My book The Victorian Planning System: Practice, Problems and Prospects is now available from Federation Press.
My book Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs is out now through Palgrave Macmillan.
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RCI Planning is my consultancy providing expert advice, VCAT advocacy and statutory planning services in the Victorian planning system.
Monthly Archives: January 2011
True Grit (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010) and
True Grit (Henry Hathaway, 1969)
We hear a lot of griping about Hollywood remakes, usually in the context of telling us how creatively bankrupt the industry is. Well, perhaps – perhaps – there’s some truth in that. But we can also look on remakes as a way of measuring the progress of basic storytelling craft in Hollywood, by seeing how the same material is treated differently over time. And so it is with the western True Grit, Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel, which had previously been filmed in 1969 by Henry Hathaway.
Such an exercise is never scientific, of course. Hathaway was an experienced old-hand, in his early seventies, towards the end of a long career that stretched back to the silent era. While a distinguished studio veteran, he wasn’t a figure of the calibre of John Ford or Howard Hawks; he was never held in the same esteem as the Coen brothers are today. In other respects, though, the talent in the films can be seen as comparable. Hathaway’s film was still a prestige production, and in John Wayne it features the kind of old-fashioned star power that the post-classical era Hollywood can’t really build any more. It is also interesting for its pairing of Wayne with a couple of notable figures from the then-emerging generation of New Hollywood actors, with Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall in small-ish but important supporting parts. Against that, the Coens have Jeff Bridges in the Wayne role, Matt Damon in the big supporting part (played by musician Glen Campbell in Hathaway’s film), and a comparable stock of interesting supporting players as villains (most notably Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper).
Back when I was writing for Planning News, I wrote an editorial about Justin Madden’s handling of the Windsor Hotel debacle. My point then was that politicians are not well served by the over-manipulation of their communication, which ends up alienating the public and cutting politicians off from legitimate sources of feedback. It has therefore been great to see that the new Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy has kept up with his twitter account and is obviously writing the posts himself rather than letting a media person do it. So rather than the usual drip feed of press releases, Guy’s account is full of obviously self-generated content that a media adviser would have probably tried to talk him out of, such as salutes to Joh Bjelke-Petersen and amusingly childish baiting of Labor politicians. To his credit, too, he has been responding directly to various tweets sent to or about him. (Update – 19/1/2011: He has now protected his tweets. I can’t see them now so I have no idea whether he’s deleted them or not).
Neil Mitchell: I would take Bob Brown and put him in cage with the looters and scam artists and put him in a river .. he’s a dill
While a re-tweet isn’t necessarily an endorsement, there is no suggestion by Guy that he is posting it as, for example, an example of an unhelpful contribution to the debate. Where do we start with this?
I wrote the other day about Courthouse Square, the ubiquitous town centre used in countless films and TV shows. For someone like me, interested in both films and cities, a place like this is fascinating as a built embodiment of the kind of community that films and television shows hold up as an ideal. In reality, most of us live in far more mundane suburban environments that suffer various shortcomings: they are too dispersed, with residential, retail, and employment activities frequently located far apart; they have too little public transport, making us too dependent on cars; they are short of true public space, substituting instead private spaces such as shopping malls; and so on. Yet in films and television shows places like Courthouse Square are held forth as an alluring image of the town that has a discernible centre, public space, civic facilities, and an old-fashioned charm. These sets are interesting to an urban planner such as myself because they represent the best efforts of highly experienced dream manufacturers to build the ideal community.
What’s even more interesting, though, is the example of Disneyland. Essentially, what we have here is a filmmaker, Walt Disney, who after World War II became increasingly disinterested in making films and turned instead to place making. He purchased land on the fringe of the city that epitomises the post-war urban fabric, built an environment strikingly similar to one of these movie towns, and then charged admission to it. The front section of Disneyland, and the one section that every visitor must pass through, is Main Street USA, a tangible realisation of the Hollywood movie town (my essay here gives extensive detail on the traits of the classic Hollywood town). Disney, renowned for his escapist film fantasies, was here selling people an escape to the fantasy of a pleasant, pedestrian-friendly urban environment with a civic square and public transport. In postwar L.A. this was a commodity in such short supply that Disney was able to turn around the fortunes of his struggling business driven almost solely by his Disneyland profits.
A look at the architecture of Disneyland, uncluttered by visitors. Who says you can’t get away from the crowds?
If you’re perplexed as to why this would be of interest to anybody, I talk more about Disneyland at this post. You can see a similar set of shots for the Magic Kingdom at Disney World here, allowing you to compare the architecture of the two parks.