Kamis, 16 Desember 2010

Thom Andersen - Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)


If we can appreciate documentaries for their dramatic qualities, perhaps we can appreciate fiction films for their documentary revelations. -- Thom Andersen, Los Angeles Plays Itself


The year's best piece of film criticism, Thom Andersen's dazzling cinema-essay on Los Angeles looks at his native city's history as a backdrop for the movies, and how it jibes -- or, more often, doesn't -- with reality. Andersen is a professor at Cal Arts, and he delivers what could be called a lecture in light, using a battery of film clips to back up some original and provocative insights, such as his backhanded praise of Dragnet for its dead-on depiction of how ordinary citizens are condescended to by the LAPD elite. Andersen accomplishes something rare: After seeing this documentary, it's hard to look at movies the same way again. -- Scott Tobias, The Onion A.V. Club's Best of 2004: # 8. Los Angeles Plays Itself

Jonathan Rosenbaum's review (courtesy of damorend)
Full transcript! (courtesy of damorend)
List of movies referenced (courtesy of heliogabalus)


Review (The New York Times)
Looking for Reality Where They Manufacture Make-Believe

According to Thom Andersen, ''Los Angeles is where the relationship between reality and representation gets muddled.'' This is in no small part because the misrepresentation of reality drives that city's most prominent industry, the movies. In ''Los Angeles Plays Itself,'' his sober and indignant new documentary, Mr. Andersen takes movies involving his hometown as his subject, his source of evidence, and the target of a thought-provoking if sometimes crabby indictment. ''This is the city,'' he writes in the film's first-person narration (read by Encke King). ''They make movies here. I live here. Sometimes I think that gives me the right to criticize.''

And criticize he does, using clips from more than 200 films over nearly three hours in his defense of exploited and beleaguered Los Angeles against the cultural imperialism of Hollywood. It is not that Mr. Andersen, who teaches in the film and video program at CalArts, hates movies, though sometimes it feels that way. It is rather that his love of Los Angeles makes him sensitive and more than a little protective.

He disdains the nickname ''L.A.'' as demeaning, heaps scorn on tourist misperceptions and declares that the only thing he unreservedly likes about Hollywood is the much-mocked, endlessly reproduced sign that looks down from its hills on the city below. More seriously, he traces the various ways American movies have maligned the city's architecture, falsified its history and papered over the social, economic and racial fault lines that lie beneath its illusory civic order.

At times the images from various films noirs, disaster epics and B pictures feel like exhaustive annotations of the obvious. It is, after all, hard to be shocked at the news that what movies depict is not real. But the meticulously chosen scenes from all kinds of movies -- old and new, great and small, legendary and obscure -- enliven Mr. Andersen's scholarship. And his finicky eye for detail animates his argument.

''Los Angeles Plays Itself'' [...] is divided into three parts, examining the city's role as background, as character and as subject. Within each chapter are mini-essays that prevent the film from drifting into generality and that hold Mr. Andersen's most arresting insights. He notices, for example, that specimens of Southern California's great modernist residential architecture -- hillside homes designed by Richard Neutra and John Lautner, for example -- typically house super-rich movie bad guys. He takes this, not implausibly, as an expression of pseudo-populist aggression against the utopian, progressive vision of international modernism. He also traces the decline and eventual disappearance of Bunker Hill, an area on the edge of downtown that changes before our eyes from a stable working-class neighborhood in early film noir into a zone of glassed in postmodern emptiness.

As a critic Mr. Andersen can be both generous and withering. After taking a predictable smack at the facile anti-Californianism of Woody Allen's ''Annie Hall,'' he casually eviscerates Henry Jaglom, Mr. Allen's critically coddled West Coast counterpart. He tosses darts at writers like Joan Didion and David Thomson (a British transplant to California who ''loves everything about America except what's worth loving'') and debunks as cynical the conspiracy-minded romanticism of movies like ''Chinatown'' and ''L.A. Confidential.''

Instead of the secret histories these examples of retro-noir historicism confect, ''Los Angeles Plays Itself'' proposes a public history that has been conveniently forgotten. Mr. Andersen argues that fateful, epochal decisions involving water, the freeway system, public housing and the power of the police were not made by shadowy cabals operating outside public view, as movies like these imagine. Rather, the corrupt dealings of the city's rulers were duly reported in the press and, not infrequently, ratified by the voting populace.

The most succinct way to capture Mr. Andersen's aesthetic sensibility is to note that he uses the word ''literal'' as a term of praise. He admits to being bothered by movies that abuse locations by throwing together far-flung geographical areas. He also points out the ways that nonwhite, nonaffluent residents of Los Angeles have been patronized, marginalized and rendered invisible by their insular, self-involved natives and by well-meaning interlopers. As an antidote to the fantasies and falsifications of Hollywood, he excavates a countertradition of local neorealism, represented by ''Exiles,'' a 1958 film about American Indian migrants to Bunker Hill, and by the work of African-American directors like Charles Burnett and Billy Woodberry in the 1970's and 80's.

It is important to be reminded of these beautiful, rough-edged movies, just as it is necessary to be skeptical of blindingly shiny images that emanate from Hollywood. But Mr. Andersen induces a paradoxical reaction, one that might be taken as evidence of a degree of hypocrisy on his part. ''Los Angeles Plays Itself,'' in spite of its length, is rarely tedious, an achievement it owes mainly to the movies it prodigiously excerpts. To watch it is to succumb to the voluptuous melancholy of ''Blade Runner'' and to the icy suavity of ''Point Blank,'' to laugh at Laurel and Hardy's innocence and at ''Dragnet's'' squareness -- to be reminded of the pleasures provided by the very entertainment being held up for censure.

Mr. Andersen's intention is clearly to challenge the audience's complacent acceptance of what these films depict, but he ends up substituting one form of complacency for another. Feeling superior to the movies is a familiar and comforting intellectual stance. It comes a little too easily, almost as easily as believing that what is on screen is the truth. -- A.O. Scott
no pass

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