Films About Films
September 30, 2013
There’s just something about seeing the stars of today dolled up like the stars of yesteryear. Case in point: the trailer for the upcoming film Saving Mr. Banks. Seriously, look at that video—what’s not to love? Tom Hanks as Walt Disney? Emma Thompson as the notoriously, frosty PL Travers? The making of one of our favorite children’s films? It has everything!
And it also got our wheels turning. What other movies are out there about the making of our favorite movies? It turns out, not many. There are a lot of biopics that feature segments of some classic films. And, there are a lot of documentaries about the making of classic films. Also, there are a ton of movies about the making of fake films. But we could only find five movies about the making of specific movies. Here they are.
Ed Wood (1994)
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette
Centered on the period in Wood’s life when he make his best-known films, including Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space, this movie is Burton at his best. When it would have been easy to make Wood into the fool, Burton treats the subject and his films with love. Depp plays the young, talentless, and optimistic Ed Wood, who dreams of being a film director. Despite an overreliance on stock footage, a tin ear for dialogue, and a fondness for wacky, exploitative horror and sci-fi fare, Wood wiggles his way into B-moviedom. Casting anyone willing to step before his camera, Wood cranks out a series of cheesy movies.
RKO 281 (1999)
Directed by Benjamin Ross
Starring Liev Schreiber, James Cromwell, Melanie Griffith, John Malkovich
Orson Welles faces opposition in the production of what will be considered the greatest American film of all time, Citizen Kane. After publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst learns that Welles’ film is a thinly veiled and unflattering biography of his life, he uses his influence to try and bury the movie. Although it is not an accurate portrayal of events, it is an excellent blend of fiction based on fact and tells an amazing story any movie buff should enjoy. Ross and co. take pains to show how Welles innovated new ways to make his film to give it exactly the look and feel he wanted, including a scene in which he insists on getting a lower angle for a camera shot and eventually grabs an ax and chops through the floor to get the camera low enough.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Eddie Izzard
What if the lead actor in Nosferatu really was a vampire? Shadow of the Vampire explores this unusual concept as it follows the story of the filming of the 1921 silent film classic. Malkovich plays the role of FW Murnau, the German director who makes the bargain from hell to provide realism to his Dracula knock-off, only to find that he has unleashed a monster. This is a psychological drama disguised as a horror film. The true horror lies in the man who decides no price is too high for the making of his movie. At the same time, there's a lot of humor, as well as an intriguing glimpse of Berlin in the decadent 1920s.
My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Directed by Simon Curtis
Starring Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond, Kenneth Branagh
Depicting the making of the 1957 film, The Prince and the Showgirl, this film focuses on the week in which Marilyn Monroe spent time being escorted around London by a production assistant after the departure of her husband, Arthur Miller. Those familiar with the mysteries surrounding Monroe should be impressed by the way the film manages to represent so many of the very different ways people see her. Was she a smart, predatory woman in control of her persona and milking it for all she could get? A sad, addicted victim of her handlers? An ordinary woman whose search for love and happiness was derailed by her own star quality? This movie represents all of these views and refuses to settle the question.
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel
As Alfred Hitchcock prepares to make Pyscho, he grapples with the censor board, his collaborators, the public, and himself. Fortunately, his stalwart wife, Alma is there to see him through, but only if he is willing to share the glory. Ostensibly based on Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, this film is really an attempt to imagine Hitch’s inner life. You won’t uncover any new secrets about the Master of Suspense’s life and work, but it is a fun ride through one of the greatest horror films of all time. While Johansson and Biel don’t look anything like (respectively) Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, James D’Arcy effortlessly slips into Anthony Perkins’ skin. The real fun, though, is watching Hopkins and Mirren ham it up as Mr. and Mrs. Hitch—and, oh yeah, a diabolical recreation of that infamous shower scene…
An interesting theme in these movies is that instead of merely recreating the lives of the great directors and actors, they seek to reinvent them. We're sure Saving Mr. Banks will be no different, but these films do succeed in something remarkabl. One way or another, they make us appreciate the originals all the more.
Rebecca R. and Peyton J.