Thursday, September 8, 2011

L.A. Grise

So one day in, what, 1948 or 1949, one of the studios sends a film crew out to shoot some rear-projection footage in downtown LA. Somebody had to shoot all that scenery passing by the car windows in those scenes in which some character gets behind the wheel. Encumbered by a phoniness we can no longer forgive, these scenes went extinct nearly half a century ago. Now we demand that our actors really drive, in the same way we're starting to demand that they really play an instrument (like Adrian Brody in The Pianist, or even Brad Pitt laying into Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in Tree of Life—it will no longer do for someone to simply peer over a piano at us and move his shoulders around).

But this clip. A relaxed, very un-fussy shoot—to the small crew, I guess it could not have felt more ordinary—but of course what we have here, some 65 years later, is several minutes of unposed, unaware late-40s Los Angeles going about its business. We see how people walked, how they drove (fewer cars but already plenty of smog), how they inhabited the space. And we see many homes in the Bunker Hill area that have since been demolished. (Found this comment on a blog: "all those Victorian homes bulldozed in the 60s/70s. Now Disney Hall, Chandler Pavilion, and rows of condos.") While I can understand how an East Coaster would have found this LA impossibly bare and without style, in hindsight the simplicity strikes me as serenely civilized. Already then, by the way, LA was a plenty industry-literate town: at 3:44 there is a guy with the presence of mind to wave at the camera.

A somewhat fuller account of this footage can be found on the blog of the Atlantic's rather gothically-named associate editor Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg.


  1. Very good to see that clip. You can still see those massive houses just south of I-10. Take the Arlington exit and turn left on Cimarron Street... then just follow your nose.