Em and Stu do America part 16: Legendary Los Angeles

Reading time: 10 minutes 

Downtown LA, aka DTLA

Downtown LA, aka DTLA

“Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin.”

-Pretty Woman                                                                           

I know LA only through media; the sublime (Billy Wilder’s noir classic Sunset Boulevard, David Lynch’s haunting Mulholland Drive) to the ridiculous (genius 90s hit Clueless). I’m a devoted follower of James Ellroy, who wrote the searing LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, White Jazz) and the LA memoir My Dark Places. There’s wild variation in these pictures, but I wanted to see it all. Even the grimiest depictions sound glamorous: Mulholland Drive. Hollywood Boulevard. Sunset Boulevard. Rodeo Drive. Santa Monica. The Valley. Venice Beach.

Iconic Santa Monica beach.

Santa Monica beach.

We allowed three weeks here to end our trip, wanting the chance to relax and explore these mythical places at leisure after barrelling down the west coast. After successive shocks to the system from snowy Washington, icy Vancouver, watery Oregon and foggy San Francisco, we cautiously got our thongs/flip-flops back out, ready to enjoy that famous California sunshine.

But you know what? We arrived tired. Too tired to give LA the same energy we threw at New York. And LA is a lot less user-friendly. It’s a massive, sprawling city. Yes, there are many cool neighbourhoods, but many dead, dirty, scary zones between, full of men who have a scary habit of lurching within inches of me when they see me, as though the zombie apocalypse actually happened while I was sleeping and I they can smell my tasty brain.

Venice Beach

Venice beach.

The parking and driving was terrifying here, so we returned our car to Enterprise and opted for public transport and walking instead. But even for committed walkers and train-catching cheapskates like ourselves, LA is HARD to get around without a car. The public transport system is perfectly fine, but the distances are just huge.

Thanks to all these factors, our LA story is partly about what we didn’t do. We didn’t drive to Palm Springs or Joshua Tree National Park. We didn’t tour Warner Bros or Universal. We didn’t do Harry Potter World Round Two. We didn’t go to Channel Islands National Park. We didn’t do Hollywood Behind the Scenes. We didn’t do a self-guided Clueless filming locations tour.

Outside TCL Chinese Theatre. Heaps of fun to look at all the stars' signatures!

Outside TCL Chinese Theatre. Heaps of fun to look at all the stars’ signatures!

We did do SOME stuff. The Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Museum. We went and saw Tim Ferriss interview Terry Crews (star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) live on stage – a major highlight for us both, since Stu is a big Terry Crews fan. We walked the Santa Monica Pier and then walked along the sand to Venice Beach. We hiked to the Hollywood sign.

We ate. Corn cheese (you heard me) and Korean BBQ in Koreatown. American treats we normally avoid: pancakes with bacon, fancy PBJs and grilled cheese sandwiches at Grand Central Market. Tacos Tumbras a Tomas and Salvadorean pupusas from Sarita’s (the setting of the first date in La La Land), also at the market. For our last night we have booked the Pacific Dining Car, as immortalised in Ellroy novels and in the movie Training Day.

An awesome moment. Just me, the open air and the smog.

An awesome moment. Just me, the open air and the smog.

And we lazed. We hid from our somewhat scary and ill-chosen neighbourhood and went on a cinematic tour. I know it sounds terrible, watching movies about LA instead of being out in it. But I swear it provoked thought. Hear me out.

We watched or re-watched Sunset Boulevard, CluelessSpeed, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, LA Story, Afternoon Delight, Training Day and, of course, Volcano, set in the streets not a 10-minute walk from where we were staying, near MacArthur Park on the edge of downtown LA.

I did find one nice spot walking distance from our place: Echo Park.

Echo Park.

It felt surreal seeing a tidal wave of lava pouring over streets we have walked now for weeks, in our local train station. I thought, people who live in LA see their homes in celluloid all the time. This is normal for them, to see their lives and landscapes, their train stations, their cafes, all represented, countless “what if” scenarios played out. I can’t help but feel there’s both advantage and disadvantage that a city can be this self-reflective.

Classic LA: beauty, with parking.

The field of racial and “whiteness” studies says that for a race to be routinely represented in mainstream art forms gives that race a kind of validation, an acknowledgement of its existence within the culture, and by association gives it power.

Transpose that idea to not a race but a city identity like “Angelinos”. They sure are getting represented, validated, afforded power in a global context by the sheer amount of representations getting pumped out into the world. So when does this become something not just empowering but navel-gazing, something that shuts them off from seeing the rest of the world and just permits them to continue their lives unchallenged by different ways of living and seeing? I thought NYC was an insular culture; surely this is too. It calls to mind recent social commentary that Facebook has an unhealthy way of feeding us all stories it knows we will like and agree with, thereby leaving our minds fat and lethargic. Is it healthy, in other words, for LA to get fed so much pure LA?

Santa Monica

Santa Monica

And is it healthy for the rest of us to get fed so much LA? Are we deficient of home nutrients? I watched these movies as a kid thinking “this is what a city looks like,” not questioning that city, its reality, its demographics, its very physical being.

It’s only now that I can see it’s a real place. Not only a blank canvas for a movie but the weirdest, most intense, most unbalanced city I have ever seen. It’s so far apart from my home, despite the thin veneer of sameness of all Western civilisation, that I feel like it’s really another planet. And yet I have I have grown up on their cultural products, not my own.

That feels a little odd to realise, and a little sad. That Perth, such a beautiful place, with an ancient Aboriginal history as well as a much shorter European history, doesn’t get represented to the world. We let Tim Winton do our heavy lifting, and I fucking love Tim Winton, but we can’t just leave it all to him.

Hehehehe.

Hehehehe.

I know we have more good writers. I know we have good independent films and many excellent musicians. Perth is bursting with creative people. But there’s no denying that Perth bleeds artists to other cities and countries where their voices are heard more easily. Sometimes people, including me, forget to encourage these voices with cold hard cash.

We pay for stories from all over the world, for meals out, for coffees, but begrudge money for local movies and festivals and music. It’s a luxury to have this access to cultural products from elsewhere, but it’s maybe a loss, too, of connection with our own place. They might not be the same brand of sexy as LA stories, but they’re ours, and I have promised myself to think a bit harder about how I spend my entertainment dollar.

A beautiful scene, apart from the rotten brown haze :/

There’s more to LA than movies, by the way. There is a vibrant food and wine scene and exciting cultural diversity and some progressive recycling and renewable energy programs. It’s just as well – I have never seen anywhere dirtier, including NYC, and while I have read pollution has loosened its grip on LA in recent decades I was horrified at the great stripe of smog we saw blanketing the horizon as we looked towards the city from Burbank Peak.

It’s a lot to get your head around, and my thoughts are increasingly drawn to home. Wonderful coffee. Starlight. Supermarkets that make sense. Farmers’ markets that make even more sense. Toenail polish. Coloured clothes. Beer and wine and water coming in real glassware. Clean, safe, quiet streets. The Swan River. Within minutes of leaving the house, beautiful, unfenced, pristine parks everywhere you turn. Grass gently yellowing in dry December heat. Parks with gas barbecues cooking, not shrimp, but simple, classic Aussie beef snaggers. See you soon, Perth!

StuMobservations: LA

  • Gus’s drive-in has the best BBQ bacon cheeseburger in all the land.
  • $20 all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ is a cook your own adventure of epic proportions.
  • Who knew: When Max Factor originally introduced makeup to the common (ie non actress) woman, wearing it represented liberation for women and they protested to be allowed to wear it.
  • Squirrel + avocado diet = gigantic squirrel.
  • Terry Crews has a remarkable message about going for what we desire most.
  • Driving in LA is scarier than driving in the snow.
  • Why have I not tried Ramen before?
  • A hike to the Hollywood sign means you can see the back of some of the letters.
  • I wanted to steal Milla’s red dress from Resident Evil #prollyworththejailtime.
  • I saw the shoes and wand that Harry, Ron and Hermione used to imprint cement then I saw the imprints in the cement.

Wooooooooooooooo

 What we’re reading
Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor E Frankl; The Course of Love, Alain de Botton; Mr Mercedes, Stephen King

 

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Em and Stu do America part 15: Cascadia, home of The Goonies, Twin Peaks and The Shining

Reading time: 5 minutes

Cascadia. As magical as it sounds. This region of loosely defined boundaries, otherwise known as ‘the northwest’, has inspired generations of filmmakers with its endless vistas of mist-shrouded pine forests, its jagged, wild coastlines and the chilling remoteness of its snowcapped mountain ranges.

The drive to Twin Peaks locations: you really could not ask for more atmosphere than this.

The drive to Twin Peaks locations: you really could not ask for more atmosphere than this.

Our national parks tour was drawing to a close, time growing short and the weather dropping below freezing. But we couldn’t leave Colorado without a visit to Estes Park: home of The Stanley Hotel. This grand old hotel fired up the imagination of Stephen King when he and his wife were its only guests one night, and The Shining, one of the world’s most famous horror stories, was born.

There was a Halloween masked ball on while we visited - that just seems like flirting with danger to me!

Was a Halloween masked ball on while we visited – seems like tempting fate to me…

Stanley Kubrick, however, chose the Timberline Lodge in Oregon to film at in his adaptation, one famously disliked by King (also disliked, less famously, by me). That version, which departed radically from the text of a complex and emotionally truthful novel, prompted King to write the teleplay for another version, a three-part miniseries. This version is lesser-known and hard to find (we bought it here). But it is excellent and worth tracking down, and was filmed at the Stanley, showing off its creepy beauty to full extent. So imagine how excited we were to visit!

Next on the Nerds’ Tour of Cascadia comes Twin Peaks locations! The real home of Twin Peaks is the Snoqualmie Valley in Washington state, but budget travellers should note it’s more affordable to stay in Cle Elum, about an hour’s drive out. The drive was laden with atmosphere – mists, snowy pine forests, fall colour, rain – but the downside was that fog and cloud were obscuring the Twin Peaks themselves. Not to worry – we had a bunch of locations to visit that day…

The bridge Ronette walks over, injured and traumatised, in the unforgettable opening scenes of Twin Peaks.

The bridge Ronette walks over, injured and traumatised, in the unforgettable opening scenes of Twin Peaks, episode 1.

It’s the Sheriff’s station! Now a driving school.

They keep the Twin Peaks car out the front of the driving school!

The Double R Diner, which is Twede’s Cafe IRL. Interior is virtually identical to the show, which is really cool, and en route to the restrooms is a wall full of cool filming photos and news clippings. Very worth the visit, but unfortunately Coop was being a little overgenerous in his estimation of the cherry pie. Order coffee and feast your eyes on the decor.

These were all awesome, and there are more locations you can visit as well, but the highlight was definitely Snoqualmie Falls, which features in the series’ opening credits. They are overlooked by the Salish Lodge and Spa, which in the series is the Great Northern Hotel, and in real life has a restaurant not only with this incredible view but also excellent food. Not cheap, but totally worth it; if you’re on a day trip and tossing up between lunch at Twede’s and here, choose the Lodge.

The iconic Snoqualmie Falls, with Salish Lodge visible at the top.

The iconic Snoqualmie Falls, with Salish Lodge visible at the top.

The valley was breathtaking, ablaze with fall colour, but we had to move on; we had a date with Stu’s parents in Vancouver and so we drove straight there, skipping Seattle (I know! Next time, Seattle!)

After a relaxing few days off from our breakneck pace we drove south again from Vancouver – and only later discovered there was a new Twin Peaks-themed bar in Vancouver called The Black Lodge. Damn it! In order to make it down the coast on schedule, we were, unfortunately, also obliged to blow off Portland (I know! Next time!)

Effective sightseeing requires careful preparation.

Effective sightseeing requires careful preparation.

No matter – nothing can dampen the excitement of a pilgrimage to the home of my most favouritest movie in all the world, The Goonies. For those unforgivably ignorant, Steven Spielberg’s 1985  cult classic follows the story of the Goonies – a lovable bunch of nerd kids – who search for pirate treasure in an effort to save their homes in Astoria from foreclosure. The excitement began immediately, as the bridge we drove over into Astoria is the one seen in the distance from Mikey’s house, in the opening scenes.

LOOKITS THE BRIDGE.

LOOK IT’S THE BRIDGE.

Foggy and rainy, the weather was perfect for atmosphere, the movie having reportedly been filmed in the fall to capture the kids’ sombre moods at the prospect of losing their homes. Astoria turned out unexpectedly beautiful, a misty fishing town of pretty Victorian homes snuggled into hillsides, a working fishing pier and lots of nice restaurants and little shops for tourists – the economy pretty much runs off Goonies tourism, as far as I can tell.

They don't like people snooping up close, but you can see Mikey and Brand's house up on the hill.

The owners understandably don’t like people snooping up close, but you can see Mikey and Brand’s house up on the hill.

We prepped with a screening the night before (sorry, Stu) and in the morning set off for a full day of Goonies location visits…

 

The former jail where the opening scene of The Goonies was shot, is now the Oregon Film Museum. It's ostensibly devoted to all the hundreds of films made in Oregon (including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stand By Me, Point Break, Free Willy, Batman Forever, The Ring, Into the Wild) but really it's an ode to all things Goonies.

The former jail where the opening scene of The Goonies was shot, is now the Oregon Film Museum. It’s ostensibly devoted to all the hundreds of films made in Oregon (including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Stand By Me, Point Break, Free Willy, Batman Forever, The Ring, Into the Wild) but really it’s an ode to all things Goonies.

Bit excited.

Bit excited.

Inside!

Inside!

 

Lol. I had to include this.

Lol. I had to include this.

The working fishing pier from the opening credits of The Goonies, where Stef helps her dad sort crabs, and Data ends up falling into a garbage can while testing his latest invention.

The bowling alley, scene of Chunk’s first line over spilled milkshake: “Ah, shit!”

The museum where Mikey’s dad, hard at work, waves to the kids as they set off.

We also visited Mouth’s house and the store Rosalita exits in the opening credits, now a cute cafe and gift store. But the most exciting part of our tour was the next day, as we drove south out of Astoria. Thirty miles south lie Cannon Beach, where the car chase was filmed, and Ecola State Park, where the kids bike to the restaurant that marks the entrance to the underground tunnels where the rest of the movie is filmed.

“The lighthouse, the rock, and the restaurant all fit the doubloon!” We couldn’t get to the angle where Mikey shows us this, because the cliffs are unstable and roped off, but you can see the lighthouse behind me in the distance!

The drive to Indian Point, Ecola State Park, where evil Troy chucks Brand off his bike.

OMG! Look! It’s exactly matching the movie! I’m such a Goonie I actually shed a few happy tears.

I knew it would be awesome. I just never understood how beautiful it would be!

Haystack Rock. This is where the car chase was filmed.

I hated to leave Astoria. At this point I felt like I could happily live there, even though the nice checkout lady at Safeway told me it’s not unusual for it to rain for 180 days in a row. But we had to go, and I was comforted by the fact that Oregon’s entire coastline looks like this: wild, windy and majestic. I drank my fill as we drove hundreds of miles south towards California, its redwood forests and its iconic Pacific Coastal Highway.

StuMobservation: Cascadia

  • I am going to be so annoying to watch TV/movies with now. #beenthere

What we’re reading
Both of us:
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey; The Midnight Line and No Middle Name, Lee Child; A World Without Princes and The Last Ever After, Soman Chainani; Behind Closed Doors, A. B. Paris
Em: The Big Nowhere and White Jazz, James Ellroy; Incurable and Circle of Flight, John Marsden (Ellie chronicles, follows the Tomorrow series); They Found Him Dead, Georgette Heyer; The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson; The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton; DIY Super for Dummies, Trish Power; A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle; Unshakeable, Tony Robbins
Stu: Tears of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re watching
Stephen King’s The Shining, The Walking Dead S8, Rick and Morty S3, Master of None S2, Aziz Ansari’s latest standup special; and movie prep for LA! Clueless, Sunset Boulevard.