Saturday, January 4, 2014

It's back -- and (evidently) better than ever! Thom Andersen's LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF

I'm told that, for his newly remastered version of the now-fabled LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF (not to be confused with Fred Halsted's famous porno hit, LA Plays Itself, which is actually given some prime space in this film), filmmaker Thom Andersen (shown below) has replaced most of its old VHS clips with hi-def source material, dropping certain sections, lengthening others and re-editing the whole shebang. All of what's new would be lost on TrustMovies, however, because I never got to see the original version. As soon as I heard about this film, which is just now celebrating its 10th anniversary, I stuck it on my Netflix queue -- and waited. I'm still waiting. So thank god for this second and very timely theatrical release.

Evidently (and I am guessing on this), due to the amazing amount of clips from other films that are used in this documentary and the consequent problems with "rights and permissions," the film never made its way onto DVD. More than a shame, this seems almost criminal, considering how terrific the film is in every way, particularly, I think, for anyone who truly knows and appreciates Los Angeles -- even folk, like me, who don't much care for the place. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, then returned in my adulthood to live and work there for another decade. So I feel I can assess the city pretty well. And since Mr. Andersen and I were born only two years apart, I expect we know L.A. in somewhat the same way. (I, too, remember the original Angels Flight, below.)

What Andersen has given us is not only one of the best documentaries I've yet seen on movies, it is also the best about Los Angeles and where and how the city and the movies intersect. The filmmaker's narration (beauti-fully voiced by Encke King) -- Andersen wrote, produced and directed this film -- is wonderfully literate, thoughtful, funny, incisive, with loads of specifics, some of which you may already know but most you will not.

Here's one: L.A.'s Union Station (left) has played a kind of "everystation" in films, even once -- in The Replacement Killers -- playing the L.A. airport.

When it comes to architecture, the documentarian also shows us -- rightly, I think -- how Hollywood films tend to quite unfairly "trash" the modern, making it so often the home, as in L.A. Confidential, below, of villains and sleaze.

Mr. Andersen loves movies, it is clear, and I think he also loves Los Angeles, but he is quite aware of the city's history (his section on its public transit system, example below, is eye-opening, offering a less simplistic look than we got from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), its notorious police department, and the Hollywood "Walk of Shame" (as he calls that cruddy, stars-in-the-pavement "Walk of Fame").

His opinions are sometimes jolting and funny: "People who hate Los Angeles love Point Blank." (Hey, I don't like either!) And I hope he will forgive me for using the shortened name of L.A., which he evidently despises, rather than constantly having to type out the full Los Angeles moniker. Yet his tastes and wit help make this movie -- a love letter to this city if ever there was one -- both sharp and endearing, a kind of personal history of public places and things.

Andersen's look at a famous Los Angeles hotel (above) and its use in movies is gorgeous, sometimes bizarre fun. And his observation on Hollywood movie bathrooms in the '50s (no toilets!) is something I never noticed till now. He also notes in passing how Hollywood does love to destroy Hollywood via its own disaster movies.

After showing us moments from The Outside Man, Andersen takes on movies' "tourism" and divides this into what he calls high and low tourism, with Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock examples of (this may surprise you) the latter, while the Jacques, Deray and Demy, excel at the former (Deray with The Outside Man and Demy with his Model Shop (above).

The filmmaker also gives us an hilarious "take" on Sunset Boulevard and a very different, intelligent and provocative look at Blade Runner. From L.A. Confidential, we move to cop stories like Dragnet (that's TV, mostly, though several movies were made from the series) and Altman's Short Cuts. (Notes Andersen: "Condescending directors know only a few parts of this city.")

There is so much more here (for one, where L.A.'s water comes from and its somewhat wrongly understood connection to Chinatown, above), and we see again some wonderful city landmarks like the Pan Pacific auditorium and the Richfield Building.

Los Angeles Plays Itself is three hours long. Yet I sat and watched it through, end to end, and then so besotted with all the movies and facts and surprises and opinions and more, all that I wanted to do was immediately see it again, if only to straighten out certain confusions and wrap myself in its pleasures once more.

Along the way, you will note in Andersen's narration a persistent streak of, well, a kind of call for justice -- from the movies, from the city. Our filmmaker is a good progressive thinker, with an eye and ear for all the people of L.A. His finale is unequivocally socialist and egalitarian, angry and moving. Along the way, we hear of Kent Mackenzie's perhaps over-rated but still important film, The Exiles (above), and now we get Billy Woodbury's Bless Their Little Hearts (below) and Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep. It's a fitting finale for a film this inclusive, this important, this... great.

My apologies to Thom Andersen and to Harris Dew at IFC for getting this post up late. Los Angeles Plays Itself opened yesterday here in NYC at the IFC Center, where it will play through January 9th and where it deserves to find a huge audience. I hope it will play elsewhere around the country, and this time also find its way to DVD. If anyone out there knows more about playdates for the film and/or a possible DVD release, please alert me and I will add that info to this post.

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