the last thirty years Taschen have consistently produced some of the most
lavish and eye-catching photography books ever published. This latest book, Los Angeles: Portrait of a City by Jim Heimann and Kevin Starr,
covers the history of L.A in photos, from the first known picture taken
in 1862 through to the present day. Whilst those first few chapters of photos
and maps are interesting, particularly to historians, for movie fans the real
gold comes later on. There are photos reproduced here from a variety of
collections, from personal archives to news media. There are even pictures
taken by the actors themselves, such as this one that Dennis Hopper took in his
car in 1961.
L.A. from the vantage point of Dennis Hopper's lens.
book you can see Edward G. Robinson in reflective mood as he sits surrounded by
memorabilia in his office, or a bikini-clad Jayne Mansfield reclining in a pool
with dozens of floating toy replicas. We can even be present at the first
Academy Award ceremony in 1929. Some photos depict film making in its early
silent days. It’s incredible to see the elaborate indoor/ outdoor sets built to
ensure they captured as much light as possible, and it demonstrates that even
then, like modern-day movie sets, there are always plenty of people standing
around with no evident job role. There are also on set photos from some Busby
Berkeley musicals, demonstrating the amazing set design and vast camera cranes
needed to capture the choreographed action.
could describe this as a coffee table book, but in reality it is so huge you
could actually use it as a coffee table. This is not a book to try and lift if
you have back problems. But the joy afforded by its immense size is that you
can almost climb in to some of the photos. There are pictures from gangland
crime scenes, showing grisly detail. You feel as if you are in The Godfather or Scarface. With photos of artists, socialites and musicians from the
decades you really get a sense of the cultural importance of the city growing
year by year. Also featured are photos depicting the birth of surfing and the
beach culture of LA. You can look at these pictures and imagine yourself as
Frankie Avalon in a beach party movie. There are great landscape pictures as
well, showing how the city grew from its Mexican pueblo origins to the vast
cityscape it is today. It incorporates social and political change as well as
the development of Hollywood, with one photo from D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance from 1916 reminding us that
bloated budgets and egotistical directors are nothing new.
like me, you are entranced by anything to do with film and social history, this
is a book that could keep you busy for hours. Alongside the photos are
informative and fascinating notes and essays. These are also reproduced in
French and German which is a nice addition, although it surely contributes to
the overall size of the book.
is a tribute to the city which for many of us has played a vital contribution
throughout our lives, even if, like me, you have never actually been there. The
influence of Tinsel Town is all pervasive, and you now have the chance to
browse through its history and wonder at the highlights and lowlifes, the
achievements and the tragedies of the City of Angels.
(Adrian Smith is a London reporter for Cinema Retro. Click here to visit his film blog)