L.A. Los Angeles. City of Angels. Hell-A. Hollywood. Hollyweird.
I have had a complicated relationship with L.A.
For a pop-culture obsessed kid, growing up in the far away Far East,
it was everything that was shiny and bright and new and exciting.
For a struggling young wannabe filmmaker, sitting in the back row of
London's Scala Cinema in the early ’80s, it was Eldorado. You
know it’s out there somewhere, but you don't even know how to
find the map. Meanwhile, up on the big screen, Travis Bickle is really
freaking me out.
When I finally did set two feet on the boiling hot tarmac of LAX,
I couldn't get the measure of the place. Firstly, where the hell was
it? Secondly, why did I seem to spend most of my time sitting in a hotel
room above a freeway, waiting for the phone to ring? Thirdly, why didn't
anybody recognize my genius?
As the years went by, I spent many weeks sitting in various hotel rooms,
waiting. And feeling more and more dislocated. I came to dread the trips,
as they kept reminding me of the disparity between my directing fantasy
life, and my not-directing real life.
And then, one day, I got the chance to live my own L.A. Story. And
I fell in love. So here is a list of some of my favourite L.A. things…
1) L.A. Story. A perfect movie. And attainable,
as directed by another Brit who also had once worked at the BBC. If
Mick could do it, then maybe so could I.
2) Peets Coffee, Santa Monica. I don't know where
to begin. Just brilliant coffee. My spiritual home. For a coffee fanatic,
a bit like heaven. And the best conversations to eavesdrop on first
3) Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain. Terse,
sparse, controlled writing of the most emotional and explosive kind.
And a portrait of the feeling landscape of the City.
4) Amoeba Records. OH MY GOD. That's what I said when
I first walked in. Out loud. I have been haunting record stores since
I was old enough to steal money from my mother's purse and buy very
bad Cat Stevens records. (I was 11.) I would sometimes drive all the way
from Santa Monica, just to walk up and down the aisles. It's like a
record nerd’s wet dream. I spent a lot of (my own) money.
5) The Arclight. Right next door to Amoeba. This is
what all cinemas should be like. When they say raked seats, they mean
6) The RKO globe on the Paramount Lot. I have two
all-time director heroes: Michael Powell and Jacques Tourneur. Tourneur
made I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People on this
lot. Both those movies have the spinning RKO globe on the front. My
student film was a reworking of Cat People. It was called The
Sleep of Reason. On my first-ever trip to L.A., I carried it on
the plane to the UCLA Student Film Festival. I think a lot of people
walked out. And they were right. It was a very bad film. But that globe
keeps spinning in my head.
7) The 405 at 4am. I never thought I would love an
eight-lane highway. But the quiet zoom down the empty lanes with just
this vastness of dark light every- where would actually take my breath
8) Cheese Danishes. Now I know these aren't particular
to L.A., but you can't get the sweet, rich, real thing for love nor
money here in sunny London.
9) Silver Lake. We shot large parts of Shopgirl
here, and it’s cool. It’s old. You can walk down the steps
where Laurel and Hardy dropped the piano. They have a fantastic street
festival at Sunset Junction, which was happening on my first very jet-lagged
visit here on a recce in 2003. I saw Sonic Youth play majestically and
hauntingly live. I have never seen so much black leather, black hair,
black makeup and just generally gothy black stuff in such a confined
space ever before or since.
10) Downtown. There is a stretch of disused theatres
in downtown which are so grand and majestic and, well, European, that
it was one of the first things that made me see L.A. in a different
light. It harked back to golden days of elegiac elegance which I am
not sure today’s modern, informal (which I also quite like) world
of the glitzy Hollywood showbiz life can match. But this is also one
of the poorest, most run-down areas of L.A. To fully understand why,
you need to read...
11) City of Quartz, by Mike Davis. I read
this on the plane flying into L.A., at the start of my almost two years
of living there. It tells the story of how the city became itself through
the history of its real estate. And as unlikely as it may seem, it is
12) Listening to BBC Radio 4 on the internet as I
fell asleep each night. Cheating, but still one of my favourite things.
13) The Coyote that eyeballed me one dusky evening
somewhere on a side street in The Valley, while I was on the phone.
Talking some movie nonsense, I think. He stared at me for a very long
time, and then turned his back on me. He was backlit by the most incredible....