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in Filmmaking
on Oct 17, 2006

Over at his blog Sit Down Man, You’re a Bloody Tragedy,, Owen Hatherley writes about Todd Haynes’s Safe and recognizes its foreshadowing of our contemporary urban situation:

From it’s opening sex scene onwards- the grim treadmill behind the neon-lit Southern California cityscape of the generic erotic thriller- Todd Haynes’ Safe is a depiction of the most important city of the early 1990s. The edge of apocalypse you can hear in the synth whines of Dr Dre’s The Chronic, the fire and brimstone of Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Mike Davis’ City of Quartz and of course the LA Riots: in all this the dream and the nightmare coalesces so that one is indistinguishable from the other.

Safe is the edge of hysteria in Joan Didion’s neurasthenic LA teased out and emphasised to the point of total psychosis, which shouldn’t obscure the fact of how prevalent its mysterious ‘environmental illness’ has become. A wave of allergies seems to be sweeping through the US and Europe, their indiscriminate gluttony is overdiscussed compared to the fetish for the inorganic, the ‘homemakers’ with intolerances (what a wonderful phrase!) to lactose, wheat, dairy, pesticides, carpets…on one level one shouldn’t complain about this (seeing as my own immune system is not enturely functional, it’s nice to be able to get food in Sainsbury’s that won’t have unpleasant consequences) as it represents perhaps some sort of protest. Such as for the inmate in the self-help camp of Safe who declares she’d like to ‘shoot in the head all the people that made me like this’. Hence, for all his didain for ‘girly men’, the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger has to make the right gestures towards environmentalism and organic farming…

The angels of Los Angeles
Are tired out with smiling. Desperately
Behind the fruit stalls of an evening
They buy little bottles
Containing sex odours.

Brecht, Hollywood Elegies

A subtext is that as the car becomes more and more dominant, as the out of town shopping centres proliferate, and as the service industry and the office take up an ever greater share of employment, we are all Californians now. Christopher Isherwood, who gleefully retreated there mid-century, declared that California was sneered at because ‘we’ve decided to live in our advertisments’. And in an unintentionally politically apposite moment, that ‘California is a tragic country – like Palestine, like every Promised Land’.

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