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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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lengthy (2 hours and 50 minutes) though absorbing and intelligent documentary on Los Angeles and how the city has been reflected in the movies (its scandals, its crimes, its mob connections, its architecture, etc.). Written and directed by Thom Andersen, with dry, non-showy narration by Encke King, this was a massive undertaking, yet the film and TV clips selected are enjoyable, giving us a past and present view of the city's streets and skyline, the seedy decay and the glamor of the privileged. The third act gets perhaps a touch heavy, when delineating the poverty-stricken by focusing on a trio of black dramas (1978's "Killer of Sheep", 1979's "Bush Mama" and 1983's "Bless Their Little Hearts"), but even then Andersen's text shows both grit and heart, sentimentality and cynicism. *** from ****
What should be a fun documentary, the history of movie shooting
locations, turns into an almost three hour slog. The film is dragged
down by a script full of banalities (did you know when a film's actors
exit one location they don't always enter the real next location?) and
the most monotonous monotoned (sic) difficult to listen to narrator
since "The Story of Film: An Odyssey."
Another flaw is the repeated scenes of B and even C level films. Occasionally this is works, but how many times can you watch something Messiah of Evil?
Best watched in short bursts.
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