Combustible Celluloid
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With: Encke King (narrator)
Written by: Thom Andersen
Directed by: Thom Andersen
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 169
Date: 09/07/2003

Los Angeles Plays Itself (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Being L.A.

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As bad a year in film as 2005 has been, there are at least half a dozen movies currently playing for which I would recommend paying full price: A History of Violence, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, Broken Flowers, 2046, possibly Corpse Bride and certainly the new film opening today at the Roxie, Los Angeles Plays Itself.

Directed by film programmer, professor and sometime filmmaker Thom Andersen, Los Angeles Plays Itself is an ultimate movie clip junkie film, a video store fantasy with a pulse and a brain. Through a nearly constant stream of almost 200 movie clips, Andersen sets out to discover the soul of Los Angeles, and how it has been represented in Hollywood films over the past century.

Through three chapters, Andersen explores The City as Background, the City as Character and the City as Subject. He discovers that, unlike San Francisco, New York and Paris, Los Angeles is hard to visually pin down. Even its most recognizable landmarks have "played" different buildings in different movies set over different time periods. (Blade Runner is one of his favorite subjects.)

Andersen definitely picks on certain favorites -- Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one -- and poses unusual observations such as referring to the films of John Cassavetes as "comedies" or comparing Jack Webb to Bresson and Ozu.

But the film's real kicker comes in the final third. After we've been tickled by all these celluloid dreams, Andersen points a finger at how poorly the outland regions of Los Angeles have been depicted in movies, and especially their residents, claiming Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep as a good example and Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon as a bad one.

Few other movies in recent years have been both so much fun and so challenging. Don't miss it.

Good news in 2014. Despite the use of so many unlicensed clips, which promised that Los Angeles Plays Itself would never be released on DVD, it has been released on DVD, thanks to Cinema Guild. I don't know how they did it, but now movie fans can finally check out this terrific documentary.

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