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10 Years Later, You Can Finally Buy The Best Documentary About L.A.

Los Angeles Plays Itself is a story of how L.A. has been portrayed on screen, its thesis unfolding through hundreds of iconic film clips. But the biggest reason that Thom Andersen's legendary documentary has reached a near-cult status is that, due to copyright issues, the film has never been properly released in theaters or on DVD. Until now.


The distribution company Cinema Guild tweeted today that they've acquired rights to four of Anderson's films, including Los Angeles Plays Itself, and will be releasing them on DVD, likely this fall. Update: It's available for pre-order now (DVD, Blu-ray), release date is September 30.


If you haven't seen it before, Los Angeles Plays Itself is innately entertaining as a cinematic experiment, even to the Angeleno-agnostic. Narrated with Andersen's own commentary, the documentary features over 200 clips from films about Los Angeles, examining everything from the stereotypes surrounding the city's automobile culture to an oft-repeated thesis that villains live in modernist houses (below). In short, it's probably the most important media study ever conducted on the city—maybe any city!—and no one has been able to see it.

Yes, clips can be found on YouTube, although they're often fleeting as they get yanked for one reason or another. And Andersen does hold semi-regular screenings of the film at art house theaters, mostly around L.A. But now film buffs will be able to cradle their own copy in their DVD player (and hopefully on their hard drives, too) and watch this masterpiece over and over and over.

How Cinema Guild was able to clear the legal hurdles and convince dozens of studios to clear the clips of their films will be a fascinating story to hear, but at a 10th anniversary screening in 2013, Andersen vaguely hinted that he was working on it: "I was, am, and will be able to use [the clips] under fair use. No copyright owners were harmed in the making of this film."

While the absolute best part about Cinema Guild's acquisition is that people will actually be able to see this film, the news also bodes well for other artists or filmmakers who have used heaps of film clips in their work. Christopher Marclay's The Clock, for example, assembles shots from movies and TV that show time ticking on clocks into a single 24-hour film. I can't wait for that to come out on DVD, too. [LAist]


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Kate Knibbs

I really want to see this, great news.