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In the decade since its release, Thom Andersen‘s elegaic documentary LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF has become something of a legend among cinephiles. Completed to rave reviews in 2003, the film nevertheless struggled to find a proper distributor. The reason why becomes clear with the most cursory synopsis: Andersen’s three-hour paean to the titular city is constructed primarily of hundreds of uncleared movie clips shot on location in and around Hollywood, from silent Mack Sennett shorts to glossy Michael Bay blockbusters. No legal team wanted to take on the Herculean effort of obtaining the rights to all those films, and LAPI spent the following ten years playing exclusively in special, director-approved engagements, joining Matthew Barney’s CREMASTER CYCLE, the infamous Rolling Stones documentary COCKSUCKER BLUES, and Topher Grace’s rumored STAR WARS prequel re-edit in the annals of little-seen masterpieces.

But times have changed. Mash-up culture has long since breached the mainstream; the grey areas of appropriation have been more fully charted, to the point that Girl Talk can play arenas with nary a lawsuit in sight. More to the point, other filmmakers have picked up the torch, from Christian Marclay’s sprawling museum piece THE CLOCK to Rodney Ascher’s sampledelic conspiracy essay ROOM 237. Legal issues sorted out, LOS ANGELES is finally getting a proper DVD release this fall. In celebration, the Brattle will be hosting a two-night engagement, along with a selection of classic films which use their El Lay pedigree to its fullest potential. To help plan your weekend Californication, here’s a quick rundown on the program:


SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) dir. Billy Wilder

Though best known for his sparkling comedies and warm romances, SUNSET BOULEVARD finds Billy Wilder in full-on Hollywood Babylon mode, telling the blisteringly acidic story of faded movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Hollywood was starting to show its age in the fifties, and Wilder portrays it as he does his star: beautiful, but falling into disrepair. (SUNSET BOULEVARD is also a known favorite of David Lynch, who even went so far as to name his own TWIN PEAKS role after ancillary character Gordon Cole).


CHINATOWN (1974) dir. Roman Polansky

Polansky’s neo-noir is frequently referred to as a perfect movie, with its crackling script, taught direction, and iconic performances from Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston. No less crucial, however, is its sense of location, with 1940s Los Angeles lovingly recreated on still-standing landmarks. So effective is its snapshot that all future L.A. period pieces – from WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? to Rockstar Games’ L.A. NOIR – seem to use it as a primary source.


REPO MAN (1984) dir. Alex Cox

Alex Cox’s gonzo-punk classic offers a decidedly different side of the City of Angels. Cox shoots on the outskirts of town, in neighborhoods which seem to be literally crumbling before the cameras – the perfect backdrop for Emilio Estevez and his hardcore friends to do some crimes. (For a more in-depth look at this always intense classic, check out Pablo’s write-up here!)


REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) dir. Nicholas Ray

The film that’s served as shorthand for juvenile delinquency for nearly six decades, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE is best known for its ill-fated trio of stars in James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. But at least one of its stars has had a long, prolific career before and after: the craggy Griffith Park, which has played everything from the Confederate South to the Batcave.

LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF: Sunday, 9/14, 6:00 PM; Monday, 9/15, 7:30 PM

SUNSET BOULEVARD: Sunday, 9/14, 1:00 PM (double feature with CHINATOWN)

CHINATOWN: Sunday, 9/14, 3:15 PM (double feature with SUNSET BOULEVARD)

REPO MAN: Sunday, 9/14, 9:30 PM

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE: Monday, 9/15, 5:15 PM

Matinees $8, evening shows $10 (double feature $12)

Brattle Theatre (40 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138)


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