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Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angelesby Vincent Brook
Synopses & Reviews
Unlike the more forthrightly mythic origins of other urban centers—think Rome via Romulus and Remus or Mexico City via the god Huitzilopochtli—Los Angeles emerged from a smoke-and-mirrors process that is simultaneously literal and figurative, real and imagined, material and metaphorical, physical and textual. Through penetrating analysis and personal engagement, Vincent Brook uncovers the many portraits of this ever-enticing, ever-ambivalent, and increasingly multicultural megalopolis. Divided into sections that probe Los Angeles’s checkered history and reflect on Hollywood’s own self-reflections, the book shows how the city, despite considerable remaining challenges, is finally blowing away some of the smoke of its not always proud past and rhetorically adjusting its rear-view mirrors.
Part I is a review of the city’s history through the early 1900s, focusing on the seminal 1884 novel Ramona and its immediate effect, but also exploring its ongoing impact through interviews with present-day Tongva Indians, attendance at the 88th annual Ramona pageant, and analysis of its feature film adaptations.
Brook deals with Hollywood as geographical site, film production center, and frame of mind in Part II. He charts the events leading up to Hollywood’s emergence as the world’s movie capital and explores subsequent developments of the film industry from its golden age through the so-called New Hollywood, citing such self-reflexive films as Sunset Blvd., Singin’ in the Rain, and The Truman Show.
Part III considers LA noir, a subset of film noir that emerged alongside the classical noir cycle in the 1940s and 1950s and continues today. The city’s status as a privileged noir site is analyzed in relation to its history and through discussions of such key LA noir novels and films as Double Indemnity, Chinatown, and Crash.
In Part IV, Brook examines multicultural Los Angeles. Using media texts as signposts, he maps the history and contemporary situation of the city’s major ethno-racial and other minority groups, looking at such films as Mi Familia (Latinos), Boyz N the Hood (African Americans), Charlotte Sometimes (Asians), Falling Down (Whites), and The Kids Are All Right (LGBT).
Land of Smoke and Mirrors looks at greater Los Angeles through the images projected from within and without its geographical and psychological borders. Divided into sections that probe the city’s checkered history and reflect on Hollywood’s own self reflections, the book offers revealing readings of different types of texts (novelistic, cinematic, event-related, and geographical) to expose how Los Angeles, despite considerable remaining challenges, is blowing away some of the smoke of its not always proud past and rhetorically adjusting its rear-view mirrors.
From its earliest days, the American film industry has attracted European artists. With the rise of Hitler, filmmakers of conscience in Germany and other countries, particularly those of Jewish origin, found it difficult to survive and fledand#249;for their work and their livesand#249;to the United States. Some had trouble adapting to Hollywood, but many were celebrated for their cinematic contributions, especially to the dark shadows of film noir.
Driven to Darkness explores the influence of Jewish TmigrT directors and the development of this genre. While filmmakers such as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, and Edward G. Ulmer have been acknowledged as crucial to the noir canon, the impact of their Jewishness on their work has remained largely unexamined until now. Through lively and original analyses of key films, Vincent Brook penetrates the darkness, shedding new light on this popular film form and the artists who helped create it.
About the Author
VINCENT BROOK teaches at UCLA, USC, Cal State–LA, and Pierce College. He is the author of Something Ain’t Kosher Here: The Rise of the "Jewish" Sitcom and Driven to Darkness: Jewish Émigré Directors and the Rise of Film Noir (both Rutgers University Press).
Table of Contents
2 Jews in Germany
3 Jews and Expressionism
4 The Father of Film Noir
5 Fritz Lang in Hollywood
6 The French Connection
7 Viennese Twins
8 The ABZs of Film Noir
9 Woman's Directors
10 Pathological Noir, Populist Noir, and an Act of Violence
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