Visualising Cities: Part 1

Cities are portrayed in films and television programs in differing ways, with the more acute filmmakers, casting the city as another character in the film – in some cases giving the city a narrative or human characteristics (Frank Miller’s Sin City immediately springs to mind). This, while making good story lines is for me, erroneous, as the city is too complex, too multiplicitous to be reduced to the functional and linear systematic mechanics of a human body (Doel and Hubbard, 2002; Smith, 2003a, b).

Is the image of a city (or of cities) more appropriate for characterising the fluidity and mutlifarious form, and in visualising them? We can use the unrepresented ether of memory, personality and emotion to attempt to ‘capture’ what a city is; or at least, what that particular city image invokes. Considering the city in film would take up a library of papers, book, thesis and film reels, and there are many more qualified personnel to do that than I. But, if we consider the city in a moving image, then we can begin to visualise the multiplicitous movement that befits a poststructural theorisation of them. That is, if the moving image is good enough.

For example, let’s take 24. A brilliant show I’ll admit. However, looking at the way Jack Bauer and company move around Los Angeles is in many cases laughable, with people being able to traverse the cavernous freeways, strangulating traffic, impossibly complicated pubic transport system with consummate ease. The real-time aspect of the show gives the production crew a credible way in which to explore the constrictive, striated movement through a city (as is the case with Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks), yet Los Angeles remains more akin to the Salt Plains with ubiquitous smooth movement across what is inherently a complex and sprawling city-region. Now, of course, this is not the point of 24 and I am being unfair to it, however, I only want to use it as an example of how a moving image (in this case a TV series) can help us (by displaying how it hinders us) to understand and get to grips with the multiplicity.

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