Thomas Pynchon’s crooked Los Angeles
Set in 1970, as the counterculture is beginning to curdle, Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice revolves around a perpetually stoned private eye named Doc Sportello. Tripping through a smoggy fever dream of Los Angeles, he runs across drug-trafficking dentists, white-supremacist bikers, corrupt cops, and utopian surfers. This surreal noir turned out to be ideal source material for the filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. Inherent Vice belongs to a long line of Anderson films, like Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, and The Master, that tells the shadow history of California.
To capture the look and feel of Pynchon’s alternative Los Angeles, Anderson turned to production designer David Crank and art director Ruth De Jong. The two have collaborated not just on several Anderson films but also on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and To the Wonder. In addition to rummaging through archival photos, Crank and De Jong pored over films from the period (The Graduate and John and Mary) and traveled throughout Southern California — in search of images and locations that evoked the ’60s as they came to a mythic and tawdry end.
In a room off the lobby where they sent Doc to cool his heels was a mural depicting the arrival of the Portolá expedition in 1769 at a bend of the river near what became downtown L.A.
“What? what are you talking about?”
“The … the Golden Fang … ?”
“It’s a syndicate, most of us happen to be dentists, we set it up years ago for tax purposes, all legit…”
The development stretched into the haze … model units nearer the road, finished homes farther in, and just visible beyond them the skeletons of new construction, expanding into the unincorporated wastes.