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Category Archives: Urban Planning and Film
I am talking tonight at Loop, and this post should appear by the magic of WordPress as I’m speaking. I thought it may be worth providing links to a few of the pieces of writing that explore things I touch on in my presentation.
With my dual focus on film and urban planning I couldn’t resist this great short film by Melbournian Nathan Kaso using tilt-shift effects to give the illusion of Melbourne as a giant train set (or possibly a more functional version of the newest SimCity). While I know applications like Instagram have made tilt-shift overly familiar as a creative device, there’s a big difference between using it well and using it badly. Kaso knows how to use it well, with an excellent choice of subjects, time-lapse to enhace the toy-like effect, and very evocative use of sound and music.
This send-up of poor quality tourist infomercials is superficially disparaging of Melbourne, but actually manages to affectionately capture a sense of the everyday, humdrum life of the city.
It would be an interesting exhibit in a discussion of whether Melbourne (or any city) has its own distinctive ethos, an issue discussed by Alan Davies here.
Even with nothing to add, I just had to repost this, from Vimeo user Anatoleya. It’s a very well done blend of still photos to create a short film of walking through London at night.
We all know urban planning has an image problem. But it’s odd to come across an example of a planning department producing a propaganda film to redress the situation. Yet that’s exactly what the Beverley Hills Planning Department did with this short from 2003, It’s a Wonderful City.
As the title suggests, it’s a take on It’s a Wonderful Life, which is already a highly suggestive, must-see film for urban planners (I talk about it more here). The original film shows the fortunes of a classic Hollywood small town as it teeters on the edge of suburbanisation, with the fate of the town depending on the existence or otherwise of affordable-housing pioneer George Bailey. In the Beverley Hills take, we follow George Buildley as we see how the town would fare without a town planning department.
While it’s a brave attempt, I can’t help but chuckle at the efforts to make a world without planning seem so nightmarish. And it’s a little depressing that even in pro-planning propaganda there’s a scene in which someone is driven to the edge of madness by planning bureaucracy. (“Review process… the Planning Commission, the Architectural Commission… there isn’t time!)
In my continuing attempts to help my film readers who aren’t interested in my urban planning stuff, and vice-versa, I’ve also created separate mailing lists that cover just my film content and just my urban planning content. These are also in the right hand column, or alternatively here:
Hopefully these will be attractive options for those who have no interest in one or other of the major “streams” of my content. (You can also view the site at category specific URLs: www.sterow.com/film and www.sterow.com/urbanplanning).
My post a while back about the changes to L.A. since the 1940s got me thinking again about the experience of visiting real movie locations, something I wrote about a few years ago (here). As I said then, it can be quite an uncanny experience visiting the spot where a familiar movie scene was filmed. What has changed since that post, though, is the roll-out of Google’s Street View. Where seeing the real locations where movies were shot was once something of a pilgrimage, these days we can do it virtually. So I thought it would be fun to find a few familiar or iconic locations on Street View.
Unlike my earlier post, I don’t have any larger point to make about changes to the city as a result of this post. I just thought it would be interesting. Perhaps you see no point in dong this… if so, fair enough. Move along, there’s nothing to see here…
I wrote a couple of months back about the power of movies to preserve a record of cities as they used to be. In that post I included various pieces of footage of Melbourne, and one interesting thing was how recognisable the streets remained. There was no mistaking many locations – such as Princes Bridge, Elizabeth Street, and St Kilda Road – in footage as much as a century old. Despite everything that has gone on in the last century, Melbourne in the 1910s remains fundamentally recognisable. But how much can a city change?
That question was prompted by a video guaranteed to push both my film and planning nerd buttons: 1940s footage of Los Angeles recorded to be back-projection footage for a driving scene in an (unknown) movie project. This came to my attention via The Atlantic and UrbanPhoto blog’s twitter feed, and was originally posted in truly astounding quality by The Internet Archive (here). Below is a YouTube embed, but you can get even better quality on their page.
This footage is of Downtown L.A. and the nearby Bunker Hill district, and it gives some sense of just how profoundly Los Angeles has been transformed. In my previous post I alluded to the remarkable books by John Bengtson that reconstruct silent-film-era Los Angeles from the films of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd; one thing you get from his work is an idea of just how different a kind of city Los Angeles was in the first part of the twentieth century. This footage reinforces that.
I had planned to do a fairly detailed post about the upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival, but I have been distracted by the release of the truly stupefying Small Lot Housing Code. However, it would be wrong of me, given the dual focus of this page, not to at least note the amount of urban planning content on at MIFF this year.
A while back I posted about Courthouse Square, the classic town square used in countless film and television productions. As I argued then, I think these backlot places are interesting because they at once reflect and shape our ideas about community. When Hollywood production designers build a backlot set, they will aim for something that is at once familiar yet generic (since it will be used in many productions), while simultaneously desirable (since Hollywood films tend to show a world that is a little bit more exciting and interesting than our own). That’s the part where they reflect our desires.
Yet once built, those sets reappear in many productions. Over time, with repetition, those generic backlot communities can come to actually shape our image of community. I don’t want to over-sell this idea: obviously we don’t simply passively absorb a picture of the world from movies and then start to believe this is the way the world is, or should be. But I do believe that pop-culture iconography is party of the language we draw on to make sense of the world, and that Hollywood’s images of the quaint small towns, leafy suburbs, or the polluted big city become powerful visual signifiers that influence the way we picture different types of community.