Los Angeles Plays Itself
(Thom Andersen, 2003, 169 min)
Los Angeles Plays Itself is a video essay about how movies have portrayed the city of Los Angeles. The first section (The City as Background) is about buildings and places, famous and obscure, and how they get typecast and transformed by movies.
The second section (The City as Character) considers shifting attitudes toward the city expressed in the work of film-makers who have self-consciously made the city an important presence in their films.
It begins with Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, about which Richard Schickel wrote,”You could charge L.A. as a co-conspirator in the crimes this movie relates,” and it ends with Jacques Demy’s Model Shop, in which the protagonist declares,”It’s a fabulous city. To think some people claim it’s an ugly city when it’s really pure poetry, it just kills me.”
Along the way, it recalls how movies have documented vanished landmarks and neighborhoods.
The third section (The City as Subject) considers movies that take the city itself as their subject, beginning with Chinatown in 1974.
Movies about Los Angeles have been, for the most part, period films, set in the past or in the future, and they replace the public history of the city with a secret history, opaque to its citizens. This urban legend is not innocent. It serves to dissuade naive viewers from political engagement by telling them that they are condemned to ignorance and powerlessness, no matter what they do. In fact, the truth is the opposite: the public history is the real history, as the treatments of Chinatown, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and L.A. Confidential demonstrate.
The notable exceptions to this pattern are some low-budget independent films about ethnic minorities made in the tradition of neorealism, and it is with these that Los Angeles Plays Itself concludes.
Directed by Thom Andersen
Saturday, March 29 12:30pm
Newly remastered and reedited, Thom Andersen’s 2003 opus, Los Angeles Plays Itself traces the development and evolution of Los Angeles, “the most photographed city in the world”. Composed of hundreds