Los Angeles Plays Itself

Los Angeles Plays Itself ★★★★★

This was a movie I had been waiting a very long time to see. I learned about it early in my movie-fandom, in around 2006 or so, but the thing I had heard most about it was that it was impossible to see, especially out in the wilds of CT where I live. There are so many rights that would have to be cleared if it were to come to home video, and the market for it must be so minuscule that the effort and cost would never make sense. But, somehow, it happened. Netflix recently added the film to its Instant Watch service, so I was excited to finally be able to check it out. And it did not disappoint.

This is no straight-down-the-line documentary. It is not a recitation of facts. Instead, it is a portrait of the city, lovingly and not-so-lovingly constructed by the movies set in it. Director Thom Andersen has his opinions about what Los Angleles (never LA) is and isn't, and he adroitly manipulates the entire history of the city on film to his own ends. If you're cool with that, you'll easily get lost within Anderson's interesting takes on things like the Bradbury hotel and the way Chinatown has become a "secret history" for the city, despite its lack of, you know, factual elements. He also makes an interesting distinction between what he calls the city's high and low tourist directors, classifying most Europeans in the former category and most New Yorkers smugly in the latter. There's actually a lot of smugness going on here. Anderson will not waver from his opinions. I found that to be kind of amusing, even endearing, though it will likely rub others the wrong way.

There's not a thing I would change about this film. Well, maybe using higher quality sources for the film clips in a few scenarios would be beneficial, but that's only a small thing. It is a wonderful way to spend three hours inside a guy's head and I wish that other scholars would make similar films for their own cities. Can we franchise this?