When sitting down to write about Los Angeles, I find myself playing the La La Land soundtrack for inspiration. The iconic film, not only two years old, has already gained a cult following of fans. Even though we are aware of the heavily sugar coated shots of the city, its impossible not to be enchanted by Hollywood’s picture-perfect portrayal of itself.
The popular movie has boosted the city’s profile worldwide. Bursting with images of LA’s most iconic tourist attractions, the film entices holidaymakers from around the globe with the prospect of a sunny city break in Southern California. A survey conducted by the Los Angeles Tourism Board found that after watching the film, 86% of people described themselves as much more likely to visit. The first scene of the film even idealises LA’s notorious traffic. You have to take your hat off to Hollywood for its power of deception, transforming one of Los Angeles’ most congested highways into a vibrant stage for the celebration of the city.
However, I have contended that the lure of Los Angeles goes far beyond tourism. La La Land emboldens the imagination of the ‘fools who dare to dream’. Enticing aspiring actresses and actors who hope to follow in the tap-dancing footsteps of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Our two flawless protagonists sacrifice their relationship with one another in favour of higher artistic pursuits. Audiences may be left heartbroken, yet we are reassured that with enough passion and perseverance, achieving the American Dream is possible.
While this highly romanticised narrative makes for a stimulating cinematic experience, one of my personal favourites, it also has very real and dangerous consequences. The film constantly champions the idea that no matter how tough times get, there is always another day of sun. However, this metaphoric sun feels very different from an air-conditioned mansion in the Hollywood Hills than it does in a stifling tent on Skid Row. Hollywood’s cookie-cutter presentation of failure and rejection veils the reality of what life is like for the vanquished that fall short of their dreams. Call me a cynic, but there surely comes a time to recognise when a fantasy has become futile.
Nevertheless, ambition and aspiration oozes from every street in LA, and after all, somebody has to be the lucky winner of Hollywood’s prized golden ticket. I came across one hopeful individual when staying in one of Downtown’s less glamorous establishments. Pursuing the modern-day gold rush, he had picked up from his home and journeyed west, clinging to the promise of a comfortable Californian lifestyle. Styling a suave suit and slicked back hair, the amateur actor looked as if he had just stepped off the opening night of the Jersey Boys. His enthusiasm was as polished as his shoes, and even when he told me of his countless rejections, his slightly sickening smile did not falter. I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for him, and wondered if he would ever waver from his fervent endeavour.
His astonishing determination and resilience followed the musical’s mantra religiously, and reminded of Jay Gatsby’s fruitless quest, beating on against the current … Yet Fitzgerald’s tragic hero, the embodiment of the American self-made man, never realises the futility of the American Dream. The decay of which is reflected in one of the Los Angeles’ most prized tourist attractions. The Walk of Fame, celebrating the sparkling careers that the city has cultivated, actually begins in an exhausted part of town that seems to be cracking under the LA’s oppressive heat. Walking over names that I didn’t even recognise plastered on the marble stones illustrated one of Los Angeles’ many inconsistencies. The famous and the forgotten, the prosperous and the impoverished, guided by the same dream, converge in this melting pot of possibility.
At the end of the day, cinema is supposed to be an escape. An opportunity for us to flee the reality of our own lives and open our imaginations to ulterior possibilities. However, after spending time in this city of stars, and witnessing the very real effects of this romanticism, I couldn’t shake a feeling of betrayal. Yet, these iconic images, and the sense of ambition and aspiration that saturate the city, are also part of its charm. After my musings for the last four weeks I confess that I am no closer to coming to terms with this contradictory city. Like Gatsby, I am simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.