Los Angeles Plays Itself

Director: Thom Andersen

U.S.A.| 2003. Colour. Digital video. 169 min.

Thom Andersen’s mesmerising 169-minute essay film Los Angeles Plays Itself mimics an old-fashioned double feature, with an intermission planted about two-thirds of the way through. It offers clips from 191 American movies, whose only point in common is that they’re set in Los Angeles, and a narration that’s an essay on how movies have treated Andersen’s hometown (he was born in Chicago in 1943 but his family moved to Los Angeles four years later). Plainspoken and witty, it qualifies as social history, film theory, personal reverie, architectural history and criticism, a bittersweet meditation on automotive transport, a critical history of mass transit in southern California, a wisecracking compilation of local folklore, ‘a city symphony in reverse’, and a song of nostalgia for lost neighbourhoods. Most of all, it qualifies as film criticism on the highest level—analytical, transformative, and political. But it’s also sufficiently engrossing and funny that some viewers won’t find it political or seriously critical at all, at least until its closing stretches.

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