Dream State, California in the Movies

By Onyx Staff | 07/23/2021

California Dreamin’ On the Big Screen

Dream State, California in the Movies by Mick LaSalle Book Review

By Pamela Biery


Mick LaSalle’s new book, Dream State, California in the Movies, is a revealing journey into the psyche of California as it is reflected in cinema. Longtime San Francisco film critic Mick LaSalle has a knack for getting to the story behind the story and this book is full of great perceptions of just what California cinema expresses both intentionally and unintentionally through its film industry.


Dream State is a methodical examination of how California appears in film, from San Francisco to Los Angeles with a wonderfully witty narrative on just how many ways we can see the Golden Gate Bridge being destroyed. With chapters that take on the myth-making behind the Wizard of Oz and the dark underbelly of Film Noir, the reader begins to sense that Hollywood is both vacuous and deliciously full at the same moment, and this moment is a uniquely California moment, made possible at least in part, by a beautiful, mild and changeable climate where life just looks a bit more glamorous before the cameras start rolling.


For those who like to go below the surface of film, Dream State is a must read. LaSalle’s career as a film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle provides him with a steady flow of apt observations and most importantly, the connective tissue that is implied or perhaps hinted at as both cultural and cinematic references. One aspect that emerges as a theme is the dissonance between perception and reality as perpetuated through cinema–not the obvious, but rather the moments that tend to go largely unrecognized but have great influence, which LaSalle is near genius at identifying.


There are dozens of films mentioned, each presented with unconventional rarely discussed viewpoints. The eleven chapters include distinctly different time generations and genres, examining how Pearl Harbor is portrayed then and now, as well as Romance and Utopian visions. This is not a book of reviews or even in a certain sense, the in-depth discussion of individual films, but rather a closer look at what we rarely examine in terms of the culture itself as seen through the mirror of California cinema. LaSalle gives us a bit of American history as well as anthropological insights and a totally unique set of mind-opening perceptions.


In a broader sense, Dream State is about America and the values America chooses to portray through cinema and this too, is cast with an eye to historical context, examining how events like World War II, Woodstock, and 911 have shaped what we see on the screen and how this informs and reinforces that which is permissible and that which either by production code or implication, falls beyond the pale and shifts over time.


Dream State provides unique insights on what it means to be in California and why and who has been drawn to this seemingly superficial oasis of tempting promises fulfilled, along with the implied illusions Hollywood offers that vanish when the theatre lights come back on and the credits roll.