“Changeling,” streetcars, and “Traffic”

Tonight I saw the new movie “Changeling,” starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie is set in Los Angeles in the late Twenties and early Thirties. One of the most remarkable features of the movie for me was the predominance of streetcars, particularly how unremarkably they occupy the landscape.

The vision of streetcars and Model Ts gliding slowly through the town is an arresting one. For one thing, it’s Jolie’s character’s sole form of transport to her job as a supervisor of telephone operators. (She patrols the swtchboards on roller skates — another interesting form of transport.)

For another thing, everyone moved slowly. Pedestrians jaywalked across streets — leisurely. The closing credits turn up as Jolie walks across a street and off into the city in a crane shot that lasts several minutes, the average speed for all vehciles appeared to be 20 miles an hour. Eastwood’s vision of retro L.A. is a stately one, almost refined.

Streetcars, in other words, were once perfectly normal. Which begs the question: why don’t we put these things back in again?

Another item I noticed while chillaxing this holiday weekend was one of the items in the Times’ 100 best-books list of the year 2008 is Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt. I can’t wait to get my hands on this. It serves up ammunition for everything I’ve been saying about cars and roads in Bloomington. I’m looking forward to reading more about traffic in ancient Rome, about how accidents occur more often in “safe” circumstances than “unsafe” ones, and, of course, parking. (Any author that can string words together into the phrase “parking foreplay” has my unstinting attention.)

Tom Vanderbilt’s blog, meanwhile, has become my new must-read site. More to come here from it, I’m sure.

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