Yorkshire film review: “LA Without a Map” (1998)

In the first of our reviews of films set in Yorkshire, we watch Mika Kaurismäki‘s “LA Without a Map”. This sure is an odd little film. A Bradford undertaker goes to Los Angeles, after messing about on that chair in Little Germany.

It’s not entirely terrible. Vincent Gallo and Julie Delpy turn up as scene-stealing supporting characters. Johnny Depp is in it too, but only in the LA bits: no shots of him wandering around Oastler market.

It’s been adapted from Richard Rayner‘s autobiographical novel about a London barman who meets an American girl then moves out to LA after her. I haven’t read it, but it’s achieved some cult status, and sounds fun. In translating it to film they’ve had to make some kind of plot: she’s an aspiring actress, he’s an undertaker (!) who wants to be a writer. For the story to work we have to be invested in their relationship. We’re not.

So if the book starts in London, why is the film set in Bradford? It’s particularly puzzling as Tennant plays the lead as Scottish. They must have really wanted to film it here.

It’s very specifically Bradford too. Not “The North” or “Yorkshire”, which might carry connotations of prettiness, humour or friendliness. The first line of the film, spoken while the screen is still black:

This is Bradford.

And up comes Undercliffe Cemetery.

under

Bradford here is cast as the anti-LA; a Bradford undertaker the least glamorous, least colourful job you could imagine. A London undertaker would be too aspirational. Insufficient culture clash.

lister

Our hero, young David Tennant, spies a pretty girl taking photos. Look! There’s Lister Mills!

She’s American. What’s she doing here? Well…

I was passing through on the train and this place looked nice and so I decided, why not hang out for a while?

Passing through? Where from? Bradford Forster Square is the end of the line, so she can’t have come from there. It’d have to be Bradford Interchange. Perhaps she’s staying in Leeds and was having a trip out to Halifax to see the Piece Hall. Maybe the West Yorkshire police station caught her eye.

We shouldn’t take these things too seriously, but if you’re going to be specific about place it gives the viewer questions. Most of the rest of the Bradford stuff is them messing about, montage-style, on that chair and clock in Little Germany.

lg1

This should be a tourist cliche, but as Bradford gets four tourists a year it isn’t (yet). Let’s make it a cliche.

It’s on Chapel Street. Go, take pictures. It could be Bradford’s holding up the Pisa tower, or pinching the Eiffel. Let’s all take selfies there. Here, I’ll go first.

#lgchair #justsayin #livin

The girl goes back to America and Tennant heads out to an art opening. I’m not sure what this scene is for. They seem to go out of their way to put it in. Underlining how terrible his girlfriend’s family is, I guess, but if you’re going for Bradford undertaker it seems strange to make art openings part of his life. Anyway, that’s Dean Clough!

dean

Dean Clough’s Crossley Gallery as a glamorous art opening in Bradford

From here the film shifts to LA. I’ll leave it to LA-bloggers to critique that section.

You know, it’s a shame this film’s no good. Richard Rayner, the author and co-screenwriter, seems an interesting and thoughtful chap so it’s disappointing that the Bradford he represents here is a grim-up-north cliché. Especially disappointing in that he’s originally from Bradford too. Don’t think he likes it much. Then again, the film’s L.A. is so silly and tired that Yorkshire probably got off lightly.

The film doesn’t use its British locations in a nostalgic way. You might expect that once the shine of Los Angeles wears off Tennant realises what he’s lost and returns to a humorous, grounded Bradford. Instead it’s implied that both LA and Bradford are rubbish in different ways and this young couple should move to London, where they could finally both be happy.

Hooray for London!


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One thought on “Yorkshire film review: “LA Without a Map” (1998)

  1. Pingback: Billy Liar and Yorkshire Stories | The Yorkshire Review

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