City Scenes: Mediated L.A. Spaces

In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard refers to Los Angeles as a “perpetual pan shot”: more a cinematic circulation of hyperreal fantasy than a space-bound city of definable dimensions. This association is strengthened by how the city’s sprawling urban landscape is typically traversed, rendered as a steadily-streaming assortment of images scrolling through the letterbox framing of the car windscreen. During my brief trip last October I was able to visit some city landmarks that I had only known from mediated representations, starting with the Bradbury Building downtown.

The historic Bradbury Building (and particularly its ornate skylit atrium) has featured in dozens of film and television productions. Given how large Blade Runner has loomed in my life, it’s surprising that it took me this long to make the pilgrimage.

The atrium is open to the public so you can inspect the wrought-iron elevator cages up close (but sadly not ascend).

One of the things that fascinated me about the space is the fact that the Million Dollar Theater — depicted as being across the street from J.F. Sebastian’s apartment building in Blade Runner — really is just across the street from the Bradbury Building. Although the atrium is used to represent the entrance to the apartment, the rest of the location was created through movie magic, so there’s really no reason for this curious bit of cartographic continuity.

Also across the street is Grand Central Market, whose collection of food stalls and neon signage evoke Blade Runner vibes of its own.

Just on the other side of the Market is Angels Flight, the historic funicular that carries passengers from downtown up Bunker Hill and back.

Angels Flight has had a bit of a mediated renaissance in recent years. I first learned of the funicular’s existence from the video game L.A. Noire (the game’s optional side activity of discovering real world Los Angeles landmarks recreated on the virtual map was my favorite part). Not long afterward it appeared in one of La La Land‘s musical montages, and more recently played a pivotal role in the grim and gritty Perry Mason reboot. Although my favorite treatment was in Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself which places it in context of Bunker Hill’s history and the classic film The Exiles.

For our final meal in the city I opted for the San Fernando Valley Mexican restaurant Casa Vega which had been featured in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

When making the reservations I requested that we be seated at the same booth that characters Cliff and Rick ate at in the movie, and was assured that would be the case. When I watched the film again afterward I realized that Casa Vega is actually used as a location twice in the film: once where it appears as itself, and in another scene where it doubles as a restaurant in Spain where Rick Dalton is filming a spaghetti western. We were seated in the “Spanish” section of the restaurant (next to the telltale opening-and-closing patio door).

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