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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.
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.
I read with some amusement the reviews on this film, ranging from
boring to brilliant. So, first things first - brilliant it's not. Good
it's not. Boring? Sometimes, but that's not the point. Thom Anderson
wasn't born here. He doesn't bother to tell us when he moved here. From
his rambling, pretentious, pedantic and horribly written narration,
spoken by a horrible narrator, he presents himself as a native, as
someone who knows Los Angeles intimately. I don't think so, frankly.
There's an interesting idea here - the Los Angeles of film, and the Los Angeles of now. But Mr. Anderson is so in love with himself and the sound of his own voice (and his narrator's) that what we end up with is a smarmy, not very smart documentary about - what? That's the problem. I don't think he has a clue as to what his own movie is ultimately about. His points are occasionally so obtuse that you sit there scratching your head as to what he's trying to say. He puts clips from two Hitchcock films that were shot in San Francisco. Really? And one in Paris? Really? I'm sure he thinks he's being deep and profound, but in both regards he'd be wrong. There are some decent clips here, and happily they've been cleaned up for the Blu-ray and taken from other Blu-ray hi-def sources, so they look much better than what was screened at the Egyptian (I was there). The final forty minutes or so, where he blathers on about completely unknown and obscure films that he's obviously in love with (given that he's a teacher of film theory, I'm sure he revels in such outré material), just devolves this film into complete and utter pointlessness.
Worth it for some good clips, and a handful of interesting bits of information. It's okay to want to make a film all about yourself, but don't call it Los Angeles Plays Itself, call it Three Hours of How I Personally Feel About Los Angeles with Sidetracks to Other Pointless Topics. Then we know what we're getting.
I cannot give it more than one star because it is such a missed opportunity for those of us who a) were born and raised here, b) know this city well, and c) love this city, especially its past, when it was one of the most unique cities in the world.
This documentary changed - oh no, not my live, but my looking: at Los Angeles and at movies in general. The City of Angels will never be the same - L.A.. And from now on I will classify the films I see into high and low tourist: Through which stranger's eyes do they present the city they pretend to live in???
Los Angeles Plays Itself asks the question - should we expect films to
represent the truth or is anything acceptable in the name of
entertainment? Director Thom Andersen is mostly concerned about how his
city, the City of Los Angeles, has been represented in the movies. In
an abrasive and brilliant three-hour cinematic essay, he wants us to
know that the history, locations, and social makeup of Los Angeles
bears little resemblance to how it has been depicted on screen over the
years. According to Andersen, "Los Angeles is where reality and
representation get muddled," he says. The public conception of Los
Angeles (he despises calling it LA) he says is of discontinuity,
nonexistent addresses, phony telephone numbers, rich and corrupt
individuals who live in modernist houses in the hills, and ethnic
minorities who live next to oil refineries if they live at all.
Containing clips from literally hundreds of films, Los Angeles Plays Itself is divided into three parts plus a very welcome intermission. Encke King narrates but the text is from Andersen, a Professor of Film Studies at the California Institute of the Arts and a resident of Los Angeles since age seven. The first part, The City as Background, looks at how real sites have been misleadingly portrayed in a cinematic history of buildings and houses turned into something far from their intended purpose. Using clips from such diverse films as The White Cliffs of Dover and DOA, he shows how the massive sky-lit Bradbury Building was turned into a British hospital, a Burmese hotel, and a police headquarters. In The City as Character, he shows the deterioration of the residential downtown area known as Bunker Hill that went from an upscale neighborhood to one of seedy rooming houses until it was finally leveled for redevelopment and commercial high rises.
Accessible by a railcar known as Angel's Flight, Bunker Hill in the movies became a setting for adultery and murder in film noirs such as Kiss me Deadly and Double Indemnity and eventually a futuristic dreamscape in Blade Runner. These are contrasted with the documentary The Exiles by Kent Mackenzie that shows the reality of the cultural dislocation of a subculture of Arizona Indians living in loneliness on the hill. Andersen discusses landmarks that no longer exist such as the Pan Pacific Auditorium and laments the passing of the drive-in restaurant and drive-in movies. He has little good to say about films such as Altman's Short Cuts, Steve Martin's L.A. Story, and Woody Allen's Annie Hall that, he says, repeat tired clichés about his city. He also takes umbrage at films like War of the Worlds, Predator 2, and Independence Daythat blow his city to smithereens to satisfy the audience's need for destruction.
The final part is called The City as Subject and here Andersen exposes the lies of films such as Chinatown and L.A. Confidential that tell only part of history, delving into the real scandals in L.A. history that reached far deeper than that shown in the movies. He even dissects good old Joe Friday in Dragnet, showing it as a TV series that mirrored the LAPDs contempt for the ordinary citizen. The essay ends with a look at some rare independent films that portray a part of ethnic Los Angeles overlooked in big studio productions. These are Bush Mama, Killer of Sheep, and Bless Their Little Hearts, a film about the tribulations of an aging unemployed black man in South Central Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Plays Itself is a fascinating excursion into the history of cinema and Andersen's commentary is hard hitting, insightful, and revealing. He invites us to reawaken our senses and view movies consciously, not simply accept uncritically what is presented on the screen. Whether you agree or disagree with his point of view, I guarantee you will never look at films in quite the same way again.
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.
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.
Terrible, with boring voice over that would be more appropriate for
nature documentary or technical tutorial. This film is long, very long
and unnecessary depressing in mood and tone. There are way better ways
to learn about LA history, people and architecture. This movie is
nothing more then a self obsessed and self involved research, that the
author didn't even bother to make even remotely watchable. The movie
plays like an internal monologue, where the author forgot to keep it
intriguing or interesting. The movie selection is also very poorly
done, there are way more and way better films to represent LA in it's
best and worst ways. The narrative winders around, rolling in and out
of the main subject, this meandering both irritating and confusing.
Don't waste your time!
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.
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