Idealized Utopia: French Cinema and Urbanism in Los Angeles (1967-1972)

In the years between 1967 and 1972, Los Angeles had mysteriously absorbed into its orbit a profusion of French and European directors, actors, musicians, philosophers, writers, professors, and academics. To European audiences back home, it confusingly appeared as if their most renowned film figures had all converged upon Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills. According to Dr. Mark Shiel, this “French migration constituted perhaps the most significant movement of artists and intellectuals to Southern California since Theodor Adorno, Bertolt Brecht, Fritz Lang, Arnold Schoenberg, and many others fled there from Nazism in the 1930s” (Penz, 247). Each had his/her own personal reason for making the long journey to California, but in all cases the city offered an idealized utopia, a temporary respite from the waning days of political Gaullism in France and rampant conservatism in Europe more generally. For many, including the Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy couple, LA had come to symbolize the ultimate, unrestricted, free-spirited urban sprawl: a haven of uninhibited creativity and idealized reverie. 

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