The Late Movies: Los Angeles Plays Itself

Chris Higgins

Los Angeles Plays Itself is an unusual documentary by film professor Thom Andersen, about how Los Angeles is portrayed in movies. As the most-photographed city in the world, LA is excessively present in many movies, and lots of TV. Sometimes referred to as a "video essay," Los Angeles Plays Itself is assembled entirely from existing footage from other films and TV shows depicting Los Angeles; it was never released commercially due to licensing issues with the clips -- it's only available through underground sources, or at live screenings with the director. Now the documentary is on YouTube, although it may not be for long. If you have an interest in documentary or serious film criticism, this is well worth a look -- but be forewarned, the pace is slow, there is some occasional movie violence (this is clips of existing films), some occasional coarse language, and a lot of deep thinking going on here.

For more on the film, read this interview with Andersen in which he discusses film criticism in general, and the genesis of this film.

Part 1

Stick around past the (somewhat slow) opening credits, at least until the narration begins. It's calm and sort of hypnotic. Sample quote: "If we notice a location, we aren't really watching the movie."

Part 2

"L.A.'s good enough for me, mister."

Part 3

"[Union Station] has been a favorite site for movie kidnappings."

Part 4

Part 4 can't be embedded, perhaps because it has a lot of footage from L.A. Confidential. Watch it here.

Part 5

Disaster movies ahoy!

Part 6

Xanadu! (Starting around 8:45.)

Part 7

"I don't wanna live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light." -Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

Part 8

The desert and the city.

Part 9

...And we finally arrive at Falling Down and start really getting into Blade Runner (around 10:45).

Part 10

"As Blade Runner is the Los Angeles movie of the 80's, another period film, L.A. Confidential is the Los Angeles movie of the 90's. The period is the early 50's."

Part 11

L.A. Story is included in this one (around 9:10), but alas, this clip can't be embedded. Watch it on YouTube.

Part 12

This one also can't be embedded; watch it on YouTube for a killer conclusion.