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Journal of No. 118

September 5th, 2010

Los Angeles Plays Itself @ 09:48 am

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I caught it at the Aero last night. Sell-out crowd. It screens again tonight with the director present, so if you're going, go early (and while I'm thinking of it, upcoming screenings there include On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with Lazenby in attendance, and Starship Troopers with Verhoeven (who will also be signing his book, Jesus of Nazareth (which provides a non-supernatural account of the historical Jesus (who knew Verhoeven was a member of the Jesus Seminar?))))

um, anyway, the film...

It's kind of a mess, but a glorious mess. I've seen other reviewers complain about the soporific inflection of the voiceover. It's justified and quite sad, since the director's text itself is sometimes quite witty. 'What other police force would put its motto in quotes?' But the deadpan delivery sometimes treads on the delicate humor. At other times, primarily in the last section of the film, the director (a film prof at CalArts) indulges in film wank and polemics. Given the near 3 hour runtime, it might be best to split at the intermission - you'll miss most of the crotchetiness and wank, and you won't have to hear him bad-mouth Blade Runner and LA Story. (I will lash back by saying that Andersen is an idiot for saying that the inside of the Ennis House was used as a location in Blade Runner, when everyone knows Deckard's apartment was a set built from elements created from a mold of the Ennis House blocks. Nyah!)
My other main complaint is that the image quality is often poor, like the clips had been stripped from a decaying VHS or YouTube (which maybe they had). Some of this may have been the projection, but I wouldn't know what the hell I'm talking about. Insert DavidJ tirade.

But, the first two-thirds of the film is a dizzying tour of LA through film, illustrated by oodles of clips from the obvious to the obscure, with the voiceover providing just enough explanation to help provide context. This is a fun and surprising ride through LA and 'LA'. And even more distant places, for which LA is standing in: you can see the Bradbury Building be a hotel in Burma (in its first(?) film role in China Girl (1942)) or a hospital in London (and a dozen other things - but I was surprised M wasn't included).
Too many things seen to remember them all. One that sticks out is the Richfield Tower, which appears in a scene in Zabriskie Point shortly before it was demolished. Oh, and Bruce Lee destroying Philip Marlowe's office (skip to 3:00 after the initial violence). Oh, and some of the hilariously awful interior decorating in Point Blank - 'a movie for people who hate LA'. Oh, and the eye-popping revelation that the film's title is not quite original. Oh, and the late 60s incarnation of Dragnet in which Joe Friday spends most of his time fighting the counterculture with Colonel Potter. Oh, and the ignominious fate of the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Xanadu.

After the intermission, I get the feeling that Andersen decided his film can't just be a clip show. It better be about something, provide some documentary meat or critical wank. The end section starts with a useful (and spoileriffic) comparison of the mythical history vs the real history of Chinatown, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and LA Confidential. And then the director gets his cranky and wanky pants on and things go a little downhill. Slightly paraphrasing the voiceover: "I hate cops, so I really enjoy James Cameron's Terminator when Arnie goes around shooting cops."
The first half of the movie had been conspicuously almost devoid of the racial diversity of LA. Barely anything of the Menace II the Boyz in the Hood genre, which I suspect Andersen considers un-PC white privilege-cinema, although I don't think it is ever addressed directly. Instead we are treated to black indie films that no one out of film school has ever seen, and Andy Warhol clowning around at the Watts Towers. It's probably too much to ask for an insightful look at race in LA through film (especially as part of a general look at LA in film), but this treatment was just bizarre and pointless, and was a particularly weak topic on which to end the film.

TL;DR version: awesome clip show, followed by annoying wank after the intermission.

And lastly, a useful list of films in Los Angeles Plays Itself (in order of appearance)

ETA: ZOMG you kids on the internet with your ipods and tubes! LAPI on Youtube
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Date:September 5th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)

Added to Netflix Queue...

Crimson Kimono
The New Centurions
The Loved One (finally on DVD yay!)
The Exiles
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
El Norte

Considering adding the original Gone in 60 Seconds... any advice? Or on any of those that should be skipped (as Point Blank should be skipped)?
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Date:September 5th, 2010 09:02 pm (UTC)

Re: Added to Netflix Queue...

I actually like POINT BLANK, but your taste in film may disagree. The original GONE IN 60 SECONDS is a fun drive-in movie, so I can't argue with including it. I'm pretty surprised to see THE LOVED ONE on DVD, but that's cool (and it's on my radar for purchase now, thanks!). For period LA stuff from the '70s, any Wambaugh adaptation will have some potential. Naturally, there's CAR WASH (1970s comedy) and FREEWAY (1980s exploitation thriller), and if you can track down THE COOL ONES or THE SWINGER for sheer '60s awfulness they've got a taste of old LA in them, too. In terms of monster nonsense, consider SLITHIS (aka SPAWN OF THE SLITHIS) and SCARED TO DEATH (the late '70s/early '80s thing), both set in/near LA. Naturally, there's also THEM! and WAR OF THE WORLDS, but I assume you've already accounted for those films (and HEARTS OF THE WEST, SUNSET, WON TON TON, DAY OF THE LOCUST, etc., etc.)...
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Date:September 5th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC)

Re: Added to Netflix Queue...

Thanks for the comment. Netflix is a bit thin on some of the things you mention [at least of things I haven't seen] but I've added a couple.
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Date:September 6th, 2010 09:08 am (UTC)

Re: Added to Netflix Queue...

I'd definitely recommend Crimson Kimono -- anything by Sam Fuller, really. (House of Bamboo is a particularly good one.)

I'm not surprised M wasn't included. It's never been released on home video, and the only known print resides at the BFI in London. Very hard to see outside of a Joseph Losey retrospective.
Date:September 5th, 2010 09:06 pm (UTC)
thanks for the youtube link!
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Date:September 7th, 2010 09:56 am (UTC)
Thanks for the review. I saw part of this months ago, but needed to walk out to catch another engagement.
I wasn't exactly sure how long the running time was, and with the opening comments typical of the AC (which I appreciate, really, it means that I'm not late to the movie), it was cutting the next event too close.

I think it was dinner at the Magic Castle, actually, though I can't quite recall.

I wonder why the valley wasn't included on the list:
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Valley Girl, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, etc.
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Date:September 7th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)

Is it more or less mandatory for me to froth at the mouth about a film director being pompous enough to consider himself a historian -- especially on a subject for which there is ZERO historical information without considerable supernatural overlay? Because, you know, in absence of such, it's pure speculation, not "the historical Jesus." Just let me know. I'm ready. I've got stabby typing fingers today. ;)
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Date:September 14th, 2010 08:03 am (UTC)
I LOLed at the part where he compared Jack Webb to Ozu and Bresson.

Journal of No. 118