make Los Angeles home. Haydon and Whitcomb seem to have selected participants that fit a series of British character types, from the reserved genius (musician and record producer Peter Asher) to the fading eccentric (Roy Dean, a former Shakespearean actor turned kitschy photographer of nude male models). Perhaps the most divisive participant is Suze Randall, a former glamour model who became a successful pornographer and memoirist. Whitcomb interviews Randall during the height of her notoriety—she was just the subject of a profile in the News of the World, and was at the time a staff photographer for Playboy—though his interactions with her veer closer to the chummy than to the lascivious. But there are strands of both: she ends their interaction by pushing Whitcomb into the pool and stealing his swimming trunks.

In his visits to cultural events attached to the British Fortnight (a glamorous party that neither Roger Moore nor Cary Grant could attend), the Commonwealth Games (a poorly managed event that did not even have proper signage), and a British United Services ceremonial dinner (which he was invited to attend as a musical performer), Whitcomb finds supreme ambivalence. On the one hand, people do seem to miss localized aspects of Britain—Asher mentions turns of phrase, "bog rolls" in particular—but on the other, the sun, glamour, and proximity to the new take precedence. Early parts of the film establish Los Angeles as a place that has fired the imagination of Britons since before its transformation into an urban oasis. Welsh industrialist Griffith J. Griffith was among the first, settling in California and gifting to the city the land that became Griffith Park. J. Stuart Blackton, head of Vitagraph Studios, opened one of the first Hollywood production offices. The real hero of Britain's presence in Hollywood, at least at these early stages, is Charlie Chaplin, whose contribution to United Artists, and to international cinema as a whole, represents Anglo-American ingenuity at its best.

Ultimately, L.A. Is My Home Town echoes one of David Hockney's opinions from the Peter Whitehead film Tonite Lets All Make Love in London (1967), namely that the easygoing, switched-on mentality of Los Angeles easily bests London, even at its swingingest. Whitcomb himself is emblematic of this admission. Despite his previous success as a young face of the "British Invasion" of the United States, his later work reverses the poles, prompting him to delve deep into American musical styles at the expense of anything stridently British...



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