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July 2, 2013 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Bullitt, Drive, and walking the LA River
posted by michaelh (35 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Goddamn dipshit Rodriguez gypsy dildo punks - I'll get your ass!!
posted by Artw at 10:39 AM on July 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


When my girlfriend and I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, I liked to occasionally say "There's the LA River" but not point it out, which had her bewildered until I finally explained that the drainage ditch she had been looking past was, in fact, the river, it was actually a river, and, yes, for much of its route through LA it flows through a concrete channel. And that when you see the car race in Grease or the truck/scooter chase in Terminator 2 (or, as Art points out above, Repo Man), they are racing along the river.

Also, it's almost always a trickle. This seemed like a very strange river to her, and it is, but that's part of what makes LA special. That and the fact that there is an impossible-to-uproot encampment of feral chickens on the Hollywood Freeway and that camels used to roam around the Hollywood Hills.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:44 AM on July 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is absolute something I'd go out of my way to visit - probably the only thing in LA to be honest.
posted by Artw at 10:48 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perfect spot for illegal racing.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:51 AM on July 2, 2013


It is absolute something I'd go out of my way to visit - probably the only thing in LA to be honest.

It passes right by downtown. Make a day of it, go to Olvera St and Chinatown and Philippe's.

In spite of, you know, being a global center for film, it seems like there are so few great movies about LA, that really give you a feeling for the city. There are more films that are about New York and London and Paris than there are about LA. Chinatown is one, too, and hey, that also features the LA River in a prominent role.
posted by kagredon at 11:04 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not to mention featuring heavily in the classic atomic monster movie Them!
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:06 AM on July 2, 2013


It passes right by downtown. Make a day of it, go to Olvera St and Chinatown and Philippe's.

If you take the train into town from the south, you'll have an extended stretch where you're going right by the river just before getting into Union Station, which is pretty much right across a major boulevard from Olvera Street and the pueblo.
posted by LionIndex at 11:11 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sepulveda also has a supporting role in Buckaroo Banzai.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:22 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also Gumball Rally.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:27 AM on July 2, 2013


I'm about 90% sure the author of the article never actually made it to the LA River. I think he was actually hiking Arroyo Seco. Which means dry wash. Which would explain why it was just a trickle. The LA River in that area has wide, paved, lit paths and little parks all along the way. It's just recently been finished with the 'remodel' for the ped/bike path, and now they're updating all the bridges along there.

There's still people who fish and camp down in the river, especially in the area around Frogtown (just West of where Dan Hill went though, again, along the LA River not up Arroyo Seco). But it's quite hoppin' all around, with all sorts of visitors.

By the bye, Hidden LA will be hosting a kayak trip in that area of the LA River soon. Sounds like fun!
posted by carsonb at 11:27 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


The LA River in that area has wide, paved, lit paths and little parks all along the way.

Upstream from where he was, that is. Downstream from there is right where the scene from Drive took place, where it goes from semi-wild and wooded creekbed abruptly to a concrete channel-within-a-channel.
posted by carsonb at 11:30 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


it seems like there are so few great movies about LA, that really give you a feeling for the city.

I've always liked "Falling Down" for this reason.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:32 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


For all its problems, I thought Me and You and Everyone We Know did a great job depicting the neighborhoods in LA.
posted by pxe2000 at 12:05 PM on July 2, 2013


For what is not a great movie, by most measures, Bullitt is an influential film.

Most measures be wrong, then.

The chase scene has three lead characters, none of which are human: McQueen’s Ford Mustang Fastback; the bad guys’ Dodge Charger; and the city itself.

Pretentious claptrap. Maybe because he is "a non-driver." McQueen, on the other hand, was an exceptional driver, and that had a lot to do with the effectiveness of the chase sequence.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:57 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


My grandfather -- who lived on the Mississippi river in Iowa -- would deride the LA river as "a concrete hog-trough" when he came to visit.
posted by lathrop at 1:40 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The chase scene has three lead characters, none of which are human: McQueen’s Ford Mustang Fastback; the bad guys’ Dodge Charger; and the city itself.

The ending was a little flat.
posted by hal9k at 1:50 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


In spite of, you know, being a global center for film, it seems like there are so few great movies about LA, that really give you a feeling for the city.

Really? Off the top of my head, here are a few:

Double Indemnity
Kiss Me Deadly
The Big Lebowski
Pulp Fiction
The Long Goodbye
Jackie Brown
Barton Fink
The Big Sleep
Devil In A Blue Dress
El Norte
Heat
Every Cheech and Chong movie
Sunset Blvd.
Mulholland Dr.
American Gigolo
Shampoo
Boogie Nights
Training Day
The Graduate
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Repo Man
Fletch
Reservoir Dogs
the Black Dahlia
Mildred Pierce
Rebel Without A Cause
posted by The World Famous at 2:02 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like to think of the LA River in its current state as basically an escape route, should anything go seriously wrong in the city. Of course, myself and several million of my neighbors probably have the same thought, so in reality it would turn into Death Race: LA.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:03 PM on July 2, 2013


Those are all set in LA, but I don't agree that all of them are about LA. I'm speaking specifically about capturing something specific to Los Angeles, in a way that you couldn't just swap around a few details and have the movie be set in another city. To rely on New York examples, it's the difference between Splash and Annie Hall (okay, it's one of several differences between Splash and Annie Hall.) You could move Splash to another city, and it would mostly just change the particular scenery that Darryl Hannah wanders around in. You cannot move Annie Hall to another city. It would be a fundamentally different movie.

How much would you have to change about Pulp Fiction to set it in, say, Philadelphia instead? You might throw in a line to explain that Mia Wallace just moved east to explain the television pilot thing, but that's about it.

The Big Lebowski is a trickier case. I'd say it probably qualifies, not because it name-checks In-N-Out or because Lebowski's mansion is up in the hills, but because it is (among other things) a pastiche of LA-set noir and that does mean that the film wouldn't feel quite right if it were set in San Diego or something.

The Black Dahlia tries to do that too, but it fails to do so mainly because it's kind of terrible. There are Michael Bay movies with more sense of place, not to mention coherence, storytelling, character, and style.
posted by kagredon at 3:04 PM on July 2, 2013


I'll concur that he doesn't seem to fully get Bullitt. Yes, the sequence works because it focuses on the vehicles, which at the time was a new and exciting idea made possible by technical advances allowed by mounting cameras on the cars themselves. (See also the near-contemporary C'était un rendez-vous -- another similarity I just now cottoned to was the use of low gear revving [alas, a cheat by Lelouch, as it was dubbed] as a kind of horn.)

it seems like there are so few great movies about LA, that really give you a feeling for the city.

I agree that on one level this is a bit of a daft statement, but the problem as I see it is that LA doubles for so much of the world in so many other movies that it becomes too familiar, too much of an artificial backdrop, to be easily seen for itself when it does play itself. It's a little bit like the way you can almost instantly tell who the actors are in a given location shoot -- not just framing and lighting, but the way they carry themselves.

By the same token, I'll admit that I just never understood the geography of the LA River until I could traverse it in Google Earth. For one thing, I had never realized just how many similar bridges cross the river (and how rarely movies show the expressway bridges). I do think his assessment that the river has become too obliterated to be restored is correct -- that doesn't mean it couldn't be altered to be more of a public space, as they seem to be doing on the upper reaches at least. The river is so hidden in so many ways, which wasn't unusual for the era, that it serves as a form of urban blight and a vast, terrifying Falling Down moonscape it's unsurprising that it has such an anonymous public image.

where the scene from Drive took place, where it goes from semi-wild and wooded creekbed abruptly to a concrete channel-within-a-channel

Yeah, that was fascinating, and if I recall correctly an accidental find on the part of the filmmakers. I almost wouldn't have imagined and it's not even clear they did until they found it, and kudos for managing to sidestep some of the cliched portrayal.
posted by dhartung at 3:38 PM on July 2, 2013


How could we forget this? Buckaroo Banzai credits.
posted by chavenet at 3:48 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


How much would you have to change about Pulp Fiction to set it in, say, Philadelphia instead? You might throw in a line to explain that Mia Wallace just moved east to explain the television pilot thing, but that's about it.

Major plot points of the film include
1) Marsellus not having any friendly places in 818,
2) Monster Joe's Truck and Tow being located in North Hollywood, necessitating a drive up Hollywood Way with a tainted car,
3) Butch losing his "Los Angeles privileges,"
3) Lance using Inglewood as a landmark to add hyperbole to how good his heroin is,
4) Vincent and Jules having to take a cab from Monster Joe's to their homes because Vincent lives in Redondo Beach and Jules lives in Inglewood (i.e. the huge geography of Los Angeles and where people live makes it impossible for them to get a ride with The Wolf, thereby putting them in the central conflict situation of the entire film),
5) Jules being referred to by Marsellus as "Our Man in Inglewood,"
6) Marsellus owning and operating his operation out of a strip club by LAX,
7) Burger culture playing a key role in the plot, which is a Los Angeles thing more than anyplace else I've lived, and so forth.

You'd have to change a hell of a lot about Pulp Fiction to set it in Philadelphia, and it would be a very different film.

The Big Lebowski is a trickier case. I'd say it probably qualifies, not because it name-checks In-N-Out or because Lebowski's mansion is up in the hills, but because it is (among other things) a pastiche of LA-set noir and that does mean that the film wouldn't feel quite right if it were set in San Diego or something.

Los Angeles is as much a character in Lebowski as any of the other characters. The opening monologue explicitly states that the story could take place nowhere else. Malibu as a specific setting is critical to the plot.

Seriously, The Big Lebowski opens with this:
They call Los Angeles the City of
Angels. I didn't find it to be that
exactly, but I'll allow as there are
some nice folks there. 'Course, I
can't say I seen London, and I never
been to France, and I ain't never
seen no queen in her damn undies as
the fella says. But I'll tell you
what, after seeing Los Angeles and
thisahere story I'm about to unfold--
wal, I guess I seen somethin' ever'
bit as stupefyin' as ya'd see in any
a those other places, and in English
too, so I can die with a smile on my
face without feelin' like the good
Lord gypped me.
And this:
And I'm talkin' about the Dude here--
sometimes there's a man who, wal,
he's the man for his time'n place,
he fits right in there--and that's
the Dude, in Los Angeles.
I mean come on. The Big Lebowski is as much a movie about Los Angeles as any movie has ever been a movie about a place. It could be re-written to take place in another city about as well as Casablanca could be re-written to take place in Akron, Ohio.
posted by The World Famous at 4:02 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


We may just have to agree to disagree, because I think everything you list (except for maybe 4 and 7, and even then I think you overemphasize their importance) could be swapped out for neighborhoods of another city with no impact on the story. There's nothing about strip clubs near the airport, major thoroughfares, or neighborhoods known for their heroin that is particular to Los Angeles. It is playing the part of the city because the story needs a city. It does not need that city.

Good point about Lebowski, though.
posted by kagredon at 4:13 PM on July 2, 2013


Pulp Fiction could be re-written to take place in another city, but I think it would have a distinctly different feel. It would be a much darker film if set in Chicago, for example. Reservoir Dogs feels more like a generic city, though I tend to think of it as taking place in Los Feliz and Glendale.
posted by The World Famous at 4:26 PM on July 2, 2013


I have to say that I never noticed that Pulp Fiction was set anywhere in particular but having never been to LA, most movies filmed there just look like movies. Since my only exposure to that city is via TV and movies, I just see it as the default locale that's not New York.
posted by octothorpe at 4:47 PM on July 2, 2013


Both Magnolia and Boogie Nights are set in the Valley, feel like it, and it's the only place they could be set.

Valley girl is about as LA a film as has ever been made. The title character's parents even own a health food store.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:51 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The original point, though, was not about whether or not a given film could conceivably be re-written to take place in a city other than LA without ruining the movie, but whether there are "great movies about LA, that really give you a feeling for the city." Even if one watches Pulp Fiction and somehow misses all the specific references to Los Angeles landmarks, locations, etc. and doesn't realize that the city portrayed is Los Angeles, I think the film actually does give a feeling for the city - even if that feeling is the feeling that L.A. can be pretty generic at times.
posted by The World Famous at 5:22 PM on July 2, 2013


I've always felt that the ultimate L.A. film has to be 1996's Escape from L.A., because sometimes a title says it all.
posted by item at 6:32 PM on July 2, 2013


Goddamn dipshit Rodriguez gypsy dildo punks - I'll get your ass!!

I love this pic from the article. I believe that first bridge is the 2nd Street bridge between downtown LA and East LA. Oh I love that pic, I used to live on Traction Avenue, right at the time they were filming Repo Man. When it came out, some friends of mine who used to visit my loft mentioned they wanted to drive down the LA River just like the movie. I told them I could show them the secret entrance to the river, it's hidden in plain sight, you can drive down the tunnel and it ends up in a chain link fence, you can walk in but you can't get your car in. So he wanted to see it. So late at night, we loaded about 6 of us into his jeep with the top down, and I showed him the way. Down the tunnel oh holy crap the fence is OPEN. So of course my idiot friend drives right into the basin, and declares he wants to drive right down the middle of the LA River at high speed, splashing up water just like the scene in Repo Man. But I am screaming at him NO you CAN'T do that, there's a deep channel right down the middle of the river! You can't see it now, but it's there. You drive across it and it will swallow up your jeep, which will probably overturn and trap us under it. Your roll bars will do no good when we're upside down under water. But he says no, it looks like it's only a few inches deep, and didn't you see the movie? I said of course I saw it, you notice they don't actually cross the middle of the river, because they CAN'T, there's a goddam channel down the middle. Everybody knows that. We got into a huge shouting match, he wanted to go get us killed and I wouldn't stand for it. If you want to go get everyone in this car killed despite my warning, just stop and let me out, I'll walk back through Skid Row to my loft. I'd rather risk getting mugged in the street than face the certainty of you wrecking your jeep with us in it.
Well at least he backed down, which saved everyone from getting killed stupidly in the middle of the LA River in the middle of the night when nobody would see us drown. And look at that pic. See, I told you so, but you wouldn't believe me. And there is the pic of the channel. It's about 10 or 12 feet wide and about 6 feet deep and do not try to drive across it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:40 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The film that most makes me want to visit L.A. is Miracle Mile.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 6:52 PM on July 2, 2013


I've always felt that the ultimate L.A. film has to be 1996's Escape from L.A., because sometimes a title says it all.

The ultimate LA movie is Death Wish II.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:45 PM on July 2, 2013


Oh btw, checking back in the thread, I missed this:

the truck/scooter chase in Terminator 2

That't not the LA River. That's the Tujunga Wash. It's in the Valley. I recognized it because I used to live on Tujunga Blvd in Studio City, it's right next to Universal and other studios, so there are a lot of shoots in the area. One day I came home from work and there was a spacecraft parked in my usual spot on the street. They were filming the miniseries V.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:16 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Possible worth an entire new post, but this 8 minute car chase from Short Time is amazing. Found via clicking around youtube when watching the bullitt one.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:10 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Uh, OK then. Construction zone gag. Barrel gag. Oncoming traffic gag. Etc.

You can really see the difference here because the bad guys are given utterly ridiculously plot-driven dialog like "Get this guy off my ass!" whereas in Bullitt the bad guys say practically nothing the entire time. That's how you achieve greatness, by knowing what not to do.

That's the Tujunga Wash.

"a tributary of the LA River", so close enough for out-of-towners.
posted by dhartung at 12:42 AM on July 3, 2013


Apropos of this discussion on cinematic L.A. - Los Angeles Plays Itself - "A video essay by CalArts professor Thom Andersen, examining how Los Angeles has been depicted in movies from the silent era to modern times. It consists almost entirely of clips from other films, and has never been commercially released." (2003)

carsonb, I think I walked along that part you mention, "semi-wild and wooded creekbed abruptly to a concrete channel-within-a-channel," if that's where Steelhead Park is. There were some folks (presumably) camping out in the riverbed, doing the sort of singing I think of as shower singing, lusty, unconcerned with precision, infectiously delighted. As a resident of Honolulu with its tropical downpours and stream flooding, I had a moment of panic with regards to flash floods and the likelihood that campers may be washed down culverts.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:23 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


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