"Los Angeles is easily the most photographed city in the world - but the least photogenic," claims scholarly filmmaker Thom Andersen in Los Angeles Plays Itself, an intellectually rigorous but enjoyable essay on the way the city of angels has become Hollywood's favourite location. Arguing that "Los Angeles is where the relationship between reality and representation gets muddled", Andersen uses clips from over 200 movies to write a hate letter to Hollywood, complaining that the movies cheapen, trivialise and falsify the real city.
Narrated by a rough-hewn voice that's full of dry wit, Andersen's film is part philosophical meditation, part cineaste's dream. Discussing architectural history, urban decay, and the character of the city, Los Angeles Plays Itself backs up its arguments with a brilliant selection of clips that include the inevitable (Chinatown, Double Indemnity, Earthquake) the surprising (Blade Runner) and the downright obscure (Native-American melodrama The Exiles).
"HIGHLIGHTS THE OTHER SIDE OF LOS ANGELES"
Disgusted by the artificiality of the movies, Andersen goes in search of the "real" and the "literal", celebrating those films - like the superb film noir Kiss Me Deadly - that don't disrespect the city's contours for their own ends. It's a pernickety, unconvincing argument and it obscures this documentary's great strength. The second half of Los Angeles Plays Itself delves into the hidden history of the city with stories of land grabs and water distribution, race riots, public transport battles and police brutality played out over clips from films like Chinatown, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Unlawful Entry.
Tracing the fault line between history and fiction, this ode to LA finally comes alive. The extended mini-thesis on cop movies is inspired, as is the unexpected dissection of independent African-American cinema that highlights the other side of Los Angeles and of Hollywood. It's this that Anderson's film does best: rediscovering the hidden, the lost and the forgotten dreams that lie somewhere downtown.