Conceptualising L.A.

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Against all odds, the second season of Transparent is every bit as perfect as the first. Granted, I may have been in a particularly receptive space this time around, not just because the first season was my favourite television event of the decade so far, but because the second season was the first thing I watched after returning from Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. I’d only ever really experienced Los Angeles in transit, as a holding zone that, at its longest, expanded out into a couple of days in the mid-90s, when I visited with my family and did the usual Los Angeles sights. However, I’d never really experienced the city in a sustained or textural way, which was all the more remarkable in that I’ve probably read and thought about this city more than any other. Visiting a city you know by reputation is always strange, but visiting a city I’ve inhabited so frequently in my imagination was another level of uncanniness, especially since the actual city turned out to be so far beyond my expectations. For while I thought I “knew” how radically decentralised and autocentric Los Angeles was – and thought that I somehow “knew” that experience partly by virtue of living in Sydney, a city with a fairly autocentric outer fringe – I was completely unexpected for how radical Los Angeles still feels some thirty or forty years after the freeways claimed hegemony. The surprise was all the more striking in that I’d come directly from New York, the American city I know best, and the American city that has to be one of the most pedestrian-friendly. In New York, you can get virtually anywhere on foot, within reason, regardless of the time or day or night. The subways are almost open and, while the city may be built around an automobile grid, the scale is still thoroughly pedestrian.

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Travelling from New York, then, just made my initial impression and experience of Los Angeles all the more striking. For the first day or two, something felt odd about my encounters with the city. Something was missing, something so simple and yet so profound that it only clicked on the third day: although I was staying in one of the most heavily developed areas (Mid-Wilshire) and had been spending a great deal of time in and around the Downtown area, as well as prolonged stints on mass transit, I had at no point been around a crowd of people. Moreover, I had at no point experienced the kind of sustained pedestrian precinct where such a crowd might be expected to occur. Sure, there were pedestrian-friendly blocks. But they never seemed quite extensive enough to coalesce into precincts, let alone neighborhoods. The result was a continual and quite sublime alternation in scales: I would, often through a process of trial and error, come across a part of the city that seemed to be operating at a pedestrian scale, only to find, after a couple of blocks, that I was suddenly back in a residential or light industrial sprawl that was thoroughly pitched at the scale of the automobile, and that it could take over an hour for me to walk to the next pedestrian destination. Of course, there were some exceptions, most notably the boulevards, which, as Doug Suisman has noted, are the closest Los Angeles comes to genuinely pedestrian precincts. However, for me, these just tended to make the discrepancies between pedestrian and automotive scales even more bewildering. In New York, chances are that, if you go a couple blocks back behind a main street – let alone a street on the scale of Wilshire, Sunset or Hollywood Boulevard – you’re going to find a great deal of ancillary commercial and pedestrian tissue. In Los Angeles, however, that is simply not the case. On the few occasions where I ventured sideways from a boulevard, I just as quickly found myself in the same anonymous, automotive space as before. Even the spaces between ancillary boulevards – I’m thinking especially of the blocks between Hollywood and Sunset – didn’t seem to have expanded out into pedestrian zones in the way that you might expect in New York. Moreover, the boulevards themselves only allowed pedestrian access in a fleeting way, something that became particularly clear to me on the day that I followed Wilshire from Koreatown down to the ocean and witnessed the provisional pedestrian districts of Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, Westwood and Century City others emerge and recede as if in a dream.

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In other words, all the cliches about Los Angeles – that it is centreless, dispersed, autocentric – hit me with an experiential heft that I wasn’t at all prepared for. In the critical literature, it’s become commonplace to assume that Los Angeles’ innovations – for want of a better word – are now somehow passe, but I’d lay good money on even the most recent and radical of Chinese, Korean and South Asian cities having a more discernible downtown than L.A. By the same token, I’ve never been to Dubai, but the fact that it can even be represented so fluidly and concisely in promotional photograph after promotional photograph suggests to me that even there the radical acentrality of Los Angeles would hold its own. One of the strangest experiences I had was visiting the Downtown area one night and, in lieu of the crowd – or, alternatively, the functional quietness of a daytime business district – I was expecting, instead finding a weird, transient, vagrant atmosphere that seemed in one glance to displace any hope of getting to some sense of the overall structure and ambit of this city. Accordingly, my time in Los Angeles was spent more or less trying to conceptualise the city as an entirety – not in any contrived or academic way, but just at the more immediate level of trying to get my bearings. Normally, when I travel to a new city, be it Boston or Adelaide, it takes me about a day to get an broad sense of where I am and where I want to go, but in Los Angeles I never fully conceptualised or visualised the city in even the broadest strokes, finding that most maps I looked up online were either too detailed to give an overall sense of the sprawl of the city (in other words, too pedestrian) or so general that they felt more like a map of Los Angeles County than of the city itself (in other words, too automotive). In fact, precisely what was at stake was this slippage between the city and the county – such a foreign administrative division to an Australian – and the incommensurate scale required to do justice to both. It reminded me of an article I had once read about the difficulty of mapping the Maldives, which occupy an enormous ocean mass in the Indian Ocean, but are themselves absolutely tiny, with the result that no map is satisfactorily scaled to both capture the sweep of the archipelago while providing sufficient topographical attention to the main islands.

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In some ways, this experience of Los Angeles was most intense on mass transit. By mass transit, I mean trains, and I’ll admit right now that my experience of the city was probably contoured, in that first day or two, by not taking buses. When travelling, I’m a fairly train-centric kind of person, while my increasing suspicion that the city needed to be seen from the car meant that I tended to hold off from on-road transport until I was sure I wanted to rent a vehicle of my own. In New York – and Sydney, for that matter – there is a clear sense that the rail system is a public sphere. Even when there is nobody on it, such as later in the evening, there is still a palpable public presence that tends to make you feel safe, and certainly makes you feel as if you are out in “public.” In Los Angeles, however, the trains seem to be reserved for people who – for one reason or another – don’t drive. Granted, the Metro now spreads fairly far, encompassing North Hollywood, Pasadena, Long Beach, Culver City and most of the inner city, while the Purple Line was being extended past my stop all the way to Miracle Mile while I was staying there. Nevertheless, the Metro doesn’t feel populated by the city in any extensive or emphatic way, something that’s enhanced by the cavernous design of the Metro stations themselves, many of which – such as Wilshire-Vermont – are as wide as a boulevard in themselves, and most of which are accessed by an escalator that starts at street level and simply descends all the way to fare control, creating an epic point of entry that easily outdoes those of most New York stations. Combined with the transient and often quite unpredictable clientele – I found trains could be utterly deserted during rush hour – that created an experience I can only describe as uncanny: public transit devoid of a public sphere. In fact, that was to be my pervasive experience of Los Angeles on foot, as I gradually noticed that the public spaces so prevalent in most other cities – supermarkets, cinemas, even bars – were very few and far between, presumably sequestered to some zone that was more visible or accessible from the automobile.

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It was a logical step, then, that I should hire an automobile, which I did on my second day – and, all at once, the city seemed to make sense. If walking around some cities gives you a sense of the rhythms that drive their inhabitants, then driving around Los Angeles immediately gave me a sense of what it would be like to live here. Specifically, as I experienced urban infrastructure from behind the windshield, I sensed that most people who live in Los Angeles simply drive to the pedestrian precincts I had attempted to walk to – or, more likely, simply drive to discreet locations that are not necessarily in pedestrian precincts to begin with. All of a sudden, while driving, all those public spaces and spheres that had seemed to elude me became visible – supermarkets, cinemas, diners – but spread out over vast distances and apparently only accessible by car or by bus. At the same time, it was only in the car that I began to get a sense of the sheer vastness of the city as well, along with the unbelievable length of most of the main streets. When I was very young in Sydney, I used to assume that no two streets could have the same name, so that if I glimpsed a Rawson Street in, say Bondi, it had to be the same Rawson Street as existed in Drummoyne, where I grew up. Even when I realised my mistake, I still liked the idea that two streets at opposite ends of a city might, by some improbable perambulations and permutations, turn out to be the same street.

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In Los Angeles however, that fantasy turns out to be true more often than not. Sometimes I would drive around for an entire day – hours and hours – and find myself at the other end of the city, but still somehow back on the street where I started. In Sydney, we only have a couple of streets of that length – Parramatta Road is my local example, while Georges River Road also comes to mind – but even they tend to only be half as long as the boulevards and avenues in Los Angeles. Moreover, in Sydney these roads tend to be reserved for low-lying, alluvial areas, whereas in L.A. they are almost unbelievably contorted by natural topography and urban infrastructure, often veering from a panoramic breadth to a vertiginous precipice within the space of seconds. In Sydney, these roads often segue into highways – for example, the way in which Ashfield Road segues into the Great Western Highway – but the elaborate freeway structure in Los Angeles means that that never needs to happen, with the result that most of the boulevards continue until they reach the sea. It was so strange, on my last night, to be back on Wilshire at Santa Monica after having spent so much time on Wilshire around Koreatown. The best analogy I can think of is in the way in which rivers wind their ways through multiple towns in rural Australia, and in rural New South Wales in particular. Having a great deal of my family in the country, it has always struck me as strange that the residents of say, Hay, “know” the Murrumbidgee in a completely different ways from the residents of Wagga, and yet it is the same river. In their changing topographies, their varying flows and their structuration of suburbs and districts, the Los Angeles boulevards are more like rivers than roads, which makes it quite striking and dreamlike to experience the city from their perspective.

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By this point, it should be clear that my experience of Los Angeles was largely confined to the boulevards and surface streets. Although I often came close to freeways, I found that my GPS wasn’t particularly dexterous at navigating onramps and offramps, which seem to be the most difficult part of freeway travel. Once you’re on, you’re on, but getting on and off seemed to require a second sense that I didn’t possess. At the same time, I didn’t spend a great amount of time driving through the hills and canyons, which seem to be the other major road type in the city. In some ways, these were the most driveable – the most precipitous, certainly, but for that very reason the places where driving slowly and cautiously wasn’t likely to single me out as a tourist. They were also the places where the most astonishing and extraordinary vistas were to be glimpsed. At the same time, however, the canyons and hills took everything I found challenging about Los Angeles to its logical conclusion. Even more than Downtown, here was a series of residential districts devoid of and disinterested in anything resembling a public sphere. Conventionally, it is the gated communities of Bel Air and Beverly Hills that have tended to provoke the most virulent critiques of spatial exclusion within Los Angeles, most notably in Mike Davis’ excoriating City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear. However, even the most upscale and exclusive neighborhoods – the term seems so inadequate – that I encountered paled in comparison to the canyons and hills, where the sequestration of houses beyond hedges, rises and fences, combined with the poor sidewalk infrastructure – inconsistent at best – created a world that was only accessible by car, and only really accessible by the cars of those who lived in the area and owned a garage, since even street parking posed difficulties at various moments.

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In that sense, the hills and canyons seemed a kind of apotheosis of one of the things I found most curious about Los Angeles: the difficulty of discerning a single “main street” or downtown within any given neighborhood. Given the problems posed by simply wandering from one area to the next, I tended to itinerise here more than in any other city I’ve visited, and yet even poring over one Google Map after another I found it difficult to figure out, say, where the “heart” of Los Feliz was. As it turned out, I ended up visiting an entirely different precinct – Atwater Village – and assuming I was in Los Feliz, simply because my GPS (often my last resort) told me it was so. In part, that’s a matter of scale – since most of the “neighborhoods” are bisected by at least one of the major boulevards, the main street is more or less a given, such that the challenge becomes one of figuring out where, exactly, on that boulevard the centre of your chosen neighborhood lies (after all, I had only ended up in Atwater Village because that’s where my GPS understood the beginning of Los Feliz Boulevard to lie). At the same time, I gradually came to realise that many of these neighborhoods did not, in fact, have any discernible centre or point of focus, but instead a selection of extremely small pedestrian precincts, which were often separated by automotive distances even within a single neighborhood, combined with a series of autocentric “hubs” that constituted the real life of the area.

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Thus, the acentrality of the city at large tended to be recapitulated in my experience of actual neighborhoods – and especially those neighborhoods centring on the hills and the canyons, where there wasn’t even a boulevard or major thoroughfare to help guide me towards a pedestrian precinct. For that reason, something irreducibly mysterious has remained to me about the hills, in particular, that resonates with why this hushed, involuted, opague landscape was the favourite haunt of film noir. So many noir films are about the co-option of public space by private interests, and there is something about the intensely privatised wealth of the hills that evokes a city in which that process has been taken to its logical conclusion in the urban design, syntax and tissue itself. Driving between the hills and the boulevards, I was able to experience or envisage something of the rhythm of living in a city where people are continually shuttled between garages and discrete automotive destinations, with little to no pedestrian contact or passage in between. While that undoubtedly compromised the wandering flanerie that I usually like to indulge in while travelling, it did open up another, automotive flanerie, especially on the boulevards, where the relative ease of movement – steadier and slower than the freeways and more linear than the hills and canyons – opened up one extraordinary vista after another, often in the most fleeting, incidental or serendipitous manner, only to swallow it once again in the rhythm of the road, rendering it all but unrepeatable to even the most seasoned L.A. driver, let alone someone like myself who didn’t have the know-how to repeat that exact combination of factors a second time. Once or twice, I did in fact try and retrace my steps, or get out of the car and capture what I had glimpsed in a more static way – and on film – and while this undoubtedly led me to other images and opportunities, I was never able to quite repeat or pinpint those evanescent vistas glimpsed from behind the windshield. So often it seemed to depend on just the right break in the traffic, or just the right kind of light, or my ability to look up from the road at a critical juncture that might not be available to me the second time around.

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In its rhythms of contingency and serendipity, this was flanerie, but of a particular and unique kind. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to suggest that L.A. was devoid of pedestrian flanerie either. Instead, what made the city so unique was the way that it ultimately refused to settle into either automotive or pedestrian registers. Certainly, the overall ambit and design of the city was autocentric. However, this wasn’t a Midwest city where everything was automotive. On the plane on the way back, I was sitting to an Australian student from UNSW who had recently finished a semester abroad at Kansas City State. He told me that Kansas City was even more radically car-driven than L.A., to the point where there wasn’t really anywhere outside the immediate downtown area that was truly walkable, with the exception of the university campus. Whether or not this was true – and he assured me it was true for a great number of Midwest towns and cities – it actually struck me as less disorienting than L.A., just because it was so absolutely oriented around the car. The closest analogue I can think of to that kind of landscape is the Hills District of Sydney, or perhaps the areas around Parramatta, where it is simply a given that everyone will be either taking public transport or driving from place to place, and that pedestrian zones only exist as a function of automotive agency. In Los Angeles, however, precisely what made the city so disorienting – and what kept the autocentric register so large, looming and uncanny – was that there was also this pedestrian scale that would never go away or be entirely subsumed into the roads, boulevards and freeways. As a result, I found that navigating the city wasn’t a matter of giving myself over to the car entirely either, but instead a provisional, improvisational and often quite awkward combination of car and public transport, a hit or miss approach that yielded a fair number of misses, and often deposited me in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere rather than a neighborhood, precinct or main street that was worth visiting or walkable in any discernible way.

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As a result, I tended to divide my days between places I could visit on the train, in the morning, and places within driving distance, in the evening, with the exception of a single day in which I drove from Koreatown to Venice along Wilshire Boulevard. More on that in a moment, but for here it suffices to say that my wandering took very much the form described earlier – a series of serendipitous glimpses from behind the windshield punctuated by pedestrian destinations, some of which were unplanned and some of which were spontaneous and guided by a hunch, by the look of the road. Normally, I have a bit of a sixth sense for where to wander, but in L.A. that sense totally failed me: sometimes I would get out of the car and find myself in a fascinating area, but sometimes it would just turn out to be another mile of apartments or light industrial architecture. Of course, Los Angeles’ architecture is a spectacle in itself, but the sheer scale of the city once again renders its many buildings and structures more accessible by road, ideally curated by someone who is in the know. And if it was difficult to know where to look for the “centre” of precincts or neighborhoods – or to discern if “neighborhoods” even existed in the sense that the term is used on the East Coast – then it was next to impossible to figure out where to look for the most memorable architecture, beyond the most tried and tested tourist destinations.

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For all those reasons, then, I tended to stick to the boulevards rather than opting for the freeways or the hills. In part, that was also because the boulevards were extremely drivable – I am tempted to say the most drivable roads I have experienced. For the flipside of being in a city that is so oriented around driving is that when you are driving the city opens up to you in a completely new and fluid way. I’m sure that the fact that I was using a GPS – the first time I have ever used one – contributed to my sense of flow and passage, but it was also due to the unique configuration of Los Angeles’ surface streets themselves. As an Australian driving in America, the biggest challenge – apart from roundabouts, which I only encountered late in my trip, and had to play by ear – is turning left across traffic. Everything is backwards, and nothing comes from where it should. Nevertheless, in L.A., virtually every left turn across traffic has a dedicated lane. Similarly, the boulevards and surface streets are set up in set a way that you can always turn right on a red light. Combined with the width of the roads – you could sometimes see ten or fifteen blocks ahead – that created an extraordinarily lubricated sense of movement that was often akin to flying, especially given that the distant destination of so many of the major streets is so frequently the ocean or the mountains, both of which shimmer and lend their airy clarity to the boulevards in different ways. At the same time, parking is extraordinarily easy in Los Angeles, since space is one thing that is not at a premium. With massive, cheaply priced lots everywhere – on two successive nights I parked on Sunset across the road from Arclight Cinemas for a flat rate of eight dollars – you suddenly realise how much the stress of parking – how much it will cost, how narrow the spaces will be, how long it will take to get in and out – contributes to the stress of driving. Everywhere I went in Los Angeles, I found that public parking was as seamless and facilitative as private parking, which of course also increased the uncanny sense that even arriving at the putative heart of things didn’t quite bring me into contact with a genuinely public sphere.

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Perhaps unexpectedly, all of these factors were enhanced by driving at night. If I was initially a little hesitant about driving in L.A., I was even more hesitant about driving in L.A. after dark. However, the city felt even more fluid and autocentric under cover of night. On the one hand, the distractions that made daytime driving so spectacular were less visible, but that also made it easier to focus on the road. At the same time, the vast gulfs of space between streets – between two sides of the same street – tended to be more “visible” once they were flooded with darkness, with the result that the network of streets and boulevards was somehow more available and tangible as well. If anything, it turned out to be easier to drive in L.A. at night, especially since there didn’t seem to be any discernible traffic on the two nights that I drove around, both of which were weekend nights. You’d think that traffic jams might be one of the few places where you could experience a crowd in L.A., and yet even the few holdups and buildups I experienced were offset by how random and erratic they appeared to be. Even when you are a tourist in a city, you can usually sense when rush hour hits – especially if you are on the roads or on mass transit – but in L.A. there didn’t seem to be any clear or consistent correlation between the time of day and the amount of traffic on the road. Whether that was because the city was so well equipped to deal with excess traffic, or because there was no single or exclusive centre from which traffic was returning, or because the general automotive energy of the city tended to smooth over the rush hour peak, there was something about the way that traffic jams emerged and receded without any clear logic that seemed to epitomise the elusiveness of crowds more generally. Even during the worst traffic experience I had – a half-hour holdup along Miracle Mile – there was no clear reason why, at a certain moment, the traffic just started flowing again as usual.

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In other words, the Los Angeles roadscape seemed even more private on a weekend night, and – somewhat paradoxically – even more private in the midst of the few traffic jams and buildups that did occur, in the same way that the few fleeting crowds I did experience only seemed to clarify how distant from most people I actually was. With the exception of Venice and Santa Monica, which is where I spent the last part of my trip – and both of which are somewhat anomalous in terms of their pedestrian accessibility – the only crowds I experienced were in cinemas, specifically the famous ArcLight Cinemas on Sunset Boulevard. While that might sound like the indication of a thriving film culture, this was also very different from the communal cinephilia of New York, where institutions like IFC and Film Forum still very much feel as if they are catering to a local village demographic. More commercial cinemas in downtown New York – such as Anjelika and Sunshine – retain this local atmosphere, while even the key multiplexes – at least on Manhattan – never feel very far from their repertory double, with the biggest complex on the island, the Loews at Lincoln Center, being within walking distance of a variety of arthouse venues constellating around Lincoln Center itself.

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As odd as it may sound, that sense of a connective cinephilic tissue was lacking in my experience of cinemagoing in L.A., which isn’t exactly a criticism so much as a way of grasping what made the city unique. In ways that I can’t fully describe, New York cinemagoers exude a sense of having arrived on foot – not merely because parking is at such a premium, but because there is always such a ceremony of actually arriving, at least in winter, taking off coats, shaking off snow, a palpable sense of coming indoors that is peculiar to pedestrian arrival. However, because L.A. doesn’t seem to register a public sphere in exactly the same way, the distinction between indoors and outdoors is already somewhat moot, with most spaces I encountered feeling caught in some unusual zone between the two. There’s a reason, after all, why Reyner Banham observed that exiting the highway was the closest that Angelenos come to actually coming inside. And in the ArcLight cinemas, there was a sense that the crowd I was experiencing had come from the most farflung places without necessarily traversing any of the connective texture and tissue adjacent to the cinema itself in an extensive way. As a first-time visitor, I had been able to figure out how to get a park directly across the road from the cinema – a three-minute walk – with the result that this quintessential Sunset Boulevard experience was, for me, absolutely divorced from any sense of the overall ambit of Sunset beyond what I actually experienced arriving by road. In effect, I had simply driven to the movie theatre, or exited at the movie theatre: if it had been perched on the side of a freeway offramp it couldn’t have been more jettisoned in space and time.

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Of course, there were residual efforts to create or retain that cinephilic and urban tissue – how could there not be? Most notably, the only structure I encountered on my way to the cinema – with the exception of a drive-through burger joint that I awkwardly walked through on my way across Sunset – was Amoeba Records, which is famous throughout California for its wide selection of vinyl, video and fandom paraphernalia, along with a more regular CD and DVD collection. Without a doubt, it was the most extensive and sublime browsing space that I have ever encountered, a kind of exponential magnification of Gould’s Book Arcade on King Street in Sydney. Even more so than the cinema, this was where I encountered a crowd – or, rather, it felt like the same crowd, since many of the same faces turned up in my theatre twenty minutes or so later. At the same time, there was something of a return of the repressed about this quintessentially browsable space in the midst of a urban landscape that seemed to inimical to browsing and wandering. That’s not to say, either, that this part of Sunset wasn’t pedestrian-friendly, since, like the most touristy sections of Hollywood Boulevard, it had clearly been somewhat repurposed from its original form with foot traffic in mind. It was more that there was no sense that foot traffic could wander anywhere at any great length: it was walkable in the same way that a shopping mall was walkable, or an outdoor mall is walkable. Within an actual mall – indoors or outdoors – that doesn’t necessarily feel constrictive, but when one of the biggest and most expansive streets you have ever seen – let alone of the most iconic streets in the world – takes on the same qualities, then the result is curious and certainly unlike anything I had ever experienced before.

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For all those reasons, there was something peculiarly fascinating to me about the cinemagoing crowd in Los Angeles. As with my time in the Hollywood Hills, I developed a distinct sense that here was a city where sociability, and social connections, were at once somehow foreclosed by the design of the city but also what was required to fully unlock that city. If your city life depends on driving or taking a bus to discrete pedestrian zones, or simply discrete structures and institutions, within a largely non-pedestrian universe, then presumably one of the ways in which you find out about those zones and structures – and one of the ways that they start to ramify in lieu of a more voracious public sphere – is by way of the people with whom you experience them. During the last part of my trip to L.A., I stayed with a family friend in Venice, who told me that his first few months in the city without friends were incredibly lonely, but that, conversely, making friends also opened up the city to him in a whole new way. Whenever I saw groups of people together who weren’t immediately recognisable as tourists, I found myself gradually wondering how they had come to know each other and how they had come to negotiate their friendship over the space of this city. Moreover, I began imagining them in films, or trying to situate them in terms of cinematic analogues, since one of the byproducts of this heightened cinematic public sphere was an equation, in my mind, of the public sphere with the cinematic itself. In one of my favourite articles about the city, Anne Friedberg describes the basic condition of life in Los Angeles as one of automobility, by which she refers to a total cinematic potentiality distributed across the city that comes into play whenever windscreens and cinema screens overlap in productive ways. Driving to Sunset to the cinema each night, I felt this overlap in the keenest of ways, especially since I had once been a voracious driver, but due to problems with my last car hadn’t been behind the wheel in any sustained way for about two years. Discovering Los Angeles was, for me, tantamount to rediscovering my love for driving, as well as the extent to which my imagination and cognition are bound up with cinematic spectatorship. Put simply: for me, to be in Los Angeles was to conceptualise being in Los Angeles, to conceptualise being in Los Angeles was to imagine conditions of sociability in Los Angeles, and to imagine conditions of sociability in Los Angeles was to imagine every moment in Los Angeles as a potential film or cinematic scenario.

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There was something especially resonant, then, about returning to Australia and watching the second season of Transparent in the immediate aftermath of this trip: all of a sudden, its provisional, flexible and open-ended sociability ramified in a completely new way. Places I had experienced over the course of my trip came alive in an incredible way, from Los Feliz to the Pacific Palisades, which are the two main poles of the series’ endless wanderings and journeyings. At the same time, being in L.A. made me realise in a peculiarly experiential and embodied way how much cinema and media about L.A. is about recovering this possibility of wandering – of flanerie – from a city that at first glance seems to preclude it, or at least mechanise it out of recognition. Nevertheless, beyond this general sense of resonance, I am not sure that I can yet ground Transparent in my physical experience of the city in any detail, nor “map” – or even conceptualise – its own variegated topography and geography in anything but the most rudimentary terms. In lieu of a more systematic connection between place and atmosphere then, my next post will be a general appreciation of the second season, inevitably contoured, in some part, by the experiences I have set out above of moving through this most unique and indescribable of cities.

About Billy Stevenson (695 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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