Dream State: California in the Movies

Heyday. May 2021. 224p. ISBN 9781597145312. $28. FILM
With this eloquent look at Hollywood’s cinematic illusion of California as the place where dreams come true, LaSalle (film critic, San Francisco Chronicle) writes in a tone that can only be described as idealistically cynical. He begins with a devastatingly funny dissection of The Wizard of Oz (1939) as perhaps the ultimate Hollywood product, where the California illusion of tranquility, success, and satisfaction is mirrored in the Technicolor splendor of Oz. The book is a love letter to a kind of California utopia, but LaSalle also covers its dark side, where the loss or price of fame is often suicide, as in What Price Hollywood?? (1932), which spawned A Star Is Born (1937). He explores Hollywood’s history of misrepresenting Asian Americans in the early days of film, especially around World War II, and analyzes L.A.-based film noir, laced with cautionary tales that sex—or the desire for it—will lead to death. Yet his underlying presumption— that a California dream will always be better than, say, a Michigan dream—begets a sense of coastal elitism, which occasionally diffuses his overall argument about the film industry.
VERDICT A thoroughly entertaining and perceptive conversation with someone who truly loves the movies and California.
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