The flow of city life: An analysis of cinematography and urban form in New York and Los Angeles
Zook, Julie Brand
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation uses quantitative data on city cinematography and the morphological study of filming locations to identify how differences in ways of seeing cities, as shaped by cinematographic choices, are anchored both in differences in what is physically present as well as in differences in frameworks and expectations about what might be interesting or important to see. Four films are evaluated that are set in Los Angeles and New York, two cities recognized as paradigms in American urbanism: The Naked City (1948), The Long Goodbye (1970), Goodfellas (1990), and Pulp Fiction (1994). In general, the New York movies suggest the embeddedness of the individual in the city and its social life in ways tied closely to urban form, with the visual presentation of the street acting as an index to the position of the individual within the narrative. Los Angeles, by contrast, presents the city as a series of enclaves linked by infrastructure. The street as a sociologically relevant entity hardly exists, with the exception of a handful of chase scenes, as though only crisis can catalyze direct encounters with the streets of Los Angeles. Within individual movies, the depiction of city form reveals directorial idioms in the presentation of the narrative. The Naked City exploits corner shots to impart greater visual interest to the presentation of activity in the streets. The Long Goodbye shows the degradation of the distinction between public and private space as concurrent with a city form and culture that resists decoding. Goodfellas develops a grammar of views on the street that corresponds to the relationships of individual characters to overlapping social groups over time. Pulp Fiction mainly presents city locations as decontextualized to focus on dialogue and relationships, to sculpt urban form to meet the exigencies of the narrative, and to all the more powerfully introduce surprise. In the concluding chapter, the qualities of the city as presented in Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction and both of the cities are diagrammed and discussed relative to architectural precedents and ideas that might inform architectural design.