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Hollywood Cinema and the Real Los Angeles

Hollywood cinema and Los Angeles cannot be understood apart. Hollywood Cinema and the Real Los Angeles traces the interaction of the real city, its movie business, and filmed image, focusing on the crucial period from the construction of the first studios in the 1910s to the decline of the studio system fifty years later.

As Los Angeles gradually became one of the ten largest cities in the world, the film industry made key contributions to its rapid growth and frequent crises in economic, social, political and cultural life. Whether filmmakers engaged with the real city on location or recreated it on a studio set, Los Angeles shaped the films that were made there and circulated influentially worldwide. The book pays particular attention to early cinema, slapstick comedy, movies about the movies and film noir, which are each explored in new ways, with an emphasis on urban and architectural space and its representation, as well as filmmaking style and technique. Including many previously unpublished photographs and new historical evidence, Hollywood Cinema and the Real Los Angeles gives us a never-before-seen view of the City of Angels.

336 pages | 80 halftones | 6 x 8 1/2 | © 2012

Film Studies

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“Mark Shiel’s brilliant book provides a sweeping vision of the ways in which the film industry provided viewers a means of conceiving of the urban built environment, and particularly that of Los Angeles. But, what is even more innovative is the ways in which he integrates that discussion with a related consideration of how that industry actually rebuilt the city. This study is a landmark synthesis of film and cultural history.”

Stanley Corkin, author of Starring New York: Filming the Grime and Glamour of the Long 1970s

“The history of film and the history of Los Angeles have been richly explored in all stages and varieties of their development. Yet never before have they been so deftly analyzed as an integrated phenomenon. Mark Shiel’s excellent study is a significant contribution to urban and cinematic cultural history.”

Thomas Hines, author of Architecture of the Sun: Los Angeles Modernism, 1900-1970

“Los Angeles engages landscapes of a geographic, geologic, cultural, economic, and political kind. It is a place one finds on a map and on the big screen . . . a sprawling American place captured complexly and completely here in Mark Shiel’s suitably sprawling cultural history. Focusing on a century of interactions and disjunctures between the city and the cinema produced there, Shiel introduces something of a new urban ecology of the movies, one in which the landscape and built-environment resonate with enduring American dreams of space and place, of life, leisure and a setting (a location) on which to act it all out.”

Jon Lewis, author Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry and American Film

“The strength of Shiel’s study is its range and breadth: his knowledge of the films featuring Los Angeles is staggering. . . . As a work of inter-disciplinary scholarship, it is impressive, mastering not just film history, but also the sociological study of urban development, while integrating both within a broader conception of American history. It is ambitious, wide-ranging and intelligent, full of interesting facts and figures. . . . It will be indispensable to students of American film history and representations of Los Angeles.”

New Statesman

 “Throughout his study, Shiel displays a capacious understanding of his subject. . . . His sharp analysis, buttressed by illuminating frame enlargements, period photographs, statistical charts, graphs and other sources, reveals the vast extent to which city officials, local boosters, studio moguls, and the players themselves helped to create the potent and enduring mythology of ‘Hollywoodland.’”

Times Literary Supplement

 “Who can make sense of Los Angeles? The title of Mark Shiel’s new book points to the contradictions and tensions that give the region its unique character—the mythical Hollywood motion picture industry versus the actual, inhabited city. Shiel attempts to see both sides of the same coin in this welcome addition to the expanding body of work on cinema and urban spaces.” 

Film Comment

 “Beautifully researched, carefully theorized, and supplemented with plentiful illustrations and useful maps and charts, Shiel’s book is cultural history at its finest. Essential.”


“Shiel is to be commended for his impressive scholarship. He ranges widely in his choice of supporting materials, relying not merely upon close analysis of film stills but invoking as well contemporary photographs, maps, advertisements, brochures, and internal film industry memos. . . . The author’s prose is clear, direct, almost nostalgic for a Los Angeles that will never return and perhaps never was.”

Film & History

Table of Contents


1. The Trace
2. Navigation
3. The Simulacrum
4. Geopolitical Pressure Point

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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