Remembering Los Angeles

Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) is a remarkable feat of remembrance. Andersen’s essay film features footage of films located in Los Angeles, or which take the city as their subject: the seat of the industry that produced them. In doing so, this work is not merely a remembrance of places, locations, features and forms which constitute the city; for viewers, it brings to mind films that are familiar, those that may have been forgotten, or those as yet unseen. More than this, however, it might be said that in the caring activity that lies in the making of the film itself – the research, the selection of films and footage, editing and so on – is also a twofold act of remembrance. The first step is the bringing to light of the different films as objects, considered for their representations of Los Angeles. In their selection and use in the film they are somehow recovered from the great mass of films available to viewers at the same time as being re-considered in terms of their value as a record of the city. The second step is the sense in which this essay film is composed mostly of other films to form a new memory (or imagining) of the city. This is achieved by Andersen’s patient tapestry of interlacing other films together, in the course of which myriad imaginings and representations of the city are brought together to form another filmic city.
It is in the making of a new film object from existing film objects that differentiates Andersen’s finished work from the material it is composed from. Whereas the original films created, in whatever measure, a profilmic record from the actual city itself (or actual sets mimetically standing in for the city), Los Angeles Plays Itself has as its raw material the filmic city. A city of moving images (Los Angeles as the seat of Hollywood) is represented as a filmic city (Los Angeles Plays Itself), which is in turn made from the very same kind of fragments. Thinking in this media archaeological vein, then, the city presented is one which spans different times, temporalities, and both the material and imagined changes that take place within and across those, unified by Andersen’s vision and commentary. [1] As constructed in Los Angeles Plays Itself, the filmic city is therefore a place where the constitutive elements of the city can be explored outside of the constraints of spatio-temporal actuality and the scope of one particular film. It is a space, mined from film materials, where imaginings, remembrances, and re-shapings of the city take place simultaneously. The promise of the resulting filmic city rests not only with the opening up of new meanings, understandings, and imaginings of the city as a material entity. It also lies in the bringing together of excavated film fragments that are understood in terms of their value as documents, besides their original context or purpose. In this way, Andersen and his viewers explore the manifold possibilities that lie within the filmic city’s landscape.

[1] See Jussi Parikka’s What is media archeology? (2012) for a useful overview of media archeology.

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