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Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)

Not Rated | | Documentary, History | January 2004 (USA)
1:21 | Trailer
A documentary on how Los Angeles has been used and depicted in the movies.


Thom Andersen


Thom Andersen (text)
3 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Credited cast:
Encke King Encke King ... Narrator (voice)


Of the cities in the world, few are depicted in and mythologized more in film and television than the city of Los Angeles. In this documentary, Thom Andersen examines in detail the ways the city has been depicted, both when it is meant to be anonymous and when itself is the focus. Along the way, he illustrates his concerns of how the real city and its people are misrepresented and distorted through the prism of popular film culture. Furthermore, he also chronicles the real stories of the city's modern history behind the notorious accounts of the great conspiracies that ravaged his city that reveal a more open and yet darker past than the casual viewer would suspect. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

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User Reviews

14 July 2011 | by chaos-rampantSee all my reviews

This is one of the most interesting projects about cinema (as the filmed frame) that I know of. It is about the city as background, as character and subject. They were making as far back as the 1920's films as hymns to the cityscape and what life in it, 'city symphonies' they called them, but here it is about the most photographed city in the world. A place that was nothing more than a small town when the dream factories rolled in and shaped it into a myth that sustains itself. And it's entirely in terms of cinematic history, entirely cobbled together from other peoples' vision of that place.

So the essay is about the history of a city as reflected in cinema and shaped by it, about Hollywood's idea of Los Angeles overlapping with the actual place where real people live. The filmmaker has compiled clips from a large array of films; from silents and noir to 80's action and modern blockbusters. The idea is that we're looking at the background of these shots, at the actual reality and place over which is superimposed the movie fantasy.

Various insights here, ranging from the stridently interprative to the intuitively discerning. It amuses the narrator for example, how modernist architectural houses built to signify transparence are turned by movies into the dens of iniquity of shady characters simply because they look weird from the outside. How the same building could substitute as a hotel, a police station, and a newspaper office depending on the movie. How the disappearance of entire neighborhoods can be actually traced in the footage of movies filmed there. Bunker Hill was a busy, homely district where pensioners and poor immigrants lived in the late 50's, but in '84 it substitutes well as a desolate urban wasteland in Night of the Comet.

And a more interesting one. How cinema imagined in Chinatown or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, perhaps reflecting public opinion, devious schemes by shady groups of plutocrats to usurp control of the water or public transport, while the actual reality was banal; these things happened, or efforts towards them, but in the public eye and with its support.

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Release Date:

January 2004 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Los Angeles Plays Itself See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$5,005, 1 August 2004

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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