Videos & Extras

L.A. from Every Angle

By Joel Bleifuss | April 1, 2010
Slide 1: Greenberg and Baumbach at Musso & Frank

Speaking of his latest film, Greenberg, Noah Baumbach told Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t know which came first—wanting to set a movie in L.A. or wanting to do a movie about a forty-something guy who can’t get out of his own way.”

Here is forty-something Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg sitting in the Musso & Frank Grill.

Baumbach’s wife, the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, is a hometown girl. He attempted to make the movie as realistic as possible by shooting the film in local landmarks, like the Musso & Frank Grill, founded in 1919 and as such the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.
Mark Olsen reports: “[Baumbach] was sitting recently in the Hollywood landmark Musso & Frank Grill for a photo shoot. He used the location in Greenberg, including the actual wait staff and some of the establishment’s regulars, to add to the lived-in authenticity of the film. The restaurant was closed, and the strange stillness of the place seems in tune with the Los Angeles of Greenberg, a mix of the eerily disturbing and comfortingly homey.”

Slide 2: L.A. for Hollywood

Baumbach isn’t the first director to make a movie set in Los Angeles. In fact, the City of Angels stars in more films than any other, a fact that can be chalked up to hometown advantage. Between 2000 and 2010, Los Angeles provided the set for 146 films.

Rupert Hughes’ Souls for Sale (1923), one of the first films set in Los Angeles, was famous for its aerial shots of the city. It was also one of the first films to capitalize on the public’s newfound fascination with the film industry. In this Hollywood tale, Robina Teele (Mae Busch) is injured when a spotlight falls on her, giving extra Remember “Mem” Steddon (Eleanor Boardman, in her first staring role) a chance at fame and fortune.

Yet filmmakers, actors and make-up persons are not the only artists who live in L.A. Over the decades, writers, painters, photographers, musicians and designers have all called Los Angeles home. Here are 23 Los Angeles artists who through their work have created another lens through which to view art, their city and life itself.

Slide 3: L.A. for Native Americans

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885) was one of the earliest champions of Native American rights. She is most famous as the author of Ramona, a novel whose heroine is half-Scottish, half-Indian, about discrimination against the Payomkowishum Indians (also known as the Luiseño Indians) of Southern California.

A bestseller when it was published in 1884, the novel fueled a boom in what is known as “Ramona tourism,” with visitors coming west on the just-completed Southern Pacific Railroad. (The part of Interstate 10 that runs past L.A.’s Union Station was originally named Ramona Freeway.) 

In 1886, the North American Review called Ramona “unquestionably the best novel yet produced by an American woman,” and deemed it one of the two most ethical 19th century novels, the other being Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “If I can do one-hundredth part for the Indian that Mrs. Stowe did for the Negro, I will be thankful,” Hunt Jackson told a friend.

Slide 4: L.A. for Silent Filmmakers

In 1910, D.W. Griffith made the first Ramona feature film. Donald Crisp, Edwin Carewe and Henry King followed suite in 1916, 1928 and 1936 respectively. In 2000, the novel was made into a Mexican telenovela.  Here, Mary Pickford, age 18, stars as Ramona, in the film of the same name made by D.W. Griffith that was shot on location in Rancho Camulos.

Slide 5: L.A. for Californios

Manue la Garcia (1869-?) was a “Californio,” one of the people whose families settled what was once known as Alta California. Garcia “grew up in a household that sometimes included the influential Spanish-born guitarist Miguel Arévalo, who had moved to Los Angeles in 1871 and formed the Los Angeles Musical Association.

In 1903, the Los Angeles-born Garcia, an accomplished singer, recorded 107 songs for Charles Lummis. With the help of an Edison wax cylinder recording machine, Lummis was able to “catch our archaeology alive” and collect the songs of the Californios.

Vykki Mende Gray, a musician who is a descendent of Californios, writes on, “The land was called Alta California, the time was the heyday of the California missions and ranchos from the 1770s through the 1860s (more or less), and the people called themselves Californios. Travelers to the area were consistently impressed by the secular music and the social dances, commenting often on the propensity of the Californios to dance and sing—and particularly at times when the largely Protestant observers thought they ought not to.”

Slide 6: L.A. for the Muralists

David Alfaro Siqueriros (1896-1974). Siqueriros was a Mexican-born artist who was expelled from Mexico in 1932 for his radical politics (he was a Communist). During his time in exile, he lived for six months in Los Angeles, during which time he painted three murals, the most famous of which was La América Tropical, on the second floor wall of Italian Hall on Olvera St. His first mural, was Mitin Obrero (Worker’s Meeting), painted on the Chouinard School of Art (where he taught) is considered the first example of a muralist using a industrial spray gun to paint on cement.

Slide 7: L.A. against the Communist Muralists

The central figure in the mural La. América Tropical, a native American being “crucified” by imperial powers represented by the U.S. eagle. The mural, which didn’t sit too well with Los Angeles elite, was painted over soon after it was created in 1932, and Sequeriros was deported from the United States.

Slide 8: L.A. for the Muralists Again

La América Tropical was Siqueriros’ first outdoor mural, and was the first large mural in the United States to be painted on a public wall. During its dedication, Los Angeles muralist Dean Cornwell said L.A. América Tropical “would stimulate the execution of murals on similar blank walls.” More than 30 years later, his prophecy was realized when the Chicano and anti-war movements attempted to get their message across with politically-inspired murals.

Slide 9: L.A. for the Hard-Boiled

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959). Though born in Chicago and raised in England, Chandler would become L.A.’s most famous novelist. His detective stories give life to the world of Los Angeles, a city that he described – speaking through his private dick, Philip Marlowe – as “lost and beaten and full of emptiness”, “a neon-lighted slum” and a city “with no more personality than a paper cup.”

Chandler’s biographer Frank MacShane writes in The Life of Raymond Chandler, “There is something appropriate in Chandler’s choosing the detective story as his vehicle for presenting Los Angeles. ...The detective story, so peculiar to the modern city, can involve an extraordinary range of humanity, from the very rich to the very poor, and can encompass a great many different places. Most of Chandler’s contemporaries who wrote ‘straight’ fiction—Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner, for example—confined themselves to a special setting and a limited cast of characters. The detective story, however, allowed Chandler to create the whole of Los Angeles in much the same way that such 19th-Century novelists as Dickens and Balzac created London and Paris for future generations.”

Slide 10: L.A. of the Film Noir

Billy Wilder once said: “I must say that Chandler’s great strength was a descriptive one. There are very few people who can get the flavor of California. It’s very peculiar, you know, that the only person who caught the Californian atmosphere is prose was an Englishman—Chandler.”

“If my books had been any worse,” Chandler once said, “I should not have been invited to Hollywood, and if they had been any better, I should not have come.”

Hollywood interpreted his most famous novel, The Big Sleep (1939), making it into a 1946 film featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, whose star power carried an otherwise chaotic script.

Slide 11: L.A. of the Cynics

Nathanael West (1903-1940). West, born Nathan Weinstein, was a Hollywood screenwriter of B-movies whose novels, in the words of David Yaffe, presented a “a sweeping rejection of political causes, religious faith, artistic redemption and romantic love.” W.H. Auden called this jaded view of the American dream “West’s disease.” It did not make West rich.

West’s last novel, The Day of the Locust, initially sold fewer than 2,000 copies. “That was the time of the Great Depression, and the war in Europe had just begun. Nihilism was the wrong ingredient to add to that recipe,” writes Web critic Uncle Scoopy. “People wanted to believe that the movie industry included something more than sideshow freaks, and they turned to movies primarily for vicarious escapist fun. People living in a dark, frightening world weren’t looking to find out that the movie world was even darker and more frightening than reality.”

Following the novel’s publication, West wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The box score stands: Good reviews— fifteen per cent, bad reviews—twenty five per cent, brutal personal attacks—sixty percent.” It wouldn’t be until 15 years later that West’s book would find an audience.

Slide 12: L.A. of the Desperate

The Day of the Locust (1939), was based on the characters he met while living in a hotel on Hollywood Boulevard. It chronicles life in Hollywood of those on the fringe of the movie industry, as seen through the eyes of set designer Tod Hackett, who observes: “They were savage and bitter, especially the middle aged and the old, and they had been made so by boredom and disappointment. ... Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges? Once there, they discover the sunshine isn’t enough. They get tired of oranges ... Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies.”

Slide 13: L.A. for the Dreamers

John Fante (1909-1983). John Fante was an Italian-American who wrote novels but made his living as a screenwriter. Fante’s most famous novel, the autobiographical Ask the Dust (1939), is set during the depression tells the story of a writer trying to make it in L.A. In the opening pages of Ask the Dust, Fante writes,  “Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.”

Robert Towne, who knew Fante, wrote and directed the film version of the novel Ask the Dust in 2006. Following the release of that film, Groucho Reviews interviewed Robert Towne, and the following exchange took place:

RT: When I haven’t lived in Europe and been on locations, I’ve lived in Los Angeles.

G: As you alluded to with Chinatown, you’ve plumbed quite a bit of the city’s history. What makes Los Angeles a great city, if it is, or do you just show it the same devotion you’d show a family member, warts and all?

RT: I think it’s much closer to being a family member than a great city. You know, I can’t honestly say that I ever thought, at its best, Los Angeles was a great city. I’m not even sure it is a city. But it is a climate. It is a state of being, if you will. It is a place of illusion. And so it’s in a way fitting that there’s no real city there. It’s a place where people go to to fulfill dreams, and those are the illusions that people have. It’s a land of strangers where everybody comes from somewhere else, historically has, to strike it rich in one way or another, with gold or oil and movies. And very often are disappointed. But, you know, it’s a land of sunny desperation.

Slide 14: L.A. for the Modernists

Julius Shulman (1910-2009). Shulman was one of the most well known architectural photographers.

Here is Shulman’s best-known photo: “Case Study House #22, Los Angeles, 1960. Pierre Koenig, Architect.” Also known as the Stahl House, this 1959 house sits on the Hollywood Hills overlooking L.A. It is one of 150 structures on the American Institute of Architects list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.”

John Pastier, reviewing Julius Shulman: Architecture and its Photography, (1998, Taschen Press), wrote, “This meticulous and prolific craftsman was in the right place, California, at the right time, the golden age of West Coast modern residential architecture that spanned the 1930s to the 1960s. Richard Neutra helped him get his start, and he recorded early modernists such as Wright, Schindler, Soriano, Harris, Frey, Ain, Stone, Gropius, Kahn, and Neutra, as well as younger ones such as Goff, Lautner, Ellwood, Koenig, Drake, Killingsworth, Eames, Greene, Legoretta, and even early Frank Gehry. His view camera captured the glamour of hillside steel-and-glass 9houses cantilevered above the city lights, the serenity of desert vacation homes at dusk, and the clean-lined ingenuity of young architects working on modest budgets.” (Examples of Shulman’s photographs can be seen here.)

Slide 15: L.A. for the Doers

Paul Revere Williams (1894-1980) Williams was one of the architects who created the Theme Building (1961) at LAX.

One of L.A.’s best known architects, Williams became a certified architect in 1921 and as such was the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi. He once said, “If I allow the fact that I am a Negro to checkmate my will to do, now, I will inevitably form the habit of being defeated.” Williams designed houses for Frank Sinatra, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lon Chaney, Sr., Lucille Ball, Tyrone Power (two houses), Barbara Stanwyck, Bert Lahr, Charles Cottrell, Will Hays, Zasu Pitts and Danny Thomas.

Slide 16: L.A. for the Hustlers

John Rechy  (1934-    ). Rechy, who has boasted that in the 1950s he made history as the first man to walk down Hollywood Boulevard without a shirt, made his name as a novelist by exploring gay subculture of Los Angeles, a city which in his novel Bodies and Souls he calls “the most spiritual and physical of cities.”

Writer Steffie Nelson visited with Rechy after the publication of his latest book, About My Life and the Kept Woman. Reporting for the Los Angeles Times, she observed:

“He was sitting in the dining room of the Beachwood Canyon home he shares with Michael Snyder, a movie producer and his partner of more than 20 years, surrounded by luminous black-and-white portraits of Hollywood stars like Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe. Now 76, Rechy remains best known for the 1963 novel City of Night, a semiautobiographical window into the world of gay street hustling that has influenced artists as diverse as Jim Morrison, David Hockney and Gus Van Sant, who has long wanted to make it into a movie. (‘Maybe I should talk to John about that again,’ Van Sant wrote in an e-mail, calling the book ‘an American masterpiece.’)”

Slide 17: L.A. of the Painters

David Hockney (1937-     ) David Hockney moved to Los Angeles in 1966. “Hockney is California’s poet laureate of canyon majesty and Malibu blues,” writes Rachel Kushner in C Magazine. “[He] understands how symbols of ‘California’ function as a kind of potent idealism, a way to paint dreams and longings.”

Here is “Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool” (1967) by David Hockney. This iconic work of art, one of a series of famous swimming pool paintings, depicts David Hockney’s 19-year-old lover, Peter Schlesinger, getting out of the L.A. pool owned by Nick Wilder, the late gallery owner. Schlesinger didn’t model for the painting, the pose comes from a snapshot of him leaning against his MG sports car.

Hockney, who refers to himself as an “English Los Angeleno,” now spends most of his time in the Yorkshire countryside, but he still maintains his home in L.A.’s Hollywood Hills. “Is this home? Of course it is,” he told Barbara Isenberg of the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve been in this house for 30 years. It’s full of books I read. I’ve not been away longer than six months, and all the paintings are sent back here as well. This is my enclave, my little bit of sanity. There’s a quite sophisticated city out there, yet you can live privately in it. And there’s that marvelous light.”

Speaking from his Yorkshire home, to told the New York Times’ Carol Kino, “I would say I’m on location here. That’s what we say in Hollywood.”

Slide 18: L.A. of the Logo

Ed Ruscha (1937-     ) After David Hockney, Ruscha is perhaps L.A.’s most well known visual artist. He moved to L.A. from Oklahoma City in 1956 to attend the Chouinard Art Institute, and has lived and worked in the city since. He currently shows with Gagosian Gallery. According to the gallery’s website, “Ruscha has consistently combined the cityscape of his adopted hometown [Los Angeles] with vernacular language to communicate a particular urban experience. Encompassing painting, drawing, photography, and artist’s books, Ruscha’s work holds the mirror up to the banality of urban life and gives order to the barrage of mass media-fed images and information that confronts us daily.”

Slide 19: L.A. of the new Artists

Betye Saar (1926-   ) Los Angeles artist Betye Saar is a visual artist who creates assemblages.

The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972), shown here, is Saar’s most recognized work.

Saar credits Joseph Cornel, whose famous boxes she first saw in 1968, as one of artists who most influenced her. She was a prominent participant in what was known as the “Black Arts Movement” or BAM, the aesthetic/artistic of the black power movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Like Hockney, she lives in the hills above L.A.

According to the National Humanities Center website, “Since the early years of the twentieth century, a long line of critics and activists—among them W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Larry Neal—have called for blacks to combat stereotyping by taking control of the images that define blackness and black people. Influenced by the assertive, confident black consciousness of the 1960s, some African American artists answered the call with a direct frontal assault. … Betye Saar went head to head with the formidable Aunt Jemima and with wit and irony redefined her meaning. The mammy has long been a staple of racial iconography in this country, created, owned, and used by whites. … The Liberation of Aunt Jemima … claimed the stereotype … mastered it, and deployed it as a weapon. … Saar’s piece offers three images of the advertising icon. A wall of boxes featuring Aunt Jemima’s classic smiling face makes up the background of the entire work. The assemblage’s middle ground is dominated by an Aunt Jemima statue, standing in cotton, with a broom in one hand, a pistol tucked under one arm, and a rifle leaning on the other. The statue, in turn, is fronted by what looks like a postcard of a mammy holding a crying white baby. The postcard is partially obscured by a black fist rising from a cloth in the colors of African solidarity.”

Slide 20: L.A. of the Mexican-American Writers

Richard Vasquez (1928 -1990) Richard Vasquez was one of 10 children born to a Mexican-American couple that lived in Southgate, California, near East L.A. In 1966, Vasquez wrote a letter to a friend describing how he came to be Los Angeles’ best known Chicano journalist and agitator: “In 1949, age 21, I was married and, being uneducated, I went to work as a common laborer on a construction job … by the time I was in my late twenties I was contracting specialized concrete work. It was during these ten years or so I came to know so well East Los Angeles and its inhabitants, as most of my crews were from there. At this time I was scarcely more than literate, and as my awareness and interest in the sociological aspects of this community keened, I felt an impulse to involve myself in communicating with the Anglo society. I was about 30 when I decided to become a writer, an absolutely incredible aspiration so far as my relatives and acquaintances were concerned. … The greatest thrill I ever had was the day that little weekly hit the streets of Pasadena (circulation 50,000) with a front page blurb on ‘The Cabbie—a new columnist who drives your streets with a heart as big as a watermelon and the wit of a gag writer, blah blah’ and a picture of me wearing a cab driver cap. It made a big splash. Everybody in town was reading The Cabbie, and within a month other papers had approached Mike asking to run the column. They paid me $5 per column per paper. … This brings us up to about two years ago, when I began taking extreme interest in the Civil Rights thing, realizing I may have been in a position to do what few other Mexican-Americans could, with my particular background. … I took a job as a supervisor with the War on Poverty, working actively in both the Negro and Mexican-American communities around Los Angeles, trying to keep the town from being burned down and dark-skinned people from being shot by 23-year-old scared Anglo cops.”

Slide 21: L.A. of the Singer/Songwriters

Joni Mitchell (Roberta Joan Anderson) (1943-    ) Canadian-born singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell made Los Angeles her home in the late 1960s.

In the title song of her 1973 album Court and Spark, Mitchell sang, “I couldn’t let go of L.A., city of the fallen angels.” Here is Mitchell’s 1970 album, Ladies of the Canyon, whose title song refers to her neighbors in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, which was the center of popular music in the 1960s and 1970s.

She lived north of Sunset Boulevard in Laurel Canyon (developed in 1910 and incorporated into the city in 1923) with neighbors like Frank Zappa, John Mayall, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Don Henley of the Eagles, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the Mamas and the Papas. In his 2006 book Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood,” Michael Walker writes about Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell setting up house in Laurel Canyon: “Nash moved into Mitchell’s cottage on Lookout, there to write his ode to countercultural domestic bliss, ‘Our House.’ Mitchell, in turn, wrote and recorded ‘Ladies of the Canyon,’ her paean to the strange bohemian netherland where she and Nash nurture their affair and where it would soon become evident that some of the twentieth century’s most talented and enterprising young men and women had gathered at just the right moment.”

The 2002 film Laurel Canyon, directed by Lisa Cholodenko, stars Frances McDormand as a pot-smoking negligent mother/record producer who lives in the canyon and who, according to Cholodenko is loosely based on Joni Mitchell.

Slide 22: L.A. of Lowlifes

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) In 1986, Time called Bukowski the “laureate of American lowlife,” and his star would only continue to rise.

He once said, “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”

Bukowski was born in Germany, and at the age of 10 his family moved to L.A. It was his city. He told journalist Jay Dougherty, “You live in a town all your life, and you get to know every bitch on the street corner and half of them you have already messed around with. You’ve got the layout of the whole land. You have a picture of where you are.... Since I was raised in L.A., I’ve always had the geographical and spiritual feeling of being here. I’ve had time to learn this city. I can’t see any other place than L.A.”

Slide 23: L.A. of the Essay Writers

Joan Didion (1934-      ) From 1966 to 2004, essayist and novelist Joan Didion (a Sacramento girl) called Los Angeles (and Malibu) home. Author Joan Didion (right) in 2008, and (left) in 1970 sitting inside a white Stingray car in Hollywood. In 2006, the city of Malibu designated Didion’s 1979 book The White Album, as part of the One City, One Book program, that it recommended everyone in the city to read. To mark the occasion, author Mark Weingarten
gave a speech in which he said in part:

“[F]or Didion, Los Angeles was a social experiment that failed. … Among the many piercing flashes of insight to be found in The White Album’s essays … is one overarching fact of L.A. life—that it exists on a very slippery foundation. Here was an arid desert landscape adjacent to the Pacific that received its water over 200 miles away from the Central Valley, that built its houses on an active seismic fault, that was prone to brush fires, flooding and earthquakes. It was a city in denial of its own instability. This hard fact of L.A. life co-existed uneasily with Didion’s own psychic instability … She understood what so many failed to grasp about Los Angeles, especially all of those outsiders who migrate here seeking eternal good health, good weather and untold riches: That life here tends to be about as stable as mercury on glass, and therefore not prone to snug feelings of security and safety. … Re-reading the book, it’s hard to feel optimistic about things having changed much for the good in L.A. New social issues—larger, more intractable issues—have supplanted the ones Didion wrote about. … But this region is remarkably resilient to change and has the capacity to adapt to whatever is thrown its way. So Didion, with The White Album, has given us a gift—a Baedeker to a state that’s as complicated and culturally rich as most countries, charged with an undercurrent of menace that always lies in wait, but also prone to unexpected moments of grace. All newcomers should be handed a copy of this book when they arrive. Just like I was at USC, 23 years ago.”

Slide 24: L.A. of Gay Detectives

Joseph Hansen (1923-2004) Hansen, an L.A. writer, made history in 1970 by helping found Hollywood’s first gay pride parade. That was also the year he introduced the world of crime fiction to his creation, insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter. What set Brandstetter apart from fellow Los Angelenos like Philip Marlowe was that he was a gay dick—an out gay man at a time when gay characters scarcely existed, either as public figures or as characters of popular culture. “My joke,” Hansen once said, “was to take the true hard-boiled character in the American fiction tradition and make him homosexual. He was going to be a nice man, a good man, and he was going to do his job well.” Through the 12 Brandstetter novels, the last one published in 1991, Hansen’s gay detective grew older and, eventually, wiser in matters of life and love.

Slide 25: L.A. for Rock ’n’ Rollers

Tommy Lee (Thomas Lee Bass) (1962-     ) Tommy Lee is the drummer of Mötley Crüe, a Los Angeles glam metal band he helped found in 1981, and that has sold 80 million albums worldwide.
Lee, who has been married to actresses Heather Locklear (Dynasty) and Pame la Anderson (Baywatch), has tried to find repeat fame as a reality television star, first in Tommy Lee Goes to College, in which he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, to take a stab at being a Cornhusker, and co-staring with Ludacris, a rapper, in the climate friendly Battleground Earth. Lee and the other three members of the band, all famous for their sexscapades, have been arrested, treated for addictions and tattooed, but only Lee became famous for a home sex video that went viral.

Mötley Crüe’s 2008 hit, “Saints of Los Angeles,” seems to sum up the band members attitude to romance: “We are, we are the saints, one day you will confess/And pray to the saints of Los Angeles/ Red line tripping on a land mine, sipping at the Troubadour/ Girls passed out naked in the back lounge, everbody’s gonna score/She’s all jacked up, she’s down on her luck/You want it, you need it, the devils gonna feed it.”

Slide 26: L.A. of the Privileged

Bret Easton Ellis (1964 -      ) Bret Easton Ellis is back living in L.A., the setting of his debut novel, Less Than Zero (1985), which tells the story of the lost, dissolute and privileged youth among whom he grew up in the wealthy L.A. neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, the son of Goldwater Republicans.

Here is Robert Downey Jr. as Julian, the drug addicted some-time prostitute, in the 1987 film Less than Zero directed by Marek Kanievska, based on the novel by Ellis.

Scott Timberg, writing in the Los Angeles Times, observes: “In his 1985 breakout novel, Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis, then all of 21 years old, created young, jaded Angelenos who just didn’t care about anything: They recounted cocaine scores and semi-anonymous sex in the same tone with which they lamented their fading suntans.” According to Timberg, while Ellis may not have found critical acclaim, “serious writers of his generation … see him as an overlooked figure.” Timberg writes, “It may be that like a lot of things that emerge from California, the style and vision of Ellis’ work creates problems for East Coast intellectuals, but will become as enduring as psychedelia, surfing, the hard-boiled novel or fast food. … Many assumed that the Sherman Oaks-bred Ellis was one of his characters—that rather than rendering shallow and aimless lives, he, and his work, were shallowness and aimlessness itself. …. East Coast bias? There’s a long tradition of New York-based critics overlooking the popular and literary culture from California. … Ellis’ early style is in the West Coast minimalist tradition of Chandler, Carver and Didion. His interest in consumerism and youth culture—and his playing with genre fiction, especially horror, in some of his books—make him a consummate Southern California writer. … Will the dismissals of Ellis’ books someday seem as fatuous as Edmund Wilson’s famous inability to understand California private-eye fiction?”

In his 2002 autobiography, Random Acts of Badness, Danny Donaduce, the onetime child star (Danny Partridge), writes that the L.A. high school featured in Less Than Zero is similar to the former California Prep High School in Encino, California, that he attended. His fellow students at the school included the late Michael Jackson and the late Christian Brando, among others. Bonaduce writes, “When the book Less Than Zero came out, all my classmates were pissed. Not because it was an exact portrayal of our school—but because we failed to get any royalties.”

Slide 27: L.A. of the Cholos

Charles “CHAZ” Bojorquez (1949-     ) Bojorquez is the most famous practitioner of what is known as Los Angeles “Cholo” style graffiti art.

L.A. Mix an 8-color screenprint, printed on holographic paper (left), Charles “Chaz” Bojorquez (center) and his painting No More Pompadours  (1996) (right.) “The big skull in No More Pompadours is a representation of how all us young men felt in the 1960s,” says Bojorquez. “We were all young teenagers in a Elvis Presley world. Anyone who was a rebel, also into the music or cruising, wanted to be with ‘Big Hair.’ Our West Coast traditions were our biggest influences. For example, movie stars had big hair, so did the surfers, lower riders and the Black Panther party. I also claim Los Angeles as my ancestral homeland, and have painted in the lower left corner a ‘Soy de L.A.,’ announcing my barrio.”

Beginning in 1969, Bojorquez painted on the streets of East L.A. He last “tagged” in 1986, and has now moved to other media.

Writing on the website Graffiti Verte, Bojorquez has said of the Cholo style,  “I don’t like elitism in my life, and I don’t like it in my art. I see the whole movement of graffiti is like a big book. …  I feel that if the city was a body, graffiti would tell us where it hurts. By cutting out the pain, you risk damage to the whole. … My current street observations are that Los Angeles may be on the verge of being a dynamic city of the future. It is becoming a world leader in all art matters. …. Our homegrown arts are our own best, west coast inspirations. Here skateboard and surf art, lowrider and hot rod art, lowbrow cartoon art and the Hollywood entertainment industry all come together. We are at the crossroads where graffiti art meets the internet and cyber-pop. … In L.A. we live in a movie world where the outcome can be written in for the future that we want. No other city in the world has this cultural art heritage. Los Angeles could become the future graffiti capital of the world and that would be a spark for all the arts everywhere to shine. Because once you understand and appreciate graffiti art, then we can all understand and appreciate one another.”

Slide 28: L.A. of the Gangstas

Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) (1969-      ) Ice Cube, hailing form South Central L.A., is one of the originators of “gangsta rap.”

Sportsman Cube is an artist whose repertoire ranges from bad-ass rapper (left) (“I didn’t even have to use my AK/Today is a good day”) to Hollywood funnyman (right) in Are We Done Yet?, the sequel to Are We There Yet?

Cube started out as a member of N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), which released its first album in 1988, Straight Outta Compton, which included the famous anti-police brutality tune “Fuck tha Police.” N.W.A. didn’t call their music “gangsta rap,” preferring the moniker “reality rap.” Cube went on to become a successful solo performer and an actor, screenwriter and producer. He once said: “I’ve got a phone, answer machine, TV set, computer, hand grenade—everything you need to run a business in Los Angeles.”

Cube and his hop supergroup Westside Connection have released two albums. The first, Bow Down, came out in 1996, and was made, he said, “ ‘cause we thought it was needed. We’re all individual artists, but we hang together, run together, clique together, support each other. We felt that somebody needed to take it up for the West Coast, and it needed to be more then one artist, so Bow Down was conceived.”

Westside Connection’s second album, Terrorist Threats, came out in 2004. “We felt that hip-hop is [now] soft,” he told VH1. “We come from the days when rap used to agitate the mainstream. Now it’s more buddy-buddy. That doesn’t sit well with me. So what we need is [a bit more] street politics, bringing up issues, agitating you a little bit. And nothing can agitate you more now than a terrorist threat.”

Cube’s latest film venture is the documentary Straight Outta L.A., which tells the story of the move of the Raiders football team from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, and how the team inspired black Angelenos and the burgeoning hip hop music scene.

Slide 29: L.A. for the children of the rich and famous

Carrie Fisher (1956-     ) Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, found fame as the Princess Leia Organa in the first three Star Wars movies and will forever remain a fixture in popular culture. In a 2006 Vanity Fair interview with Wayne George, the following exchange occurred.

George: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask how you ended up in Star Wars.

Fisher: I slept with some nerd. I hope it was George [Lucas].

George: You weren’t sure.

Fisher: No … I took too many drugs to remember.

In her semi-biographical novel Postcards from the Edge (1987), Fisher tells the story of an actress, Suzanne Vale, who after overdosing on drugs attempts to rebuild her life. Vale says, “Maybe I shouldn’t have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares? My life is over anyway.”

PR copy for Fisher’s book hypes it this way: “Just as Fisher’s first film role-the precocious teenager in Shampoo echoed her own Beverly Hills upbringing, her first book is set within the world she knows better than anyone else: Hollywood.”

Fisher adapted her novel into the screenplay for the 1990 film of the same name, which was directed by Mike Nichols, and starred Meryl Streep as Suzanne Vale and Shirley MacLaine as her mother, Doris Mann.

Fisher was regularly asked if she based the fictional relationship between Suzanne and Doris on that of herself and her mother Debbie Reynolds.

Carrie Fisher told Entertainment Weekly’s Margot Dougherty, “I wrote about a mother actress and a daughter actress. I’m not shocked that people think it’s about me and my mother. It’s easier for them to think I have no imagination for language, just a tape recorder with endless batteries.”

Slide 30: L.A. for the children of the rich and famous, Part 2

Paris Hilton (1981 -    ) Hilton was born between the release of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). The granddaughter of a successful hotelier, she is an artist of conglomeration. Wikipedia describes her as a “socialite, heiress, media personality, model, singer, author, fashion designer and actress”—in that order.

Kay S. Hymowitz, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writing City Journal, had this to say about Hilton: “Maybe 500 channels … mean[s] that Americans have less of a common culture, but we all still share . . . Paris Hilton. The naughty blond heiress is, like, wallpapering our brains. Even if you don’t read the tabloids, you can’t escape her. … Now despite her fame and good fortune, for most sentient adults Hilton personifies the decadence of our cultural moment. With her nightclub brawls, her endless sexcapades, her vapid interviews, her rodent-like dog, and her lack of ostensible talent, she reeks of every vice ever ascribed to our poor country. She has become a synonym for American materialism, bad manners, greed, ‘ like’ and ‘ whatever’ Valley Girl inarticulateness, parochialism, arrogance, promiscuity, antifeminism, exposed roots and navels, entitlement, cell-phone addiction, anorexia and bulimia, predilection for gas-guzzling private transportation, pornified womanhood, exhibitionism, narcissism—you name it. … Paris is America’s national cartoon heroine, a caricature who allows us to mock the undeserving and decadent rich we have scorned since the time of Tom Paine. … She did something even worse than fail at high school or shred the traditional rules of her tribe. She—and this isn’t just metaphorical—sold her soul. … Paris Hilton said to hell with her private self. She erased the boundary between her life and her career and turned her entire existence into a public story and herself into a ‘ brand,’ as she has put it. She deliberately and programmatically offered herself up to us as an ‘ It,’ a being without an inner life, a personality whose only value is to be seen and known by all. She is, in other words, the total incarnation of postmodern identity, the individual who has disappeared completely—and happily—into her image. Paris Hilton may be a composite of contemporary American sins, but hating Paris Hilton is another thing entirely. It’s a sign of lingering cultural sanity.”


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