Had a few thoughts about Los Angeles recently, which I'll combine into this portmanteau post loosely joined to that city, starting with a few words on the Michael Mann film Collateral I didn't get round to posting earlier. It's an OK film in retrospect, no more. It's set in LA, however, and this aspect is arguably reason enough to see the film anyway, as it's beautifully shot - in fact absolutely stunning. Shot on high-definition digital video cameras (Thomson Grass Valley Viper FilmStream and Sony CineAlta), the screen fizzes with neon signs and streetlights, burnt orange skies polluted with light and smog, reflections raytraced from mirrored corporate 'scrapers, spots of blue liquid crystal glow from mobile phones lending theatrical uplighting on characters' faces. Sight and Sound described it better, thusly:
"Probably the first studio director to embrace digital for its purely aesthetic potential, Mann uses the high-definition technology - in particular its ability to register a rich array of colours and tones in low light and at night - to realise his vision of the city. If the LA of Heat was crisp, almost photorealist in its high-gloss intensity, here the night-time cityscape is rendered with a watercolour delicacy. Collateral's after-hours timescale may be classic noir, but Mann's subtle night-vision - the dark sky seems bathed in an urban glow (the pale wash of orange street lights, streaks of white automobile headlights) - softens the genre's chiaroscuro tendencies." ["It Happened One Night", Sight & Sound, on Collateral]
Mann, in interview:
"(Y)ou can't see the city at night on motion picture film the way you can on digital video ... I think this is the first serious major motion picture done in digital video that is photoreal, rather than using it for effects. DV is also a more painterly medium: you can see what you've done as you shoot ... Digital isn't a medium for directors who aren't interested in visualisation ..." ["Paint It Black", Sight & Sound]
Yet again, Los Angeles is a 'visualised' city. Twas ever thus, and with such interesting effects on our understanding of the city - and not just visually, but formally. Mike Davis's City of Quartz is often thought of as the peerless book on LA, with respect to both the imagined city of Chandler and Chinatown and the dark movements of the political and social throughout the 20th century. Reading that means that one then engages with almost any film set in LA in terms of a far richer back-history of imagined and real corruption, beauty, horror, sensual image and vivid music, exploitation, aspiration, politics, crime, grime and so on. It's as if each film is simply a small scene in a growing 'meta-work' about the city (more on this later).