The Living Screen
By Maja Manojlovič
You only realize why L.A. embodies the paradoxical status of both global utopian dream machine and the dystopian nightmare once you’ve driven out of it and onto the 10 Freeway East towards the Mojave Desert. Its vast space with ancient Joshua trees, curious coyotes – signifying the tricksters in Native American mythology, – and vacillating colors is absolutely magical. As an extension of Mojave Desert the space of City of Angels comes as close as it gets to an apparition, which is probably exactly what was going through D.W. Griffith’s mind when New York based studio Biograph sent him out west to shoot in the Mediterranean like climate of L.A.
This sense of the city being a mirage in the desert is still a very pervasive one. Anything having to do with illusion, fantasy, hallucination, or you name a variation of delusion, is the reality of L.A. This shape-shifting, fluid quality of the city’s material make up absorbs the projections of the imagined and imaged from all over the globe. It works similar to the 3-D, multilayered »screen« where the pre-cog’s minds projected their visions in Spielberg’s Minority Report. However, just like the Minority Report’s pre-cogs are in the service of the corrupt government, this apparently multifaceted screen takes in and mobilizes all creative imagination to serve the box office.
This mirage of consumerism determines the whole movie-going experience here. First I have to drive (you never walk in L.A.) to a shopping Mall (where the multiplexes are located), I pay and park in a multi-storied parking garage, then I pay anywhere from $10-15 on one screening, and finally I spend additional $10 on popcorn and soft drinks. But say I want to enjoy the fabulous screens of the Arclight Cinemas in the heart of Hollywood, on Sunset and Vine; then I get ready to pay $20 for a movie ticket only. But I can now enter the IMAX experience in the Cinerama Dome, a temple of spectacle that would have Guy Debord turn in his grave. Immersed in the digital surround sound-scapes of the Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and feeling the giant ape’s breath sweeping over my face wraps me into a state of a heightened sensual experience of the movie. I’ve always been very aware of the embodied nature of my film experience, but the feeling of almost touching the giant curved screen of the IMAX theatre is so sensually overwhelming, that it disengages intellect, emotion, and what’s worst – imagination. Paradoxically, you find yourself in a very claustrophobic environment, where its obsession of creating entertainment systematically shuts down any opening towards the creative pull outside of its confines.
This is precisely why I’m still fascinated by that hallucinogenic, yet profoundly cinematic space of the city of Los Angeles itself. And I’m not talking about running into the film sets and movie stars all over the city (I almost literally ran into John Voight in the Century City Mall for the premiere of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11), or that most of the Downtown L.A. is a ghost town, available for film set rentals ($1,700.00 per hour – an impossibility for a film student or any project that is not backed by a studio). No, what I have in mind are those privileged moments, when I’m driving in the infamous L.A. traffic and I suddenly glance at a 1940’s bright white ambulance with red crosses on its doors, driven by a young lady wearing 1950’s cat glasses and hair neatly slicked back. Is she real or is it Barbara Stanwyck’s stunt double from Double Indemnity? My imagination is momentarily infused with a kaleidoscope of indiscernible memories of the film noirs I’ve seen or imagined that are now coalescing into an optically equally indiscernible, yet sensually distinct sense of watching a film and simultaneously making it, of breathing the movement of the film’s celluloid body. In such moments, I am completely absorbed by my imaginative interactivity with the fluidity of the L.A.’s multidimensional screen, which gives me the sense of an authentic film experience free from the oppression of only being entertained.
Published in Ekran, 2006 (June/July)