Kansas City plays itself : criminality, cultural memory, and urban space
Giddings, Hope Wallace
May 11, 2020
Art History and Visual Culture Studies
In 1995, Robert Altman shot the eponymously titled Kansas City in Kansas City. In order to replicate the 1930s setting of the film, the production team set about transforming parts of the city’s urban fabric, erecting false facades and making cosmetic fixes to parts of the city that had been long neglected. Following the release of the film the next year, the city allocated funding to revive the filming locations that would essentially make the work of the production team permanent. This is the Kansas City I grew up in – one that now, more than twenty years after the release of Kansas City, the eponymous film, is invariably shaped by it. The lasting effects of this movie were not only material, as interventions on the physical space and built environment of downtown, but also informative of the way the city understands itself, and the way it makes sense of its own history; the film positions Kansas City in a legacy of criminality that has remained relatively static over decades. Now, the transformed film sets sit at a strange confluence of past, present, and future; a simulacrum of the 1930s built in the 1990s and still there today in 2020. They serve as constant reminders of the city’s less-than-savory history, a history that has over time become less scary and more marketable.
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