Late last September Variety‘s Scott Foundas wrote an appreciation of Thom Andersen‘s re-edited, digitally upgraded version of Los Angeles Plays Itself, which had shown a day or two earlier at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian theatre. (It premiered at the 2003 Toronto Film Festival, which is where I first saw it.) Before the L.A. screening, Foundas writes, Andersen told the audience that the 2013 version “is not an update…I didn’t see the need.”

“The way movies foreclose the possibility of emancipatory politics has not changed,” he explained to the crowd. Foundas reports that Andersen also said “the gulf between an impoverished working class and a wealthy one percent even more of a truism now” than it was in 2003.

Maybe so but for God’s sake, man…you think people are into your film so they can contemplate the socio-political stuff? Los Angeles Plays Itself is almost certainly the best film ever made about how Los Angeles has portrayed itself (or allowed itself to be captured) in movies, hands down. Watching it feels so stimulating on so many levels, like a combination bath and visual massage, and all of it delivered with a smart, socially astute hand. It gives you a nice, comforting academic contact high. It’s a kind of thinking cinefile’s amusement park. It “plays” in any corner of the globe, I’m sure, but, as critic David Fear once suggested, it also stokes the narcissism of Los Angelenos in a way that’s pretty much impossible to resist…the movie is about “our” realm, “our” history, “our” lives and back pages.

I may well have read Foundas’s article last year and physiologically saw and read the words “it’s not an update…I didn’t see the need” but on some psychological or emotional level I rejected this outright. How could Andersen revisit Los Angeles Plays Itself, which is nothing if not an epic, chapter-by-chapter assessment of the evolving character and attitudes and cultural moods of Los Angeles, and confine himself solely to re-editing and digitally upgrading the version that he finished ten or eleven years ago? How could Andersen revisit Los Angeles Plays Itself and — hello? — not weave in at least 30 or 40 seconds of footage from Michael Mann‘s Collateral, one of the greatest Los Angeles films ever made in all sorts of ways, as well as Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Drive? How could he not do that?

You can come back to me and say, “Well, come on…this doc is about more than just eye candy, man. It’s actually about how eye-candy distractions has pushed a great lie about Los Angeles. The doc is a story of a culture and an industry and how rarely the twains have met. You can’t just weave in footage of Collateral and Drive without linking the behavior or the themes in those films to some aspect or tangent of what Andersen’s film is about.” Trust me — give me a couple of hours or days and I could figure five or ten different ways to splice in footage from Collateral and Drive in ways that would thematically fit. It’s just a matter of cooking up the right narration.

I discussed this with Andersen after last night’s showing (i.e., his refusal to update), and the first reason he offered was that “it would be a lot of work.” Yeah, I said, feeling almost stunned that he said that. “But isn’t that why we’re put on this earth?,” I replied. To work hard and climb the peaks that we’re capable of climbing? Inside I was reeling. What person of backbone doesn’t do something because it’s hard? The other reason, he said, is that “I have other things I want to do.”

So let me get this straight. In 2003 Andersen assembled one of the greatest visual essays about the one of the most sprawling and culturally complex cities in the world and how much of the character of Los Angeles has been ignored or glossed over by the phony pretensions of the film industry, and then he went back to work on it a year or two ago and he fucking ignored what’s been happening in this city the last ten years because it would be “a lot of work” and he has “other things to do”?

That aside, the new Los Angeles Plays Itself looks and sounds absolutely terrific — heads and shoulders above the version that I saw 11 years ago in Toronto. Andersen told me that Cinema Guild will be making it available via DVD, Bluray and VOD in late September. It’s an essential, trust me.