Los Angeles Plays Itself: movie review

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Simply because it’s never going to make it to legal home video—not unless more than 200 movie clips are okayed—you’ve just got to clear your schedule and commit to this. CalArts professor Thom Andersen poured a lifetime of moviegoing (and his own complex affection for the city he calls home) into this revelatory two-part documentary, a film that trains you to look at things askew. To wit: Yes, that’s Roddy Piper in the foreground of John Carpenter’s They Live, but did you notice the real-life slums of East L.A. serving as the setting?

And so it goes, for dozens of titles, from usual suspects like Double Indemnity, Blade Runner and Safe, to wonderful, off-kilter choices like the alien thriller Species and 1961’s The Exiles. It’s not a lecture (though Andersen does let his finicky distaste for the term “L.A.” be known); rather, he’s making sociopolitical points about a town that’s forever been used by Hollywood as a backdrop, but has suffered bad press for it. Through the prism of fiction, he charts the destruction of working-class Bunker Hill, paved over for a glass futurescape. Elsewhere, Andersen makes humorous hay out of the stark home designs of Richard Neutra—only suitable, it seems, for drug dealers.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

Release details

Rated: N/R
Release date: Thursday January 1 2004
Duration: 169 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Thom Andersen
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