The Late Movies: Los Angeles Plays Itself

Los Angeles Plays Itself is an unusual documentary by film professor Thom Andersen, about how Los Angeles is portrayed in movies. As the most-photographed city in the world, LA is excessively present in many movies, and lots of TV. Sometimes referred to as a "video essay," Los Angeles Plays Itself is assembled entirely from existing footage from other films and TV shows depicting Los Angeles; it was never released commercially due to licensing issues with the clips -- it's only available through underground sources, or at live screenings with the director. Now the documentary is on YouTube, although it may not be for long. If you have an interest in documentary or serious film criticism, this is well worth a look -- but be forewarned, the pace is slow, there is some occasional movie violence (this is clips of existing films), some occasional coarse language, and a lot of deep thinking going on here.

For more on the film, read this interview with Andersen in which he discusses film criticism in general, and the genesis of this film.

Part 1

Stick around past the (somewhat slow) opening credits, at least until the narration begins. It's calm and sort of hypnotic. Sample quote: "If we notice a location, we aren't really watching the movie."

Part 2

"L.A.'s good enough for me, mister."

Part 3

"[Union Station] has been a favorite site for movie kidnappings."

Part 4

Part 4 can't be embedded, perhaps because it has a lot of footage from L.A. Confidential. Watch it here.

Part 5

Disaster movies ahoy!

Part 6

Xanadu! (Starting around 8:45.)

Part 7

"I don't wanna live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light." -Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

Part 8

The desert and the city.

Part 9

...And we finally arrive at Falling Down and start really getting into Blade Runner (around 10:45).

Part 10

"As Blade Runner is the Los Angeles movie of the 80's, another period film, L.A. Confidential is the Los Angeles movie of the 90's. The period is the early 50's."

Part 11

L.A. Story is included in this one (around 9:10), but alas, this clip can't be embedded. Watch it on YouTube.

Part 12

This one also can't be embedded; watch it on YouTube for a killer conclusion.

Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


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