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A Taste for Shrinking: Movie Miniatures and the Unreal City

Sarah L. Higley
Camera Obscura, 47 (Volume 16, Number 2), 2001, pp. 1-35 (Article)

Published by Duke University Press

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Bardo Town Series. Reprinted from Galaxy Magazine (1994) by permission of E. J. Gold.

A Taste for Shrinking: Movie Miniatures and the Unreal City

Sarah L. Higley

Discrepancy of size is a form of distortion, and all forms of distortion shock us into attention. Steven Millhauser, The Fascination of the Miniature Now she realized that this was the world of powerful, underworld men who spent most of their time in the darkness. In their voices she could hear the voluptuous resonance of darkness, the strong, dangerous underworld, mindless, inhuman. They sounded also like strange machines, heavy, oiled. The voluptuousness was like that of machinery, cold and iron. D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love

I live in a city where a special show on the miniature (Small Wonders) was on display at the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum for two years, the leavings of a woman obsessed by dolls and dollhouses. I was born in a city where the Narcissa Niblack Thorne Miniatures and the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle are prominent items at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Science
Copyright 2001 by Camera Obscura Camera Obscura 47, Volume 16, Number 2 Published by Duke University Press 1

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and Industry, respectively. I grew up in a city within easy reach of Disneylands Storybook Land, which oats you past Mr. Toads miniature house; Motts Miniatures at Knotts Berry Farm; Andrew Leicesters Zanja Madre, a stylized miniature cityscape; and the impressive Carole and Barry Kaye Museum of Miniatures, featuring such famous exhibits as Pat and Noel Thomass Greene and Greene Craftsman Bungalow and the Golden Train from Copenhagen a with its little cargo of rubies and emeralds. Ive known from the start that the wealthy have the best miniatures (c.f. the famous Queens Dolls House, built by numerous craftsmen and presented to Englands Queen Mary in 1924), the most lifelike miniatures, the most detailed and enormous. Detail is important. As a child, I nursed a potent fantasy that I could have an entire doll city to play with, to see at once, and to imagine that I lived in. I drew maps of it and countless pictures of its various neighborhoods, always seen from a birds-eye view, always at twilight, when lights from the various doors and windows would spill out into the darkened streets. This town of mine would not be your average, Pollyanna doll town, with its pristine chapels and picket fences. Nor would its houses be built in that irritating two-dimensionality, missing their back wall. My houses would be models of real homes. My town would have parks and lling stations and outlying districts. It would have its neon signs and its amber streetlights, its used-car lots, and its mournful, distant harbors and factories. Perhaps I longed for these details because of my childhood of privilege and protection. Perhaps I longed for them as a teenager because of my early memories of industrial Indiana. Maybe I shared with Gudrun Brangwen, in Lawrences Women in Love (1921), a sense that the city was voluptuous in its grittiness, and this was my way of domesticating it. In my imaginings it became gigantic, and engulfed me. If it were spread out before me, lling up an entire football stadium in all its minutia, I would crouch down in its narrow streets, bringing my eye to doll level (as I did so often with my tissue-box houses) and try to see it as normal. Falling into the doll town was as important to me as ying over it why, I do not exactly know. Perhaps this article will bring me closer to nding out. For in the world of commercial minia-

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tures, I am always disappointed; but in the world of movie miniatures, my wish is granted. Watching the movies, I do not remain a crouching giant: the camera brings me down and into the horrifying and fantastical world of the set at doll level. The movie miniature gives me a taste of shrinking, but in the safety of a virtual city. A simulated city. What it implies about not only simulation, but power, privilege, sexuality, and the urban experience, remains to be seen. I shall begin with the technology of the lmic miniature and move from there to theories about cities, miniatures, and lm.

Optical Compositing

Cinema history is overowing with lms about distortions of size (Gullivers Travels [dir. Willard Bowsky, US, 1939]; The Incredible Shrinking Man [dir. Jack Arnold, US, 1957]; The Incredible Shrinking Woman [dir. Joel Schumacher, US, 1981]; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids [dir. Joe Johnston, US, 1989]; Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman [dir. Nathan Juran, US, 1958]; Honey, I Blew Up the Kid [dir. Randal Kleiser, US, 1992]; The Borrowers [dir. Peter Hewitt, US/UK, 1997]; and so on). These are not my concern in this article. My emphasis, rather, is on the invisible miniature of fabulous cities. Beginning and ending with a slow pan over the elaborate and eerie miniature set of the Hollywood Hills, Tim Burtons Ed Wood (US, 1994) satirizes the eponymous moviemakers low-budget effects: The ying saucers are aluminum plates, you can see the wires, the ames are disproportionately huge, the smoke too dense, the background too stark. The miniature itself is visibly miniature. The shot of Wood ( Johnny Depp) and his assistants (as they stand next to their little Hollywood set and swing their saucers over it with shing poles) turns them into giants. It offers little exaggeration of the original lm and its grade-B special effects: in Woods Plan Nine from Outer Space (US, 1958), the saucers wobble precariously, and in one particularly inept shot, the burning ship reveals itself to be several inches wide. Its very hard to miniaturize either re or water. Special effects have come a long way since Edward D. Wood Jr., but despite its satire, Burtons

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lm pays homage to the passionate need of a lmmaker to create illusion. Illusion has become the particular market for a number of lm effects companies. By means of a process called optical compositing (now digital compositing), Industrial Light and Magic, DreamQuest, Entertainment Effects Group (EEG), and any other technical company can project a moving image against a matte painting.1 By a similar process, a lm set can be composited with a miniature model of the set and/or a painting to achieve the illusion of ying up and over a cityscape meant to suggest a larger area than any life-size set could be built to cover. Forced perspective (created by making the buildings in the background smaller and lighter in color) gives a sense of distance.2 The Schfftan process, adapted from an old theatrical trick and used by Fritz Lang, projects the images of actors into miniature sets by superimposing their reections from an angled sheet of glass.3 The use of miniatures in every genre of lm is commonplace to the point of banality. A technique called bridal veiling solves the problem of the overly stark, obviously close background landscape, such as miniature mountains, by interposing a series of gauzed panels for the look of atmospheric density.4 High-speed lm and small apertures overcome the depth-offocus problem that cause so-called foreground blur in amateur photography. This telltale blur can work to good effect, though, as in the eerie shots of E. J. Golds Bardo Town, featured in Galaxy Magazine, which I have reproduced for this article.5 Otherwise, the viewer usually never notices that the Pacic Ocean Park, shot from above in Steven Spielbergs 1941 (US, 1979), is a miniature used to create the illusion that the giant Ferris wheel detaches and rolls away. In mainstream cinema, an overhead shot of contemporary Manhattan is economically achieved by shooting lm from an actual helicopter (as in the opening to Mike Nicholss Working Girl [US, 1988]). But when the city to be own over and descended into is an imaginary city for a futuristic or fantastic lm, then the tools of illusion are more complicated and costly. In Fritz Langs Metropolis (Germany, 1927), David Butlers Just Imagine (US, 1930), Ridley Scotts Blade Runner (US, 1982), Tim Burtons Batman (US, 1989), Burtons Edward Scissorhands (US, 1990),

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Alex Proyass The Crow (US, 1994), and Proyass Dark City (US, 1998), each of which spent thousands or millions on elaborate miniature photography, viewers are treated to an aerial vista of a city into which they descend along with the protagonists. I aim to examine the reception of that illusion in the viewer, and its implications. I will begin with a brief summary of the illusions presented in each of these lms and then proceed to a critical discussion of them.

Just Imagine Metropolis

Fritz Langs Metropolis (1927) treats us to amazing visual effects. With frequent dissolves to huge, menacing engines and steam towers that run his futuristic city, the lm offers us various angles of an urbanscape that was inspired by Langs visit to Manhattan: layers and layers of stacked buildings, domes, and art deco skyscrapers in diminishing shades of gray; street ramps and expressways suspended stories high; great yawning depths; tiny cars moving on the suspended ramps; biplanes wafting through the upper thoroughfares; and, if you are sharp-eyed, cryptic words on buildings: Utamoh, S. Gondeal, Eranot. Dominating the center of the city is a spectacular decagonal building with ve winglike projections. Called the New Tower of Babel, it was originally intended as both administrative headquarters and airport; it houses the lofty ofces of John Frederson (Alfred Abel), ruler of Metropolis and father to protagonist Freder (Gustav Frhlich).6 It was all an enormous miniature. Lang was one of the rst to put miniature photography to fantastic use in his multimillion-dollar production. A few years later, David Butlers Just Imagine (1930) borrowed heavily from Metropolis in its depiction of New York in 1980: looming, brilliantly lit gothic towers (250 stories high) disappear into the murky night sky; rows of lights stretch to innity; the dark gridwork of a suspension bridge in the foreground is silhouetted against the glowing nighttime cityscape. Effects director Ralph Hammeras added a canal level for ocean liners and trafc cops suspended from balloons.7 Eerily, it resembles something of contemporary New York City, at $250,000 a monumental sum in

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1930. All this expense was for a mediocre musical comedy, even though the set exceeded Langs in scope and detail.8 Nonetheless, it was effects like these that eventually inspired the lmic miniature in Blade Runner.

Los Angeles, 2019

To the haunting strains of Vangeliss score, Ridley Scotts 1982 science ction lm opens with Visual Futurist Syd Meads nightmare image of twenty-rst-century Los Angeles, a vast industrial wasteland dubbed the Hades Landscape by the EEG crew (an elaborate miniature, eighteen feet long and thirteen feet deep): smokestacks belch ominous reballs (shot as separate elements and inserted later); lights stretch to the dark horizon (seven miles of ber optics); spinners blast out from under our gaze, heading away from us; not a single building below is recognizable as anything but weirdly functional; and all is swathed in a dirty mist (smoke from the smoke machine). On the horizon, two huge, hazy pyramids glow with distant light (photographic transparencies of the Tyrell Corporation Pyramids another intricate miniature mounted on light boxes).9 The music swells, and for a second we see this nightscape shrunk into the distorted space of an enormous human iris, reected ames tracing the curve of the pupil. This disembodied eye is important to Blade Runner, important to its message of disaffection and dehumanization. It also makes a statement about perspective: in that camera angle, Scott captures an essential feature of all these cities that they are to be seen from above, and that seeing is gigantic. To whom this eye (and this perspective) belongs is one of the central mysteries of the lm, caught up as it is with issues of a subjectivity that is constantly probed by the Voigt-Kampff apparatus. Is it Holdens blue eye, as he gazes out of the Tyrell building, waiting to administer the Voigt-Kampff test to the replicant who will kill him? Is it Deckards? Roy Batys? Leons? Ours? Is it the gaze of empowerment or passivity? This last question has been endlessly applied to theories of spectatorship.

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Gotham City and Generic Town

Tim Burton is famous for his use of fabulous urban spaces, and in Beetlejuice (US, 1988) he exhibits more than a little taste for shrinking his protagonists into his sets.10 In his Batman (1989), miniature Gotham City is really only viewed from above at the end of the movie, as the Dark Knight (Michael Keaton) soars in his Batmobile to rescue the Jokers victims. Our rst view of the city is a matte painting at the beginning of the movie, showing an aerial shot of what looks like a 1930s Manhattan gone mad. From there we work from the ground up, watching the plight of a middleclass white family on vacation unable to ag down a cab. They cross the street and wander into a rough section of town (as

Bardo Town Series: reprinted from Galaxy Magazine Issue 1994 by permission of E. J. Gold

though any section in Gotham City is nice), where they are robbed by white hoodlums. Gotham City lives up to the name and its promise of menace: it is dominated by heavy gothic deco huge, grid-iron buttresslike structures overhang crowded streets, featuring snaky ducts and vast, riveted round vents. Everything looks like a cross between the Chrysler Building and the Queen Mary, with touches of Chartres Cathedral. From City Hall to Carl

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Grissoms stronghold to Axis Chemicals to the Flugelheim Museum of Art, buildings are ponderously ugly and fantastic. Burdened and elongated statues take the place of grotesqueries in this new Gothic, this surreal Brutalism, as Peter Lowentrout calls it.11 Reecting the barrenness of unchecked power, Gothams buildings are architectural machines that not only ignore the needs of the humans within them, but that shape the humans within to their own dead need.12 Very little sky is ever seen. All that hangs over one is stone and steel. The towering architectural centerpiece is Gotham Citys cathedral dark, asymmetrical, gargoyled, dead. Around this central structure and through the canyons of the streets below, we are witness to the most spectacular feats of the airborne Batman as well as the cleverest special effects of Derek Meddings Magic Camera Company, where sets, paintings, and miniatures are composited to create Gotham City seen from above.13 How differently is miniature photography employed in Burtons Edward Scissorhands (US, 1990). Our rst slow pan over the nameless snow-covered town as it is seen from Edwards castle makes little attempt to hide from us the fact that it is a miniature. The snow glitters on little matchstick houses in akes that are too big; the street lights and the glowing windows are obviously ber optics. And yet, this is perfectly congruous with the toylike atmosphere of this lm about toys and purposefulness: a functional dicing machine made to simulate a dysfunctional boy, a dysfunctional teenager who will break into his fathers home to get his toys. The view of the snow-covered housing development (in reality, Tinsmith Circle in Luis, Florida) shows us a nameless town that does not lose its dollhouse character when we descend into it, nor does it admit the whimsy and artistry that Edward ( Johnny Depp) represents. Its houses are all pastel, stamped out as if by the cookie cutter machine at the beginning of the lm. Its police cars and its banks are all starkly generic; neither town nor bank has specicity. Like Gotham City, its time frame is ambiguous: the interior decor and the housewives clothes say sixties, but the reference to VCRs with four heads says eighties. Over the neighborhood looms Edwards bizarre castle, an obvious fantasy mini-

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ature, which will be the nal site for the male violence in the lm, linking it tangentially with the other action-adventure lms I discuss.

Devils Night and Dark City

Two lms by Alex Proyas deserve special mention in their fabulous depiction of fantastic cities. The model for the dark, nameless city of The Crow (1994) is this movies only redeeming feature.14 The murky, nightmarish, German expressionist lm noir depiction of urban repression and mechanism provides the primary eye candy in the innitely more interesting Dark City (1998). Both begin with what seems to be Proyass signature symbol in his lms with weird buildings: the view through the upstairs round window that belongs to Brandon Lees Eric Draven, the hero of The Crow. Based on the comic-book series by James OBarr, The Crow is your basic rape-revenge story, its characters atly divided into good and evil. It has the feel of a rock video when it is not indulging in relentless violence: its plot is based on an extreme version of the Devils Night arson and vandalism that have wracked parts of Chicago, Detroit, and other postindustrial urban centers at Halloween, and to that end it reproduces a city that is marginally identiable as some grotesque American slum. The best movie of its kind since the original Batman! the Chicago Tribune declared back in 1995,15 undoubtedly because it borrows so heavily from archetypes used by Scott and Burton. Like Blade Runner, The Crow opens with a Hades landscape that rivals that of the science-ction lm. Like Batman and Metropolis, it ends with a ght on the roof of a glowering cathedral. Throughout, we are treated to effective shots of a crows-eye view, as Dravens animal totem oats over yawning urban canyons and rain-dark tenements in which sinister little yellow windows glitter, realistically reected in the wet surfaces of bombed-out buildings and warehouses. Sometimes we are sped at dizzying speeds and angles past sleazy apartments and eerily lit factory windows. The miniature is enormous. Time and millions were put into creating an irreality that gothicizes urban squalor. It shows a fascination


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not only with the inner city but also with the marginal and criminal dimensions that ourish in it. While an indifferent sequel has been made of The Crow, it is Dark City that is the brilliant extension of Proyass talents. Here is an unnamed city cut off, it seems, from anything natural: there are no trees, no owers, no grass, and even no sky. Here is a city where it is always night, so there is no sun. Filled with an Edward Hopper kind of World War II dreariness, its details are drawn from disparate eras and architectures, now the thirties, now the forties; art deco cinemas and automats abound, where none of their fedora-wearing inhabitants can remember how to get to Shell Beach, can remember it being day, can remember anything but bits and pieces of their lives. The premise of the story is that Nosferatu-like aliens, bald and ghastly and dressed in black overcoats, are in charge of the reality of the city, putting the people to sleep at uncertain midnights and slipping out to change their memories and rearrange the city through a telekinetic process called tuning . . . or tooning. It is hard to know, because the characters live in a cartoon reality with names like Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) and Daniel Paul Schreber (Kiefer Southerland), one of Freuds most famous patients. However, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), who has been given a cartoon-bad-guy identity, fails to fall asleep, fails to take on the invented memories, and has mysteriously adopted the alien ability to change reality with his thoughts. Predictably, the movie ends, as do all the others, with a ght on the highest skyscrapers between the engodded Murdoch and Mr. Book (Ian Richardson), the leader of the creatures who oat like macabre gures from a Magritte painting through the corridors of the city. Whatever the deciencies of the story (William Hurts character gets killed off for no good reason except to reveal the city as a dark oasis in space), the conceptual underpinnings are fascinating: the revisions that the aliens make to the urban cityscape come torquing up out of the ground like great architectural corkscrews; buildings collapse as others emerge and battle with one another at the end. It is a wonderful metaphor of lunatic set-making that I will return to presently. All of these manufactured cities are ctional, anonymous,

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or so altered as to be unrecognizable.16 Most of them reect cultural and class distinctions through their uses of space, centering upon a dominant architectural element. In their towering heights, you nd the upper class, or the rich and corrupt, or the artist and sensitif : John Fredersons luxurious ofce in the Tower of Metropolis; Eldon Tyrells spacious and crepuscular foyer in the pyramid of Blade Runner ; Carl Grissoms dark, art deco ofce at the top of the ugly skyscraper in Batman; Edwards hilltop view in the fairytale castle of Edward Scissorhands; rock guitarist Eric Dravens artsy attic apartment with its decorative round window in The Crow; the desolate round window concave as a shbowl in Dark City. In the depths of all these cities lurk the little people, as the Joker ( Jack Nicholson) calls them: the drones, slaves to their underground machines, in Metropolis; the Hare Krishnas, Asian workers, and replicants in the crowded streets of Los Angeles, 2019; the poor white trash scrambling for dollar bills in the gassy streets of Gotham City; the unimaginative, gossipy housewives in the colorful streets of Pastel Town, USA; and the little blonde urchin Sarah (Rochelle Davis) with her skateboard, provocatively indifferent to the Devils Night hoodlums around the corner from Maxi-Dogs. Rick Deckards apartment differs drastically from Leons: the blade runner lives halfway between the ground and the sky (some ninety stories up), only moderately oppressed by the Mayan overhang of the city, whereas the replicant (Brion James) barely lives above street level. J. F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), interestingly, has an elaborate, if decrepit, apartment in Los Angeless old Bradbury Building, straining under the weight of the citys hyperarchitecture and its advertising blimp. With the seeping water and the broken elevator, Sebastians space perfectly mirrors his accelerated decrepitude, his Methuselah Syndrome. Old is diseased in Blade Runners city of the future, as the rapidly aging androids gure out. Old, like the Bradbury Building, is at the bottom. Similar distinctions are made in Batman: decrepitude is basement level the aging quacks lthy surgery, for instance whereas the young and vital Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger) lives high up, in an apartment alight with contemporary deco. No one in Dark City lives at the top, or at least it is hard


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to tell without a sky we get a glimpse of Bumsteads apartment window as it opens onto blackness, and Emma and Johns attic apartment seems dwarfed by the other buildings around them. In short, everyone is a pawn, and every building, high or low, is overused bricolage. In all of them, we see the city from above and are drawn down into it. In four of them, we are made to swoop along with the male protagonist over its depths; in ve of them, two men ght to the death over a woman in or on some towering structure, usually a cathedral.17 The rooftop combat is a stock motif that works especially well in lms that showcase fantastic, menacing cities. They afford expensive shots of the protagonist hanging by his digits over canyons of city below him (Batman on the cathedral over Gotham City; Murdoch dangling from a door high up on the side of a tuning building). The special effects are usually so deft that it is hard to tell where the set ends and the paintings and the miniatures begin, but the premise is always that if the hero or the heroine falls, it is not into a miniature. My premise, on the other hand, is the opposite. I maintain that while the express aim of the effects artists is to give you an illusion of a believable city viewed from above, an invisible miniature, the full pleasure of the lm depends on our seeing it as a set to be gazed at beyond anything either Disneyland or the 1939 Worlds Fair could offer. Viewers today are interested in how they did it. It is a distancing mechanism. Rather than ponder the ethics of The Crow, fans of the strip can buy the book on how it was made, who stood in for Brandon Lee after he died, who took care of his stunts. Books about lm effects are expensive and ubiquitous. By reminding the viewer subtly of the artistry of the simulacrum, these lms participate in the very heart of the postmodern, caught up as it is with the artful surfaces of a consumer society. In their very unbelievability, these lms attempt not only to distort, but to colonize, commodify, and open up to the gaze of the privileged certain troubling urban spaces that are a reality today.

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The City and the Miniature

Two complex areas of study merge in this examination: the city and the miniature, both of them powerful icons preceding lm by centuries. The one is huge, the other tiny. One is authentic, the other a simulation. One is not easily taken in at a glance, the other unfolds before our eager eyes. We can live in the one but not the other. We can be menaced in the one but rarely (Lees accident excepted) in the other. We can put the dollhouse away, but urban problems are an ineluctable reality that affect all of us in America. As human artifacts, both the city and the miniature offer rich insights into space, seeing, habitability, colonization, and desire. Both turn us into spectators, as does lm. To make a miniature city has challenged the wealth of kings; the miniature of the White House alone was built over thirty years at a personal cost to its builders ( John Zweifel and his family) of more than one million dollars. Who but Ridley Scott could make a miniature of Los Angeles and that only in a diminished and dimly lit future? The city has been heavily theorized. Mary Ann Caws is the editor of an anthology of essays that view the contemporary city through various metaphors (labyrinth, narrative, poem).18 Susan Merrill Squire has edited an anthology on the city and women writers.19 East-West Film Journal devotes an entire issue to the city and lm;20 two articles in it are of immediate relevance to my argument in their discussion of visionary cities in science ction lms (Sobchack, Staiger),21 as is Colleen Tremontes article on the action-adventure urbanscape.22 Paradoxa has likewise devoted an entire issue to cities and the future, featuring essays by sciencection writers Samuel R. Delaney,23 Kathleen Ann Goonan,24 and Bruce Sterling.25 Italo Calvinos visionary ction Invisible Cities has been frequently cited in all this talk about cityscape.26 These studies barely scratch the surface of what has been written about the city recently, let alone throughout Western thought. Since its enormous expansion in the past two centuries, ideas of what the city does to us and how we live in it have overwhelmingly turned to images of disunity, alienation, and specularity. Kevin Lynch posits that the rise of gridlike street planning and numbered or


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lettered streets points to a growing inability on the part of American city dwellers to map the space they inhabit, or to negotiate its size.27 The American city calls out for legibility. From William Blake to George Sand to Walter Benjamin to Fredric Jameson, the postindustrial city has given rise to the invisible, the impersonal, and the decentered as opposed to the public, the humanistic, and the central the seat of learning and art that marked the urban utopias of the renaissance and persisted as an ideal in the efforts of the modernists. What constitutes the modern, let alone the postmodern, city? Elements of the modern urban experience, writes Janet Wolff in The Invisible Flneuse, begin to surface in Charles Baudelaire, who gives special praise to painter Constantin Guys, dismissed by later critics as an advertising copyist.28 Guyss paintings of Paris celebrated the parade of impressions, wrote Baudelaire, the particular beauty appropriate to the modern age, because he grasped the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent.29 The postmodern emerges from the modern in the new aesthetic emphasis it gives to advertising copies, commercial tactics, and consumer values, emphasizing the tension between the industrial and the personal that the modernist age deplored and nineteenth-century architecture tried to disguise. With the advent of the Bauhaus aesthetic, the skyscraper banished attempts to hide the metal under the structure, and cities evolved into the antihumanistic spaces they are often perceived to be today, eclipsing the individual, demanding that her gaze be directed away from other people and toward the towering face of the metropolis. Fredric Jameson writes that the postmodern urban architecture of late-twentieth-century capitalist society presents us with a kind of evolutionary mutation, something that we ourselves, human subjects who happen into this new space, have not kept pace with.30 Jon Lewis notes the power of the city to render us passive. Quoting Lewis Mumford on the city and Christian Metz on lm, he recognizes a kind of specularity in both: One stands before the built environment that is the city like a spectator in a dream; like the viewer of a lm.31 Likewise, Michel de Certeau notes that the vertical development of cities produces a new point

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of view, the celestial eye: To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center is to be lifted out of the citys grasp to become an Icarus ying above these waters. . . . His elevation transforms him into a voyeur.32 But it is Wolffs essay on the participation of women as spectators in the city that is of most interest to me: Constantin and Baudelaire were neurs, she writes, strollers. The stroller is not only a unique product of the modernist penchant for surface detail and fashion, but is
a central gure in Benjamins essays on Baudelaire and nineteenth-century Paris. The streets and arcades of the city are the home of the neur, who, in Benjamins phrase, goes botanizing on the asphalt. The anonymity of the crowd provides an asylum for the person in the margins of society; here Benjamin includes both Baudelaire himself as a neur, and the victims and murderers of Poes detective stories (which Baudelaire translated into French).33

The neur can observe and be observed, but he never involves himself, and is thus to be distinguished from de Certeaus walkers, who inhabit, interact with, and make use of spaces that cannot be seen.34 Wolff goes on to remark that there is no neuse in modernist literature: the woman is not invisible in the city. Only when the young George Sand puts on boys clothes can she be invisible; she can experience the city and her own freedom as a neuse:
I ew from one end of Paris to the other. It seemed to me that I could go round the world. And then, my clothes feared nothing. I ran out in every kind of weather, I came home at every sort of hour, I sat in the pit at the theatre. No one paid attention to me, and no one guessed at my disguise. . . . No one knew me, no one looked at me, no one found fault with me; I was an atom lost in that immense crowd.35

Nineteenth-century women, as women, could not stroll the modern city, delighting in the pastiche of its surface details. The question remains: Can twenty-rst-century women stroll the postmodern city? Has the age of the neuse, as Wolff dreams her, nally


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arrived? City conditions today make it a hazard, regardless of ones gender or race, to look or be looked at in certain urban areas precisely the situation that Murdochs inconvenient wakefulness places him in. To be seen seeing (the drug deal, the robbery, the private drama in an alley, the tuning) can be lethal for the stranger wandering into the strange neighborhood. Many nonwhites express the same anxiety about white suburbs: to be at the wrong stoplight in front of the wrong white cop one would rather stay in the neighborhood. We have a situation in the US where vast parts of our cities are unseen and shunned rendered virtually alien and uninhabitable for whole groups of people through prejudice and social inequity, what de Certeau might call the city in decay. The specularity that Lewis and Lynch remark about the city is diminishing, which accounts for expensive bouts of urban renewal. Both our movie cities and our collectible miniatures respond to this perception of the invisible and the uninhabitable American city. One way to see and inhabit it is to shrink it. The miniature has attracted its essayists and theorists, but in small doses, unlike the city. Also unlike the city, which is overwhelmingly public, the miniature celebrates the private, cut off from the urban context: its spaces turn us into voyeurs as we examine drawing rooms, bedrooms, and maids chambers, and into monsters if we stretch our hands into them. To be sure, there are cityish miniature train sets and architects models, but they lack the detail of the dollhouse, which I will spend more time discussing below. Sufce it to say here that we stand amazed before the tiny and obsessive craftsmanship of the artist and mimic, who can make a parquet oor by tting little polished pieces of wood together and an Indian carpet by embroidering it under a magnifying glass. The world of the miniature awaits its passionate and scholarly explorer, writes Steven Millhauser, thinking in terms of a comprehensive catalog of tiny simulations throughout the ages, including literary depictions.36 Twenty years prior, Gaston Bachelards Poetics of Space devoted a chapter to the concept of the miniature in French literature,37 and in 1984, a year after Mill-

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hausers plea, Susan Stewarts On Longing theorized the miniature as an item of upper-middle-class consumption, especially in her subchapter The Dollhouse.38 All three writers come to similar conclusions in locating the appeal of the miniature: that it is possessible, that it is utopic, and that its distortion of size stimulates profound values, as Bachelard puts it: 39 The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it.40 The dollhouse, writes Susan Stewart, has two dominant motifs: wealth and nostalgia. It presents a myriad of perfect objects that are, as signiers, often affordable, whereas the signied is not.41 Millhauser writes: I gratify my secret desire: I become a giant. I draw out leviathan with a hook, I play with him as with a bird.42 In short, the miniature is power: over the world of things we would like to possess but do not. It is also exclusion: from a space we would like to inhabit but cannot. In The Book of the Queens Dolls House, A. C. Benson and Sir Lawrence Weaver speculate on the physics of the tiny.43 If one were reduced to the scale of objects in Queen Annes Dolls House (one inch to one foot) what would happen to our bodies? What would happen to our experience of hydraulics? Wine bottles would not decant, for instance. Liquids would have a viscosity unknown to us at normal size. Dining tables could be picked up and carried over ones shoulder. Candles would not be able to sustain a ame. The book is a fascinating examination of the mechanics of the Queens Dolls House, but also an inquiry into its uninhabitability. This aspect of the miniature particularly fascinates Millhauser:
Is it perhaps not enough to be God? I think of Alice and the little door. I want to be small, I want to pass through the door into the enchanted garden. And here is the farthest I can see into the mystery of the miniature: its separation from myself, its banishment of me. Hence the sadness, the secret poignance, of dollhouses, model whaling ships, glass animals, little automatons.44

In the lm industry, the city and the miniature come together like magic for a heftier price tag than most individual collectors can


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afford. Film can do what the physical miniature cannot, and that is to appear to shrink the viewer into it, safely, invisibly, by shrinking the city. A strange kind of distortion follows after, for most of these cities are fantastical nightmares.

Inhabiting the Unreal City

Unlike the gigantic, writes Millhauser, the miniature is without dread.45 The opposite, I contend, is true of the urban lmic miniature, where dread as well as amazement are the ticket. In the hands of adult fantasy, train sets and dollhouses become sordid and dangerous: The utopia of the miniature becomes the dystopia of the urban fantasy lm. Its special effects are a menace, because it is a set you can be dropped into. The actual miniature in the lm studio is so gigantic as to make us gasp, and through the eye of the lens it engulfs us. It is imminently unpossessible. Unlike the real miniature, it cannot be touched, manipulated, changed, or recalled. Like the real miniature, however, it simulates a dwelling place whose inhabitants cannot see us. We are not actually menaced by the lmic miniature any more than we are by the collectible miniature. Rather, it allows us to disarm and colonize troubling cultural spaces in what it suggests and omits of actual inner-city problems of America. In Strange Weather, Andrew Ross identies the cyberpunk movement in eighties science ction as a kind of yuppie gentrication of the inner city, splicing the glamorous, adventurist culture of the high-tech console cowboy with the atmospheric ethic of the alienated street dick whose natural habitat was exclusively concrete and neon.46 In his article on Batman, Ross criticizes the lms lack of political commitment to the inner-city problems that it glamorizes, and remarks that the popular comic strips (from which it, The Crow, Dick Tracy (dir. Warren Beatty, US, 1990) and Darkman (dir. Sam Raimi, US, 1990) were all made) are almost exclusively slanted at adolescent white male consumption.47 He is right, too, to identify a cultural blindness in so much American science ction, also catering (as it has for decades) to the white male reader. Ridleys Deckard lives in a swanky if com-

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pact apartment bristling with the toys of the privileged keycards, computer consoles, photographic enhancement, expensive shot glasses, grand piano and he cruises the streets of a bombed-out future Los Angeles looking for caucasian androids. Philip Dicks novel, the inspiration for this lm, underrepresents Latinos/as and African Americans in its depiction of postholocaust San Francisco. Blade Runner at least tries to suggest racial diversity in its inclusion of mostly Asian and Latino/a minorities, and its emphasis on human oppression makes it a more selfconsciously political lm than Burtons Batman. In its depiction of urban crime and crime ghters, it is also deeply indebted to the lm noir tradition of LA detective narratives (down to the plaintive voice-over and the moralizing in the rst cut), while Batman is not. Likewise, the only two black men to be found in Dark Citys gritty white populace are in the subway. For the most part, issues of race are sidestepped in these lms by a token racial element (the replicants in Blade Runner, the freaks in Total Recall and Dick Tracy, the vampiric aliens in Dark City). Few of them have the overtly didactic message of Metropolis. In Batman and The Crow, for instance, urban horror is presented in exaggerated dimensions. A kind of fabulous ugliness pervades all its details, along with a fabulous violence. We have the strong sense, too, in both lms, that only the inner city exists. There are no suburbs (except for Batmans crenellated country retreat), no winding, tree-lined streets and gabled houses, no reassuring signs of middle class for the middle class, not even a decent McDonalds. Everything is like C. S. Lewiss depiction of hell in The Great Divorce (1946), where the slums stretch innitely in all directions. There is nothing beyond the city! warns Dark Citys Dr. Schreber. Nor do these movies depict the city as a center for artistic or intellectual thought. We see no universities, no caf cultures, or street artists (save the parodic and threatening mimes in Batman). The only museum is foul looking and vandalized by the Joker (I make art until someone dies). Churches are in disrepair. The city is dysfunctional, but also eternally central. As such, it reects a fundamental American paranoia that has led to white ight to the suburbs. European cities, interestingly, make their suburbs their slums. Council


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houses in England are typically on the hill overlooking the city, whereas the desirable places to live are the crowded civic centers, the reverse of US urban sprawl. The American nightmare is that there is no way out. These lms are politically careful not to suggest that the inner city is lled with people of color. Such realism is left to mainstream depictions of contemporary cities. In the fantasy and futuristic lm, it seems impolite to suggest that African American or Latino/a ghettos still exist. Villains and heroes in the lms under review here are judiciously mixed, with whites in the lead. Blade Runner, Batman, and The Crow present white romanticization of the urban jungle, much of which the viewer is able to see from above and therefore able to possess and map as one would a miniature.48 When one is not living in it directly but only seeing it from above, industrial and depressed urbanization with its peeling billboards, its dim tenements, its grafti, its ghostly factories, its starkly lit automats, its harbor lights reected in dirty water has a foul kind of beauty, as Gudrun observes in Women in Love.49 Lawrence eroticizes it and identies it as masculine: the voluptuous resonance of darkness, the world of powerful, underworld men. The urban lmic miniature glories and aesthetizes the inner city; it makes it legible, and its denizens white. How urban squalor can be a delight to the eyes, writes Jameson, when expressed in commodication, and how an unparalleled quantum leap in the alienation of daily life in the city can now be experienced in the form of a strange new hallucinatory excitation these are some of the questions that confront us.50 Examining these lmic cities from the standpoint of the miniature has allowed me to talk about their ideologies from rather a unique viewpoint: Attitudes toward power, race, and class are revealed through specic manipulations of space, dimension, and, especially, aspect. At what angle are we allowed to view this miniature hellhole, and from what aspect ? Why is getting above it and pretending to sink into it so appealing? Gaze has been much debated in lm theory, most often identied with the masculine subject.51 In her Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey concedes

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that lms made for male consumption problematize the female viewers subjectivity.52 This stance has obvious applicability here: as a white woman (reminded over and over again by the politics of these lms that she suffers the most threat from urban crime consider Shelly [Sophia Shinas] in The Crow), I watch and am drawn into these lms along with my male friends. Is my female subjectivity problematized? Does my pleasure in these lms derive from secretly, unconsciously almost, enjoying the freedom of action and control over the diegetic world that identication with a hero provides?53 Aware that I am biased, I would like to suggest that such lms have a special appeal to the feminine and that, moreover, they feminize the viewer, regardless of his or her gender. While commercial dollhouses on the market these days seem to cater to a primarily feminine taste, the urban lmic miniature is masculine, its dark streets policed by powerful, underworld men who avenge and abolish its criminals. One can see the obvious identication for male viewers. However, it has a voluptuous grittiness that piques and complicates feminine fascination with miniature domestic and urban space. In Batman, The Crow, and Dark City, the birds-eye view is literally the view of the ying hero/angel/raven/bat/vampire scoping out the urban nightmare below, freed from its threat through ight. But it is also the viewpoint of the lms audience, who remain passive spectators. The miniature cityscape allows us to y, an experience felt by anyone who has taken the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland, but we nd ourselves asking whether the pleasure we get in ying over miniature cities is the sense that we are gigantic and all-powerful (a masculine experience?), looming over our microcosm and negotiating it along with its airborne heroes; or whether it is the sense that we could plunge into this sensual, alien world (a feminine experience?) and fall prey to its perils. Spectatorship is not monolithically empowered, as so many arguments about the look and scopophilia have maintained. Scopophobia is an important element in suspense and/or horror lms. Part of the thrill of Alien Resurrection (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, US, 1997) Repulsion (dir. Roman Polanski, UK, 1965) Event Horizon (dir.


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Paul Anderson III, UK/US, 1997) and other lms that terrify is that we relinquish our eyes to painful and startling scenes we have no power to prevent. The gaze can be trapped, like Alex with his lids propped open in A Clockwork Orange (dir. Stanley Kubrick, UK, 1971). Masculine or feminine, however, ours is still a hegemonic gaze the eye absorbing the urban ame without being burned by it. The decision to relinquish control is still a privileged one. It is the high-minded (and sheltered) Gudrun, after all, who nds something potent and half-repulsive in Lawrences Beldover to sexually excite her.54 With these lms, I maintain that some of the audience is Gudrun and mostly white and middle class (the audience that these lmmakers largely cater to). If George Sand can become the neur by cross-dressing, making herself an invisible observer of city life, then I suggest that certain spectators, regardless of gender, are in the position of cross-classing, as it were. By shrinking invisibly into the inner city they become safe, invisible observers of this alien world a metaphor of a world that would threaten them in reality. They are to the set what the neur is to the city, disguising their inappropriate station in life and slumming in other clothes. The effect is made all the more pronounced by its being an invented city, which defamiliarizes ones experience all the more. Far from making it legible, actually, the lmic miniature prevents us from reading its cities, and that is also part of its appeal. More than one theorist has compared the city to narrative, and the experience of the postmodern city to the breakdown of narrative or poetic coherence.55 Steve Carper writes that no sense of place ever develops in Blade Runner, and the same could be said of all the other lms.56 Despite the massive movement overhead, we have little sense of where any building lies in relationship to another. Grafti in various languages abounds in most of these lms; words on buildings or billboards are often parodied or unreadable: Utamoh. BANK. Flugelheim. Tunes King . . . LOSMIMILOCOS MAZACOTEYOROROUEST. FOOD. Signs and cinema arcades in The Crow are stripped of their letters, or they say meaningless things like trash. Eric Draven writes on the pocked concrete of an alley not a word but the ery image of a crow. The clues given us in Dark

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City speak a kind of allegorical language: The Evil is the name of the movie on the arcade shown early in the lm, as well as a poster for it that ashes behind the subway train before which Eddie Walenski throws himself. Likewise, The Book of Dreams is the movie that will replace The Evil when it has played out, just as the virtuous John Murdoch will replace the aliens and cue the sun.57 An important aspect of the simulated fabulous city, then, is its unreadability, and this is what getting above it does. Rising above the city to the point where it looks small grants one the sense not of controlling it so much as making it unfamiliar. Everyone who chooses the window seat of a passenger jet enjoys that pleasurable effect at takeoff whereby the city one knew so well becomes something almost inhuman: neighborhoods one thought so discrete, streets that were ordinarily corridors of meaningful space, open up and atten out. Buildings are unrecognizable. Cars formicate. Life becomes a toy. Simulations, in the form of the fantastic lmic miniature, can only please if they distort, and this is why so many American eyes do not shrink from graphic lm violence. The special effects put them on a plane above where they are anaesthetized. The Crow offers a perfect example of this phenomenon at its crudest, as does the more sophisticated scene in Batman that asks us to imagine that priceless Rembrandts are being vandalized. We do not for a minute imagine it (as scopophobic as it is), because the nature of the lm reminds us reassuringly that it is simulated.

A Taste for Shrinking

autry joslins custom homes Suggested Retail Price: Starting at $3,000, completely nished. Specications: Determined by buyer. Material: Birch plywood. You choose colors and wallpaper. Homes have replaces with real bricks. Floors are satin smooth, shakes are hand split. Real glass in windows. Open areas for access will be determined by home design. Available on request: built-in bookcases, paneled rooms, secret passages, unnished attic showing dust and electrical wiring. The Miniatures Catalog

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In closing, let me say that no discussion of lmic miniature cities is complete without further reference to the consumer market for miniatures. Lifelike productions of miniature dolls and furniture originated in nineteenth-century commercial practices. Before the advent of affordable photography, merchants sent potential buyers miniatures of their furniture or doll-sized mannequins modeling their clothes. It is no coincidence, I think, that the twentieth-century miniature avocation has grown in step with the special effects market in lm technology. The techniques used to photograph the elaborate purchasable miniature for catalogs and competitions are hardly less sophisticated than the lm techniques I describe above. It is often hard to tell from photographs that they are miniatures. Toys and technology overlap considerably, and in Blade Runner, Batman, and Edward Scissorhands we nd the manic imagery of dolls and automation. The rise of industrial Europe in the eighteenth century was accompanied by an explosive interest in clockwork automata, to which the miniature is closely allied. The miniature White House features a number of moving parts, including a working television. The making of commercial and collectible miniatures has to be discussed with its opposite: the ghetto and industrial slum. The one is inhabited by porcelain or plastic dolls, the other by people. The one is carefully constructed, decorative, takes time and money to build, and a passion that is almost unmatched in any other hobby; the other is functional, and/or an act of urban neglect it shows the absence of time, money, and civic concern. Both participate in the private in some way, in secret passages, but one is a desirable secret and the other is not. The one is on display, participating in competitions, winning awards. The other is rarely visited by those who do not live there. Again, lm brings them together, but not without compromising either. According to Eve M. Kahn, the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts boasted ten thousand members in 1994.58 And while the overwhelming majority of miniature items caters to obsolescence (the low-tech as opposed to the high-), more and
Metropolis (Germany, 1927), directed by Fritz Lang. Reprinted by permission of the Film Stills Department of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


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more accoutrements for the up-to-date are being produced. You can see them in any one of the growing number of stores catering to miniatures and accessories for the miniatures, or in any issue of Nutshell News, a publication of Kalmbach Miniatures in Wisconsin, or Roses Doll House. Little fax machines, little microwave ovens, little National Enquirers, tiny little pencils sold in inch-square plastic bags. You can go to two major Internet outlets for supplies in miniatures: www.miniatures.com and www.micromark.com. But for the most part, its consumers want history. The Victorian is by far the most sought-after model, writes Kahn, primarily for its wealth of detail. Crafts people perform new tiny feats each year, producing drawers with real dovetail joints, tables inlaid with ivory and silver.59 Anne Day Smiths Masters in Miniature features artists such as Peter Acquisto, Ralph Partelow Jr., and Noel and Pat Thomas who produce breathtakingly lifelike miniatures of silver candlesticks (in silver), Steinway grand pianos with strings, and bungalows with peeling plaster and old-fashioned kitchen sinks with rust stains and water-damaged drain boards.60 Nor are miniatures devoted solely to the domestic far from it. The miniature-train industry is booming and is perhaps the rst thing that most people associate with the miniature besides the dollhouse. The towns that are being built around miniature trains are likewise becoming increasingly sophisticated, with commercial magazines devoted, for instance, solely to outdoor constructions. In the June 1997 issue of Garden Railways, a popular hobbyist magazine, I nd that I am given a detailed plan for constructing the Gull Pond Station interior, including the stove, the typewriter, and the lavatory. In Shape Up Your Spruce, Annie Mellen shows us in the same magazine how to prun[e] miniatures to resemble full-size trees, the primary focus of Garden Railways.61 One advertisement displays stripwood structures [that] will weather naturally in your garden setting. However, in perusing all of these catalogs and going to the stores, I have found that very few specializing in miniature collection and construction feature subjects that are unattractive, functionally industrial, or indigent. With the exception of Alan Wolfson and Leonard Kuras (mentioned in note 62), I notice that there are few if any HUD (Housing and Urban Development) houses

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in shops catering to miniature lovers. The occasional dentists ofce or drug store is a novelty and is always tidy, cheerful, and slightly comic: the minute dentures, the miniscule scraping hook. These miniatures emphasize nostalgia, Americana including the miniature train industry but also afuence and privacy. Their houses are not seen in the context of a city but are discrete. So are all the rooms of the Thorne Miniatures in Chicago. These are opulent and orderly, as well as without context and out of date. They allow the gigantic viewer to possess history, luxury, and wealth at a glance. Miniatures made by city planners of malls or housing developments are not only orderly but blandly utopic. Military miniatures have a traditional respect for gritty detail, down to the burn marks and peeling paint on the bombers, but they come without the vast miniature airport. For shops to sell detailed miniatures of a plastics factory or a porno-theater arcade complete with missing letters, trash in the street, grafti, exposed electrical wiring would be not only tasteless, but unheard of.62 Ethnic miniatures have yet to hit commercial markets in a big way.63 The discussion of the miniature in terms of the fetish, a replacement for lack, seems apropos, here: miniatures of an inner-city Rent-A-Center with bullet holes in the windows are not in demand for the average enthusiast of the miniature. Nor is riot architecture: the reduced window size, the bars on doors, the shiny, washable paint. One dealer describes her hobby to Kahn as a compulsive but therapeutic relief from the worlds harshness.64 We want what we perceive we lack the dream house that cannot be purchased except to scale. Some catalogs of miniature spaces, lled with their plastic or porcelain families, come with narratives, as in Roses Doll House: A parents bedroom is always a safe retreat: whenever little Cindy has a problem she goes to her best friend, her mother. She loves to lay her head on her mothers lap and tell her her troubles.65 There is an innocence and a longing inspired by the miniature that brings out such utopian narratives. What could these little worlds possibly have to do with our dystopic lms? In the cultural and physical compartmentalizations of our cities today, the ghetto and the industrial slum are not normally inhabited by the privileged but are places the privileged pass


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through to get somewhere else. As such, they acquire a certain fascination for painters, photographers, lmmakers, urban art specialists. In giving us sets to gaze at from above, the lm industry competes with the best of the illusionary techniques of the traditional miniature in offering consumers a safe distance for viewing these hidden places. In being such places they borrow a glamour and unfamiliarity that piques the acquired taste of the passant. They become ones lack. The lm industry distorts and appropriates them for artistic purposes, colonizing them with its makers (and our own) desires, not unlike the elegant collectible miniature. The scene I want to return to at last in Dark City is the one where the aliens, sitting in their crepuscular underground factory, earnestly manufacture and count the props they will introduce above. They sit at a moving assembly line of ragged items nine personal diaries, twelve assorted childhood photographs for all the world like stagehands behind the curtain. What better allegory for the simulacra of lmmaking, set construction, and model building that are behind both the miniature and the movie? Obviously, the movie miniature differs from the traditional miniature in the illusion that it professedly aims for that it is not a miniature. I insist, however, that even as it seems to shrink us into its unreal spaces, what it actually does is allow us to remain gigantic. Consider the pans, the zooms, the abrupt cuts: when we are not either Batman or a bird, or Baty watching Deckard hang over the Bradbury Building, or in a hovercraft, where are we? It is an age-old question of lm spectatorship. When we move in close to the Tyrell Tower, peer hundreds of stories above the ground through the dim glass at little whirling ceiling fans; when we are thrust in a series of cuts through the wretched streets of Dravens city at the fth-story level, where and what are we if not invisible giants looking at one of the most expensive miniatures money can buy? We are disembodied voyeurs. We are the vampires of the gaze, oating like Mr. Hand, in his respectable hat and coat, through the corridors of the dark city at the level of the ninth story. We are the neurs and nueses of lm cities and their sets. This is why we cannot ultimately shrink into these scapes, whether we have a taste for it or not. The pleasure and the safety

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dependon this invisible removal and always have. Despite his longings, Millhauser would not want to get into that enchanted garden, and neither would I: What good would it do me to shrink into my enormous doll town, to see the wretched paint job up close, the coarse weave of the curtains, the enormous crawling mites, the forlorn porcelain people frozen at their tasks? How could I play the lone, conspicuous neuse to the poor and private inner city to mingle with corner gangs, nger the broken glass on the sidewalk, climb the re escapes to asphalt rooftops, camera in hand? Such arrogance and conspicuous looking would invite attention. Photographers and artists and urban renewalists do it, but they are not invisible or uninvolved. They are not neurs. The rest of us launch our political salvos from a distance. We look at models. We go to the movies.


1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Thomas G. Smith, Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects (New York: Ballentine, 1986), 178 96. Harold Schechter and David Everitt, Film Tricks: Special Effects in the Movies (New York: Harlan Quist, 1980), 109. John Brosnan, Movie Magic: The Story of Special Effects in the Cinema (New York: St. Martins Press, 1974), 26 27. Smith, Industrial Light and Magic, 108. See the January issue of Galaxy Magazine 1.1 (1994), in which editor E. J. Gold features numerous fuzzy shots of Bardo Town, in illustration of Robert Scheckleys story City of the Dead (6 19). The depth of focus reveals the miniature size of the town and adds greatly to the storys macabre effect. Gold sells a series of videos (Good Morning, Bardo Town! ) that take the viewer on a surreal journey of images through his complex urban nightscape where the weather is always dark and clear (and still blurry). Gold has also produced a CD-ROM, Bardo Town: A Practical Guide to the Labyrinth, which explores his miniature in more depth than the video. I mention these texts in view of their private, avant-garde development of what I am examining.


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Dietrich Neumann, The Urbanistic Vision in Fritz Langs Metropolis, in Dancing on the Volcano: Essays on the Culture of the Weimar Republic, ed. Thomas W. Kniesche and Stephen Brockmann (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1994), 143. Brosnan, Movie Magic, 6. Schechter and Everitt, Film Tricks, 109. Christopher Finch, Special Effects: Creating Movie Magic (New York: Crossriver, 1984), 186 88.

7. 8. 9.

10. The shrinking episode in this lm is an obvious parody of the famous Twilight Zone episode in which a couple nds themselves lost in a childs model town. 11. Peter Lowentrout, Batman: Winging through the Ruins of the American Baroque, Extrapolation 33.1 (1992): 26. 12. Ibid., 26. 13. Batman Forever (dir. Joel Schumacher, US, 1995) changes the character of Gotham City considerably. This model brings the urban stronghold into the twenty-rst century and out of the rain. In keeping with its amboyant and psychedelic criminals, the new Gotham City is aglow with purples, yellows, and greens by night. By day, there is one particularly impressive zoom where we follow the camera over high-tech architecture, on re with the setting sun, and into the aerial, ultramodern corporate ofces of Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer). The statuary throughout the city is even more grotesquely burdened: great caramel-colored gures holding globes on their backs. But the general effect is somehow lightened, although it loses none of its surrealistic qualities. The subsequent Batman lms have been disappointing in their depictions of Gotham City, perhaps because they have lost the shock of the unfamiliar. Robin (Chris ODonnell), in Batman and Robin (dir. Joel Schumacher, US, 1997), drives recklessly down the long arm of one of the giant sculptures, but one does not quite get the sense anymore that the city is a menacing entity of its own. 14. With all due deference to the late Brandon Lee, whose on-set death adds an eerie dimension to my remarks below about miniaturizing menace. 15. I cite from the jacket cover on the video release of The Crow.

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16. Still another fabulous comic-strip city, frequently viewed from above, is developed in Warren Beattys Dick Tracy (US, 1990), the miniatures and matte paintings by Buena Vista Visual Effects Group all done up in primary, or cartoon, colors. 17. The motif is amazingly unwavering: In Metropolis, two men ght over Maria (Brigitte Helm) on the sloping roofs of a cathedral; in Blade Runner, over Pris (Daryl Hannah) on the top of the Bradbury Building; in Batman, over Vicky, again on a cathedral; in Edward Scissorhands, over Kim (Winona Ryder) in the ruined attic of the castle; in The Crow, over Sarah, yet again on a cathedral. In Dick Tracy the ght is over Tess (Glenn Headly) on the machinery of a suspension bridge, and in Dark City over Emma ( Jennifer Connolly) and the fate of human beings, in the air above the rooftops. 18. Mary Ann Caws, ed., City Images: Perspectives from Literature, Philosophy, and Film (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1991). 19. Susan Merrill Squire, ed., Women Writers and the City: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984). 20. East-West Film Journal 3.1 (1988). 21. Vivian Sobchack, Cities on the Edge of Time: The Urban Science Fiction Film, East-West Film Journal 3.1 (1988): 4 19; Janet Staiger, Future Noir: Contemporary Representations of Visionary Cities, East-West Film Journal 3.1 (1988): 20 24. 22. Colleen Tremonte, Metropolis Redux: Visual Metaphor and the Urbanscape, Beyond the Stars: Studies in American Popular Film, vol. 4, ed. Paul Loukides and Linda K. Fuller (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993), 89 102. 23. Samuel R. Delaney, A Future Narrative of Cities, Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres 2.1 (1996): 27 29. 24. Kathleen Ann Goonan, Cities of the Future? Paradoxa 2.1 (1996): 30 35. 25. Bruce Sterling, The Virtual City, Paradoxa 2.1 (1996): 46 60. 26. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).


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27. Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960), 2 6, and following pages. 28. Janet Wolff, The Invisible Flneuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity, in The Problems of Modernity: Adorno and Benjamin, ed. Andrew Benjamin (New York: Routledge, 1989), 145. 29. Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. and ed. Jonathan Mayne (Oxford: Phaidon, 1964), 11; cited in Wolff, The Invisible Flneuse, 145. 30. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, New Left Review (1984): 80. 31. Jon Lewis, City/Cinema/Dream, in Caws, City Images, 241. 32. Michel de Certeau, Walking in the City, in The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven F. Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 92. 33. Wolff, The Invisible Flneuse, 146. 34. Ibid., 153. 35. Quoted in Wolff, The Invisible Flneuse, 148, who quotes it from Ellen Moers, Literary Women (New York: Anchor, 1977), 12. 36. Steven Millhauser, The Fascination of the Miniature, Grand Street (summer 1983): 128. 37. Gaston Bachelard, chapter 7, Miniature, The Poetics of Space, trans. Marie Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), 148 82. 38. Susan Stewart, The Dollhouse, in On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993; originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 61 64. 39. Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 151. 40. Ibid., 150. 41. Stewart, The Dollhouse, 61. 42. Millhauser, The Fascination of the Miniature, 135. 43. A. C. Benson and Sir Lawrence Weaver, The Book of the Queens Dolls House (London: Methuen, 1924), 36 50. 44. Millhauser, The Fascination of the Miniature, 135.

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45. Ibid., 130. 46. Andrew Ross, Strange Weather: Culture, Science, and Technology in the Age of Limits (London: Verso, 1991), 147. 47. Andrew Ross, Ballots, Bullets, or Batmen: Can Cultural Studies Do the Right Thing? Screen 31.1 (1990): 26 44. 48. This is debatable. Ross concedes in Ballots, Bullets, or Batmen that both black and white youths sported the Batman insignia (35). However much the comics and the lm industry might be pitched at adolescent white male consumption, people of both genders and all backgrounds and ages go to big-screen movies. I am loath to say that industrial or depressed urban areas are uniformly without quality to those who live in them or even to those who work in them (including many lmmakers including my father for years), or that these lms please everyone by appealing to what is unknown or different. My own appreciation of industrial wastelands stems from their being a strong element of my childhood. My point is that, for the most part, these lms arise from and maintain stereotypes of industrial or depressed urban space, which they distort. 49. D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love (New York: Viking Compass, 1960), 107. 50. Jameson, Postmodernism, 76. 51. See Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema, Screen 16.3 (1975), reprinted in Feminism and Film Theory, ed. Constance Penley (New York: Routledge, 1988), 57 68. 52. Laura Mulvey, Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema Inspired by Duel in the Sun, Framework 6 (1981); reprinted in Penley, Feminism and Film Theory, 69 79. 53. Mulvey, Visual Pleasure, 70. 54. Lawrence, Women in Love, 108. 55. See Michael Heller, The Cosmopolis of Poetics: Urban World, Uncertain Poetry, in Caws, City Images, 87 98; Arnold Weinstein, The Break-up of the City and the Breakdown of Narrative: Baudelaires Le Cygne and James Merrills Urban Convalescence, in Caws, City Images, 145 57; and Steven Winspur, On City Streets and Narrative Logic, in Caws, City Images, 60 70.


Camera Obscura

56. Steve Carper, Subverting the Disaffected City: Cityscape in Blade Runner, in Retrotting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scotts Blade Runner and Philip K. Dicks Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ed. Judith B. Kerman (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1991), 187. 57. I would have included The Truman Show were it not for the fact that miniature photography was not the main device used to depict the imprisoning town in this 1998 lm by Peter Weir. It was shot, rather, in Seaside, Florida. However, the parallels between it and Dark City are amazing and obvious: a protagonist ( Jim Carrey) becomes gradually aware that his environment is fake, that his family is counterfeit, that his possessions are props and the subject of commercials, that his city is a jail from which there is no way out, that he is being observed by large numbers of people, that he is thrall to a supreme being, Christof (Ed Harris), and that his life is, if not a cartoon, then a sitcom full of sitcom clichs. Where Proyass lm is all night, Weirs lm is full of articial day, and while Truman escapes just as Murdoch does, it is into the blackness of an exit door, whereas Murdoch walks off stage in the blinding light. If the signature comment in Dark City is Shut it down (an enemy gesture that must be thwarted by light), then the corresponding comment in The Truman Show is Cue the sun (an enemy gesture that must be thwarted by darkness and privacy). 58. Eve M. Kahn, Where Lies Paradise? In Life Writ Small, New York Times, 15 December 1994, 26. 59. Ibid. 60. Anne Day Smith, Masters in Miniature: Twelve Artisans at Work, vol. 1 (Milwaukee, WI: Kalmbach Miniatures, 1987), 10 19; 100 109, 122 33. 61. Garden Railways June 1997, 67 71. 62. Leonard Kuras built a realistic miniature subway car, complete with grafti, yellowed newspapers, and a junkyard next to it with a broken-down Oldsmobile, chain-link fence, beer cans, and weeds. The copy that attends the photographs in the twelfth edition of The Miniature Catalog mingles an apologetic tone with its admiration: OOOPS! We must have pushed the wrong button. . . . We just couldnt resist the temptation to show you

A Taste for Shrinking


some realistic miniatures from the other side of the tracks (190 91). Kuras is identied as an urban art specialist, rather than a miniaturist, as if to distinguish him from the commercial sale of stately domestic interiors that dominate the most expensive items in the miniature market on this side of the tracks. 63. One can buy plastic or porcelain dolls of various racial types; a black family is featured in Roses Doll House, fall 1991, 6. 64. Kahn, Where Lies Paradise? 26. 65. Roses Doll House, 21.

Sarah L. Higley is an associate professor of English at the University of Rochester, where she teaches medieval literature, science ction, and lm studies. Her article Alien Intellect and the Roboticization of the Scientist appeared in Camera Obscura 40 41. She is currently coediting an anthology of essays on The Blair Witch Project.

Bardo Town Series. Reprinted from Galaxy Magazine (1994) by permission of E. J. Gold.

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