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Take me to LA
July 13, 2012 3:10 AM   Subscribe

What films, songs and books should I see/hear/read to get a feel for LA?

I'm going to be in LA a fair amount this summer, off and on. It's a city I have no real understanding of (other than that's it's got Hollywood) and I'd like some media to build up a picture of what LA's like, what it feels like to people who live there.

I've known London before I even got here because of all the TV shows set here, and Dickens. What should I consume to get the same mental picture of LA?

Just an example, off Frank Ocean's new album 'Channel Orange' there's a song called Sweet Life and it's got the line 'Why see the world/When you've got the beach'. To me, that sums up a piece of LA's beach lifestyle.
posted by litleozy to Society & Culture (54 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
You need to have your windows rolled down and listen to Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." while driving.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtDhtadoeUk

I grew up in the Southland most of my life. I always thought this song captured L.A. perfectly, right down to the description of the homeless guy.

Ah, Los Angeles.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:16 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always thought White Oleander did a good job (in its own slightly overwrought way) of capturing all the different places that make up L.A.: from Venice Beach to San Fernando Valley and so on.
posted by book 'em dano at 3:31 AM on July 13, 2012


Francesca Lia Block's "Weetzie Bat". It's young adult magical realism, and the entire thing reads like a torrid love letter to L.A.
posted by julthumbscrew at 3:31 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Chinatown.
posted by j1950 at 3:49 AM on July 13, 2012


Also, Swingers.
posted by j1950 at 3:49 AM on July 13, 2012


A narrow slice of my experiences and influences growing up L.A.:

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Dogtown and Z-Boys

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

The Player

Dead Boys: Stories by Richard Lange
posted by Room 641-A at 4:22 AM on July 13, 2012


LA Story
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 4:31 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Older movies: Sunset Boulevard, in a lonely place

"the french inhaler" and many other warren zevon songs

"Come a long way" by Michelle Shocked

(sorry no links, on phone)
posted by pete_22 at 4:36 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You should read Anthony Kiedis' biography Scar Tissue.

It's a great biography set mostly in LA.
posted by BoyBlunder85 at 4:45 AM on July 13, 2012


Though it's much derided, Lana DelRay's "Video Games" music video perfectly captures, for me, the oddness of what early evening on a hot night in LA feels like.
posted by xingcat at 4:47 AM on July 13, 2012


Friedkin's To Live And Die in LA.

Here's Wang Chung's great theme song.
posted by THAT William Mize at 4:55 AM on July 13, 2012


I also recommend The Player. A lot of the conversation takes place in cafes and restaurants. Notice how Tim Robbins orders a different brand of bottled water in each one.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:00 AM on July 13, 2012


Some stuff that I think captures the non-showbiz side of L.A.:

Jackie Brown

Friday

Factotum (and Charles Bukowski's writings in general)

Repo Man

The Big Lebowski
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 5:06 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and on the more showbiz-y side, Free Enterprise -- although it's mostly about a pair of science fiction geeks, for me it totally captured the feel of being a young single guy in West L.A. It would probably make a good double feature with Swingers.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 5:12 AM on July 13, 2012


It's a fantastic film (albeit a little dated and long), but I always thought the movie Heat captured Los Angeles quite well. You often hear of the idea of a city playing a role or a character in a particular film, and I think that's very much the case here.
posted by Rewind at 5:31 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also - in terms of reading material have you seen this thread, and particularly this comment?
posted by Rewind at 5:34 AM on July 13, 2012


I'm going to add in Valley Girl by Frank Zappa.
posted by effluvia at 5:47 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Addenda: Reyner Banham, Architecture of the Four Ecologies.
posted by effluvia at 5:50 AM on July 13, 2012


I'm going to go old school and say read Raymond Chandler.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on July 13, 2012


Southland on TNT. It's quite grim but filmed on the streets. As much as I love it, keep in mind that it's only one degree of 360 of an amazing city/county/state.
posted by jvilter at 6:06 AM on July 13, 2012


Somewhere
posted by jabes at 6:18 AM on July 13, 2012


city of quartz by mike davis
posted by safetyfork at 6:19 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved James Frey's novel Bright Shiny Morning. I know, James Frey. But try it.
posted by something something at 6:30 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books are great too.
posted by something something at 6:31 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Volcano" was a pretty terrible movie, but it does give you a good chance to see a hefty chunk of LA geography. I also hear that geology and civil engineering nerds use it effectively for drinking games, so.
posted by SMPA at 6:35 AM on July 13, 2012


Seconding James Frey / Bright Shiny Morning.
posted by Perplexity at 6:36 AM on July 13, 2012


HoneyHoney's song LA River
posted by PussKillian at 6:42 AM on July 13, 2012


L.A. Confidential
posted by kirkaracha at 6:59 AM on July 13, 2012


The Los Angeles/Wild Gift album compilation by X.
posted by corey flood at 7:03 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


For a surreal version of LA, try David Lynch's Mulholland Drive or any of Steve Erickson's novels .
posted by rabbitsnake at 7:20 AM on July 13, 2012


Collateral.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 7:27 AM on July 13, 2012


Kiss kiss bang bang
Short cuts (the Robert Altman movie based on Raymond Chandler's book)
posted by askmehow at 7:35 AM on July 13, 2012


corey flood: "The Los Angeles/Wild Gift album compilation by X"

I'll second this and also suggest the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.

SNL sketch The Californians (15 second ad before the video)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:40 AM on July 13, 2012


Damn. Daaaaaaaaaaamn. The suggestions here are perfect, absolutely what I was looking for.

Thanks a lot for this, really really thanks.
posted by litleozy at 7:59 AM on July 13, 2012


James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce. The recent miniseries is faithful to the book, but was shot on the east coast.
posted by brujita at 8:09 AM on July 13, 2012


Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself is a must. You may appreciate it more after you know the city a bit more. But wow.
posted by tulseluper at 8:19 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Californication (the Santa Monica-centric David Duchovny show on Showtime--although I guess you could also listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers album of the same name!)
posted by lovableiago at 8:28 AM on July 13, 2012


I thought Greenberg had a pretty accurate feeling of the city.
posted by fishmasta at 8:33 AM on July 13, 2012


Raymond Chandler's Farewell My Lovely

The Day of the Locust (both the book, and movie) and

Kem Nunn's Tapping the Source (which is technically Orange County, but from the outsider's perspective, it's all LA, and this book was one of the catalysts for my own move to the Southland.)
posted by Rash at 8:33 AM on July 13, 2012


Short cuts the movie is based on short stories by Raymond Carver not Chandler- big difference and I often confuse the 2 when speaking/typing
posted by askmehow at 8:35 AM on July 13, 2012


Also, someone upthread mentioned Repo Man, paired with
Suburbia, a perfect LA punk-rock double feature.
posted by Rash at 8:36 AM on July 13, 2012


Beginners does a great job capturing a lovely little square mile of gay/straight/artsy/dog-loving Silver Lake.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:55 AM on July 13, 2012


For years and years Huell Howser has had a number of L.A and SoCal travel shows on PBS. (He's a local legend, and has even been on The Simpsons twice.) He covers everything under the sun, from the historic to the quirky and would be just about the best L.A. tour guide I could think of.

To get you started, here is a YT link to an episode he did about The Apple Pan restaurant (another L.A. Legend.) From there you should be able to find tons and tons more links about the city and surrounding area.

(Sorry for the extra post, but it was for Huell!)
posted by Room 641-A at 9:22 AM on July 13, 2012


Essential listening: the first three or four X albums (Los Angeles, Wild Gift, Under the Big Black Sun, More Fun in the New World), plus their documentary, The Unheard Music (rereleased last year for its 25h anniversary).
posted by scody at 9:35 AM on July 13, 2012


Thirding Swingers. I loved that movie the first time I saw it, but I saw it again a few years later (after I had actually visited LA) and so many of the little things in the movie made more sense. For example, when they enter a party there's a moment where everything stops while everyone at the party sizes up the newcomers (and vice versa) to see if there's anyone of interest in the group. That made so much more sense to me after being in LA.

The finest LA song, IMHO, is "In California" by Neko Case.

If you can track down a copy of the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself (it may be on Youtube, but I don't know if that's the complete thing), definitely watch it. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Finally, a few hours playing LA Noire might be a fun history lesson. The game is ultimately disappointing, but you do get a strong sense of what the city was once like.
posted by arco at 9:45 AM on July 13, 2012


Seconding arco above -- kind of funny, but LA Noire and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas work really well to give you a (condensed, but broadly accurate) sense of L.A. geography and landmarks, and where neighborhoods are in relationship to each other, since you spend so much time just driving around. I'm really hoping some future game will just be a block-by-block recreation of the entire L.A./Orange County region.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:24 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The White Album by Joan Didion. See also "Slouching Towards Bethlehem."
posted by conrad53 at 11:58 AM on July 13, 2012


More Orange County than L.A., but Sublime's "Garden Grove" and "Waiting For My Ruca" totally capture the area vibe for me.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:43 PM on July 13, 2012


Cadillac Desert treats LA's water issues. Ken Starr's brother, Kevin Starr is a major historian on California and Los Angeles.

The Samuel P Huntington Library and the Bowers Museum both have historical holdings on Los Angeles from very early to present. Photos, documents, etc.
posted by effluvia at 1:39 PM on July 13, 2012


The Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books by Robert Crais are set in LA (most of them), and paint a pretty accurate picture.
posted by jvilter at 3:18 PM on July 13, 2012


"Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:16 PM on July 13, 2012


I was going to recommend Locas, but it looks like it's out of print.

Holy Land: a Suburban Memoir

The Loved One

Altman's version of The Long Goodbye
posted by betweenthebars at 10:18 PM on July 13, 2012


Sunset Boulevard
Rebel without a Cause
The Player
Mulholland Drive
Drive
posted by rahulrg at 6:54 AM on July 14, 2012


Less Than Zero (the book, not the movie)
posted by SisterHavana at 8:57 PM on July 15, 2012


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