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 (email@example.com)
A most personal view of Los Angeles viewed through the Movies
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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