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Los Angeles Plays Itself    cover photo

Los Angeles Plays Itself 2014

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Producer n/a
Directed by Thom Andersen
DVD , color, 88 min.



General Adult
Acting, Architecture, Documentaries, Film Novelizations, Films, Geography, Popular Culture, Urban Areas, Western United States

Date Entered: 01/22/2015

ALA Notable: yes
Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Contemporary Los Angeles, California, is a sprawling urban metropolis, made up of a series of small towns linked together by miles of cement. It is also one of the most photographed cities in the world. Not for its beauty – described as best seen at night and from a distance - but rather for its proximity to an industry that has always used it as a background setting, character, and subject for its storytelling. It is the many ways in which Los Angeles has chosen to depict itself in film over time that forms the focus of this unique documentary.

Originally produced in 2003, re-mastered in 2013, and made commercially available on DVD in 2014, experimental film maker Andersen has assembled hundreds of film clips of his home town that include its public and private spaces, either in bit or starring roles. Following an introduction to the city as a sometimes anonymous, sometimes recognizable background, the film explores the reality and the representation of life in Los Angeles during the 20th century. Part film criticism, part urban geography guide, Andersen’s multilayered video essay is sardonically narrated by writer Encke King and considers not only the film industry but also public transportation, housing discrimination, racism, and police brutality. Although familiar titles such as Chinatown (1974) and L.A. Confidential (1997) are discussed in some detail, it is very short clips of unfamiliar, small, low-budget films that are most captivating.

Bonus features include a 14 minute short film by Andersen on Tony Longo, a working actor, and a print booklet with essays by Andersen and Mike Davis, the author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles (Verso, 1990).