Table of contents
2. Racial Problems
3. The Los Angeles Police Force
4. Natural Disasters
The city of Los Angeles is one of the most well-known, famous and popular metropolis in the world. Anyone, who has not yet been to the City of Angels has at least seen a picture of the old Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame or the Universal Studios. There are countless songs, stories, TV-series and, of course, movies taking place in Los Angeles. It is the capital of the film industry not only in the United States, but probably in the whole world. As LA is all about movies, there are many movies about LA, as well. The Wikipedia entry on films shot in Los Angeles lists not less than over 400 movies including classic film noir such as The Big Sleep and The Postman Always Rings Twice as well as movies like Boogie Nights, Pulp Fiction and L.A. Confidential.
Los Angeles is known as the city of glamour, luxuriousness and the typical Southern Californian easy-going lifestyle, but it is also a very ambiguous city, a city of contradictions. The connection of social and racial problems as well as always threatening natural disasters is what urban socialist and social commentator Mike Davis calls a high conflagrationist potential that might one day mount in a big disaster. Moreover, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard called Los Angeles "an immense script and a perpetual motion picture" (Baudrillard, p. ), which hints at the high degree of simulation that is present not only in LA movies, but also in its everyday life. It makes it very difficult to differentiate between real and fake in Los Angeles. This is why many movies do not only glorify Los Angeles but also criticize and denunciate what seems to be wrong about the city.
The subject of this paper is going to be the film Lakeview Terrace, which was shot in Los Angeles in 2008. It is about a young married couple - a white man and a black woman - who move into a seemingly nice and quiet neighborhood, but are then observed and besieged by their neighbor Able Turner, who is a black police officer. At first it seems like Abel solely has a very special humor and treats his new neighbors, the Mattson’s, in a way that is supposed to prepare them for what life is going to be in Los Angeles and what might happen to them. However, when he adds violence and damage to property to his agenda, it soon becomes clear that the live together of these two parties might end badly.
This research paper will try to outline what typical features about Los Angeles are disclosed within the movie, in how far it utters critique and which general impression about LA is presented. It will in detail look at the presentation of the Los Angeles police force, racial problems and the always imminent threat of natural disaster, in this case represented by a forest fire that is blazing its trail towards the Lakeview Terrace neighborhood.
2. Racial Problems
“The predominant friction in America today revolves around the color of skin […].” (Gessner, p. 25). The long history of the USA has always been accompanied by racial tensions. As a huge city that unites people of all nationalities and ethnicities, Los Angeles is certainly no exception to that rule. In his book The Moving Image, Robert Gessner explains why movies are the most adequate form of art that is capable to capture the friction of a world that is far more fast-paced than it still was decades ago:
“In an age of acceleration, when more people have been killed and born than in any previous century, a new art has been created uniquely capable of depicting conflict. The sharp mirror of cinema reflects the speed, compression, complexity, and fragmentation of our experiences in a way that makes it the art form of the twentieth century. Both the depiction of conflict and an avoidance or involvement with conflict explain cinema as an appeal and gratification, as educator and escapist.” (Gessner, p. 23)
In a world that is already full of conflicts and is afflicted by hecticness and crime, cinema intensifies the focus on these grievances.
“Depiction of conflict in cinema, as we shall see, involves more than presentation of theme or characters. Actions that can be photographed and intensifications that can be mounted are qualities that affect the storytelling. There is more conflict per minute, seen or implied, witnessed or sensed, in cinema than in dramatic or narrative forms. This basic and fundamental difference begins in the creator´s initial attitude toward the form of the contest.” (Gessner, p. 24)
Lakeview Terrace is a perfect example of that and the problem of race is the main theme in the movie. However, it does not only portray things the way that they are, it also provides the viewers with possible explanations why people behave the way they do. It is not all cliché, but looks behind the façade of the characters. Neil LaBute, director of the movie, explains why he chose the black-and-white conflict:
"Actually, I think any number of actors from different races could have played that part," he said. "But when we say race relations, we often tend to think black and white immediately. We start the film from Sam´s perspective. He´s not a bad cop; he´s a cop who has lived in the tinderbox of Los Angeles, trying to raise two children. It was important for him not to be just a bad guy. The producers were always looking at it as a thriller, and we were trying to subvert the thriller by asking, how do we tell this from everybody´s side?" (Ebert, p. )
LaBute says that the two different ethnicities that clash in Lakeview Terrace were interchangeable. However, he justifies his choice: the tension between the black and white population of the USA is the most prominent one and so the viewer is captured by the background knowledge he might already have. Moreover, he calls Los Angeles a tinderbox which might explain the way people act, for example Abel Turner. The great pressure upon the human psyche that is omnipresent in a city of contradictions as LA might be too much to take for some and makes them act in a way that they would not in a healthy and stress-free environment.
Right in the beginning of Lakeview Terrace, Abel Turner observes his new neighbors while they are moving in. Lisa Mattson and her father, Harold Perreau, act very intimately and it seems almost like they were a couple. Although Harold is obviously much older than Lisa, Abel does not really seem to care and looks at the scene rather indifferently. He thinks that Chris Mattson is merely a mover. When Chris and Lisa kiss later on, Abel´s look freezes and he is apparently terrified. It is abruptly clear that he does not approve of a black woman and a white man being a couple. When he saw two people that were very far apart by age but from the same race, he did not really care. A mixed couple of black and white people, however, arouse disgust in him. From then on, Abel does everything to run them out of his neighborhood. As it was mentioned before, however, the film does not use clichés. Abel is not portrayed as a notorious racist. He talks to his neighbor Johnny, who has a proper American first name, but is obviously of Asian descent. They get along very well and have a friendly conversation. Abel Turner does evidently not hate other ethnicities per se. On the other hand, Abel does not hold back his opinion when he does not like somebody and then uses a racist undertone. When he takes Chris with him on his patrol through the neighborhood, he says about one neighbor: ““Sakorsky, Sakwasky, whatever. Beats on his wife”. He does not try hard to learn the name, which is obviously originally from Poland or the Czech Republic, properly. He seems to have prejudices towards people with Eastern European roots, as well. He goes on with “Other people´s relationships. You think somebody shouldn’t be with somebody, but you can’t say that to their face now, can you?” and gives Chris a penetrating look. Both know he means Chris and Lisa, too. Every conversation between Abel and Chris is very uncomfortable and Abel always just seems to wait for a reason to twist Chris´ words in order to put him down. He tells Chris that opposites apparently attract each other, referring to him and his wife. Chris is listening to rap music in his car and on the statement “We have a lot in common”, Abel answers: ”Like what? Rap music? You can listen to that noise all night long, but when you wake up in the morning, you´ll still be white!” That is a racist statement with which Abel places rap music in the cultural background of African- Americans and makes Chris understand that he does not belong to that group and, between the lines, that he should not be dating a girl from that group. Abel also does not seem to believe that Chris will be able to provide sufficient safety for his wife: ”You wanna get your alarm system fixed. You know, you got a woman you want to try and protect”. Unluckily for Chris, Lisa´s father seems to have similar doubts about Chris´ qualities as a husband and father. When they all have a conversation, Harold does not even address Chris. When he then more or less politely asks Harold to talk to him as well, Harold asks whether they want to have kids some day and how Chris wants to protect his family. Harold seems to think that Chris will not be able to provide for his family. That is why Chris later on complains to Lisa “I am constantly taking shit from black guys about our relationship”. When Chris tries to set the record straight between him and Abel, he says “Can´t we all just get along”, quoting Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, which then caused bloody riots. With this quote, the movie directly takes up an event from the real world and therefore connects the real and the fictional world. It adds authenticity to the movie. Neil LaBute commented on this scene:
"Take the question that´s posed by Rodney King, whose story began on a different Lake View Terrace:"Can´t we all just get along?" I think the answer, as I came to making this movie was, just barely, and only if you work at it every day. I think today it´s more acceptable to do whatever you feel like. People dispose of relationships more quickly. That we build a fence next to our neighbor. That we say, "We should get a divorce". That we go online to meet people so that it´s easier to get rid of them when we´re through with them. All we do is just click a button and those people are gone. I think people don´t like to work as much to forge a good friendship or good relationship. I think on a lot of levels this film wasn´t just about black and white, but it was about blue collar versus white collar, and men versus women, and older versus younger.” (Ebert, p. ).
The problems of our world today that LaBute mentions, such as airy handling of friendship and relationships and the decline of the importance of the individual person and personal contact due to the internet, are most obviously present in a big city such as Los Angeles.