"There are a million stories in the naked city." That line closes the 1948 classic film noir The Naked City. The film itself, drenched in shadow and filled with the grit and swelter of a hot city summer, is a crime story set in New York. The movie, innovatively filmed in the city itself, out in the open, without stage sets, also purports to be, as the narrator explains, a story about the city itself. Its closing line, uttered by that same narrator over scenes of the city at night, has always struck me as the most astute characterization of any city: a great city is, at one level, a vast accumulation of its individual stories. Some extraordinary, some quite quotidian, each different and every one undeniable.
Steven Conn, Metropolitan Philadelphia: Living with the Presence of the Past (2006, U. Penn)
For a city of fleshy over-exposure, Los Angeles takes care to conceal what it does not want shown. It may have something to do with L.A.'s early status as an occupied city - Mexican Los Angeles and American Los Angeles had much to hide from each other in the 1850s and 1860s. Or maybe it's just that Los Angeles has worked so hard at selling its glamour. Showmanship requires that the paying customers never see the gritty reality behind glitz.
Whatever the reasons, Los Angeles has resisted embracing its "vast accumulation of individual stories" in favor of a small store of familiar tropes: noir city, La La Land, fifty suburbs in search of a city, city of broken dreams, and the best worst place in the world.
These pages - UpDaily, 1st and Spring, Departures, SoCal, and The Back Forty among them - have been finding and telling other stories of Los Angeles since 2008. And their "vast accumulation" is only a part of what a lengthening roll of online storytellers bring to readers every day. So many storytellers, that it would be an almost impossible task even to survey them all.
But I'd like to offer you one more - the students in Loyola Marymount University's journalism course, Telling L.A.'s Story.
Their encounters with Los Angeles (and the problems of story telling here) have the uneasy shock of first discovery. Their stories also have some of the rough edges expected of student writers. Their sympathies are not yet fully given, as they and the city continue a romance that could end badly.
A blog of million stories - including theirs - is not a mere accumulation, however.
Stories are the measure of a city's grandeur, the nerve fibers of its being, and its memories. The more stories we have and from as many tellers as can be recruited, the more we will redress this city's greatest lack: its failure to know itself.
D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.