Not long ago, I interviewed renowned UCLA urban theorist Edward Soja on my podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture. In researching what he'd said before about this ever-fascinating, ever-confounding city, I came upon Los Angeles: City of the Future?, a 1991 BBC broadcast produced by The Open University for whose downtown segments Soja plays Virgil.
He begins by discussing the architecture of authority and control at work in the Bonaventure Hotel, at once my favorite and least favorite building in town.
The production definitely bears the mark of the early 1990s, what with all the talk of Los Angeles as a postmodern city engaging in the production of simulacra in the name of hyperreality and whatnot. The British minds behind it look with special fascination on the fortresses that then seemed to constitute the "cells" of life in the city and its surrounding region: not just the megastructure of the Bonaventure, but a heavily surveilled shopping mall in Baldwin Hills, the gated residential complex of Park La Brea, and the planned and very deliberately designed community of Mission Viejo.
But having aired in 1991, the year before Los Angeles' infamous riots, City of the Future? now looks prescient, just as does Grand Canyon Lawrence Kasdan's melodrama of liberal anxiety which came out that same year. Watching it today, Angelenos such as myself can take a great deal of relief at living in a much less smoggy, crime-obsessed, and fragmented city than the one in this program. (Well, a good deal less smoggy, crime-obsessed, and fragmented, anyway.)