Monday, September 7, 2009

Playing The Angel (City): 'Los Angeles Plays Itself' Screening At The Aero

Gotta love social networking.

If it weren't for finding out on his Twitter or Facebook (forgot which one), the Militant would have totally slept on this one. One of his friends/followees posted Saturday about attending the sold-out screening of the 2003 documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, screening this weekend at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

So the Militant looked into it to add to his Sunday activities. 7:30 p.m. screening? The Militant was so there. Besides, it was a perfect way to celebrate Los Angeles' birthday weekend, since he was to lazy to wake up Saturday morning and go to the El Pueblo festivities.

He also bought his $10 movie ticket online via, which was not only totally convenient, but their $1 add-on service fee was way more reasonable than that of, oh, say, larger, more oppressive online ticket monopolies.

The Militant got in line, which went around the corner, and just his luck; right as his place in line entered the building, they announced that, for those who hadn't purchased via Fandango, the show was sold out! He even had a little difficulty finding a seat!

The film, of course, is Thom Andersen's (no, not that one) documentary (or video essay, as the filmmaker touts it) on the depiction of the Los Angeles metropolitan area in motion pictures, over the course of nearly eight decades. The film is, by no means, comprehensive of course, which is just as well given its two-and-a-half-hour-plus running time. But for someone as militantly Angeleno as, well, the Militant Angeleno, every minute of the film is captivating, revealing and fascinating.

There are no interviews; every scene is comprised of scenes of other films, always credited onscreen by title and year. Though the narration is written by, and from the point of view of, the Chicago-born, Brentwood/Westside-raised filmmaker, it's voiced by the droll and sometimes monotone Encke King, which is actually sometimes put to good effect, especially during scenes of humorous commentary, like this sequence that connects architecturally-significant residences with onscreen antagonists:

The film also makes some astute observations on not only the urban (or non-urban) landscape of Los Angeles, but other issues such as history, transportation, depiction of law enforcement (the commentary on the LAPD's well-known motto is pure gold) and to the Militant's sheer delight, how motion pictures have oft-reduced "Los Angeles" to a two-letter acronym.

Of course, there were a couple of points the Militant could nitpick on, such as Andersen's commentary on the bus system that would make any yellow-shirted pseudo-Marxist jizz in their pants. And the ending of the film, which finally addresses the depiction (and non-depiction) of blacks, Latinos and Native Americans in 'Hollywood,' seemed a little too rushed, with an ending too abrupt (not to mention the fact that other ethnic groups prominent in our city got absolutely no mention). And lastly, how could they do an entire section on the LAPD without a single clip from the 1988 movie Colors?

Following Sunday night's screening, the filmmaker was present for some Q and A, of which roughly half of the capacity crowd stayed for. The Militant was able to ask Andersen a question, of which he answered (of course the Militant won't reveal which one...).

The Militant wondered what kind of crowd he was with, since it takes a certain kind of person who'd wanna sit through a nearly 3-hour documentary about Los Angeles. The crowd, as expected, was predominantly white, over-40 and upscale in nature, though there were bits of every other demographic mixed in. Some of the people who asked questions identified themselves as transplants, some living here as recently as four months, another a woman originally from the Bay Area who grew up among Los Angeles-hate, yet found her self enamored with all things So Cal. A couple also identified themselves as locals.

Like this great City itself, there were a multitude of perspectives that attracted the crowd to this screening. Some came to seek validation ("Those who walk, or ride the bus, are the ones who truly know the city" - Yessss!), some came to learn, some came to learn even more. All of which are a great thing.

There are future plans for a DVD-version of this documentary, along with a supplementary book by Andersen covering post-2003 films such as Crash. But next time this thing screens locally, run, don't walk, to wherever it's screening.

Los Angeles Plays Itself is 100% Militant-approved. You. Must. Watch. It.

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