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|Index||35 reviews in total|
What I found most interesting about this movie is how starkly it showed
that we all live in different worlds. I loved the movie, the way it was
structured, what it focused on. But at the end of the day, the
director's LA is not my LA (starting from trivial things like his
assertion that the term LA is an insult).
For example: his LA says nothing about trees, whereas one of the things I try to point out to visitors is how many trees we have, all over the city, vastly more than you'd expect, of great variety. My LA extends eastward almost to Palmdale, his runs from the coast to about highway 110. My LA is fascinated by man's accomplishments, from the cluster of antennas (and the observatory) on Mount Wilson, to the traps in the San Gabriel mountains preventing landslides, to the fact that the freeways work as well as they do, to the massive water projects keeping us all going. His LA is uninterested in the control of nature. My LA loves the fact that material items are so cheap, whether you're looking at any of the masses of malls, or buying second hand in any of the masses of Goodwill stores. He doesn't see the cheap material items, rather the expensive no-materials (rent, medical, education, etc). My LA is interested in how many educational establishments we have, of such variety; his LA does not even mention these institutions.
This is not to criticize him or the movie --- the world is huge and none of us can know more than a tiny part of it. It is simply to point out that LA is likewise huge, and the perspectives he gives, while part of the story are far from the whole story, from the whole undiscussed issue of teenager movies and the portrayal of LA high schools, to the complete lack of reference to the LA Arboretum or Huntington Gardens (both locations used in so many movies).
(Yeah yeah, you can argue that he is talking about Los Angeles city, not LA metro, but come on. That's like snobbish New Yorkers insisting that Manhattan is the whole of NYC. It's a blinkered, empty way to live your life.)
If you're not a local, come visit and see for yourself. The good things he says about it are true --- there is so much beauty in the whole metro --- and many of the bad things from police to racism have (touch wood) been resolved or at least improved and are improving.
As a film, this one is very uneven. It definitely deserved better
writing and structure. More actual facts, less subjective opinion
presented as fact, and better balance and clarity between fact and
fiction also would have benefited it.
That being said, as a native Angeleno who grew up in L.A. in the '50s-mid '70s, I looked past the industry vs. "great unwashed" residents comments (spurious at best), and focused on enjoying the locations and sights of my younger days, most of which are long gone. I'm also a fan of '30s-'70s movies, laughably considered too obscure by several short-attention-span reviewers, and those films showed many important L.A. locations that are historical treasures to older Angelenos, and that have fallen before the bulldozers of L.A. developers, often for good reasons I might add. But why an extended segment on Roger Rabbit (for one) instead of, well, any number of more relevant clips? Weird.
The segment that attempted to portray the ethnic and cultural diversity of Los Angeles was also out of whack. Too little mention of L.A.'s thriving Mexican-American population, virtually no mention of its Asian-Americans, and though at least attempted, an highly over-simplified overview of the Watts riots. Not one mayor (Sam Yorty? Tom Bradley?) was mentioned; no natural catastrophe or criminal activity, either. Not even Olvera Street or the early history of Los Angeles. As a history, this film deserves not just an "Incomplete," but a "D" grade because too many relevant facts about people, politics, local culture, steps of progress, etc. were either missing, inaccurate or made more or less important than they actually were.
Still, as a visual record of L.A. in years gone by, this was great fun. I enjoyed the accurate and salient comments that were made, and especially the many nostalgic images and the memories they brought to mind.
Interesting documentary and well worth the viewing. For movie fanatics it gives the audience a nice connection between the city of Los Angeles and many of the movies filmed in and around the city. The movie could have steered clear of the social commentary and just let the viewer see the comparisons and contrasting perspectives of life versus movies coming out of Hollywood. In the end it isn't any different from any political documentary. It simply gets too heavy and deep when it could be a more light hearted look at films and the connection to Los Angeles. It is a cynical and sadly dark look at the film industry and how it doesn't sync with the writer's view of his city.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Los Angeles Plays Itself" is, first and foremost, an
exhaustively-researched piece of work covering a staggering number of
films shot in and depicting the city of Los Angeles. That is its chief
asset, and it's a lot of fun seeing these movies in (sort of) a new
light. It does expect the viewer to have some understanding of film
theory, but my eyes were glued to the screen, wanting to see what movie
Thom Anderson would examine next.
But it's also a work that's made for those living in Los Angeles; a rallying cry for Angelenos over how the city is depicted by Hollywood (hint: he ain't too fond of filmmakers who choose well-trod locations to represent the outer communities . . . shows that they don't really know those places). I have no such connection to the city, so I wasn't eager to go with the man on such a scathing journey. And Andersen's negativity is magnified in Encke King's dour narration. I loved the terrific assemblage of clips, but I just wanted Andersen to get over himself. At almost three hours' runtime, I can understand why some wouldn't stick with this thing for the full ride.
For a three hour documentary about a town that houses 10 million and
looks dusty and dirty even when it's at its pristine and pretentious
best, this is some compelling stuff. The droll voice of the narrator
(Encke King- please tell me that's a pseudonym for the documentary's
creator, Thom Anderson) expounds the essay like a cynical alcoholic
history professor might talk about the Arapahoe during a Friday night
session in which you were hoping to deal with no more important topics
than whose breasts look best on GoT or what's up with Jets QB
situation. And you'll listen to him because what he says makes sense.
Yes, Hollywood is full of overprivileged white guys who pretend the
city they live in doesn't exist outside of their fortress-like movie
studios and bougie Bel-Air penthouses. I myself lived in Los Angeles
for a year, and Hollywood is more of an odor than a thing. You get a
faint whiff of it from time to time, but for the most part, Los Angeles
is a place where underprivileged multi-ethnic people scrape out a
living and pay too much for it. Every single Asian country is
represented there (China, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the
Phillipines, all of 'em), and of course a good 1/3 of it is Mexican
(and you can't forget how many black people live there...). It's a
Anderson includes a history of Los Angeles by showing how the filmed history got everything wrong and he expounds on the cops and how they're portrayed. His essay sounds like what it is: a tenured film professor being overly critical and at times pseudo-intelligent about an industry borne of immigrants when at its best... which is hilarious given how kind he is to anyone obviously not born in America, as though their portrayal of Los Angeles is more honest because they don't pretend to know anything about it (or probably care all that much-- I lived there, and I never found a reason to care about it. It was a just a place with a lot of people and not a particularly inviting one). This would probably be labeled communist propaganda if it came out during the 50s with how much it seems to disdain anyone who isn't working class or below. Which would be more admirable if the filmmaker was just some guy who watched a lot of movies while he scraped out a living repairing motorcycles in Simi Valley and not some coddled condescending liberal who's been sucking at the film school teat since the 60s.
And yet, I give it an 8. The guy does know his stuff.
Remarkable documentary, charting the history of how Los Angeles is
portrayed in the movies, using hundreds of clips from dozens of movies.
In the process it reveals much about the city's real history, its
politics, how movies distort and even create reality, etc, etc.
Smart, and never for a second boring despite it's 2:49 running time, often funny, with Anderson's well written dead pan voice over constantly making you see both films and the city of Los Angeles in new ways.
As noted in other reviews, this will probably never be commercially released due to the enormous expense and legal complexity of licensing all the clips involved. But very worth keeping your eye open for at museums, University showings, 'grey market' sales, etc.
I almost left this film after its first two hours. I expected the final
hour would be more of what had gone before - a succession of brief
clips, mostly from little-known fifties and sixties movies, with a
somewhat flat voice-over narrative explaining how little relationship
the "L.A." scenes in the movies have to the realities of Los Angeles
and American life. For a while, seeing all the old images was fun and
the narration was intelligent, but, I thought, enough was enough.
I'm really glad I stayed 'til the end. The final hour pulled it all together and made me understand why the initial two hours were needed. The second part began with the "low tourism" of Annie Hall (still using the city as a backdrop), went on to the "high tourism" of Chinatown and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (dealing with real historical events involving water and transportation but in a fictional context), and ended with with films by independent black directors, including Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, that show the lives of real people in a hard, difficult, vibrant city in which not everyone owns a car.
Los Angeles Plays Itself is an intensely political documentary for which the primary influence may ultimately be Bertolt Brecht. It doesn't seek to make the viewer identify with any of the characters, even the sympathetic characters, in its movie extracts. Rather, it uses the extracts to argue for a radical view of a potentially beautiful city, one in which economic and social decency come to the fore and public transportation is readily available.
I write this a week before a Los Angeles mayoral election in which Antonio Villaraigosa is the likely winner. I hope he has a chance to see Los Angeles Plays Itself.
Much like the city under analysis, this film school project is without
equal in many respects. However, just like Los Angeles, the warts make
for less than a perfect experience.
My posting is thoroughly biased since I am, like so many of the posters to IMDb, a Los Angeleno who loves this city. We get the joke about Los Angeles. We live it every day. Someone told me that you have to live here for seven years before you begin to peel back the image of the city and actually find there are people living here. Whether seven is the correct number, I can tell you that viewing this movie will speed up the process considerably.
With the director's guidance, viewing various movie clips over the years is an enlightening experience. The emphasis is placed on the background of the shot, not the foreground actors. This proves to be liberating and an unexpected pleasure. The insightful voice over convinced me that they had done their homework. Even if you think you know a lot about this city, you will learn more in two hours than you would pouring over history books for a month.
Then there is the third hour. Ouch. Feel safe to leave the theater after the intermission. All semblance of historical detachment is thrown out the window and it becomes a personal diatribe against perceived slights and his take on racial politics. I happen to agree with with many of his sentiments, but his language is equal parts preachy, treacle, and bombastic. Also, unfortunately, in many places just plain wrong. Statements are made as fact (without attribution) that are mere opinion. No voice is given to reasonable voices from any other source. It is, of course, the director's right to make a personal film and take any side he wants. Watching it is another thing all together.
The other major problem is the video transfer. Many of the clips are clearly lifted from VHS tapes that have been in a library or video store just a little too long. Even the best of the film has a washed out look would probably not be as noticeable on a TV, but on a big screen, the effect will take you back a bit. Oh, did you notice the running time? Obviously one of the filmmakers heroes is Michael Cimino.
In the end, the entire experience is well worth your time if you have any interest at all in Los Angeels/Urban America/Big City politics.
Just somebody get him an editor. While you are at it, how about a fact checker.
It ever a movie illustrated the concept of "falling down", this is it.
It started out with great promise, especially for me and my wife as
native Los Angeles residents. We were interested in learning about what
the locations were and possibly how they've changed. For the first hour
or so, it was exciting to see period scenes from many common and
obscure films, particularly from midcentury, when the city had so much
more architectural integrity.
The narration then gradually became more of a diatribe, since the author couldn't wait to enlighten the audience with his superficial left-wing take on everything. You've heard it all already, especially if you went through college in the 70s like we did. He even took offense at the use of the nickname "L.A." and took it to prove self-loathing! And that was early on. The narrator's sneering tone fit Andersen's text perfectly, a world-weary, disdainful drone that made us lose our will to live! The clips got worse, too -- less interesting, and much less scene-oriented than in the beginning. Wasn't that supposed to be the point of the film, from its title? As it progressed, it became basically a collection of climax cuts featuring special effects and violence. For example, if we hadn't already seen "LA Confidential", the few violent scenes he showed would have pretty much ruined any future viewing of the movie for us. Those scenes had nothing to do with Los Angeles playing itself. The movie completely loses its focus, and becomes unwatchable after the intermission. We, too, left early -- and angry at becoming the recipients of a sophomoric diatribe by what Sam Spade might have called a pocket-edition political desperado.
If the Egyptian Theater had reflected some of this dominant quality of the film in their promotional literature, we would not have felt as betrayed by the unfortunate turn of this film. Rating for the first hour: a 9. After that: 1.
I didn't mind the three hours. I found the segments on the city's
history very interesting. It seemed like the film could have gone in
two or three different directions, however, and it left me wanting more
in some parts. It was like he had the beginnings of three different
Like others, I did not enjoy the voice of the narrator - a little more intonation, a little more humour would have worked for me. I too thought there must be a number of other films set in L.A. that were not mentioned (City of Angels would be another), while several others were referenced a number of times? Was glad to see, and loved the coverage on Blade Runner. The segment on the Innis (sp?) house seemed to loop on itself a bit, with a bit of confusing repetition. And the film's ending felt very abrupt to me - just getting into the first black films made in L.A., a segment that could have been developed more fully, one thinks; it did not bring us up to the present day. Last shot we see is from a 1983 film, with narration that gives no indication that the film is ending, and then a blank screen and then the credits - ?? Did I miss something? A little jarring. But overall I liked the home-made feel of it - appropriate to the purpose and goal of the project.
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