Down in the Valley

Our Alternative Moments From LA's Most "Bitchin'" Neighborhood

In 1982 a drawling, 14-year-old Moon Unit Zappa (daughter of Frank) swung the denizens of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley into the public consciousness, via her father’s single “Valley Girl,” on which she appeared as guest vocalist. Valley girls––or “Vals”––became a national craze, with teenagers across the US yelping “totally tubular” to anyone that would care to listen.  Zappa’s Grammy-nominated song was followed by further paeans to the stereotype, including the 1983 film Valley Girls. The adventures of the Valley’s gum-chewing teeny-somethings has continued apace (what would the 90s have been without Clueless and its Valley party crashout?), but these days there’s more to the area than strip malls—though there are a lot of strip malls, in which reside some stellar sushi restaurants. The Valley, which encompasses more than half of the area of the city of LA in its 260 square miles, also houses many corporate cornerstones of the entertainment industry, including Warner Bros, Universal and Disney. Here’s our alt guide to the Valley in pop culture.
On Film:
Given the heavy density of cinematic head honchos residing in the Valley, it’s no surprise that it’s been the setting for a great many films. E.T. chose the suburban utopia as his touchdown point on planet earth, while Boogie Nights chronicled the rise and fall of Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a San Fernando busboy who gets chewed up and spat out by the Valley’s notorious adult entertainment industry (it’s estimated that 90 percent of porn movies produced in the US come from the Valley). But the true Valley masterpiece has to be Roman Polanski’s 1974 thriller Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson and inspired by the struggles over water rights that led to the growth and formation of the district in the early 20th century.
On TV:
Beyond the The Brady Bunch and Sweet Valley High, the valley's current status is as a teen haven. It's parodied in The O.C., the protagonists of which watch a meta-fictional reality drama called The Valley; Upper East Side drama Gossip Girl also makes a nod to the Valley’s symbolic status as a place of 80s excess. But the Valley is also the setting for the first five seasons of cult action drama 24—which has to be our favorite, as it fills this corner of LA with explosions, kidnappings, and international espionage.
In Song:
Given Frank Zappa’s definitively avant-garde musical stance, it was a surprise for everyone when “Valley Girls” reached #32 on the Billboard chart in 1982. But the Valley has an earlier, and more blockbusting theme song, in the form of Bing Crosby’s 1944 #1 smash, “San Fernando Valley.” Have a listen to this ditty and luxuriate in a time when snark and cynicism were in much shorter supply.

In Art:

David Lynch was not the only one inspired by Mulholland Drive, the road that skirts the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills, offering excellent views across San Fernando Valley (which gave its name to the filmmaker's surreal 2001 masterpiece). Fellow LA-phile David Hockney’s gargantuan, six-meter painting Mullholland Drive offers a different take on the locale, bursting with color and psychedelic plant life. The artwork, which depicts the pool-loving artist’s daily trip between his home and studio, was created entirely from recollection (hence the less-than-photorealistic finish) and resides in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


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