Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Wrongness of Ridley Scott

Years ago, Ridley Scott made a film set in a future Los Angeles where the city was cloaked in near constant darkness and rain caused by perpetual clouds of pollution or some kind of nuclear winter. That film, Blade Runner, is one of my favourites but he couldn't have been more wrong. 

Present day L.A. does have a pollution problem and is beset by a symptom of climate change but it isn't the continual acid rain Scott imagined but the solid blue skies and unrelenting sunshine of a multi-year drought. As you can imagine, no one seems to mind - other than those who depend on a little rain now and then.

LAX was uneventful and the airport itself is surprisingly unremarkable and notably lacking glamour. Getting in a hybrid cab which had completely lost any luster of newness, was a different story. Los Angeles does feel a little like a failed future — a failed future as imagined by Le Corbusier et al that is. My hotel, once used as a set of an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, is a weirdly connected series of concrete towers with bridges adjoining different levels of streets or expressway canyons. Streets are either on ramps or off ramps with little sense that anyone would ever walk anywhere. There's a reason some streets don't have sidewalks; they're highways. The downtown area (if you can call it "downtown") where I'm staying feels like a very dense suburban business park. In between the faceless glass facades you can see the poverty sulking in the shadows, pushing carts of rags, boxes and gee-gaws. In front of the glow of a LA Philharmonic street sign sat a decrepit looking gent asleep in a wheelchair, limply holding an even more decrepit coffee cup hoping for a spare coin or two.

Yet for all of that, there is a unique quality of light here and a surreal feeling that everything is going to be just fine. It's another sunny day that will end in another stunning sunset. Last night I took an elevator to the fifth floor, walked up to the sixth to access a pedestrian bridge to street level — yes, that is the Escher-esque structure of this town — and found my way to Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall. The location of this building seemed odd to me until I realized it was part of a strip that included the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, a music center and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. This church and nearby theatre are such creatures of LA that their best views seem to be from a passing highway that runs like a river valley beneath their stone and steel foundations.

The Gehry building is another pure moment of California. Anything I could say has already been said but the building is pretty magical especially in the magic hour. They certainly have lit the building so it both emerges from its place on the block and blends into the early evening sky. The metallic sheathing is polished in some instances and satin in other, always coloured by that drought blue sky LA provides. As the evening grew darker, the lights of the surrounding courtyards and gardens sparkled even more. A garden courtyard on the Western edge of the concert hall was full of large leaf trees and exotic blossoming plants that looked more at home on an extraterrestrial set of the original Star Trek. By the time the sky turned a pulsating orange the garden became a dark and lush hideaway of concert goers enjoying the view with their interstitial cocktails.

I decided to head back to the hotel before I completely lost my bearings but I was too late; LA had completely knocked me on my ass.



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