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Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)


Los Angeles, the City in Cinema, my new series of video essays, examines the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing — just like the city itself. Its debut pays a visit to the punks, drunks, thugs, loners, feds, and aliens — all driving cars, and rarely the flashy kind — that populate the 24-hour industrial Los Angeles of Alex Cox’s own 1984 debut, Repo Man.

 

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Krys Lee

I talk in Seoul, Korea with Krys Lee, author of the acclaimed short story collection Drifting House. We discuss her obsessions with violence and religion, “Koreanness” as an accidental unifier of her stories, her life between Korea, America, and England, and her next novel, which deals with the lives of North Korean refugees.

You can listen to the conversation on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Twelve of my favorite Open Culture posts, featuring Murakami, Coupland, Ozu, Byrne, Marker, and Los Angeles

Every weekday, I write a post at Open Culture, usually to do with literature, film, music, art, television, radio, or language. I’ve done over 500 so far, but on this list (which I’ll revise every so often) you’ll find twelve of my favorites:

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Lisa See

I talk with Lisa See, author of novels at the intersection of Chinese history, American history, and women’s history. Her novels include Peony in Love, Snow Flower and Secret Fan, Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy. Her latest is China Dolls, a story of the Chinese nightclubs of wartime America that takes place in the Chinatowns of both San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can listen to the conversation on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E50: Something Like a Bohemia with William E. Jones

williamejonesColin Marshall sits down in Los Feliz with artist, filmmaker, and writer William E. Jones. They discuss what one learns by viewing a city through the prism of its gay porn; how Los Angeles gives away the least of itself in that form as in others; home he introduced Fred Halsted’s “gay porn masterpiece” L.A. Plays Itself to Los Angeles Plays Itself maker Thom Andersen, and how the movie helped fund Chantal Akerman’s first projects; Selma Avenue, once the “hustler central” of Los Angeles; the city as he came to know it in the movies before he came to know it in real life; the Los Angeles tendency to identify with specific neighborhoods; how truly coming to know the city somehow requires both driving and not driving; what made he and Thom Andersen decide to make a “useful” book of their conversations; his examination of the nonsexual elements of the gay porn, and the other work that got him a reputation for a time as “the porn guy”; his resolution not to create around any obvious unifying concept; why Morrissey’s robust Latino fandom confounds people, and how it ties into Los Angeles’ long strain of musical Anglophilia; the similarities between the industrial decay of northern England and the forlorn provinciality of Southern California suburbs; how city centers, to an extent excepting Los Angeles’, have fallen to “fabulous wealth and enormous corporate power”; the way places never turn out quite as intended here, and what it means for civic pride, the force that begins a city’s slide into decadence; what kind of a town Los Angeles has become for experimental film; the city’s ability, now at stake, to nurture “something like a bohemia,” which Glasgow has done where London hasn’t; and what traces of Fred Halsted’s Los Angeles survive today.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E49: The Micro and the Macro with Noé Montes

noemontesColin Marshall sits down in Koreatown with Noé Montes, photographer and publisher of El Aleph Books. They discuss what MacArthur Park, that place “beyond any laws or organization,” means to him; what difference the much-discussed light of Los Angeles makes for a photographer; the city’s sunsets, beaches, palm trees, and the ultimate fact of its being “kind of ugly”; the New Yorker who told him he “just doesn’t get” Los Angeles; the pleasures of living in a city that doesn’t need defending; the impossible task he once considered upon photographing each and every block; the “synoptic vision” he gained upon seeing Los Angeles as a Borges-style “aleph”; when the LAPD took him up in a helicopter, and what understanding of the city he gained thereby; how Los Angeles works best at two levels, the very macro and the very micro; the “layering of information” in the city’s built environment; his work with Metro, an organization now in the process of “actually connecting the city”; how he first gained an awareness of Los Angeles. growing up in the agricultural parts of California, as a place from which others fled; the importance of the desert, not just as a photographic subject but as a boundary to the city; the contrast in pace and sense of possibility he found upon coming here from New York; the feeling that the definition of Los Angeles is happening right now; his realization, after becoming a full-time photographer, that “this is all I could have done”; the “extraordinary access to be nosy” provided by photography (and indeed interviewing) that allows him to discover the unknown “great work” going on in the city; the vast amounts of money he’s seen poured into photographic ephemeralities; the African family he once saw holding hands before a giant pyramid of cereal; the “failed modernism” and other supremely photographable qualities of Mexico City; and what we can learn about Los Angeles from the photography it produces.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

KoreAm magazine profiles me and my relationship to Korea

A white guy living in L.A. like it’s Seoul. That’s Colin Marshall. Living in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles, a city where people drive to the park to take a walk, his main form of transportation is his two feet.

Marshall recently traveled across South Korea, from Seoul to Changwon to Busan, for six weeks and wrote a five-part series for The Guardian about his observations of the country. It was the Seattle native’s first time visiting Korea, though his depth of knowledge on its culture and current events makes him seem like a frequent visitor there, if not a native.

Marshall, 29, speaks conversational Korean. He has been studying the language ever since he got hooked on Korean films during his youth.

I met with Marshall, who had just returned from Korea, at a Koreatown cafe, and he shared his thoughts on Korea’s forward-thinking disposition, disregard for red lights and why the East Asian nation is “so close” to being the perfect country.

How was Korea?
That was actually my first time, but it wasn’t really surprising to me. I’ve been living in Koreatown here and studying Korean and all that, so it wasn’t like a shock. I was already familiar with the surroundings. People say that Koreatown here is like Seoul of 20 years ago. I saw a lot of similarities. In a way, some Koreans here are actually more conservative than the ones in Korea. They come to America and keep the level of conservatism they had back home, whereas the country itself has gotten more progressive.

You were born and raised in Seattle. What made you want to move to Koreatown in L.A.?
Language practice and Korean food. It’s also the densest neighborhood in L.A. That affords you a lot of advantages. I can walk everywhere. It’s usually walking, train or biking.

You’ve traveled in and written about London, Copenhagen, Osaka and Mexico City. What’s special about Korea?
Seoul is always forward-thinking and changing. That’s really nice. To an extent, it’s almost bothersome because the past isn’t always bad [laughs]. But to better understand that, you have to realize that to Korea, the past is poverty. It’s unpleasant. So it’s always looking forward. Europe is all about protecting what’s already there. And what’s there is often pretty nice, too. I mean, in London, a couple of those subway lines are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Read the whole thing at KoreAm.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E48: No One Place to Eat with Matthew Kang

matthewkangColin Marshall sits down in Culver City with Matthew Kang, food writer, editor of Eater LA, author of the blog Mattatouille, and proprietor of the Scoops Westside ice cream shop. They discuss the difference between eating on Los Angeles’ west side and elsewhere in the city; how he manages to sell that health-conscious region on ice cream; the willingness of eaters, nowadays, to get back to the occasional bit of unhealthiness; how he prides himself on introducing unusual flavors to the public through the friendly medium of ice cream, even when kids’ parents insist they “just get the chocolate”; how he got into food writing through Yelp during his previous career as a banking analyst; his explorations of Los Angeles through the Zagat guide and as a “hugely involved commenter” on Eater; what he experienced on his Koreatown days in childhood, an ideal place for him as it provides “Korea, but not in Korea”; what it meant to him when he discovered a time capsule of a greasy spoon buried in a Beverly Hills office building; the parts of town that put up with “a little less B.S.” from customization-crazed customers; the balance between “I want it the way I want it” and “Just give me what’s best”; the conversations he had with his parents and fellow Asian Americans when he left his banking career behind for a live of travel and food; the shift in downtown’s Grand Central Market, and what it says about Los Angeles’ wider social and food cultures; how your background matters less here, and how long that might last; food as his conduit for understanding not just Los Angeles but Seoul, Istanbul, Chicago, and Nagoya; how the current coffee-culture boom manifests itself here, where he divides time into two eras, before Intelligentsia and after; how Angelenos can make sure not to provincialize themselves; the exhilaration he feels at certain perfect “Midnight City” moments in his car; and how Los Angeles offers a seemingly infinite variety of places you should eat, but no one place you must.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E47: Waking Up in the Unknown with Jim Benning

jimbenning_600Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Jim Benning, travel writer and co-founder of World Hum, home of “The Best Travel Stories on the Internet.” They discuss why Mexican food on other continents sucks so bad; the nature of a “weather lifestyle” site he previously edited; the old question of travel versus tourism; his relationship to the label of “travel writing”; whether hatred or love for a place can produce anything but uninteresting writing; our need for “hidden gems”; how Los Angeles offers the world within it, yet rewards travel outside of it; that feeling you get upon first waking up in a completely unknown city; the American traveler’s anxiety about entering a foreign McDonalds; his multimedia production “Starbucks Versus the Traveler“; the English and American traditions of the travel writing of ignorance; the rant for a single-language world he found in his old diaries; the lost world of the Pan Am vacationer and the United States’ “new humility”; LAX and the many other ways that Los Angeles seemingly hasn’t internalized its own status; the obsessions, like surfing, that take you places you wouldn’t have known to go otherwise; having a relationship with a place as you would a person; his mid-1990s Orange County “Drive-Thru Life“; his search for the stories that make him feel like he feels when he’s traveling; and where in town he currently goes for his tacos.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

An Urbanist’s Tour of South Korea, Part Five: Busan, “City of Tomorrow” – and Yesterday

Just as Changwon brands itself the ‘Young City’, other Korean conurbations come with slogans of their own. Seoul, of course, has a few: ‘Hi Seoul, Soul of Asia’ is an awkward English one; only marginally better is the Korean slogan which translates as: ‘The Seoul We Create Together, the Seoul We Enjoy Together.’

But nowhere is as zealous about its self-applied label than Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, located all the way across the country on its southeastern coast. Maps, buses, construction sites: all periodically remind us that we are in ‘Dynamic Busan, City of Tomorrow’.

This slogan strikes me as, in equal parts, apt and mistaken. While I feel bullish about Busan’s future, that has nothing to do with the seaside metropolis’s firm grasp on the 21st century. The appeal of Busan – indeed, a reason to prefer it over Seoul – comes not from what it offers as a city of tomorrow, but what it offers as a city of yesterday.

As a rare piece of territory not captured by the Northern army during the Korean War, Busan came through the 1950s intact, serving during wartime as the capital of the Republic of Korea. The city incurred far less involuntary demolition in that era, so has endured a less thoroughgoing redevelopment since. If you are seeking ‘old’ urban South Korea, you’ll find it here – or at least, more of it than elsewhere.

Read the whole thing at the Guardian.