Anyone who lives in or visits Los Angeles and is interested in its history as a movie town ought to seek out and watch the 2003 documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself. A 169-minute cinematic essay by filmmaker, academic and Angeleno Thom Andersen, it is comprised entirely of clips from films shot in and around Los Angeles, overlaid with Andersen’s narration.
To wander the city as a film fan is to stumble endlessly upon movie landmarks. Los Angeles Plays Itself is a lament for neighbourhoods that no longer exist except on celluloid, and a guide to those that do. Never released commercially, Andersen’s magnum opus was, until now, shown only at select screenings and shared online under semi-legal circumstances. This autumn, it is finally coming out on DVD.
The film is a love letter to the city and a polemic about its misappropriation: the 1997 adaptation of James Ellroy’s LA Confidential comes in for criticism for abbreviating Los Angeles to “LA”, a habit Andersen abhors. He also faults the Oscar-nominated film for using the Lovell Health House, built in 1929, as the home of a high-class pimp. Hollywood film-makers, Andersen points out, have a terrible habit of turning modernist masterpieces into villains’ lairs.