Ostensibly named after a notorious gay porn film entitled L.A. Plays Itself (where the systematic degradation of the city was paralleled through increasingly violent sexual encounters), Los Angeles Plays Itself is a thoughtful and sublimely articulate stream of consciousness piece that explores Hollywood’s historical neutering, mythification, and suppression of Los Angeles’ native cultural identity in its attempts to transform and assimilate the city as a convenient, large-scale studio set for the motion picture industry. Written by Los Angeles native and affirmed cineaste Thom Andersen and narrated by Encke King, the film demystifies the popular misconception and fallacy of the city’s economic dependence on the movie industry – a trivialization the he associates with the city’s referential abbreviation to L.A. within the context of Hollywood insider truncation – through historically de-contextualized (and often, implicitly sinister) architecture and landmarks, depictions of racial and cultural homogeneity, and the perceptional distortion of his beloved native town as an epicenter for moral corruption (in such noir-toned films as Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, and Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential), desolation (in post-apocalyptic films like John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner), and decadent excess (William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. and Mick Jackson’s L.A. Story). Drawing provocative social implications in the bureaucratic decision to curtail development of the public mass transportation system in favor of automobile ownership and the construction of freeways, Andersen traces the development of an indigenous – and consequently, more representationally Los Angeles – cinema presented by groundbreaking early independent features, like Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles on the plight and subculture of Mexican-Americans and Charles Burnett’s seminal, semi-autobiographical film Killer of Sheep on a working class African-American family, to create a perceptive, passionate, and unabashedly humanist meditation on social and cultural identity, privilege, race, and inclusion.
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