Category Archives: Review

MORESO | Fire Walk with Me | David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Finale

MORESO | Fire Walk with Me | David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Finale
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

This Moreso article is a follow-up to an earlier one, “Generational Shame in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (28 June 2017), available here.

Judging from the immediate response on Twitter and subsequent mainstream media recaps (with the exception of Dan Martin at The Guardian and a few others), many people seem perplexed about the open-ended finale of Twin Peaks: The Return. I am not. As with all things David Lynch, you have to appreciate the (weird) window-dressing but, nonetheless, ignore such affectations when it comes to explanations by focusing on the essential. When you do so, there is a lot of narrative meat to chew in the final two episodes, which seems to confirm our prior hypothesis that Twin Peaks is about Baby Boomer shame. We will not recap that argument now; you can read it here.

WARNING, SOME SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU ARE NOT FAMILIAR AT ALL WITH TWIN PEAKS

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992).

What are the key points? Where do we keep our focus to interpret this bizarre, frightening, and even nihilist (i.e. spiritually bleak) ending? After all, it cannot be a coincidence that both episode 17 and 18 ended with Sheryl Lee’s blood-curdling scream, putting aside the end credit sequences: one musical and the other a super slow-motion replay of Laura Palmer whispering something disturbing in Agent Cooper’s ear in the Red Room of the Black Lodge during the first episode. Sidenote: Sheryl Lee (to the upper right as Laura Palmer) has to go down in cinematic history as one of the all-time great screamers, worthy of the leading ladies in the best Alfred Hitchcock films.

Let’s start here:

“The past dictates the future.” – Agent Cooper in Episode 17 of Twin Peaks: The Return

This is a truism reiterated by Twin Peaks. Let’s be honest: what would a ‘happy resolution’ for most viewers of any generation look like for the central storyline (e.g. the murder of a prom queen) in Twin Peaks? FBI Agent Cooper solves the murder? That already happened 25 years ago during Season 2. Laura’s Baby Boomer father Leland possessed by the evil spirit BOB raped and murdered her. The destruction of the evil spirit BOB? Lynch and Mark Frost provided this closure in the penultimate episode when BOB was defeated by a Millennial, no less, wearing a green garden glove that gave him supernatural strength… yeah, Twin Peaks is unconventional like much of the Millennial Generation itself in some ways. It is appropriate, if you ask me. No, for most viewers, the ‘happy resolution’ would be preventing the murder of Laura Palmer and subsequent emotional and social damage to the small Washington town of Twin Peaks in the first place. However, this is not possible. If Laura Palmer was never murdered, then there would not be any Twin Peaks for viewer to invest in the first place. The pain of the past dictates the consequences of the future.

Nonetheless, Lynch and Frost offer viewers this exact prospect. Somehow, Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) goes back in time and leads Laura away from her eventual murder. Laura’s dead body ‘disappears’ from where it was found on a shoreline next to a massive downed tree in the opening scenes of the original series (see the header image at the top). The results simmer throughout the final episode until the disturbing climax when a (perhaps changed) Cooper finds ‘Laura’ (who says her name is Carrie Page) in Odessa, Texas and tries to lead her home to her mother Sarah in Twin Peaks, Washington. The closing moments are characterized by confusion on the part of Agent Cooper and that last blood-curdling scream of Sheryl Lee as ‘Laura’ hears the echoes of her (now-remembered?) troubled past. To be sure, it is a bleak ending. This is reinforced by a replay of the scene of Laura in the Black Lodge whispering something horrifying to Agent Cooper, except this time Lynch allows the camera to linger on the disturbed expressions on MacLachlan’s face using super slow motion. Cooper cannot change the past any more than we can change our own pasts. Nonetheless, this is a tantalizing feature of several narratives in fiction (Peggy Sue Got Married, Back to the Future, Doctor Who, and so forth). Too many to recount here.

Interestingly, the name of Odessa is the feminine form of ‘odyssey,’ which suggests a key aspect of the story of Twin Peaks is the journey of its female characters. Mainly, I would argue this means Laura Palmer, Donna Hayward, and Audrey Horne. Shelly as a character, played with panache by the beautiful Madchen Amick, always seemed more about the soap opera aspects of David Lynch’s original concept for Twin Peaks than a key to its main story.

Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne during the first season of Twin Peaks.

Many viewers seemed especially upset about the brief appearance and utter lack of resolution to the nonetheless emotionally draining story if only for its obtuse nature involving Audrey played by the wonderful and IMO still beautiful Sherilyn Fenn. Is Audrey in a coma? Is she in an insane asylum? Is she the ‘dreamer’ to which Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch) refers? The last seems unlikely, except perhaps in a very narrow sense related to her own story in Twin Peaks: The Return. The lack of a resolution is the point. Much of the story about Generation X is similarly unresolved though our past will dictate the consequences of our future.

I would argue there is a ‘holy trinity’ of Generation X females at the heart of Twin Peaks, each representing different aspects of my often-forgotten generation. The mainstream media is almost always all about the big demographic waves represented by the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. There is the wasted potential of Laura Palmer: the bright, eager-to-help, beautiful prom queen, who was a victim of incest and murdered by a salacious Baby Boomer father unable to control himself or the evil spirit BOB.

Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Hayward in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks.

There was Donna Hayward (famously played during the original Twin Peaks series by Lara Flynn Boyle). Much like the ‘lost’ nature of Generation X, Donna is missing from Twin Peaks: The Return. She represents our ‘lost generation’ by her absence. Then, there is Audrey Horne, who’s story is unresolved, still waiting to be written in history.

All of this is wrapped within the distinct but skewed perspective of a Baby Boomer filmmaker (David Lynch), who symbolically replicates much of the generational shame previously seen in Episode Eight, “Gotta Light?” The young-end-of-the-range-for-a-Baby Boomer Agent Cooper fails to fix the past. The disturbing abortion imagery reappears during the scene at the beginning of episode 17 when the evil spirit BOB emerges from the doppelgänger body of Mr. C to, in effect, become an evil fetus attacking the real Agent Cooper and our nondescript Millennial hero Freddie, who finally rids us of the evil once and for all. Baby Boomers just can’t get past their guilt about their unwanted ‘latchkey’ kids and excessive-to-extreme abortion culture. In any case, Freddie’s destruction of BOB symbolically points to Baby Boomers coming to believe what Generation X had always believe and intended for their children; namely, to save the world from the excesses of the ‘Me’ Generation represented by their grandparents.

I thought it was the most appropriate, even a perfect ending for Twin Peaks. The Baby Boomers cannot ever fix their past mistakes. They have to live with the shame of their many mistakes. The story of the much-abused, much-depleted Generation X is still being written, and the Millennials carry our collective hopes into the future. Let’s hope we haven’t managed to screw them up too much. They need to save the world. Get on with it.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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Planning Naked | March 2017

Planning Naked | March 2017
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Your (hopefully hilarious… but not so much this month) guide to most everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

NOTE: The United States of America inaugurated Donald J. Trump as its 45th President on January 20, 2017, and, in response, Planning Magazine turns the crazy up to eleven.

Making Joseph Goebbels Proud. “Placemaking as Storytelling” by James M. Drinan, JD (From the Desk of APA’s Chief Executive Officer, pp. 3) contains some disturbing language. Drinan points out, “Research shows that coupling stories with data produces a significant increase in the retention rate of that data.” Basically, he is correct. However, it is important to clarify Drinan is not precise. FYI: Never expect precision from a lawyer because you will always be disappointed. It is more accurate to say that using data to better tell a story about an objective truth is an excellent means of increasing retention about both that story, the data, and the truth. It reinforces the objectiveness of both observer and the observed. Using data loosely to reinforce a lie is propaganda. This is a nuanced but important distinction. This is because Drinan goes on to state, “it is crucial to control (our emphasis) the narrative-the story.” This is a defensible position for a propagandist but not a scientist. Drinan (perhaps unintentionally) reveals he is discussing politics and propaganda, not scientific truth when you consider what he manifestly fails to say in a subsequent sentence. The key is the citation of planners as storytellers, authors, illustrators, and editors. What is missing? The answer is scientists. This ‘frontpage editorial’ is one of the most disturbing things I have read in Planning Magazine in years because it advocates for the very thing it pretends to be against. This is the insidious nature of the status quo reasserting itself against change. Forewarned is forearmed. NOTE: Having now read this, I am angry with myself for leaving this March 2017 issue of Planning Magazine sitting unread on my desk for two months. The previous months’ issues lulled me into a false sense of security. My mistake…

OMG! And I am only on page eight. “Federal Tax Credit Uncertainty Puts Affordable Housing at Risk” (News Section, pp. 8-9) by Dean Mosiman – a Madison city government reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. RED FLAG, RED FLAG: Scott Walker is evil incarnate – contains some really bad reporting as Planning Magazine embarks on Drinan’s explicit promise to attempt to ‘control’ the story. First, it assumes a reality that is non-existent. “For 30 years, federal affordable housing tax credits have been the nation’s most potent tool to create housing for the homeless and low-income households.” Really? Have you been to Los Angeles lately? This bastion city in a bastion state of the Democratic Party has one of the worst, most despicable, and most shameful homeless problems I have ever seen in the Western world over the last three decades. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about what I saw and smelled in L.A. Everyday, there is another article in the mass media about an overwhelming lack of affordable housing in cities around the world including the USA. The tax credit is not a potent tool but a failed one. According to the article, the tax credit “had a major impact on the nation’s housing stock, helping create 2.8 million affordable units nationwide.” The use of ‘major’ here is shameless hyperbole and the ‘helping create’ means there might be an indirect benefit but not direct causation. Of course, these 2.8 million units were most likely woefully insufficient to replace the smaller (in square footage), more affordable historic housing stock demolished by public and private agencies during the same period. This news article is about one thing: fear that the pigs might not be able to eat at the government trough in the near future. Then, at the end of the article, the author implicitly concedes this is fear-mongering by stating the tax credit “is likely to survive.” Nothing to see here, folks, move on home! This is ‘fake news.’

People Matter. Planning Magazine ‘buries the lead’ with the “Miami Street Experiment Prioritizes People” by Susan Nesmith (News Section, pp. 9-10) by discombobulating the story across two pages, which is bad editing and bad graphic design. It makes you wonder what APA has against putting “people over cars” and “slowing traffic (with) no big gridlock.” The experiment is over but the “fancy crosswalks” remain: really, fancy crosswalks? Fancy? It is a good thing I have plenty of hair to pull out. This experiment and the subsequent attempts for a more humanistic redesign of this Miami boulevard is something that Planning Magazine needs to herald and promote, not deride as some quaint idea. Is this a failure of Ms. Nesmith’s writing or the editors of Planning Magazine? Perhaps both. I am not sure.

In ‘Do No Harm’ News. “Remaking Vacant Lots to Cut Crime” by Martha T. Moore (News Section, pp. 10) is an interesting story about a low-cost, temporary solution for vacant properties in urban conditions; as long as people and agencies understand it is not a long-term solution. All in all, however, I like the concept.

Beware of Florida Lawyers Bearing Gifts. This months’ Legal Lessons section (“Staff Reports: A Lawyer’s Take by Mark P. Barnebey, pp. 11) is one of those standard-type of articles Planning Magazine re-runs every 3-5 years due to new, young professionals entering the workforce. I remember reading the last two iterations of this article about staff reports (respond the young people, “He must be really old”). Barnebey’s article is fine for this purpose though he undersells just how influential of a role the staff report can play in quasi-judicial decisions by elected officials, if carefully constructed.

Strike that. Reverse It. Welcome, Florida Lawyers Bearing Gifts. However, having said that, the more advanced state of staff reports in Florida – due to their quasi-judicial nature associated with the 1985 Growth Management Act and subsequently, Mr. Barnebey’s greater experience with the best of such staff reports – starkly contrasts with the next article, “The Better STAFF REPORT” by Bonnie J. Johnson (pp. 20-24). Allow me to state more simply the point that I believe Dr. Johnson is attempting to convey: the best staff reports combine: 1) well-written content with 2) well-designed visuals and 3) promptly get to the point. Like most planners, Dr. Johnson’s article manages to fail on all these counts. Johnson does not even seem to know her audience for this article (i.e. there are lots of different types of planners and staff reports) so she makes the mistake of trying to address ALL possible audiences. The result is inadequate for everyone. The graphic design of this article makes the content even more confusing. I mean it is really, really bad but hardly surprising. In my experience, most planners are woefully under-trained in the art of graphic design. I do not know if this is the fault of Dr. Johnson or Planning Magazine but, seriously, reading this article gave me a fucking headache.

Meanwhile. “Here comes the Sun” by Charles W. Thurston (pp. 25-29) is the type of article you get from professional organizations nearly four decades after a nation abandons nuclear power.

The Blood Boils Over. But what really gets the blood boiling is Planning Magazine: 1) makes the preceding article the subject of this month’s cover (see above) instead of this article ‘buried’ at the end of the feature articles, “Life and Death Every Quarter Hour” by Jeffrey Brubaker (pp. 30-33); and, 2) seems blissfully unaware of the contrasting traffic fatalities data in this article (35,092 death in 2015) compared to the article about wildlife crossings, i.e. 200 fatalities associated with collisions with wildlife. That is right. This month’s Planning Magazine dedicates twice as many pages to an issue involving 6/1000th the number of traffic deaths. Worst still, the subtitle of this article claims “mixed results” for what is a complete failure. Finally, at the end, Planning Magazine adds a “The opinions expressed in the article are his own” (meaning Mr. Brubaker) disclaimer. God forbid that anyone might think APA and Planning Magazine are anti-automobile. And the thing is, Mr. Brubaker’s article is mild. It does not go nearly far enough in pointing the profession’s hypocrisy on this issue. Here is the gist: in 60 years, nothing has changed. There is still a death caused by vehicular traffic every quarter hour in the United States.

That is it. I cannot take any more of this month’s issue. I may have to stop reading Planning Magazine in the best interests of my health because you would not believe the migraine headache I have right now. Shame on you, Planning Magazine. The best article this month was written by a Florida attorney.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Top 10 ‘Must See’ Documentary Films for Architects and Planners

Top 10 ‘Must See’ Documentary Films for Architects and Planners
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Recently, The Outlaw Urbanist published the article “Top 10 ‘Must See’ Films for Architects and Planners” with reference to the influence of the built environment on film-grammars in support of cinematic narratives. However, there are other films (especially documentaries) worth seeing with a direct or indirect bearing on the built environment today. This is the purpose of today’s list of ‘must see’ documentary films for architects and planners. There are a lot of documentary films dedicated to specific architects. Most are vanity projects built on the ego of said architect, which lack much universal application for buildings or cities. You will not find such films on this list. The purpose of this list is value. What is informative and worth your time?

HONORABLE MENTION WITH WARNING LABEL
Inside Job (2010)
If you are well-informed, then there are interesting nuggets of information buried in the 2010 documentary Inside Job directed by Charles Ferguson with narration by Matt Damon (one of my favorite actors) about the housing crash and 2008 Financial Crisis. However, if you are uninformed or only casually acquainted with the facts (see below), then Inside Job is dangerous apologia propaganda for the left’s complicity in the cataclysmic events costing millions of people their jobs and homes. No one should be allowed to watch this film without first reading The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. Damon, his wife, and four daughters lived in an 8,890 square foot home (1,778 SF per person) in southern California at the time of filming. Yeah, sorry Matt, that’s being part of the problem, not the solution.

MUST SEE
10. The Dynamic American City (1956)
This 25-minute 1956 educational film created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is worth viewing for contradictory reasons: 1) it gets everything wrong about vibrant urbanism; and, 2) it is a propaganda masterpiece on par with Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will in using associative and dis-associative imagery and narration to hammer home its central message of ‘building up and out’ (it is right there in the Intro graphic) for making fast money in real estate built on the twin premises of slum clearing and suburbanization. If Joseph Goebbels had been an American developer, he would have been proud. For anyone with an ounce of common sense, it is like watching a car crash in real time: horrifying but you can’t take your eyes off it. Do you want to live in old stables or “on the frontier”? Even today, some Americans refuse to let go of the Big Lie in this film. You can watch it on YouTube here.

8/9. Too Big to Fail (2011)/The Big Short (2015)
These aren’t documentaries but dramatized accounts about the housing crash and 2008 Financial Crisis. Nonetheless, they are well done, littered with nuanced performances, and even-handed in providing public and private sector perspectives about events. They successfully manage the herculean task of being both entertaining and informative. Too Fail to Fail (2011) centers around Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s (William Hurt in an outstanding performance) actions to advert another Great Depression. The Big Short (2015) centers around a few people (all strong performances from Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell) in the financial sector who saw the approaching cliff, bet against the housing market and banks, and won big though not without a great deal of stress while encountering record levels of stupidity along the way. The latter is based on Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, which we also thoroughly recommend.

7. Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments, and Modernism (2016)
Part of Jonathan Meades’ (above) series of BBC Four documentaries (Jerry Building and Joe Building aka Nazi and Stalinist architecture, respectively) about architecture and planning under totalitarian regimes of the early 20th century, Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments, and Modernism (2016) is the best in terms of quality and quantity of material. Simply put, Italian architects under Mussolini were doing much more interesting things in terms of design, which leads Meades to more even-handed commentary about his subject. The other two documentaries are worth seeing. The first suffers from a lack of existing/built examples (and typical British vitriol about all things German; Nazi or otherwise) and the second (Soviet) from an excess of questionable architectural taste. You can watch Ben Building on YouTube here before the BBC files a copyright infringement claim.

6. The Human Face of Big Data (2014)
This is a wide-ranging PBS documentary about the applications and implications of Big Data in the 21st century. As such, The Human Face of Big Data (2014) concentrates about half of its 56-minute running time on issues pertinent to cities, e.g. mapping social-economic data, Smart Cities, consumer tailoring, etc. Some of the researchers are missing – or fail to comment on – the obvious. For example, the documentary briefly shows data mapping of repeat offenders in Brooklyn NY, which is clearly mid-20th-century public housing to anyone familiar with Modernist building footprints. While it does not offer any definitive answers to the deeper questions raised by Big Data, it is still a useful exercise in asking questions about what it all might mean for you and our cities in the future. Watch the trailer below.

5. Super Skyscrapers: Building the Future (2014)
This is one episode in the 4-part series of PBS’ Super Skyscrapers (2014). The other episodes are interesting (mostly for their overkill in terms of design and engineering). However, this episode about the Leadenhall Building in the City of London designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners is a brilliant explanation about the way cutting-edge computer modeling and manufacturing processes are dramatically changing the construction industry in the 21st century. Due to the constrained site, every piece of this building was manufactured offsite and then transported in a precise order for assembly on-site, i.e. no concrete pour. The hydraulic shifting of the building by a few degrees into a vertical position is an especially jaw-dropping sequence. Watch this episode on YouTube before PBS files a copyright infringement claim here.

4. The Human Scale (2012)
This 2012 documentary is nominally about thinkers, architects, and urban planners discussing ways to increase human interaction in cities but, in particular, The Human Scale (2012) is about Danish architect Jan Gehl’s teaching and research about urbanism over the last four decades. In this, it veers a little too closely sometimes to the ‘myth of the architectural genius’ folie associated with most architectural documentary films. Ignore the hero worship and listen to what is being said about people and cities. There are plenty of common sense ideas and solutions contained in The Human Scale, which makes it must-see viewing for architects and planners.

3. Poynton Regenerated (2013)
This short 15-minute film features urban designer and movement specialist Ben Hamilton-Baillie explaining the existing, seemingly intractable traffic, pedestrian, and land use problems in the village center of Poynton, England. Then, he outlines a new, radical plan for a Shared Space design concept in the village center. Plan implementation and construction is a great success, though not without a lot of skepticism along the way. The film is good at explaining the basic premise of Shared Space, which is if you design for people being stupid, then they will tend to act stupid but if you design for people being smart, they will tend to be smart in self-regulating urban systems. A good measure of this film’s success is the way-out-of-proportion fear it has provoked in reaction. You can watch Poynton Regenerated on YouTube here.

2. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011)
There were several issues (racism, regulatory failures, design and planning flaws, demographics, suburbanization, and so on and so on and so on) involved in the demise of the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex in St. Louis, Missouri, which led to its famous televised demolition in 1972. This 2011 documentary does a good job covering many of them. The testimony of former residents is enlightening, especially if you listen with a keen ear about their experiences in spatial terms to better understand how architectural design/planning played a role in the social malaise at Pruitt-Igoe. You do need to be careful about the testimony of former residents who were children at the time (in the section titled “Control”). It is clear they were not privy to their parents’ decisions at the time about securing government assistance though it does ably demonstrate how it appeared from the child’s point of view. This 1 1/2 hour documentary is definitely worth the time and demands your attention. You can watch The Pruitt-Igoe Myth on YouTube here.

1. The Social Life of Public Spaces (1980)
This 1980 documentary film written, directed, and starring William H. Whyte (based on his 1972 book of the same name) is still the most important documentary about architecture, urban design, and planning today. Like Jane Jacobs before him, Whyte does something that many people still oddly consider beneath them to better understand how people really use public space. He goes out and watches them. Radical, huh? Does Whyte get everything right? No, but he does get much right, which is more than most architects and planners can claim. You can watch The Social Life of Public Spaces on Vimeo here.

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Top 10 ‘Must See’ Films for Architects and Planners

Top 10 ‘Must See’ Films for Architects and Planners
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The Outlaw Urbanist recently made available the six-hour Architecture and Film ($39.99) course series on its professional development and continuing education learning platform. The series is composed three 2-hour courses, which are also available as individual components: Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings? ($14.99); The Architectural Competence in Cinema ($14.99); and, The Best of Both Worlds ($14.99). The course series is a wide-ranging discussion about architecture’s impact on cinema in the mise en scène (e.g. everything in the frame) of film-grammars, involving general rules for the depiction of built environments in support of cinematic narratives. The course series reviewed dozens of examples in film and television. The question naturally arises about what might be the most definitive examples of architecture’s impact on cinema. What is the essential ‘must-see’ list of films for architects and planners to see?

Without further ado, here is the Top 10 ‘Must-See’ Films for Architects and Planners…

Honorable Mention: Logan’s Run (1976)
Are you still confused about what a ‘smart city’ might really be? Four decades ago, the central premise of Logan’s Run was based on the premise of a smart city. The computers of the city control every significant aspect of the lives of its citizens including decisions of life and death… unless you become a runner. After Logan 5 and Jessica 6 escape the city, the film quickly loses pace. Ultimately, the story cannot bear the weight of its intriguing premise, which is why Logan’s Run barely missed the cut for this list. Logan and Jessica explore ‘outside’ for only a few days, then even they (much like the audience) can’t wait to get back to the city, if only on some ill-defined mission to undercut the society living there.

10. Inception (2010)
The most effective film to date to make use of Computer-generated imagery (CGI) manipulation of the built environment in order to convey a distortion of reality to the audience. In this case, it is the dream-within-dream premise of Christopher Nolan’s narrative. Marvel’s 2016 Doctor Strange deploys the same digital tricks, only more so. As cool as these visual effects are, the most effective consequence has been more realistic cinematic depictions of built environments generating their own gravity in ‘hard’ science fiction films with settings in space such as Interstellar, Elysium, Star Trek Beyond, and so on.

9. The Truman Show (1998)
One of the most comprehensive examples of filmmakers transforming a real place (New Urbanist resort town of Seaside, Florida) into the fictional setting of Seahaven, Florida, which is really a set in Hollywood, California for a reality television series watched by millions around the world. The payoff for the narrative and premise comes at the climax when Truman (played by Jim Carrey) sails to the outer wall of the set to escape his manufactured reality (see above). Pleasantville (1998) in the same year is also worth a look, if only for the joke about the common paradoxes associated with urban geography in cinema. Hollywood films that are basically about Hollywood itself always border on the edge of self-indulgence. Both The Truman Show and Pleasantville avoid this trap, for the most part.

8. Harry Potter (2001-2011)
The Harry Potter films had to walk a very fine line between real and fantastical settings. It is a testament to the genius of J.K. Rowling’s source novels and the creative talents of the filmmakers that the Harry Potter film series successfully navigates this line. The use of film-grammars involving cinematic built environments and spatial concepts play a large but subtle role in achieving this objective. Harry Potter offers a good example of historical juxtaposition and a very specific use for the abnormal scale film-grammar in architectural elements to support  the Harry Potter narrative.

7. “Q Who”, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989)
There is a great advantage for extended narratives on television, especially for a franchise like Star Trek. There is more time for filmmakers to play with, even subvert well-established film-grammars when it comes to depictions of the built environment in service to the narrative. The problem is selectively choosing only one or two examples of these ‘world-building’ efforts, which are sometimes expansively and exhaustively developed over years, even decades in the case of Star Trek. The 1989 episode “Q Who” on Star Trek: The Next Generation is a good, stand-alone introduction to the larger Star Trek universe. Using the film-grammar of abnormal scale to convey narrative threat has never been done better before or since on Star Trek.

6. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Depictions of the built environment (primarily, historical juxtaposition) for the world-building of these films plays a crucial role in visually conveying important narrative information to the audience. There is a very tight, thematic structure associated with the built environment and nature in The Lord of the Rings, which is effective for supporting the protagonist and antagonist requirements of the narrative. The origins of this thematic structure can been traced right back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s source novels.

5. The Matrix (1999)
The definitive film about the potential allure and negative consequences of life inside a simulated environment. At its core, The Matrix is a sophisticated science fiction escape narrative. Its depictions of built environments are rudimentary for the most part, relying on real locations in Sydney, Australia though the filmmakers manage to make it look like a hyper-real amalgamation of Los Angeles and New York. The cinematic narrative soars when it comes to the visual effects associated with manipulating the simulated reality of the Matrix.

4. Star Wars: Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
When it comes to mise en scène in support of cinematic narratives, The Empire Strikes Back directed by Irvin Kershner might be the most perfect film ever made. Almost every scene conveys a rich amount of information to the audience through the use of background, middle ground and foreground in the frame. In fact, you might be able to watch The Empire Strikes Back absent its dialogue track – leaving John Williams’ crucial musical score in place – and still understand almost every nuance of story and characterization in the film. It is brilliant, plain and simple.

3. Game of Thrones (2011 – present)
The extended narrative of this HBO series (only 10 episode per season so 60 episodes through six seasons though some run times extend beyond the standard one-hour format) is a master class for using the rules of film-grammars in world-building production design to support cinematic narratives. Mainly, this occurs with on-location filming and CGI enhancement of built environments to create the fantastical settings of Westeros and Essos. The filmmakers go far beyond George R.R. Martin’s source novels, which often rely on literary conventions (i.e. allowing readers’ imaginations to fill in the descriptive gaps). We can only hope the climax of the final two seasons of Game of Thrones deliver a satisfactory conclusion to the creative brilliance of the series to date.

It is always difficult to avoid ‘the usual suspects’ at the top of this list…

2. Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott was at the height of his creative powers as a filmmaker during the period coinciding with the release of Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Apple “1984” television commercial. Blade Runner represents the ‘oxygen-depriving’ summit. Long before the CGI age, Blade Runner relied on ‘old school’ techniques of on-site location filming, constructed sets, physical modeling, lighting and set dressing to create the futuristic setting of Los Angeles in 2019. Architecture plays a starring role in the film right along with Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer. The narrative is tight and thought-provoking. The production design is outstanding. Scott’s use of mise en scène and ‘tried and trusted’ film-grammars to visually convey narrative information to the audience transforms the film into a deeply rich experience on several levels. Despite its reputation in architectural schools,  Blade Runner does not actually break the cinematic mold. It merely elevates it to unforeseen heights of artistic expression.

1. Metropolis (1927)
If Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is the ‘Revelation’ for mise en scène and film-grammar depictions of the built environment, then Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film classic Metropolis is the ‘Genesis’, especially for the science fiction genre. The (often-repeated) film-grammar of abnormal scale for conveying the antagonistic threat of the narrative began here (see above). In fact, a lot of the cinematic conventions most familiar to audiences (if only on a subconscious level) have their origins in Lang’s German Expressionist film. Blade Runner may have elevated the cinematic mold to unforeseen heights but Metropolis invented that mold.

Purchase the Architecture and Film course series here ($39.99)
Purchase Part 1, “Do Architects Dream of Celluloid Buildings?”, here ($14.99)
Purchase Part 2, “The Architectural Competence in Cinema”, here ($14.99)
Purchase Part 3, “The Best of Both Worlds”, here ($14.99)

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RE-POST | 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)

RE-POST | 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
(Originally posted January 28, 2013)

Here is Part 2 of the “20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)” article, originally posted on January 28, 2013. Read Top 20 ‘Must-Read’ Texts for Urban Planners (#11-20) here!

Plenty of Holiday gift ideas here!

10. “The Origin and Spread of the Grid-Pattern Town” (1946) by Dan Stanislawski
An old text, perhaps obscure to many and only familiar to a few, “The Origin and Spread of the Grid-Pattern Town” is one of the earliest and most thorough reviews of the evolution of regular grid town planning in the world. Yes, Stanislawski subscribes the spread of regular grid town planning to a process of historical diffusion, which Spiro Kostoff (see below) correctly points out nobody believes in any more. Despite this flaw, Stanislawski’s review is surprisingly comprehensive, for the most part. Stanislawski does seem to gloss over medieval town planning, see Maurice Beresford’s 1967 New Towns of the Middle Ages: Town Plantation in England, Wales and Gascony. However, some later writers ignore all together clear examples of regular grid planning in certain regions of the world (the Orient, for example). Stanislawski’s article is still a valuable resource today for any reader interested in the regular grid as long as they are careful about filtering out some of his misplaced – discredited today – ideas (for example, historical diffusion or the importance of Hippodamus). Available for download here with registration.

9. “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource” (1993) by Stanford Anderson
John Reps in his historical narrative of American town planning (see below) is enchanted with the historical ward plan of Savannah, as are many architects, urban designers, and planners. Reps is equally mystified (and a little despondent) about why the Savannah plan was not more influential in the history of American town planning. In “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource,” Anderson offers a succinct and brilliant analysis about how the ward plan of Savannah operated in terms of street alignments and building constitution working together to structure the outside-to-inside ‘assimilation’ of strangers into the town (principally in relation to the port). In generic terms, Savannah appears to be quite typical of a lot of waterfront settlements in American planning. However, its detailed specifications for squares and constitution is rigid, making it an inflexible model for early American town development (for example, compared to the flexibility of the Spanish Laws of the Indies model). Anderson’s article should be on the standard reading list for any academic program in planning. The article is available on Google Books here. It appears in the book Settlements in the Americas: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, which is available for purchase on Amazon here.

8. The Practice of Local Government Planning (2000)
It is one thing to complain about how planning works in the United States. However, it is hypocritical to complain without really understanding how planning works in the United States. The Practice of Local Government Planning offers a clear solution. For years, the various incarnations of the “green book” have been the go-to source for American planners to immerse themselves in the full scope of their profession in the United States. This Municipal Management Series book is the first one any planner will open when seeking to pass the AICP exam. It is comprehensive and detailed. Warning: it is a very, very dry read. It is also extremely careful to remain neutral when presenting a picture about the way things work, i.e. this is what it is, not this is the right way to do it. In this sense, it is value-free and empty at its core. Nonetheless, it remains an invaluable resource for any planner, or anyone wanting to understand planners. Available to purchase on Amazon here.

7. The City Assembled: The Elements of Urban Form Through History (1992) by Spiro Kostoff

6. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History (1991) by Spiro Kostoff

5. Cities of the American West: A History of Frontier Urban Planning (1979) by John W. Reps

4. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States (1965) by John W. Reps
Kostoff’s The City Shaped/The City Assembled are crucial books about the history of town planning in the world for any urban planner to have on their bookshelves. Reps’ The Making of Urban America/Cities of the American West about the history of town planning in the United States are crucial books for any urban planner to also have on their bookshelves. If an urban planner does not have these books on their bookshelves, it is reasonable to question the quality of said planner. There are other good historical narratives out there on the subject (Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s The Matrix of Man or Eisner and Gallion’s The Urban Pattern, for example). However, Kostoff and Reps’ books are the most comprehensive and thorough for their particular subjects. All four books incorporate hundreds of plans/plats and photographs to tell the story of town planning in the United States and world at large. They also offer detailed historical information (especially Reps) about the people and events involved in building our cities. Sometimes they are insightful and sometimes they are mistaken. For example, despite his protestations about the dichotomy so prevalent in town planning, Kostoff remains firmly entrapped in that dichotomy, i.e. ‘organic’ and ‘regular’ cities. Reps correctly points out the historical importance of William Penn’s plan of Philadelphia but misstates the reasons, assigning to Philadelphia what should have more appropriately been given to the Nine Square Plan of New Haven and the Spanish Law of the Indies, which Kostoff correctly emphasizes (though we are discussing subtle but important degrees of difference instead of a chasm in thought between both writers). When he ventures away from historical narrative and facts into the realm of opinion, Reps is often prone to undervalue the functional power of regular grid. However, these are endlessly useful texts for anyone interested in cities. The collection of plans and other historical documents (e.g. bird’s eye views) are a wonderful resource for any planner to have readily at hand. Kostof books available for purchase from Amazon here and here. Reps books available for purchase from Amazon here and here.

3. Space is the Machine: A Configurational Theory of Architecture (1996) by Bill Hillier
A purist could argue that anyone interested in space syntax should start with The Social Logic of Space (1984) by Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. The Social Logic of Space is an important book where Hillier and Hanson spell out a lot of groundwork for the theoretical and mathematical foundations of space syntax. However, they do so to a level of detail that some readers might find off-putting. Even Hillier and Hanson admit one of its chapters is practically unreadable because it is so dry with mathematical set theory. If you want to learn about the space syntax approach and some of its early, important findings without getting bogged down in the detail, then you are better served by starting with Hillier’s Space is the Machine. Besides, Hillier is always careful about repeating the ‘big picture’ items that arose from The Social Logic of Space (beady ring settlements, restricted random process, and so on), so you won’t miss too much. For planners, the most important chapters in Space is the Machine are about cities as movement economies, whether architecture can cause social malaise, and the fundamental city. There are plenty of goodies for architects as well. Space is the Machine is a must-read for anyone serious about a scientific approach to the built environment. (NOTE: Original illustrations by yours truly). Available for paperback purchase on Amazon here. You can download the full book as a PDF here.

2. The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment (1925) by Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess
One of the planning profession’s biggest problems is the Chicago School (the sociologists Park and Burgess and their colleague, Homer Hoyt, see sector model of city growth, who together were the founders of human ecology) got so much right from the very beginning that there wasn’t anywhere for planning to go from there but downhill. Of course, planning theory proceeded to accomplish this downhill spiral with great vigor and spectacularly bad results (see the second half of the 20th century). With the advent of the computer processor, Park and Burgess’ approach may appear somewhat quaint to modern eyes. However, the essentials about cities are there. More importantly, Park and Burgess never divorce the socio-economic nature of the city from its physical form. They view them as intimately bound together. An important book and somewhat underrated in today’s world by planners, though it’s difficult to understand why or how that should be the case. Available to purchase on Amazon here.

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) by Jane Jacobs
Big surprise, huh? These days it seems like anyone interested in cities is obsessed with Jane Jacobs, either in implementing and promoting her ideas or feverishly going to ridiculous lengths trying to refute them (one might call it Jacobs Derangement Syndrome). Indeed, this obsession in itself is a testament to the power of her book. Ironically, for its time, the most novel thing Jacobs did was she dared to look out her window and observe how things were really working out there on the street. It is a sad statement on the planning profession that this was somehow viewed as a sacrilege when the book was first published and, to a certain extent, this perception endures today. I mean, how dare she actually suggest we evaluate (and, by implication, take responsibility for) the social and economic consequences of our planning decisions. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is the essential book for any planner. Available to purchase on Amazon here.

There you go!

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