Beacon Studios

Backlot of MGM Studios (Getty Images Copyright)

Beacon Studios diorama, the studio serves as the plower character symbol in Bruegel’s “Landscape With The Fall of Icarus” (circa 1560). It occupies the important forefront landscape in the painting. Perhaps a reference to the Bruegel painting via a billboard on the street saying it is now at the LA Museum. The billboard, however, has been defiled with graffiti.

The viewer sees a cut-off version of something else. Here, a backlot of a famous Hollywood studio in the 1950s. Based on the backlot of MGM only a half a mile from Jack Fraim Ford.

Here, the symbolism between the fantasy world of film and the real world is spiked up to a much higher degree than in the subtle and personal symbolism of the MGM Studio backlot across from Jack Fraim Ford in the 50s. Here, we see a part of the studio.

Somewhere in the section of the diorama devoted to Beacon Studios, we see a real beacon. Somewhere, we see a logo of the studio: the illustration of a beacon throwing light into the darkness. We see posters for the films of the studio on the wall around the studio.

The Fictional Beacon Studio

(Making Fantasy in the Midst of Reality)

They show the grand fantasy of the Hollywood films. Few related anything at all to the real world. Westerns. Family situation comedies shot on the streets of the studio’s backlot a little outside our view. And movies about aliens and space creatures and monsters (from black Lagoons) and things that come from outer space.

The studio is located in a bad section of Los Angeles at this time and it’s surrounding walls make it seem like some type of fortress in the middle of another world. As dragons and monsters are built in the studio’s backlot, as false front buildings are constructed for western towns, as actors and actresses get ready to shoot a scene in some scary monster film), the scariest monster is the really outside the fake world of the studio and in the real world of Los Angeles in the 50s. It might be close to that area in LA that Raymond Chandler started his famous Farewell My Lovely.

Farewell My Lovely 

Chaper One

It was one of the mixed blocks over on Central Avenue, the blocks that are not yet all Negro. I had just come out of a three-chair barber shop where an agency thought a relief barber named Dimitrios Aleidis might be working. It was a small matter. His wife said she was willing to spend a little money to have him come home.
I never found him, but Mrs. Aleidis never paid me any money either.

It was a warm day, almost the end of March, and I stood outside the barber shop looking up at the jutting neon sign of a second floor dine and dice emporium called Florian’s. A man was looking up at the sign too. He was looking up at the dusty windows with a sort of ecstatic fixity of expression, like a hunky immigrant catching his first sight of the Statue of Liberty. He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck. He was about ten feet away from me. His arms hung loose at his sides and a forgotten cigar smoked behind his enormous fingers.

Slim quiet Negroes passed up and down the street and stared at him with darting side glances. He was worth looking at. He wore a shaggy borsalino hat, a rough gray sports coat with white golf balls on it for buttons, a brown shirt, a yellow tie, pleated gray flannel slacks and alligator shoes with white explosions on the toes. From his outer breast pocket cascaded a show handkerchief of the same brilliant yellow as his tie. There were a couple of colored feathers tucked into the band of his hat, but he didn’t really need them. Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

His skin was pale and he needed a shave. He would always need a shave. He had curly black hair and heavy eyebrows that almost met over his thick nose. His ears were small and neat for a man of that size and his eyes had a shine close to tears that gray eyes often seem to have. He stood like a statue, and after a long time he smiled.

He moved slowly across the sidewalk to the double swinging doors which shut off the stairs to the second floor. He pushed them open, cast a cool expressionless glance up and down the street, and moved inside. If he had been a smaller man and more quietly dressed, I might have thought he was going to pull a stick-up. But not in those clothes, and not with that hat, and that frame.

The doors swung back outwards and almost settled to a stop. Before they had entirely stopped moving they opened again, violently, outwards. Something sailed across the sidewalk and landed in the gutter between two parked cars. It landed on its hands and knees and made a high keening noise like a cornered rat. It got up slowly, retrieved a hat and stepped back onto the sidewalk. It was a thin, narrow-shouldered brown youth in a lilac colored suit and a carnation. It had slick black hair. It kept its mouth open and whined for a moment. People stared at it vaguely. Then it settled its hat jauntily, sidled over to the wall and walked silently splay-footed off along the block.

Armed National Guardsmen march toward smoke on the horizon during the street fires of the Watts riots, Los Angeles, California, August 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Somewhere nearby, Philip Marlowe is sure to be.

Across the street from the walls of Beacon Studios, a serious gang war is in process with people being shot at. There is a liquor store across from the Beacon Studio walls and the store has been broken into and set afire. (A fire blazes out from the store thanks to a doctored cotton ball, spray painted black lightly on top and stiffened with watery glue … inside the cotton ball of smoke, a flickering tea candle we bought at Michaels). Perhaps police cars have arrived on the scene. Perhaps they haven’t arrived. Things are getting out of control. A spreading riot is perhaps about to erupt. This could be a precursor to the Watt’s Riots not long after this scene in 1965.

The walled studio and a piece of town it has been plopped into attempts to achieve the greatest contrast between the fantasy world of Hollywood and the real world. While there was much wealth in the town, there was a growing population of poor. This is placed in strong symbolic juxtapostion in the diorama.

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