Los Angeles Plays Itself

Synopsis: Of the cities in the world, few are depicted in and mythologized more in film and television than the city of Los Angeles. In this documentary, Thom Andersen examines in detail the ways the city has been depicted, both when it is meant to be anonymous and when itself is the focus. Along the way, he illustrates his concerns of how the real city and its people are misrepresented and distorted through the prism of popular film culture. Furthermore, he also chronicles the real stories of the city's modern history behind the notorious accounts of the great conspiracies that ravaged his city that reveal a more open and yet darker past than the casual viewer would suspect.
Director(s): Thom Andersen
Actors: Encke King
Production: Submarine Entertainment
  3 wins & 1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
169 min


This is the city:

Los Angeles, California.

They make movies here.

I live here.

Sometimes I think that gives me the right

to criticize the way movies depict my city.

I know it's not easy.

The city is big.

The image is small.

Movies are vertical.

At least when they're

projected on a screen.

The city is horizontal, except

for what we call downtown.

Maybe that's why the movies

love downtown more than we do.

If it isn't the site of the action,

they try to stick its high-rise

towers in the back of the shot.

But movies have some advantages over us.

They can fly through the air.

We must travel by land.

They exist in space.

We live and die in time.

So why should I be generous?

Of course, I know movies

aren't about places,

...they're about stories.

If we notice the location,

...we are not really watching the movie.

It's what's up front that counts.

Movies bury their traces,

...choosing for us what to watch,

...then moving on to something else.

They do the work of our

voluntary attention,

...and so we must suppress

that faculty as we watch.

Our involuntary attention

must come to the fore.

But what if we watch with

our voluntary attention,

...instead of letting the movies direct us?

If we can appreciate documentaries

for their dramatic qualities,

...perhaps we can appreciate

fiction films...

...for their documentary revelations.

And what if suspense is just

another alienation effect.

Isn't that what Hitchcock taught?

For him, suspense was a means of

enlivening his touristy travelogues.

Then maybe I can find another way to

animate this city symphony in reverse.

Maybe this effort to see how

movies depict Los Angeles...

...may seem more than

wrong-headed or mean-spirited.

Los Angeles, it is said,

...is the most photographed

city in the world.

If you walk around enough,

...you'll start to notice...

...the mysterious temporary signs...

...that direct crew members

to a movie location.

If you walk through the

right neighborhoods,

...you'll see the long

rows of white trucks...

...that mark and fence

off a location shoot.

Los Angeles is where the relation between

reality and representation gets muddled.

[Newspaper headline: 2 Charged in

Murder Like One in Film They Produced]

Their film is about the killing

of a strip club mogul.

Six years earlier,

...the producer and the star

had conspired to murder...

...the real owner of the strip

club where the film is set...

...and take over his empire.

The strip clubs made them rich,

...but their movie flopped.

A real movie shoot...

...can create a better

public spectacle...

...than the fake movie studio tours.

In a city where only

a few buildings...

...are more than a hundred years old,

...where most traces of the city's

history have been effaced,

...a place can become

a historic landmark...

...because it was once a movie location.

As it is for people,

...so it is for places:

Getting into the movies becomes

a substitute for achievement.

Actors have head shots,

...buildings get

architectural photographs.

Plaques and signs mark the

sites of former movie studios.

Streets and parks are

named for movie stars.

Even movie writers.

A small bust near the

Griffith Park Planetarium...

...marks the spot...

...where James Dean once played

a rebel without a cause.

The inscription claims Dean

wasn't really a rebel:

Those were only roles he played.

But wasn't he more

of a rebel in life...

...than in the movies?

Where he always played

a milquetoast Oedipus,

...trying not to murder but to

please an imperfect father...

...who is either too stern...

...or too soft?

A narrow public stairway...

...between Vendome Street...

...and Descanso Drive

in Silver Lake...

...has been named the Music Box Steps,

...after the classic Laurel

and Hardy short...

...filmed there in 1932.

Some buildings that

look functional...

...are permanent movie sets.

A McDonald's in City of Industry...

...is never open to the public.

Here actors are paid...

...so we can see them smile...

...as they ingest their Big Macs.

A roadhouse...

...at the corner of Avenue Q

and 145th Street...

...in Palmdale...

...has never served a regular patron,

...but it appears prominently...

...in Swordfish and Brother.

And other buildings that

have lost their purpose...

...can be preserved

as movie locations,

...like the Ambassador Hotel,

...famous since 1968...

...because Sirhan Sirhan...

...assassinated Robert Kennedy there.

Sometimes it works the other way around:

A building constructed as a movie set...

...takes on an afterlife.

Mr. Blandings's dream house,

...fictionally located in the

woods of Connecticut,

...has been preserved as an

administration building...

...at Malibu Creek State Park.

Los Angeles...

...may be the most photographed

city in the world,

...but it's one of the least photogenic.

It's not Paris or New York.

In New York, everything

is sharp and in-focus,

...as if seen through a wide-angle lens.

In smoggy cities like Los Angeles,

...everything dissolves into the distance,

...and even stuff that's close-up...

...seems far off.

New York seems immediately

accessible to the camera.

Any image from almost

any corner of the city...

...is immediately recognizable

...as a piece of New York.

Los Angeles is hard to get right,

...maybe because traditional

public space...

Rate this script:4.6 / 19 votes

Thom Andersen

Thom Andersen (born 1943 in Chicago, Illinois) is an American filmmaker, film critic and teacher. more…

All Thom Andersen scripts | Thom Andersen Scripts

0 fans

Submitted on August 05, 2018

Discuss this script with the community:



    Translate and read this script in other languages:

    Select another language:

    • - Select -
    • 简体中文 (Chinese - Simplified)
    • 繁體中文 (Chinese - Traditional)
    • Español (Spanish)
    • Esperanto (Esperanto)
    • 日本語 (Japanese)
    • Português (Portuguese)
    • Deutsch (German)
    • العربية (Arabic)
    • Français (French)
    • Русский (Russian)
    • ಕನ್ನಡ (Kannada)
    • 한국어 (Korean)
    • עברית (Hebrew)
    • Gaeilge (Irish)
    • Українська (Ukrainian)
    • اردو (Urdu)
    • Magyar (Hungarian)
    • मानक हिन्दी (Hindi)
    • Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Italiano (Italian)
    • தமிழ் (Tamil)
    • Türkçe (Turkish)
    • తెలుగు (Telugu)
    • ภาษาไทย (Thai)
    • Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)
    • Čeština (Czech)
    • Polski (Polish)
    • Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Românește (Romanian)
    • Nederlands (Dutch)
    • Ελληνικά (Greek)
    • Latinum (Latin)
    • Svenska (Swedish)
    • Dansk (Danish)
    • Suomi (Finnish)
    • فارسی (Persian)
    • ייִדיש (Yiddish)
    • հայերեն (Armenian)
    • Norsk (Norwegian)
    • English (English)


    Use the citation below to add this screenplay to your bibliography:


    "Los Angeles Plays Itself" Scripts.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 21 Apr. 2024. <https://www.scripts.com/script/los_angeles_plays_itself_12828>.

    We need you!

    Help us build the largest writers community and scripts collection on the web!

    Browse Scripts.com

    The Studio:

    ScreenWriting Tool

    Write your screenplay and focus on the story with many helpful features.