May I present the most kickass stoplight you’ve ever seen. Well okay, your mileage may vary but I’ve been digging on this stoplight since the first moment I saw it. (And yes, I *am* easily entertained.) This was a typical sight on Sunset Boulevard in 1949, as captured in the iconic film Sunset Boulevard just moments before a pivotal flat tire changes Joe Gillis’ life forever, forcing him to hide out in Norma Desmond’s driveway.
I’m normally not one for traffic signals, but I love love love this stoplight. The technology was still relatively new… clearly people couldn’t be counted on to pay attention to simple colored lights yet so they made sure to add an automated sign that announced “Stop” and “Go” as well, just to make sure you were doubly aware of what green and red meant. No excuses, buddy.
Sunset Boulevard is, hands down, my number one top favorite film for sentimental reasons and has been ever since I first saw it with roommates just days after moving back to Los Angeles from San Diego by myself. I loved everything about the movie… the noir cinematography; the incredible dialogue (My favorite line? “Funny how gentle people get with you once you’re dead.” Just wow.); the total sexy hotness of William Holden in his vicuna; the batshitinsaneness of Gloria Swanson’s iconic portrayal of Norma; Erich VonStroheim’s accent; Betty’s smart sassiness; seeing Detective Joe Friday as a skinny party boy; and of course, the monkey funeral… but most of all, I LOVED being able to witness vintage Los Angeles in its glory. The magic of the film hooked me completely.
A few days after seeing the movie, I remember driving around town with my friends in search of the filming locations… it was so exciting to just imagine we were breathing the same air as William Holden and Gloria Swanson had, albeit decades later. Sunset Boulevard was the first film that inspired me to take to the streets and explore old Los Angeles, because the film captured it and showed it to me in real time. It’s a time capsule of the Los Angeles that has since been paved over and considered forgotten… but there are still very tangible traces of that city if you look for them.
Sometimes the most wonderful parts of Los Angeles are the things that are barely visible or invisible altogether… it’s in the energy left by the fascinating places and people that once stood *right* where you are standing, and the little hints and clues you can find that they were once there. It doesn’t always matter that some of these individuals were only around for fleeting moments, because it almost makes them more magical and worth thinking about… after all, we’re *all* only here for a fleeting moment. What’s important is that these people did exist, and so do we… because their past is our present and our present is someone else’s past.
In Los Angeles, we are incredibly lucky that with a quick car ride we can actively pay tribute in person to MANY of the most iconic and inspirational elements of the last hundred years of American culture (both good and bad) — in the *exact* same logistical spaces they were created and lived. And perhaps by walking those same streets and breathing the same air as the people we admire we’re hoping maybe something magical will rub off on us too. Perhaps sometimes it even does. We can drink manhattans in William Randolph Hearst’s booth at the H.M.S. Bounty. We can pretend to be James Dean and scream about our parents tearing us apart at the Griffith Park Observatory. We can run slowly on the beach at Zuma and thank God Baywatch is no longer relevant, if it ever was. We can expose ourselves to strangers in the Beverly Hills public toilet where George Michaels was arrested. Oh… wait… bad example, sorry. Scratch that last one.
Anyhow, you get the idea. So next time you think about just driving straight home from work to watch tv, why not stop off somewhere new for a few minutes on your way? Explore a place you’ve always been curious about but have only passed at high speeds. Check out our ever-expanding online resources (look under “PAGES,” at the pull-down menu above) and find something interesting to see. Learn more about the people who lived here before you and made Los Angeles indisputably world famous… for reasons good or bad. Just take a minute out of your busy day to look a little deeper into your surroundings and embrace what *used* to be there before you were. I can promise you, the invisible things will make the visible ten times more interesting once you open your eyes to them.
In tribute to the movie that started it all for me… the full Billy Wilder film Sunset Boulevard is viewable on YouTube and linked above. If you ever have the opportunity to see it on the big screen, DO. Here is a link to the automated YouTube playlist — all parts of the film will stream in succession automatically.