I’m in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks.
Over the years I’ve been here many times: I holidayed here as a kid, honeymooned here, shot here, my dad lives here and now the headquarters of the company for whom I work is here.
Lucky I like the place.
It’s an unusual city for many reasons, some of which contribute to its status as one of the most creative places in the world.
Its geographical location meant it was the last stop on the great American land-grab. As people moved further towards the Pacific, this was as far as they could go, so it was where the last American pioneers ended up. Interestingly, that position has remained as people continue to come here to make their fortune, and much else besides.
For those of you who haven’t been here, LA is not so much a city as an interconnected series of towns: Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, Beverly Hills, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Compton, Pasadena, Brentwood etc. are somewhat self contained, and people who live here tend to say that they are from one of these areas rather than the less specific ‘LA’. Most have their own administration, some have their own police force, but all have their own distinct character. Santa Monica, for example is much more upscale and straitlaced than its groovier southern neighbour, Venice; where Beverly Hills stops, West Hollywood begins and the giant houses and manicured lawns give way to a more decadent part of town; Pacific Palisades is very well off and can often be described as soulless, especially when compared to the laconic stretch of Malibu to the west.
Another feature of LA that took me years to grasp is the way it combines the urban and rural in one city. It’s by the sea, so much of it has the healthy, leisurely feeling that comes with that location, but then its vast spread of low buildings recedes into wild mountains that can be hiked or admired. When I say ‘wild’ I mean that finding coyotes and deer roaming around back gardens is not an unusual occurrence. When I was over here getting married eleven years ago my wife and I decided to hike up to the Hollywood sign. On the way down we were confronted by a steadily growing pack of coyotes who didn’t seem quite as afraid of us as I’d have liked. We weren’t quite sure how to get back down without being eaten but as luck would have it a passing jogger suggested that throwing rocks at the coyotes would scare them off, then he continued up the hill. My wife and I welcomed the advice, but the idea of throwing rocks at animals didn’t really sit well with us, so we continued to be very British about it and watch the pack grow further until the jogger came back down. ‘Are you still here?’ he asked, picking up a rock and throwing it at the coyotes. They ran off and we made it back to the hotel unscathed.
In 2005 I shot a Wrigley’s ad there (actually, we shot it in Page, Arizona, but we did all the prep in LA). This was the shoot I’d been waiting the previous nine years of my career for: we spent a couple of weeks in the Sunset Marquis, whose bar was populated by people like Jon Voight and Brad Pitt, and when we weren’t working we were driving up to the wine country of Santa Ynez to follow the plot of Sideways. We also went to Six Flags Magic Mountain, a Lakers game and Matsuhisa, where Nobu himself was cooking (or at least walking about in his whites). Thanks, Wrigley’s. (My friend Hugh Todd has just returned from shooting there. The photo of him with Lemmy at the Sunset Marquis bar was no less impressive for being captioned ‘Lenny’. I think Hugh might have had one too many Um Bongos before typing.)
What else? Well, the weather is amazing, the food is often ridiculously good and the amount of space means that homes shops and offices are often much bigger than those in London (and relatively much cheaper: LA’s most expensive area is Manhattan Beach at $814 per square foot. Decent areas of London will set you back £1000 for the same amount of real estate).
But there are downsides: I’ve just enjoyed a quintessential London Autumn weekend: the streets are covered in the reassuring tea and coffee colours of fallen leaves, Guy Fawkes night left a cosy scent of burnt wood in the air and there was just enough of a chill to justify tea and crumpets. But none of this would really happen in LA. I was here last November and very much enjoyed the blue skies and 80-degree heat, but would that get monotonous? David Hockney seems to think so: he’s just returned to the north of England because he misses the seasons.
And I’m sure some of you are thinking that the entire place is populated by vapid airheads for whom botox and many hours of he gym are a way of life. You might also cite the lack of real art or culture as negative points. Perhaps the car-centric lifestyle puts you off. Well, you can argue for and against all those suggestions and ultimately whether you like any city is just another opinion.
But whether you warm to LA or not, it’s hard to think of it as boring. From David Lynch to The Doors, Frank Capra to Frank Lloyd Wright, Raymond Chandler to Raymond Carver, the place certainly breeds and attracts creativity, and that has to be something to be grateful for.