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['WASHINGTON D.C.' BY GIL SCOT-HERON PLAYS]
# IT'S A MASS OF IRONY FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE
# IT'S THE NATION'S CAPITAL, IT'S WASHINGTON D.C.
KYLE: My name is Kyle.
And I was born in Washington D.C.
Even if you've never been there, you probably have a good idea of what it looks like.
Just from any number of movies about war, or TV shows about politics.
Often in montages during the title sequences.
It's cliche.
I do love the House of Cards opening, though. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
But I wonder what other perspectives we could get on it.
[WALE] D.C. CHILLIN', P.G. CHILLIN'
# FLOOR TO THE CEILIN', STUNTIN' IN MY BILLION-AIR
KYLE: I'd like to think that I know the city quite well.
And, as with any native of any city, it's a common pastime to scour fiction
and chuckle at the little inconsistencies.
Like how Steve Carell enters the north entrance to the Smithsonian Institution Building
then appears in the south entrance of the Museum of Natural History, a block north.
Or how Judi Dench looks for information about her lost son, a Congressman,
and wondering what she could possibly find at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
And of course, the classic.
[CRASH, SUDDEN STOP]
D.C. skyscrapers.
Which do not exist.
Even if a film is actually shot here, they just can't resist going back to L.A.
and shooting a set piece with a high-rise.
Washington is a very horizontal city.
Save for that notable 500-foot obelisk.
And, of course, that famous dome.
In fact, there's a fascinating but false local legend.
That by law, buildings in D.C. must go below a certain height
to ensure the permanent visibility of the Capitol rotunda.
It's not true. But given how often the building is used as a metonym for the entire city, it might as well be.
Oftentimes, the crew never sets foot in D.C.
and sticks the Capitol Building in the background in post.
Washington is a city found in B-roll.
Shoot your actors in Atlanta, follow them through second unit shots of Washington,
then film them arriving back in Atlanta.
Or even more egregiously, shoot something familiar on Constitution Avenue,
then reverse cut to Los Angeles, with L.A. City Hall right there in the background,
then right back to Constitution Avenue.
Or, if they want to go for verisimilitude, they shoot on location.
In Baltimore.
Washington's architectural twin.
But more commonly, it's a fly-by.
BETSY: How lovely it is! Makes you feel proud, doesn't it?
KYLE: Shot of the Mall,
then to some interior set somewhere,
then to the terrorists or serial killer or potential alien invasion that the movie's really about.
This has been done for decades, by the way.
ANNOUNCER: Flying saucers seen over Washington D.C.
[DUKE ELLINGTON'S 'DON'T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE PLAYS]
For as many films that are set here, so few are shot here, due to tax reasons.
PETEY: Talk to me.
So even stories about actual D.C. residents are shot elsewhere.
[AMBIENT STREET NOISE]
These characters work in an office on K Street.
These actors were shot in a studio on Sunset Boulevard.
These characters work in the Washington Naval Yard.
These actors were shot in Santa Clarita.
These characters work in the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
These actors were shot in Vancouver.
Sometimes they do use actual interiors, but it's cheaper to fake it in-studio.
Just give the actors a hallway through which one can walk briskly and exposit.
And of course, they always walk to one destination.
Obviously.
THE DOCTOR: Oh look, this is the Oval Office.
I was looking for the, uh, Oblong...Room.
KYLE: Of course, no film can use the actual Oval Office.
['DIES IRAE' BY MOZART PLAYS]
[GUNSHOTS]
I'd imagine that every major studio has their own version of an Oval Office set on standby.
They dress it up, dress it down,
find new and exciting angles to film in.
It's the most recognizable room in the city, yet we're most familiar with its copies.
From this, you'd think there was nothing outside the Capitol and the White House.
That's all the city you need to know.
What's remarkable is how consistent this is with Washington's history.
['WASHINGTON POST MARCH' BY JOHN PHILLIP SOUSA PLAYS]
KYLE: See, D.C. isn't like other world capitals.
It's not a major economic center like London,
or a cultural center like Paris.
It's not even like other East Coast American cities.
Unlike Boston, or New York, or Philadelphia,
it was never a great colonial port before becoming a major city.
It only became a city because of the needs of the new federal government,
as a neutral administrative hub for the States.
Prior to its founding in 1790
the only urban life was a small trading port on the Potomac called Georgetown.
Georgetown is also the setting for a few D.C. films that...aren't about politics.
[CRY OF AGONY]
[SHATTERING GLASS]
[THUMPING]
KYLE: Pierre L'Enfant's original plan for the city was organized around four key structures:
A Congressional House,
The Presidential Palace,
a Grand Avenue connecting the two,
and in sight of the first two structures,
a monument to our first President,
who would give the city its name.
TOBY: You see that? Pull that out, America deflates.
KYLE: And, well...that's it.
Development outside of those buildings were a long series of false starts and dead ends.
Steven Spielberg shot his version of Washington in Petersburg, Virginia,
and even it feels too sanitized.
For most of the 19th century,
D.C. was shantytowns, slums, and mud.
In "Democracy in America", Alexis de Tocqueville referred to it as "an imaginary metropolis".
GORDON: Nice horse!
KYLE: It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century
that Washington began to live up to L'Enfant's original design.
With the development of the City Beautiful style,
and the rise of America as a global power,
Congress enacted The McMillan Plan,
and the city developed its monumental core.
Overgrowth between the Washington Monument and the Capitol
was cleared to form a grand plaza:
the National Mall.
New buildings were constructed, all expanding the Neoclassical style
of the White House and the Capitol.
All echoes of Greece and Rome.
Even the unique design of the D.C. Metro system evokes Roman catacombs.
The Smithsonian got new buildings.
A grand memorial to President Lincoln was built.
And the city's rail lines would all be consolidated at Union Station.
A City Beautiful hub, with a head-on view of the Capitol Building.
MR. SMITH: Look! Look! There it is!
KYLE: So when Frank Capra had Mr. Smith go to Washington,
Jimmy Stewart's reaction is exactly what the city's designers had in mind.
MR. SMITH: Well, there it was, all of a sudden.
As big as life, sparklin' away under the old sun out there,
and I...
*laugh* I-I just...started to go toward it, and
I-I don't think I've ever been so thrilled in my whole life,
and-and that Lincoln Memorial!
Gee whiz, I...
...why Mr. Lincoln, there he is!
He's just looking right straight at you as you come up those steps.
Just...Just sitting there like he was waiting for somebody to come along.
LISA: Mr. Jefferson? I have a problem.
JEFFERSON: I know your problem: the Lincoln Memorial was too crowded.
KYLE: From the Capitol,
to the Library of Congress,
to the National Archives,
to the Presidential Memorials,
our government created a city aesthetic that could outlast the state.
America may go, but at least Lincoln will always be there.
LOGAN: I've never seen a face like that before.
KYLE: The entire Mall was designed as a grand performance of the nation.
A visual reminder of the national ideology.
COOLEY: I thought maybe us meetin' here by this fine old monument
might have a salutary effect on our conversation.
KYLE: We've often imagined clandestine meetings beneath the shadow of these monuments,
dark secrets shared by the grass below the marble.
A city of spies.
[SUSPENSEFUL MUSIC]
[SCARED GASPS]
But mostly, the Mall's full of tourists.
LESLIE: So I want to see The History of the Girl Scouts,
and then Lincoln's Pocket Watch, and...everything.
KYLE: And joggers. SAM: Don't you say it, don't you say it--
STEVE: On your left. SAM: Come on!
KYLE: And of course, protesters.
The people of America using the space to make their voices heard.
[BANNED IN D.C. BY BAD BRAINS PLAYS]
And should America fall, our conquerors would surely use the Mall for the same effect.
[BANNED IN D.C. CONTINUES]
[EXPLOSION]
And were we to rebuild, the first stones would be laid here as well.
[GRAND OLD FLAG PLAYS]
Washington D.C. is not a city.
It is a stage.
And it always plays itself.
[GRAND OLD FLAG CONTINUES, SUDDENLY CUTS OFF]
But where's offstage?
If you have D.C. and take away the monuments,
are we all just lost?
TOBY: I don't know, it's a nice street, it's uh...
It's quite leafy, uh...federal houses...
KYLE: We only see the people in lawmaking.
And in law enforcement.
So few outside of those great marble columns.
So why do I love the House of Cards opening?
For the irony.
There are no people in it.
The cinematic Washington doesn't care about Washingtonians.
Everyone--the tourists, the joggers, the protesters, and the politicians--
they're all from elsewhere.
All from small towns and local governments
working FOR the small towns and local governments.
That's not a negative.
Perhaps it's the central myth of American democracy.
We can travel to the great city, and meet the powerful.
And even though they put up a big show, they're really just like us.
WIZARD: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!
And it's comforting to know that there really are men behind the curtain.
People from the same place as us.
They are the country.
But they're not Washington.
They're all just visitors here.
They're not permanent.
KAHMUNRAH: Why, these aren't real rubies at all!
Ruby slippers indeed! [CRASH]
KYLE: So how do these visitors see us?
Well, generally, they don't?
SAMSON: You gotta know your districts. This is the worst, right here.
KYLE: Washington has mostly been ignored outside of the tourist attractions.
Its unique legal status places a majority of legislative power
in the hands of the federal government rather than local government.
And for most of its history, the federal government has had a, well,
laissez-faire attitude towards development outside of the federal core.
This scene was shot six blocks from the White House, by the way.
Worth mentioning that Washington, for most of its history, has been majority African-American.
(I mean, just throwing it out there, might have something to do with it. Just might.)
So most of the time, the Washington you see on screen
is exactly the Washington that our leaders want you to see.
Groomed and polished by Americans from across the country into what they think it should be.
MIKE: Washington Land, the new Disney theme park!
KYLE: I've known Washingtonians who've complained that it's a city designed to work in,
but not live in.
It's easy to get a little resentful.
[BRAKE, TIRES SQUEAL]
So there. America gets Washington, and Washington gets...
Ben's Chili Bowl?
WALE: #D.C. CHILLIN', P.G. CHILLIN
[MUSIC CUTS]
[MUSIC FADES UP]
KYLE: To be in Washington is to live in the shadow of symbolism.
Obscured by the screen of a necessary democratic narrative.
That this place belongs to all.,
but not to us.
DONNIE: Each year, we get millions of guests from every corner of the globe!
Where are you folks from?
JOHN: Uh, Washington D.C.
DONNIE: Bad choice.
KYLE: I wish the world could see more of Washington.
The one outside that confining cruciform of The McMillan Plan.
I wish we could see the parts of Washington that aren't given significance
simply by their proximity to history.
I want to believe in a Washington filled with people, not symbols.
Not as a place of the past, but of one with a future.
I look forward to when we can see Washington, not as a stage,
but as a city.
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS: #WASHINGTON D.C.
#IT'S PARADISE TO ME
# IT'S NOT BECAUSE IT IS THE GRAND OLD SEAT
# OF PRECIOUS FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY, NO NO NO
#IT'S NOT THE GREENERY TURNING GOLD IN FALL
# THE SCENERY CIRCLING THE MALL
# IT'S JUST THAT'S WHERE MY BABY LIVES, THAT'S ALL
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Washington, D.C. Always Plays Itself

302 Folder Collection
alex published on May 14, 2017
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