Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) Poster

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Long, but worth watching if you have any interest in the history of Los Angeles and how it was portrayed in film.
rex66810 September 2004
Thom Andersen uses hundreds of scenes from a multitude of movies throughout the past century, to express his opinions about the true Los Angeles in this cinematic essay. He takes the common opinion that Los Angeles has no discernible culture, and presents two basic reasons why this opinion is so prevalent.

1. Los Angeles used to be a culture rich city until the richer, more affluent, citizens decided that it's more profitable to have apartment complexes, high rises, and strip malls.

2. There is quite a bit of culture remaining in Los Angeles, but because everyone is too busy driving themselves from point A to point B as fast as possible, they don't see it.

Whether you agree with his opinions or not, the film is worth a look (although nearly three hours long) to see all of the footage of Los Angeles over the years, and how it portrayed LA at the time.
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Los Angeles
pwiancko21 September 2004
A fantastic film covering all of the bases of the way in which Los Angeles is seen through the eyes of Hollywood. Full of wonderful insights, this film is an in depth study more than it is a crowd-pleaser. Also a great source of information for film-buffs...a plethora of little-known facts and behind-the-scenes information. Some of the movies are blockbusters, others you may not have ever heard of, but each film that Thom Anderson studies and quotes proves to be a unique take on the subject. If you love DVD special features, you will love this movie. If you love Los Angeles, you will love this movie. If you HATE Los Angeles, you will love this movie. If you don't know yet, or know nothing about LA, get your hands on a copy of this movie. It will make it easier to decide.
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A well thought out movie, but few visitors last till part 3
maartenwinters29 January 2004
I watched this movie at the 'Rotterdam Film Festival' in The Netherlands and beforehand had no idea what to expect. After a few minutes it became clear to me that the movie was a collection of hundreds of movie-fragments, all located in the city of Los Angeles. Being a movie freak I was very interested from that point on, and Thomas Anderson didn't let me down. A terrible amount of time and research must have been spent making this movie, and it pays off! Having been in L.A. myself I really liked all places that are shown in the movie, and all movie-fragments being shown. Unfortunately, a lot (I think to many) of old movie fragments are shown (1950-1960), which makes it a little 'unrecognizable', at least for me. After part two of the movie, I had seen so many peaces of 'old material', and together with listening 2 hours to the voice of Mr. Anderson, I became to tired to go for the 3rd hour. Nevertheless, I can really recommend this movie to anyone who likes watching movies, and likes learning more about them and about a city that was so very important in movie making!
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You have to love Los Angeles
dennis-whelan4 May 2005
Criticisms are valid, but this film is not entertainment...in the popular sense of movies today. That said, I was riveted for three hours, without an intermission. I just couldn't leave, and risk missing something! I've been secretly admiring Los Angeles for years. I love driving its main boulevards for miles and experiencing the pan-cultural ethic a single street. Western, Sepulveda, Slausen, Sunset, Van Owen. Here is a film that I always wanted to see, and encourages me to see more films about Los Angeles. I've always felt that Los Angeles was a city in its late adolescence/teen age years: pimples, raging hormones, lack of history and eternally looking to the future. Andersons take on the city, it's image in film as a personality, place and thing are very juicy indeed. Best seen at multiple sessions! Can't wait for the DVD.
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tezby27 June 2004
You may have noticed other comments here saying that the film is long, boring and has a droning voice over. While it is 3 hours long and has a narrator with a voice like a sedated Billy Bob Thornton, Los Angeles Plays Itself is one of the most fascinating film-crit documentaries ever made.

The director assumes that the viewer has a certain level of understanding of film theory, and that would probably help when the narrator starts citing David Thomson, Pauline Kael, Dziga Veryov and Ozu, but it's not entirely necessary to enoy the film either. All you really need is an understanding that a real place - the city of Los Angeles - is also a fictional place - the LA of the movies. The documentary is like an extended home movie made up of clips from films and interspersed with sections created by the director.

What holds it all together is an examination of Los Angeles as a place in films (locations, buildings), as a stand in for other places (Africa, Switzerland), as a record of places lost (buildings, neighborhoods, people, cultures), as focus for nightmares and dreams (SF like Blade Runner and Independence Day) and more.

While the voice over could have been paced a little better and be bit more "up", this film really rewards viewers who are willing to accept the documentary on its own terms. I found I just couldn't stop thinking about it and now, when watching movies shot in LA, I keep remembering moments from Los Angeles Plays Itself.
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A most personal view of Los Angeles viewed through the Movies
Joe Stemme11 May 2005
In much the same spirit as Martin Scorsese's "Mio viaggio in Italia" (1999), Thom Andersen's "visual lecture" on his native Los Angeles is a very personal journey. Because of rights issues involved in procuring clips from dozens and dozens of films, this project is unlikely to ever be seen outside of Museums, Cinemateques, and 'academic' settings, so you will have to actively seek it out if you want to see it. It is worth doing so - with reservations.

Because it is such a personal odyssey, nobody is likely to agree with all of it, and that would suit Director Andersen just fine. I guess I could be categorized as a "tourist who stayed" in the vernacular of Andersen's thesis. I grew up in Boston, and moved to Los Angeles in my early 20's. Therefore, MY LOS ANGELES is different from Andersen's. I don't get my back up when the city is referred to as "L.A.", but Andersen pointedly does. He finds it a derogatory and dismissive term that is used as a weapon by outsiders and tourists. As local film critic Andy Klein points out, Americans don't seem to have the same issue when it comes to the abbreviation "U.S.A.", so why is "L.A." so offensive? And, though many locals DO object, "Frisco", "D.C.","NYC", "SLC"and other similar abbreviations are becoming more and more common in our less literal society.

Some of the clips which Andersen employs last only a few seconds - acting as veritable Still Photos of certain views of the city (representing a variety of eras as well). Andersen is laudably conscientious in identifying ALL the clips used (sometimes this is a distraction; especially in those briefest of shots). Oddly, the brevity of those shots actually spurred me to wish the film were EVEN LONGER (the most common criticism of the film is that it is too long as is). Still, by the end, a remarkable portrait of a city does emerge. But, being the home of "Hollywood" (a term which also rankles Andersen - especially when it is used interchangeably with the main city itself), Los Angeles doesn't seem to exist in the world's eyes as separate from the Film Industry.

The biggest problem with the film is the narration (not Andersen's voice as others have often mentioned). Andersen is given to make sharp declarative sentences, that are too often contradicted not only by reality - but by the clips in his own movie! For instance, he makes a point about the haze over the city and declares that films ALWAYS have a gauzy look when showing Los Angeles - then provides clips which show the sharp sunny vistas (think BAYWATCH) that attract hordes of visitors and tourists. More problematically, Andersen is a 'neighborhood' guy who not only derides Hollywood, but seemingly anywhere west of Vine. For someone who is declaring love for his native city, it is odd that he dismisses vast swatches of it! Curious too, is that Andersen knowingly adopts the view of "outsiders" to the city (and the film industry) as he levies specious arguments to why "Hollywood" is so phony in its depiction of the city. Andersen certainly is better informed, but feigns ignorance to make his point.

The final portion of the movie brings Andersen's agitprop view into focus. To Andersen, racism is the dark underside of Los Angeles. As a so-called 'liberal Westsider', I have sympathy with much of what Andersen espouses (especially his parsing of the term "Nobody walks in L.A."), but it changes the focus of the film (not to mention the explosive and divisive use of a term like "genocide" to define public policy).

Again, one wishes the film were longer in order to explore some of these issues touched upon. Also, Andersen should have done another pass in the editing room. Not in terms of length, but in terms of some of the obvious contradictions in his narration vs. reality/movie clips. And , a cheap shot at George Kennedy (obviously an attempt to inject humor in the dry commentary) is not worthy of such a high-minded project (curiously, Andersen misses an opportunity to needle Kennedy again in a later BLUE KNIGHT clip). On a technical note, I must say I was disappointed that it is a Video Production (as many of the most extraordinary pieces of Cinematography are marred by a fuzzy video-dupe look) -- all the while understanding the financial and logistical reasons it is so.
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Fascinating Los Angeles
Popey-61 November 2004
Most people are going to say 'whoa!' at the running time for this lengthy (3 and a bit hours) documentary but it is one of the most fascinating films you can see on the subject of Los Angeles (certainly not L.A.). Andersen's monotone voice does not grate or bore and is scripted well not to tell too much or too little about the city. The running time, as any film or LA aficionado will appreciate, is not nearly enough time to fit in all that could be said, or shown, about the city, people, buildings, spaces, representations but he does very well with condensing what he has gathered.

Many critics have argued that the poor quality (it is entirely on video) of a lot (even the most recent) footage lets the piece down slightly which is true if the viewer is to appreciate the wide landscapes but matters not where he is simply trying to illustrate an oft-repeated point. People will say 'what about 'The Couch Trip' or 'where's 'Beverley Hills Cop' but this is just nit-picking a fine achievement and a labour of love that Andersen has fortunately been able to share with the world. Even if you haven't been to Los Angeles you'll love this trip through the movies.
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"L.A." = ineffable
Trenchant and epic in size is Thom Andersen's "Los Angeles Plays Itself" – a doc that analyzes representation as much as it analyzes representation of Los Angeles itself.

How I adored the narrator's (Encke King) voice! It was at once sardonic and annoyed – a reflection of Andersen's emotional regard toward the whole matter, no doubt. What we hear are critical observations of the film clips that we see – there are quite literally dozens and dozens of clips here. This may seem disorienting and exhausting (to the interest level) but it's not. So struck with the compelling argument that Andersen presents to us do the hours fly by like minutes (not vice versa as Addison DeWitt said in "All About Eve").

Funny/interesting it is how this doc is set up like a conventional narrative film that Hollywood is guilty of routinely (and cloyingly) pushing on to the consumer - first we laugh and then we cry. The only difference here (and it's a big one) is that we're looking at actual subjects that existed or still exist. We cry for Los Angeles, you ask? Well, I'm not at liberty to discuss the poignancy that's present – it must be experienced firsthand in order to attain those surprise tears that are greatly missing in our movies.
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Is there an Editor in the house? Uneven, unstructured
smccallister30 May 2004
Clocking in at about 2 hours and 45 minutes, there's some good material here, but it would only make a good documentary of about 100 minutes. Which means it runs over an hour too long, made worse by the fact that there's very little structure, so that as it meanders from topic to topic, you have no sense of where the film is headed, and how much damn longer it's going to last. Symptomatically, when the film did end, it ended abruptly -- without a resolution to any of the themes or even a "goodbye". Last of a series of vignettes and a jump cut to credits.

I saw this at the Seattle International Film Festival, and it's the first film I've seen this year that had more than a few audience walk-outs.

All of which is a shame, because there's interesting stuff here, great clips around the general theme of how the city has been portrayed in film and comparing historical realities with portrayals in films as diverse as "Chinatown" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". The understated tone of the narrator is at time effective, and at other times just drones on too long or too polemical...

While the film is nominally about the portrayal of Los Angeles in the movies, it meanders from segments on architecture to political and law enforcement scandals, to discussions of class and race. Again, there's some interesting material on almost all of these topics, but it never gels and is at least an hour longer than it should be. Too bad.
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Interesting footage of city ruined by filmmaker's agenda
gnome-512 September 2008
Where do people get the idea that movies are supposed to represent some kind of objective truth? That seems to be Andersen's main bug. He faults Hollywood for fictionalizing Los Angeles history. He says that rich white people can't make films about L.A. because they only know the rich white part of the city, and because they might offend their rich white friends. It seems in his view that only people who walk the streets and ride the buses are qualified to depict life in this city, but the clips he shows from a few "neo-realist" films don't feature the city very much, except for a long shot of a guy driving past a closed tire factory.

But all movies (even documentaries and those by poor black filmmakers) are constructs. By their nature (meaning meddling by cinematographers, editors, directors, etc.) they can only present a subjective view of the city. So why not embrace that? Things like "creative geography" are inherent to the art form, so why discount them? Ultimately, Andersen has a bug up his hinder about what he considers to be proper film-making, and it flies in the face of a hundred years of cinema history. And this guy is a professor of film studies!
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