Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) is a nearly three-hour homage to the City of Angels, directed by CalArts faculty member Thom Andersen. The video essay has a rare screening tonight at CalArts during the Structuring Strategies class and film series.
The film is a “city symphony in reverse,” containing an amalgam of both archival footage and movie clips that Andersen organizes into three distinct sections:
- The City as Background focuses on buildings and places, both famous and obscure, and how they become typecast and transformed by movies.
- The City as Character considers shifting attitudes toward the city, expressed in the work of filmmakers who have self-consciously made Los Angeles an important presence in their films, such as Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and Jacques Demy’s Model Shop.
- The City as Subject considers movies that take on the city itself as their subject, including Chinatown, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and LA Confidential.
Los Angeles Plays Itself won the National Film Board of Canada Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2003 Vancouver International Film Festival, and it was voted best documentary of 2004 in the Village Voice Film Critics’ Poll.
From then-Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman:
A manifesto as well as a monument, Los Angeles Plays Itself has its origins in a clip lecture that Andersen originally “intended for locals only,” but as finished, it is an essay in film form with near-universal interest and a remarkable degree of synthesis. If Andersen’s dense montage and noirish, world-weary voice-over owe a bit to Mark Rappaport‘s VCRchaeological digs, his methodology recalls the literary chapters in Mike Davis‘s Los Angeles books City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear; no less than Pat O’Neill in The Decay of Fiction, but in a completely different fashion, he has found a way to turn Hollywood history to his own ends.
Structuring Strategies with Thom Andersen
Los Angeles Plays Itself
CalArts’ Bijou Theater