Los Angeles plays itself (2003) is a film by Thom Andersen comprised entirely of other films shot in LA. Andersen speaks over and with these films to try and share the city with the audience. As LA, “is the most photographed city in the world,” there is plenty of content with which to work. Of course the fictional nature of much of this film confuses a simple documentary claim. Reality happens at the forefront and also the corners of these scenes. The films Andersen shows us provide a fleeting glimpse into a city that is no longer visible in quite the same way. They are an unintentional record of a city’s growth and decay.

Andersen’s film is also an early example of a kind of media scholarship, a kind of archaeology of popular images that I imagine will increasing take place as history catches up with the explosion of image making technologies form the 20 and 21st centuries. Such film-making also calls into question the boundaries of copy law and the definition of fair use. This power to speak through and with popular images is generally exempted from copyright claims but it is at risk when it tries to find a wider audience or if it becomes too entertaining.

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