Thursday, July 27, 2006

To live and film in L.A.

The biggest problem I’ve found with working in downtown Los Angeles is not dealing with the traffic nor the crowds nor the elevated prices nor the homeless. No, the problem only comes into play when I view a movie or TV show or commercial that was filmed in downtown (and there’s a good number that were).

When I see a scene shot in the surroundings where I spend a significant section of my periods of sustained non-somnambulance, I become instantly distracted from the plot or dialogue and instead must try to identify the buildings in the background or the street down which the characters are driving.

It’s not something I can control; I just do it.

What’s worse is when the editing of the sequence puts the characters from one spot to another that isn’t anywhere near enough for them to have (in actuality) reached it in the allotted screen time. The verisimilitude of the scene, no matter how compelling the writing and acting and directing might otherwise prove, is utterly lost for me.

The most recent example I saw (on DVD) was the otherwise enjoyable Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, where Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer go from what is ostensibly near the 101 to an area that I know is actually near downtown Long Beach—some 27 miles away. (I know Long Beach for obvious reasons, being the other place I spend much of my time.)

In Heat, there’s the big shootout in the street (5th, to be exact, between Flower and Figueroa, near the 110 freeway), where when they flee they run to a grocery store around the corner… that isn’t there. Really. I don’t even know where that store is in real life (as opposed to reel life), but it is not right around the corner from where the shootout. There are tall office buildings, and the freeway.

I could barely watch the end of Collateral because it takes place on the same trains I ride every day. Well, sort of. In the climactic sequence, it goes from the downtown station, but it involves some modified version of the trains that don’t actually run (the Blue Line trains have driver cabs on both ends, so they can run either direction, but in the movie there's some back door--as though it had a caboose--for Tom Cruise's character to get in), and then moments later they’re down in Redondo Beach--at least 15 miles away--at a station that isn’t even on the same line as downtown. There's no way that train that left the downtown station could even get on the tracks where the sequence ends.

(I could go on, but let's admit neither of us really cares that much about such details.)

It's not that I fail to grasp how it enhances the drama to modify what the actual physical layout of the location is. No one else I've met cares--I get it. Still, unlike movies that take place in familiar surroundings and accurately reflect the area, these films don't inspire me to tout how I've been there but to lament having been there.

I simply need to not watch them at all.

There need to be warnings before such presentations, much like alerting one to offensive language or sexual situations. Something like UDLA (Unrealistic Depictions of Los Angeles) in the ads or on the DVD cover would suffice.

I'm not asking them to change their movies, nor calling for boycotts; I just want to be alerted about what might offend me (so to speak), so I can make informed choices. That's all.

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