The Best Documentary About Los Angeles You've Never Seen Is Finally Coming Out On DVD
It only took a decade, but the best documentary on Los Angeles is finally being released on DVD. Until now, you've only been able to catch "Los Angeles Plays Itself" intermittently on YouTube and at a handful of screenings, usually at the American Cinematheque and usually in the company of other architecture buffs, film geeks and Los Angeles city nerds.
The nearly three-hour film features a brilliant, funny, often cranky narrator discussing the way that Hollywood denigrates Los Angeles in ways both large and small. It's based on a lecture filmmaker Thom Andersen gave to his class at CalArts after seeing the way that filmmakers treated the Lovell House in "L.A. Confidential." Here's a clip of that segment in "Los Angeles Plays Itself":
That movie is also on notice for referring to our city by its initials: "Only a city with an inferiority complex would allow it." He even puts Joan Didion—along with anyone who ignores people who aren't white or rich—on blast: "Forget the mystical blatherings of Joan Didion and company about the automobile and the freeways. They say, nobody walks; they mean no rich white people like us walk."
It's not all about railing against the Hollywood machine. The last segment illustrates that another cinematic depiction of Los Angeles is possible. He has a softest of soft spots for neorealist cinema, including films like Charles Burnett's depiction of life in Watts in "Killer of Sheep" (1977) Kent MacKenzie's film about Native Americans living on Bunker Hill ''The Exiles" (1961).
The film is almost entirely made up of clips from other films (here's the lengthy list), so the surprise isn't that it wasn't available for so long—but that Cinema Guild was able to overcome copyright issues at all. At a screening on the tenth anniversary of the release this fall filmmaker Thom Andersen told the crowd, "I was, am, and will be able to use [the clips] under fair use. No copyright owners were harmed in the making of this film."
Whatever made the release possible, we're excited to hear that more people will be able to watch the 2003 film that has aged well and perhaps even become more true over time. Although Andersen noted at the 10th anniversary screening that there has been a shift in the way modernist architecture is portrayed: "Now the rule is that gay men live in modernist houses and lesbians live in craftsman houses."
If you're one of those aforementioned film geeks and an Andersen fan, you'll be happy to hear that Cinema Guild is releasing some of his other films, including his 1995 documentary on the blacklist "Red Hollywood" as well as "Eadweard Muybridge Zoopraxographer" and "Reconversao." His films will be available on DVD and other digital platforms starting this fall, according to The Dissolve.