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Toward a Geo-Cinematic Hermeneutics: Representations of Los Angeles in Non-Industrial Cinema -- Killer of Sheep and Water and Power

From: Wide Angle
Volume 20, Number 3, July 1998
pp. 23-53 | 10.1353/wan.1998.0031

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Wide Angle 20.3 (1998) 23-53

Figures

The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a culture group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape is the result.

--Carl Ortwin Sauer

It is commonly recognized that the loss of authority in the great paradigms of modernist culture was accompanied by a shift from time to space as the more fundamental category for cognition. John Berger's novel, G, for example, both instanced and articulated the sense that the narrative line of the traditional novel was no longer adequate to the complex synchronic patterns that make up contemporary experience. "Prophecy," the narrative voice declared, "now involves a geographical rather than a historical projection; it is space, not time, that hides consequences from us." Foucault reached similar conclusions, arguing that history had been the nineteenth century's "great obsession," so the "present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space;" and his proposal that our present experience of the world was one "of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein" inspired a generation of postmodern geographers. As a consequence of the historical shifts these re-orientations manifest -- and among them the closing of all spaces outside the global consolidation of capital must be reckoned as primary -- the discipline of geography acquired a new importance, and generated new projects for cultural studies, notably questions about the relations between the local and the national, and then, as the international restructuring of capital transformed the status of the national itself, questions about the local and the global. In film studies, the response has been primarily a re-investment in the national as a fundamental historiographical concept, a somewhat paradoxical development since the world-wide hegemony of the American corporate entertainment industries leaves the concept of any other national cinema with little more than a heuristic value -- a fact that is often the very point from which these studies begin.

Commonly approaching cinema as essentially representation (rather than material production, which will be the particular concern of the present essay), projects of this kind have comfortably intersected with both postmodernist assumptions of the collapse of all reality into media spectacle and poststructuralist conceptualizations of reality as textuality. So, for example, the introduction to a recent collection of geographical considerations of cinema takes as it point of departure Baudrillard's conflation of the city and the cinema, a conflation that understands the cityscape as itself a screenscape: "Where is the cinema? It is all around you outside, all over the city, that marvelous, continuous performance of films and scenarios." From such a standpoint, David Harvey's attempt to retain an ontological difference between film and reality, one that obliges him to affirm that film is "in the final analysis, a spectacle projected within an enclosed space on a depthless screen," appears to be a distinctly uncinematic foreboding, and therefore to be discredited.

Whatever the overall status of readings of contemporary social reality as intrinsically cinematic, their claims are nowhere more pressing than in Los Angeles where, for the century of its existence as a major city, cinema has been central to its economic, social, and cultural developments. All have been shaped in the magnetic field of cinema; and cinema, as it has imitated urban growth in metastasizing at points increasingly remote from the original downtown center, in Silver Lake, Hollywood, Culver City, the San Fernando Valley, and (as the mutual imbrication of the electronics and the entertainment industries bridges the north/south division of the state) now in Silicon Valley, has preoccupied the entire region. As Reyner Banham observed, "Hollywood... the movies found Los Angeles a diffuse fruit-growing super-village of some eight hundred thousand souls, and handed it over to the infant television industry in 1950 a world metropolis of over four million." More scrupulous historians have recognized the formative role of other industries, though from real-estate through aerospace to crack cocaine, they have exhibited a Hollywood-like combination of spectacle and speculation -- they have all been imaginary signifiers. But wherever the industry's actual geographic location, for three quarters of the century "Hollywood" has been recognized nationally and...


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