The Role of the City is crucial to many cinematic narratives, although analysis of the relationship between City and cinema, in terms of influencing story and character, seems to have been neglected by many film academics.
Through close textual analysis of a number of city films it is possible to examine the way in which a city, or a place within a City, can play an important part in the function of the narrative. LA, California, March 3, 1991 12. 47AM. This is the opening sequence to Dark Blue (Shelton 2002), a fictional police thriller, addressing the much published corruption within the LAPD, during the early 90’s.
It set against the ‘backdrop’ of the real life social unrest caused by the Rodney King beating and the events leading up to the L. A riots of 1992. Without question the location or space we are presented with on the screen immediately serves a multitude of functions, The anonymous time and space on screen becomes a specific time and place, The sense of geographical location is even more reinforced by the presence of visual clues (road signs), as we learn we are on the San Fernando Interstate and a moment later turning off into Paxton Street.The place not only serves in this case as a geographical authenticator of the narrative, but also initialises characterisation of the place of L. A, as this opening sequence is the catalysts which fuels the rest of the narrative and defines the central characters attitudes within a society on the verge of exploding. Ken Fox suggests that ‘It is the interactions of the central characters with their environment that turns screen space-time into cinematic place’ and that ‘Space time becomes place through identification with character’.This may be so, however in this instance perhaps it is just as relevant to suggest that that space and time become cinematic place through the audiences pre-existing knowledge of the Rodney King incident. The cinematic place is defined not necessarily by the characters, but by historical event itself.
The fact that this reconstruction is intercut seamlessly with the actual real life footage of the assault, plays on the audiences memory of events, which was widely covered by the media, to establish the time and place just as much as the interactions with the central characters, seen later in the narrative.The central player, Eldon Perry, a corrupt LAPD officer, is a fictional character investigating a robbery homicide in South Central, just days before the acquittal of the four police officers responsible for the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent rioting. The narrative explores the reasoning and the level of corruption within the police department, which caused tension between the police and the ethnic groups of South Central. The city and specific places within the city act far more than just a backdrop for the narrative. The film is certainly an L.A story and in certain respects a docudrama documenting a specific time in Los Angeles’s history. ‘While the story had nothing to do with the Rodney King riots it actually has everything to do with them and if you’re talking about LAPD corruption and scandal that’s why the cities on fire.
‘ Sheldon (By the Book, Williamson, 2003). The riot sequences which were choreographed from documentary footage of the time to give the scenes added realism, were originally planned as a climax to the film, but director Sheldon bought them forward to give the chaotic streets a sense of character which the central story could interact around.This constructs the tempo of the piece as we witness the riots gradually escalating and the central character Perry having to navigate his way through a black rioting neighbourhood in pursuit of a suspect. The smoke filled streets and angry mobs make his job increasingly more difficult, slowing down Perry’s objectives. The streets act as an antagonist in this scene, blocking his progress and forcing him to take alternative measures to complete his task.
The television news broadcasts played in the background offer a commentary on the progression of the riots. At one stage we are told that Florence Boulevard in Normandy needs to be shut down. This information gives the audience a sense of geographical verisimilitude of the rioting in progress and its movement within the city streets. Thorough out the course of the film we learn that Perry is a third generation Los Angelo, from a family of gunslingers a direct metaphor for the Wild West.