The Thoughts That Once We Had

One of the most respected film essayists in America, Thom Andersen is best known for his cult classic Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), an epic meditation on the town he calls home and its deep connection to the history of the movies. For nearly three hours, Andersen combs through the city in search of locations that appeared in famous (and not so famous) films, juxtaposing his own footage with archival clips to show how real places became part of our collective imagination. The movie’s informed, deeply skeptical first-person narration—written by Andersen but read in voice-over by an actor—comments on the dreamworld of the movies as well as the city planning that shaped LA, and the sometimes rapacious politics behind it. Like a movie, a big city is a shared experience, and Andersen, incorporating clips from such proletarian classics as The Exiles (1961) and Killer of Sheep (1977), challenges us to do a better job of sharing it equally.