Los Angeles Plays Itself

Year: 2003
Production Co: Thom Anderson Productions
Director: Thom Anderson
Producer: Thom Anderson
Writer: Thom Anderson

I expected this film to be much lighter and fluffier than it was, more of a travelogue that would take me from Griffith Observatory (The Terminator) and the coffee shop out of Pulp Fiction to the concrete LA river from the Grease drag race.

Instead, writer/director Thom Anderson is a true documentarian, not just a film geek. Los Angeles Plays Itself is broken up into chapters that deal not just with where something iconic was shot but what it means to the city (and the city to it).

There's a whole chapter on the architecture and how it informs on the movies certain houses and buildings have appeared in. In Lethal Weapon 2, for example, the huge house on stilts Riggs (Mel Gibson) lashes his truck to in order to pull it over is considered by Anderson to be a symbolic attack by producer Joel Silver and the Hollywood establishment on the sensibility of the architect behind the style.

Another chapter takes umbrage at the geography depicted, where a character can leave downtown in a car and be at the beach five minutes later. Another draws a distinction between movies in which LA itself is a character and when it's an anonymous stand-in for somewhere else (but which locals – to their amusement – recognise).

There's even an extended sequence about the grand conspiracy played out in plain view that formed the basis of Chinatown and facilitated LA's postwar boom on the back of official corruption.

He's even political about the name Los Angeles has – not long after the opening of the movie is an impassioned speech about how it's Hollywood and visitors who call the place 'LA' and not than the proper name 'Los Angeles'. You might otherwise be tempted to write it off as the irrelevant ravings of some old grump, but it's so well articulated you can't help but understand Anderson's point of view.

For such a well-structured, researched and well-written movie, it finishes dreadfully suddenly with no conclusive statement, making me wonder if the version I watched was incomplete. The only other thing I felt was really missing was the last decade of history to reflect on – Los Angeles Plays Itself was made in 2003 and left me wanting to know how Anderson's theses applied to more recent movies.

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