Monday, May 09, 2005

California love.


Since Kingdom of Heaven has been properly dismissed* in my neck of the internets, it'd be redundant for me to jump on the haterade bandwagon. So how about a little love?
Thom Andersen's revered doc Los Angeles Plays Itself was finally screened on its home turf over the weekend and it's just as sharp and hypnotic as I'd heard. Andersen, a native Angeleno and professor of film and video at CalArts, delivers a nearly three hour cine-essay (illustrated with some 200 film excerpts) that explores Los Angeles as background/subject/character in film. Like my favorite film professors/lectures in college, Anderson is fiercly intelligent, thoroughly researched, and combative as hell. He loves Los Angeles (don't even think of calling it L.A.-- "a derisive diminutive"), is pissed at the way the city and its inhabitants have been portrayed by "Hollywood" and spends much of the film deconstructing the city's cinematic mythology. What's best is he's not content to just aim his scorn at the easy targets (Cobra, Grand Canyon, Hanging Up, and "Dragnet"), he takes on the beloved and the sacred cows (Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, Short Cuts, Woody Allen, and Joan Didion**). I'm not saying that I buy into all his readings (his Altman/Short Cuts hatred is flippant and off), but his arguments are so damn compelling, it's hard not to hang on ever word.
Even at three hours, Andersen skips some topics I'd think would be no-brainers (namely P.T. Anderson's portrayal of the Valley [or, really, any discussion of the Valley at all], David Lynch's nightmare visions of Hollywood and the hills above it, and Quentin Tarantino's fixation with the South Bay), but with a subject as broad as it is, he has to. No matter, Los Angeles Plays Itself is a masterpiece as is and the best film I've seen all year. It goes without saying that if it finds its way to a theater/festival/whatevs near you, make it a top priority to see it.

* Josh hates on Edward Norton's Brando-as-leper king performance. I loved it-- every magnetic, hammy moment of it. I guess when you've been watching Orlando "Paint Drying" Bloom for 45 minutes, any sign of life or any kind of spark will do.

** I love Anderson's casual dismissal of Didion: "Forget the mystical blatherings of Joan Didion and company about the automobile and freeways. They say, 'Nobody walks [in Los Angeles].' They mean, 'No rich white person like us walks.'"

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