When the first film studios opened in Hollywood in the early 1900s, much of the LA area was undeveloped. As film grew into a massive industry, Los Angeles grew into the second largest city in the United States. The city and the industry found a symbiotic relationship, with many Los Angeles residents and recent migrants attracted to the industry by the promise of fame and fortune on the silver screen. Similarly, the industry took advantage of the natural backdrop of LA, with its easy access to oceans, beach, and city streets, to add greater verisimilitude to films that were otherwise confined to back lots.
Thom Anderson documents the ways Los Angeles has been portrayed on film in his documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself. As “the most photographed city in the world,” Los Angeles provided Anderson with myriad clips showing the life of the city – even when it was playing another city. He documents how Los Angeles is portrayed as background, as character, and as subject in different films, including Killer of Sheep. The narrator notes how the city’s economic and racial woes have doomed Stan and his family, stating “The protagonist has a job: he is the killer of sheep. But a job can break your heart, too,” with the message that the city is processing them the way the slaughterhouse processes meat. (Like Killer of Sheep, Anderson’s film has never been released commercially due to rights issues.)