Noiring LA: Mildred Pierce, The Reckless Moment, and Reinforcing Postwar Suburban Gender Roles

The Pierce's home in Glendale, CA

"Often like a ghost in the shadows, the mother haunts film noir," observed Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo in 2003. "She is mentioned but never seen, yet she leaves her traces throughout film noir. Paralleling the dichotomy of the bad omnipresent or bad absent mother, in film noir the mother is everywhere and nowhere."1 Yet, as the two critics note, a handful of film noirs placed mothers and women at their center, ultimately both pushing back against noir restraints, but still reinforcing domestic, gender, and racial normatives of the day. In two such films, "Mildred Pierce" and "The Reckless Moment," Los Angeles and its suburbs provide the backdrop for film noir's judgment on the role of … [Read more...]

Reading Piketty at the Grand Budapest Hotel

Zero and Clotilde in Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson has always had a penchant for the past.  Ever since The Royal Tenenbaums, his movies have increasingly drifted into a historical aesthetic, from the shabby (The Tenenbaums’ vaguely 70s-esque New York) to the quaint (the warm agrarian hues of 1960s New England in Moonrise Kingdom).  Few critics have missed the fact that his newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, amps up all things Anderson to the extreme.  It is cute, fussily pristine, ornately detailed, and even more deeply wedded to a time and place—a screwball comedy in the made-up European nation of Zubrowka, a seeming nod to Freedonia in the 1933 Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup.  Indeed, Grand Budapest harks back to a … [Read more...]

White Racial Innocence Goes to War: Forrest Gump at 20

forrest gump ice cream

1994—it wasn’t that long ago.  Or was it?  It was a time before iPhones, YouTube, Monica Lewinsky, WMDs, and Honey Boo-Boo.  The tech bubble was still a glimmer in Alan Greenspan’s eye.  It was in the Spring of that year that I remember seeing a trailer for a forthcoming Tom Hanks film with the unlikely title Forrest Gump.  I figured it was some weirdo prestige project that a big-name actor was doing for some indie cred, and would never, ever be a commercial success.  But a few months later, I witnessed a crowd of teary-eyed viewers streaming out of a screening of Forrest Gump, clutching Kleenexes.  Something was clearly going on. As it turns out, Tom Hanks’s portrayal of a Candidean … [Read more...]

Seventy Years Later: The Zoot Suit Riots and the Complexity of Youth Culture

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[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared under the Intersections column at KCET Departures, May 30, 2013.] In the film "American Me," Pedro Santana, fresh from having his devotion to wife Esperanza tattooed on his arm, prepares for a night on the town. His wife, accompanied by another couple, wades through Los Angeles streets on their way to meet Pedro, as a soundtrack of sensationalized news reports of zoot-suited thugs, dangerous riots, and retributions delivered by U.S. servicemen blare in the background. His friends exhibit a clear wariness regarding the evening's disruptive personality, but Pedro appears unconcerned, more focused on "walking the boulevard with his woman." … [Read more...]

From Better Luck Tomorrow to K-Town: Asian Americans and Los Angeles in 21st Century Media

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[Editor's Note: This piece closes out our  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month coverage.  Be sure to check out our previous posts on Asian American athletics, notably masculinity, femininity, and Asian American basketball in 20th century California here and basketball's role in Filipino and Filipino-American identity here, and the intersection of the Cold War and Asian American citizenship, particularly in how the New Right, anti-communism and the Vietnam War created the diverse demographics of today's Orange county here or how film noir, Cold War ethos, and Asian American sexuality figure prominently in the 1959 L.A. noir classic the "Crimson Kimono" here.] "The problem of this era is … [Read more...]

Noiring L.A.: The Crimson Kimono and Asian American Sexuality in the Age of the Cold War

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"Crimson Kimono is really just a reversal of the old GI concept: 'Let's change our luck,'" Director Sam Fuller told interviewers. "That means let's go out and get some local talent, someone of a race or creed other than our own. The Japanese cop in Crimson Kimono is in a reverse position. He is involved with a white girl and wondering to himself, 'Does she want me for me or has she been dumped by some white guy and is trying to change her luck?'" 1 Certainly, in this way and in several others, Fuller's 1959 film took a very different approach from other film noir of the 1950s, and serves as useful text from which to consider changes to the genre and Southern California's racial … [Read more...]

Fast Times with Valley Girls: 30 Years Later, What Do Two SoCal Classics Tell Us About America?

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[Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on the KCET Departures website under its Intersections column on February 15, 2013.  It is a pop culture supplemental addition to our Retail California series. Part one can be read here. Part two can be read here, and part three here.] "I hate working the theater," Mark "Rat" Ratner (Brian Backer) laments to friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) in the classic comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. "All the action's on the other side of the mall." Indeed, Rat's wide-eyed stare focuses on the food court, populated by establishments like Bronco Burger, Mexican Dan, and, where his new crush Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works, Perry's Pizza. … [Read more...]

600: Rise of My Blood Pressure

300 rise of an empire

Okay, last I checked the Spartans didn’t have an empire. They were some bad ass warriors, no doubt, but they didn’t have an empire. Anyway, 300 Part 2 (or 600), was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life. Historical accuracy is one thing movies are always short on, but this one was quite honestly pulling shit out of its ass like no one’s business. Honestly, the movie is so insulting on so many levels that I really can’t understand how or why it was made. First, the constant droning on about how the Greeks were all free men was just sickening. It kept making me think of George Dubya and all the news shows post-9/11 about how every terrorist (read “brown person”… whether from the … [Read more...]

What Robocop Tells Us about the Neoliberal City, Then and Now

Robocop 1987 vs 2014

The recent release of Jose Padilha’s reboot of the RoboCop franchise offers ToM another opportunity to indulge in extreme historian geekiness. As an unabashed lover of the original 1987 RoboCop, I jumped at the opportunity to write a dual review of both films, reflecting on their contrasting messages and cultural commentaries. Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 version was a masterpiece. No, seriously. Taking place in an unspecified, but not too distant future, the film is set in a dystopic, post-industrial Detroit. The film’s Motor City is riddled with crime and drugs, where police are killed with shocking regularity. The thinly veiled illusion to urban blight during the Reagan years is hard to miss. … [Read more...]

People Like Us: Hollywood Looks at Middle America in Nebraska, August: Osage County, and Dallas Buyers Club

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Hollywood has always had trouble with “flyover country.”  The movie industry had its roots in New York, particularly Manhattan and Queens, early in the twentieth century, before aspiring auteurs and entrepeneurs set their sights on the lower costs, 365-day sunshine, and lack of organized labor in Southern California.  While states like North Carolina and Georgia have since made significant inroads into the film business through a cunning use of tax incentives, the TV/film/entertainment complex remains rooted in the coastal capitals of New York and Los Angeles. More important than any business strategies or tax incentives, though, has been the cultural domination of Eastern elites and … [Read more...]

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