California Dreamin’ – Cinephilia and Cinephobia in L.A.

K. Sark

L.A. is one of those cities uncannily recognizable from many films and TV shows. Walking down Broad Walk on Venice Beach or turning a corner downtown, you walk onto a set you have seen before.

How can you visit NY City without that experience being informed by all the New York Cities you know from movies, TV shows and news reports? We experience the world through a kind of filter of preconceptions and expectations fabricated in advance by a culture swamped by images. (Jean Baudrillard)

What do I mean by “place”? Places give the people who inhabit, visit, and use them an identity. Those with an authentic atmosphere inspire people and draw them into some kind of relationship. They are characterized by signs and symbols unique to each. […] Places can be engaging. They can turn a passive visitor into an active participant in a life scene. A walk, or a climb, to a site with a breathtaking view can work wonders on the body. A visit to a museum can provoke ideas and inspire us. Places can evoke spiritual experiences. (Avi Friedman, A Place in Mind: The Search for Authenticity, 2010, p.10)


K. Sark

Downtown LA is an island of banks, hotels, and offices guarded by polite and sharply-suited security men (every office building has its own secret-service-style-guardsman), who greet you as you walk by, but politely hand you a “courtesy card” when you stop and linger in front of their guarded property to take a picture.

In an effort to lure businesses back to Downtown, the Community Redevelopment Agency of the city of Los Angeles undertook the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project in 1955, a massive clearance project that leveled homes and cleared land for future commercial skyscraper development. This period saw the clearing and upzoning of the entire neighborhood as well as the shuttering of the Angels Flight funicular railway in 1969. Angels Flight resumed operation in 1996 for a period of five years, shutting down once again after a fatal accident in 2001. On March 15, 2010, the railway once again opened for passenger service following extensive upgrades to brake and safety systems.

Even the less glamorous parts of downtown, like the notoriously sketchy Hotel Rosslyn and the Million Dollar Hotel, where Wim Wenders sets his LA story of a group of slightly deranged, but sympathetic social outcasts, have been gentrified, and the Million Dollar Hotel turned into a luxury condo building.

K. Sark

Set to music by Bono and U2, and based on a concept story by Bono and Nicholas Klein, the film captures the eccentricities of a city and its inhabitants at the turn of the millennium. The story was originally developed by Bono in 1987 when filming the famous music video for Where the Streets Have No Name.

The Million Dollar Hotel

Tom Tom: Dixie was in a music band called The Beatles. Only they didn’t know. (The Million Dollar Hotel, dir. Wim Wenders, 2000)

K. Sark

The Million Dollar Hotel

Tom Tom: Wow, after I jumped it occurred to me life is perfect, life is the best, full of magic, beauty, opportunity… and television… and surprises, lots of surprises, yeah. And then there’s the best stuff of course, better than anything anyone ever made up, ’cause it’s real… (The Million Dollar Hotel, dir. Wim Wenders, 2000)

Dixie: Well, it’s all about believing, and if we believe in something, then that’s real, isn’t it? And if enough people believe in the same thing, then… that’s reality. (The Million Dollar Hotel, dir. Wim Wenders, 2000)

K. Sark

At its opening in 1923, the Millennium Biltmore Hotel was the largest U.S. hotel west of Chicago and by 1969 was designated a Historic Cultural Landmark by the City of Los Angeles. From its original 1500 guestrooms it now has 683, due to room reorganization. The Biltmore is known for once being a home to the Oscars. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was founded at a luncheon banquet in the Crystal Ballroom in May 1927, when guests like Louis B. Mayer met to discuss plans for the new organization and presenting achievement awards to colleagues in their industry. Legend has it that MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, who was in attendance, immediately grabbed a linen Biltmore napkin and sketched the design for the Oscar statue on it. Eight Oscar ceremonies were held in the Biltmore Bowl during the Academy’s early years of 1931, 1935-39, and 1941-42. During World War II, the Biltmore served as a military rest and recreation facility, with the entire second floor set up with cots for military personnel on leave.

K. Sark

In 1960 the Democratic National Convention appointed John F. Kennedy as the party’s presidential nominee; he accepted the nomination at the Biltmore and set up his campaign headquarters in the Music Room (now the Lobby), with running mate Lyndon B. Johnson across the hall in the Emerald Room. Their press conferences in the Crystal Ballroom were heavily photographed and documented.

The Beatles paid a visit to the Presidential Suite in August 1964 during their first U.S. tour. Due to the overwhelming number of fans crowding the sidewalks in front of the hotel, the “Fab Four” were forced to access their room by landing atop the hotel in a helicopter. Other events included the hotel serving as headquarters for the International Olympic Committee during the 1984 Olympic Games and a 1988 gala for the Duke & Duchess of York hosted by Dr. Armand Hammer.

Millenium Biltmore Hotel

The hotel’s lobby was used in Britney Spears’ video for Overprotected, and the swimming pool was used in the 1999 film Cruel Intentions. Scenes from many movies and television shows have been filmed at the hotel, including: Chinatown,  Bachelor Party, Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, True Lies, Independence Day, Blow; Ocean’s 11, Bugsy, , In the Line of Fire, Wedding Crashers, and The Italian Job. The hotel’s exterior can also be seen in Heat.

Santa Monica

Hiroshi Watanabe

The Pier was built in 1909. The famous “Muscle Beach” (now on Venice Beach broad walk) was added in the 1930s. Famous bodybuilders such as Jack LaLanne and Joe Gold (Gold’s Gym) regularly worked out here, establishing Santa Monica as the birthplace of the physical fitness boom. In 1973, the City Council had slated the Pier for destruction in favor of a man-made island which would host a resort hotel. Santa Monica, often referring to itself as a “sleepy little beach town”, woke up. After much publicity and the deliverance of a petition to their attention, the Council rescinded their plans to build the island.

Los Angeles Times, 1920

In 1983, a pair of violent winter storms destroyed over one-third of the Pier’s length. Gone were the cafes, the bait shop, the rock shop and the harbor patrol station. The Pier in its entirety seemed too badly beaten to survive. But the people, true to their mission in 1973, put forth the effort to save the Pier again. By April 1990 the entire western structure had been rebuilt. The harbor patrol station reopened, along with a bait shop and restaurant – today known as Mariasol. In 1996 Pacific Park opened, bringing back the first full-scale amusement park on the Pier since the 1930’s, and the first roller coaster, the West Coaster, since the Whirlwind Dipper let off its last customers over six decades earlier.

Santa Monica Pier

Dawson High School, the school in the film Rebel Without a Cause (1955), was actually Santa Monica High School.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Venice of America was founded by tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney in 1905 as a beach resort town, like its namesake in Italy. Kinney had dug several miles of canals to drain the marshes for his residential area, built a 1200-foot-long pleasure pier with an auditorium, ship restaurant, and dance hall, constructed a hot salt-water plunge, and built a block-long arcaded business street with Venetian architecture.

By 1925, Venice’s politics became unmanageable. Its roads, water and sewage systems badly needed repair and expansion to keep up with its growing population. When it was proposed that Venice be annexed to Los Angeles, the board of Trustees voted to hold an election. Those for annexation and those against were nearly evenly matched, but many Los Angeles residents, who moved to Venice to vote, turned the tide. Venice became part of Los Angeles in November 1925.

K. Sark

In 1929, oil was discovered south of Washington Street on the Venice Peninsula. Within two years, 450 oil wells covered the area and drilling waste clogged the remaining waterways. It was a short-lived boom that provided needed income to the community, which suffered during the Great Depression. The wells produced oil into the 1970s.

Venice Beach

Los Angeles had neglected Venice so long that, by the 1950s, it had become the “Slum by the Sea.” With the exception of new police and fire stations in 1930, the city spent little on improvements after annexation. The city did not pave Trolleyway (Pacific Avenue) until 1954 when county and state funds became available. Low rents for run-down bungalows attracted predominantly European immigrants (including a substantial number of Holocaust survivors), and young counterculture artists, poets and writers. The Beat Generation hung out at the Gas House on Ocean Front Walk and at Venice West Cafe on Dudley. Police raids were frequent during that era.

Doors, Venice Beach, 1969 (by Henry Diltz)

Where’s your will to be weird? (Jim Morrison)

The Doors, Venice Beach, 1965

Venice Beach has been cinematically immortalized by the opening of Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991) and Tom Capinos’ TV Show Californication (2007-). In the 1978 musical Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Venice High is the setting for Rydell High School.


Hank Moody: “What we have here is a failure to communicate” (after a girl fight breaks out at a party). (Californication, Season 2, Episode 11)

Felicia: “I’ve got to stop kissing you.”Hank Moody: “It’s not your fault. I’m like fly paper for the emotionally disturbed.” (Californication, Season 3, Episode 4)


Hank Moody (to his TA): “So, what’s your story, morning glory?” (Californication, Season 3, Episode 1)

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

The land on which the observatory stands was donated to the City of Los Angeles by Col. Griffith J. Griffith in 1896. In his will, Griffith donated funds to build an observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium on the donated land.

Griffith Observatory

Construction began on June 20, 1933 using a design developed by architect John C. Austin based on preliminary sketches by Russell W. Porter. The observatory and accompanying exhibits were opened to the public on May 14, 1935.

The first exhibit visitors encountered in 1935 was the Foucault pendulum, which was designed to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. Also included in the original design was a planetarium under the large central dome. The first shows covered topics including the Moon, worlds of the solar system, and eclipses.

Rebel Without a Cause

During World War II the planetarium was used to train pilots in celestial navigation. The planetarium was again used for this purpose in the 1960s to train Apollo program astronauts for the first lunar missions. The planetarium theater was renovated in 1964 and a Mark IV Zeiss projector was installed.

James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause

Other than Nicholas Ray’s 1955 film starring James Dean and Natalie Wood, Rebel Without a Cause, Wim Wenders’ 1997 The End of Violence takes place at the Observatory.

Jim Stark [Looking up at stars in a planetarium]: Once you been up there you know you’ve been someplace. (Rebel Without a Cause, 1955)

Buzz Gunderson: You ever been in a chickie-run?
Jim Stark: Yeah, that’s all I ever do.
[Buzz leaves]
Jim Stark: Plato, what’s a chickie-run?

Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills

Gaspar de Portolà’s land expedition arrived in the area on August 3, 1769. The group consisted of Portolà (the first governor of California), some Franciscan priests and a cavalcade of leather-jacket soldiers and horses. On September 27, 1821, New Spain became Mexico and the province of California quietly changed flags. California was ceded by Mexico to the United States in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, marking the end of the Mexican-American War. It was admitted as a U.S. state on September 9, 1850. In 1852 Maria Rita Valdez De Villa asked to purchase a league of land for $4,000. She called the land Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas. It was later purchased by Major Henry Hancock (of Hancock Park fame), a New Hampshire attorney. He had come to the state during the 1849 gold rush. He used the land as a farm until 1868 when Dr. Edward Preuss, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, bought the land.

K. Sark

In 1919, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford bought land on Summit Drive and built Pickfair. In 1921, they announced that they would build the home which they had been “dreaming” about in Beverly Hills. In early 1920, the Beverly Hills Speedway, a 1.25 miles (2.0 km) wood oval track with turns banked 35 degrees was opened.


The speedway was closed in 1924 and the site was later subdivided for housing and businesses. In 1923, annexation to the city of Los Angeles was proposed, but faced opposition.

In 1928, the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard between El Camino and Rodeo Drives, part of the old Beverly Hills Speedway, was completed. In April 1931 the new Italian Renaissance style City Hall was opened. By the 1950s, small vacant lots remained and developers cropped whole mountains to ease the housing shortage.

K. Sark

Via Rodeo was completed in 1990. The Spanish cobblestone street leads to 2 Rodeo Drive, a “mini-mall” with upscale shops and restaurants. In 1992, the Beverly Hills Civic Center was opened. Designed by architect Charles Moore, it links the new public library, fire and police departments with the historic City Hall.

Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman’s budget was not limited, therefore producers could acquire as many locations as possible for shooting on the films estimated budget of $14 million. The majority of the film was shot in Los Angeles, California, specifically in Beverly Hills. The escargot restaurant called ‘The Voltaire’ was filmed at the Rex, now called Cicada. Filming of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel lobby interior was shot at the now demolished Ambassador Hotel.

Pretty Woman

During the scene where Roberts sings along to Prince in the bath tub sliding down and dunking her head under the bubbles, Roberts came up and opened her eyes and saw that everyone had left even the cameraman, who got the shot.

Julia Roberts

Happy Man: Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ – this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.

Vivian: Tell me one person who it’s worked out for.
What, you want me to name someone? You want like a name? Oh, God, the pressure of a name… I got it. Cindafuckin’rella.

Edward Lewis: I think we both know she’s not my niece.
Of course.
Edward Lewis:
And the reason I know that is that I’m an only child.

Vivian: You’re late.
Edward Lewis:
You’re stunning.
You’re forgiven. (Pretty Woman, dir. Garry Marshall, 1990)

Sunset Boulevard

K. Sark

Sunset Boulevard stretches from Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Coast Highway at the Pacific Ocean in the Pacific Palisades. The street is an icon of Hollywood celebrity culture and the phrase “Sunset Boulevard” is an enduring shorthand for the glamour associated with Tinseltown. Approximately 22 miles (35 km) in length, it is at least four lanes in width for all of its route. In the 1970s the area between Gardner Street and Western Avenue, became a seedy red-light district afflicted with street prostitution. It was at the corner of Sunset and Courtney Avenue that actor Hugh Grant pulled over and picked up prostitute Divine Brown in the early morning of June 27, 1995. Shortly after this police raids drove out the majority of prostitutes in this area and the majority of those turned to on-line escort services, thus diminishing the long held red-light district.

The best-known section of Sunset Boulevard is probably the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, which is a center for nightlife in the Los Angeles area. The boulevard is commemorated in Billy Wilder’s famous movie, an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and a 1950’s television series, 77 Sunset Strip. Jan and Dean’s 1960’s hit song Dead Man’s Curve immortalizes a section of the road near Bel Air estates just north of UCLA’s Drake Stadium. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a recreation of Sunset as a backdrop for its The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster rides.

Sunset Boulevart, dir. Billy Wilder, 1950

The Sunset Strip is the name given to the mile and a half stretch of Sunset Boulevard that passes through West Hollywood, California. It extends from West Hollywood’s eastern border with Hollywood at Harper Avenue, to its western border with Beverly Hills at Sierra Drive. The Strip is probably the best known portion of Sunset, embracing a premier collection of boutiques, restaurants, rock clubs, and nightclubs that are on the cutting edge of the entertainment industry. It is also known for its trademark array of huge, colourful billboards and has developed a notoriety as a hang out for rock stars, movie stars and entertainers.

Glamour and glitz defined the Strip in the 1930s and the 1940s, as its renowned restaurants and clubs became a playground for the rich and famous. There were movie legends and power brokers, and everyone who was anyone danced to stardom at such legendary clubs as Ciro’s, the Mocambo and the Trocadero. Some of its expensive nightclubs and restaurants were said to be owned by gangsters like Mickey Cohen, earning the Strip a place in Raymond Chandler’s 1949 Philip Marlowe novel, The Little Sister. Other spots on the strip associated with Hollywood include the Garden of Allah apartments — Hollywood quarters for transplanted writers like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and F. Scott Fitzgerald — and Schwab’s Drug Store.

K. Sark

By the early 1960s, the Strip lost favor with the majority of movie people, but its restaurants, bars and clubs continued to serve as an attraction for locals and out-of-town visitors. In the mid-1960s and the 1970s it became a major gathering-place for the counterculture — and the scene of the Sunset Strip curfew riots in the summer of 1966, involving police and crowds of hippies, serving as the inspiration for the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth“.

Go-Go dancers performed at such spots as the famous Whisky a Go Go. Bands like Van Halen, Motley Crue, L.A. Guns, Guns N’ Roses, The Doors, The Byrds, Love, The Seeds, Frank Zappa, and many others played at clubs like the Whisky a Go Go, Roxy, Pandora’s Box and the London Fog.

As the Strip became a haven for musical artists in the 1960s and 1970s, the Hyatt West Hollywood, as it is known today, became a hotel of legend. Many musicians lived or stayed at the hotel for the easy access to the live music venues on Sunset Boulevard. This is how the hotel became known by names such as the “Riot Hyatt” and the “Riot House”, thus serving as a redolent location for the Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous.

Almost Famous, dir. Cameron Crowe, 2000

In the early 1970s a popular hangout for glam rock musicians and groupies was Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. The Strip continued to be a major focus for punk rock and New Wave during the late 1970s, and it became the center of the colourful glam metal scene throughout the 1980s. The 1979 Donna Summer song “Sunset People” from the album Bad Girls, was about the nightlife on Sunset Boulevard. With the increase in rents in the area during the 1980s, however, and the decline of the glam metal scene in the early 1990s, the Sunset Strip ceased to be a major area for up and coming rock bands without industry sponsorship. The adoption of “pay to play” tactics, in which bands were charged a fee to play at clubs like the Roxy, the Whisky and Gazzari’s (now the The Key Club) also diminished the appeal to rock bands other than as an industry showcase. Thus, during the 1990s, the center of more alternative music activity in Los Angeles shifted further east to areas like Silverlake, Los Feliz and Echo Park. The “Riot Hyatt”, still continues to be a favorite with bands today, such as Justin Timberlake, Breaking Point, and Timbaland, for its continual easy access to live music venues, including The Whisky, Roxy, and House of Blues.

Viper Room

The Viper Room was opened in 1993 and was partly owned by actor Johnny Depp until 2004. The club is well known for having been the site where actor River Phoenix died of a drug overdose on Halloween morning in 1993. In Oliver Stone’s film, The Doors (1991), the building was used as a filming location for scenes depicting the London Fog, also of West Hollywood. London Fog was a lesser-known nightclub next to the Whisky a Go Go where The Doors had their first regular gig for four months in early 1966. The Viper Room is also featured in the 2004 documentary DiG! when members of the band The Brian Jonestown Massacre began brawling with each other on stage while performing. As part of the settlement of a lawsuit involving the disappearance of co-owner Anthony Fox in 2001, Depp relinquished his ownership of the Viper Room in 2004.


Sara: Roland thinks L.A. is a place for the brain-dead. He says, if you turned off the sprinklers, it would turn into a desert. But I think – I don’t know, it’s not what I expected. It’s a place where they’ve taken a desert and turned it into their dreams. I’ve seen a lot of L.A. and I think it’s also a place of secrets: secret houses, secret lives, secret pleasures. And no one is looking to the outside for verification that what they’re doing is all right. (LA Story, dir. Mick Jackson, 1991)

Sharon: Whatever you do, don’t get dumped in L.A. I mean, it’s not like New York, where you can meet someone walking down the street. In L.A. you practically have to hit someone with your car. In fact, I know girls who speed just to meet cops. (LA Story, dir. Mick Jackson, 1991)


Graham: It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something. (Crash, dir. Paul Haggis, 2004)

This entry was posted in Film, L.A., Music, Restaurants. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to California Dreamin’ – Cinephilia and Cinephobia in L.A.

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