- Opening Shots and Loose Slots: adapting Las Vegas
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- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
Anyone who has ever seen a film set in Las Vegas will be familiar with opening shots of sensational neon signage clustered against the night sky. This montage sequence, now an established convention, leads the viewer on a thrilling joy-ride, generally beginning on Fremont Street in the old city centre, then heading down the world-famous Strip. Such an opening occurs in textual fictional narratives about Las Vegas in various ways, and in film it visually supplies backstory, indicating to viewers that the movie will feature some or all of the classic ‘Las Vegas total’: hotel rooms, food, gambling, lounge acts, quickie marriages and divorces, commercial sex. Mobilizing these signifiers of ‘Vegas’ to inform viewers that certain fictional codes will be in place, this opening both establishes an implicit pact concerning what to understand and anticipate, and serves as a gateway to various life-changing experiences involving love, fortune, violence or death. So whether it opens a novel or film, or is developed in a flashback, the visual cruise past Vegas landmarks signals associations that ‘stay in Vegas’, from loose slot machines and unsanctioned sex to big losses and drunken disorderliness.
In what follows I expand on Las Vegas's potential to generate multiple meanings in various media, and analyze how and what this opening shot of Vegas neon has signified from decade to decade. More specifically, my argument hinges on the notion that place is coded through a myriad of visual signifiers - in this case the neon and laser signage for which Las Vegas is famous - all of which coalesce in such a way as to constitute a complex text that has been adapted in film and fictional narratives, which in turn endlessly adapt each other.
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