Thursday, November 13, 2003

I've been meaning to mention Thomas Andersen, whose wonderful new film Los Angeles Plays Itself recently screened at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Los Angeles Plays Itself is an essay-film composed of clips from other Hollywood and independent films. Original narration accompanies the clips. "Movies bury their traces," Andersen writes, "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." For citizens of Los Angeles, indeed for anyone interested in Los Angeles as background, character, or subject (as Andersen has it), this film is a real treat. Throughout, Andersen investigates fictional films that are about or set in Los Angeles. He shows us how history is erased or reconfigured in these films, how the city's modern architecture is bastardized, and how entire sections of the city are ignored. The LA Weekly recently printed an article by Scott Foundas on the film and Thom Andersen's work.

As corollary, Los Angeles Plays Itself hipped me to a whole school of African-American filmmakers of which I was previously unaware. Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, Julie Dash, and Billy Woodberry all made (what look to be from the clips) interesting films during the 70s and 80s, and continue to do so. I'm keeping an eye out for screenings of any of their films. I think I'll start with Bless Their Little Hearts, directed by Billy Woodberry and written by Charles Burnett, which is playing next week at the Independent Los Angeles Film Festival.

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