Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)
Directed by Thom Anderson
Andersen’s dense and illuminating video essay highlights Los Angeles’s complicated relationship with the movies and the troubling divide between the city’s cinematic portrayal and its geographic, architectural, and sociological realities. Using clips from nearly a century’s worth of films, Andersen argues that the movie industry has always tried to distance itself from Los Angeles, from adopting the more idyllic-sounding “Hollywood” as its epicenter to using the urban landscape as an anonymous backdrop for car chases and alien invasions. The longtime Angeleno is also suspicious of Hollywood’s denigration of his city’s modern architecture. He observes how historic landmarks like the Ennis House and the Bradbury Building are consistently transformed into stylish hideouts for movie villains.
Andersen does, however, find solace in those films that use the city as a subject and a character. Chinatown is praised for presenting LA’s corrupt secret history, as is Double Indemnity for depicting evil as banal as the unchanging sunny weather. This is film criticism on an elevated plane, one that finds as much value in the sociological ramifications of a Steven Seagal shoot ’em up as it does in Altman’s The Long Goodbye. A.J. Serrano (April 10, 5pm at the Museum of the Moving Image)