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(Credit: Jake Blucker)

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The dreamlike wonder of the Los Angeles outskirts in 'Licorice Pizza'

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Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson has an affinity with the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, this is no doubt, with the director continually returning to this heavenly Hollywood hotspot time and time again for many of his projects. Having already navigated the rolling hills of Los Angeles, California, in the likes of Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, the director has returned to capture the landscape in all its 1970’s glory for Licorice Pizza, his most recent feature film.

Taking place in 1973, Anderson’s latest film is a passionate romance that follows 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim) who navigate the troubles of young life whilst flirting with the idea of a relationship. Drifting with the political and cultural changes of the time, the two characters live in intermittent opposition with each other whilst trying to better themselves in the confusing and tumultuous decade of the ‘70s. 

Dressing the city streets of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, Anderson transforms the modern neighbour of Hollywood into a ‘70s time capsule, lining the streets with contemporary cars whilst pasting building facades with appropriate advertisements. In the context of a young coming-of-age romance, the director manages to create an equally amorous atmosphere by eliciting the saturated colours of the ‘70s and injecting the film with a nostalgic sense of bohemian style. With clearly wistful memories of the LA hills, Anderson told Variety, “I like the way it [San Fernando Valley] looks. I like the way it tastes and smells. I don’t know beyond I love it”. 

On the very cusp of the LA limelight, the San Fernando Valley is a hotpot of potential, starring plucky ambitious wannabe’s, fantastical business prospects and eccentric characters mere miles away from stardom in front of the cameras. Travelling the streets of the city’s outskirts on foot or in the large waterbed truck that the two lead characters purchase in Licorice Pizza, the city is brought to life in all its vibrant colour and tantalising promise for cinematic wonder. 

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Epic in the most suburban sense of the world, the San Fernando Valley carries a dreamlike promise and spirited ambition with Anderson composing a magical charm no matter where he deposits the camera. With much of the filming taking place just short of the Hollywood hotspot, Anderson tiptoes around the backstreets and sights of Sherman Oaks, Encino and Van Nuys whilst adventuring to the fringes of the suburbs in Tarzana, Canoga Park and Chatsworth to capture the true breadth of the area’s identity. 

Whilst Hollywood, of course, remains the epicentre of industry promise, many filmmakers have flirted with the outer regions of the San Fernando Valley to access a more profound truth of Tinseltown, with the likes of 1995’s Clueless and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction both having their say on the area’s glitz. For Paul Thomas Anderson, the San Fernando Valley has “always been epic to me”, revealing his love for the area in an interview with The New York Times

Recalling that he would watch Lawrence of Arabia and consider the San Fernando equivalent to be Ventura Boulevard, the director lovingly remembers, “As a kid, I would take my camcorder and recreate shots from other films. You do with what you have, and my goal was to make the valley cinematic”. Indeed, Anderson captures the Hollywood outskirts with a child-like rapture and a genuine love, not only of place but of time, culture and communal identity.

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