Los Angeles, movies and voiceover. The city of stars, emblem of glamour, luxury and escapist cinema, has been described in numerous movie voiceovers. Usually, they seek to give the viewer an idea of where the story is going to take place. And many agree in pointing out the contrasts that exist between its clichéd idyllic image and the harsh reality hidden behind it.
Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable voiceovers about Los Angeles that the Seventh Art has given us.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Come to Los Angeles! The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. There are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside every house, a happy all-American family.
Danny de Vito’s voice, like that of an advertising announcer, introduces us to the city, while paradisiacal images are shown and an upbeat 50’s song sounds in the background, sung by Dean Martin. It is all exaggeratedly luxurious and beautiful, so much so that it feels forced and unnatural, as if we were watching a TV spot for a real estate development. Danny himself then tells us that this is the image of Los Angeles that is sold to the outside world. But underneath the riches there is evil: a network of organized crime in which the price of luxury is corruption as well as the lives of many people.
It is the typical and perfect terrain for a film noir story, and that is what L.A. Confidential offers: two policemen, one corrupt, the other upright, will be involved in an investigation that will lead them, despite their differences, to collaborate in the defeat of a common enemy.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. It’s about five o’clock in the morning. That’s the Homicide Squad, complete with detectives and newspapermen. A murder has been reported from one of those great big houses in the ten thousand block. You’ll read about it in the late editions, I’m sure. You’ll get it over your radio and see it on television because an old-time star is involved; one of the biggest. But before you hear it all distorted and blown out of proportion, before those Hollywood columnists get their hands on it, maybe you’d like to hear the facts, the whole truth.
Los Angeles and film noir seem made for each other. The voice-over of this film’s protagonist addresses us to narrate his story in flashback, and describes down to the tiniest detail one of those old mansions on Sunset Boulevard. The funny thing is that this guy who speaks to us is dead, and what he tells us is who killed him and why. Thus, over the course of two hours, we witness a harsh story of ambition, of the upheavals caused by passing fame and the sordid extremes to which an ordinary man can go to achieve happiness.
El gran Lebowski (1998)
Way out west there was this fella… fella I wanna tell ya about. Fella by the name of Jeff Lebowski. At least that was the handle his loving parents gave him, but he never had much use for it himself. Mr. Lebowski, he called himself “The Dude”. Now, “Dude” – that’s a name no one would self-apply where I come from. But then there was a lot about the Dude that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. And a lot about where he lived, likewise. But then again, maybe that’s why I found the place so darned interestin’. They call Los Angeles the “City Of Angels.” I didn’t find it to be that, exactly. But I’ll allow there are some nice folks there. ‘Course I can’t say I’ve seen London, and I ain’t never been to France. And I ain’t never seen no queen in her damned undies, so the feller says. But I’ll tell you what – after seeing Los Angeles, and this here story I’m about to unfold, well, I guess I seen somethin’ every bit as stupefyin’ as you’d see in any of them other places.
We move on to one of the great landmarks of 90’s independent cinema. The Coen brothers consolidated their fame with this quirky comedy in which the world is a chaos ruled by absurd coincidences and ridiculous passions. The exception is a character who escapes these vicissitudes because of his passive and abandoned character, which makes him a totally atypical hero. Played by Jeff Bridges, the Dude is already a legendary character in Film History. The voiceover that narrates his adventures is exemplary, because it uses counterpoint to achieve a wonderful comic effect: the humour arises precisely from the contrast between the seriousness and sobriety of the voice actor, and the crazy debauchery the images show.
And Los Angeles is where it all takes place. The narrator describes it as a city where strange and amazing things happen, things that don’t occur anywhere else. He doesn’t judge them, their goodness or badness are left to the viewer’s opinion; comedy in The Big Lebowski consists precisely in getting corruption to grotesque extremes without overtly declaring it, which is why the voiceover here maintains a cool distance.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007)
The midnight kiss. It’s not just another kiss. It’s all the hope of romance of the year culminating in just one moment. And that over-hyped kiss, in which there is so much calling, texting, I.M.-ing, planning, hurrying, drinking to make happen, is set at a moment when time itself takes center stage, when you can palpably feel the weight of the year to come, mix with the loneliness and missed opportunities of the years gone by.
Voiceover and independent and auteur cinema have always got along well. “The midnight kiss. It’s not just another kiss”, explains the voiceover while Paradise with You plays, a very elegant and touching song that accompanies in a very effective way the images that present us in black and white a Los Angeles city very much in the style of Woody Allen. Different scenarios that share two common elements; the naturalness they exude and the presence of lovers kissing, of course.
The sincerity with which the protagonist introduces us to the story gives us clues about the type of film we are going to find. We could classify it as romantic independent cinema. In Search of a Midnight Kiss is different, because of its tone, characters and dialogues.
Do you remember any other Los Angeles movie with a voiceover that talks about the city of stars? Please, share your comments with us.