Staff Selects: Films About Filmmaking

Why “The Room” Is a Better Movie Than James Franco's “The Disaster ...

The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist came out in 2017 and was directed by and stars James Franco, along with his brother, Dave Franco. The film surrounds the making of the hilariously awful cult classic The Room. It primarily focuses on the friendship developed between the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and a young, aspiring actor named Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). The two decide to make a movie together completely from scratch and chaos ensues as Tommy puts the roles of director, producer, and starring actor on his shoulders even though he has absolutely no idea what he is doing. The film is by no means perfect, but it has a certain charm that is most certainly derived from the spirit of the original film. There are so many cringe worthy moments but that feels very fitting considering The Room is a complete cringe fest. You can tell the movie is made with complete love for its predecessor even when looking at the side by side comparisons of the recreated scenes and the originals. Overall the movie is a fun ride and James Franco plays Wiseau fantastically. [Dani Ferro]

Tropic Thunder movie review & film summary (2008) | Roger Ebert

Tropic Thunder

When deciding what film about filmmaking to write about, my mind initially went to the more serious films that seriously try to depict the filmmaking process or at least don’t parody it. But my brother and I watched Tropic Thunder a few weeks ago and it’s such a brilliant mockery of modern Hollywood that I couldn’t get it out of my mind when starting to write about others. 
Opening with a series of fake trailers that wouldn’t seem too strange if seriously played before a different film in an actual cinema, featuring gay priests, fart jokes, endless installments of an action series (released before Robert Downey Jr. played Iron Man eight more times), and an ad for a drink called Booty Sweat, the irreverent and self-mocking tone is clear from the get go. It may never quite reach the heights of that initial segment again, but the rest of Tropic Thunder is still hilarious as it parodies every war film but also features plenty of humor that would be funny without any knowledge of other films. Yet it’s also kind of disheartening, as nothing has changed so much in the last decade from the problems that were already being mocked that the jokes no longer land. The actors have all been on paths that have more and more resembled those of characters in the film, the same stories keep getting told in most every film, the system still doesn’t shy away from exploitative storytelling and downright offensive casting and prizes box office results more than actual art, and the worst people are often still in positions of power. Hopefully the day comes when Tropic Thunder is no longer a brilliant satirical take on Hollywood as it currently stands, but for now it’s one of the best films about modern day filmmaking.[Henry Baime]

The Watermelon Woman - Trailer - YouTube

The Watermelon Woman

The first film directed by an out Black lesbian, The Watermelon Woman follows a fictionalized portrayal of director Cheryl Dunye as she attempts to make a documentary about an (also fictional) actress from the 1930s, known only as the Watermelon Woman. In her filmmaking quest, she learns many things about this unnamed woman that parallel her experiences in the modern world.

Half a quirky indie comedy with a relaxing pace, and half being segments of said documentary, it’s a unique take on the subgenre of films about films about films. Dunye’s performance as herself (a common practice in her short films, which are also wonderful) is naturalistic but impassioned as she becomes obsessed with her subject, as well as a woman she meets along the way.

It demonstrates a truth about filmmaking that I feel is rarely acknowledged by filmmakers, which is that making films often involves you learning something about yourself. Many would argue that it is the other way around, that you put all of your collected knowledge and experience into your art, but The Watermelon Woman argues for that art as the needed experience to grow, which proves to be an interesting depiction of the act of creativity. [Jen]

Sunset Boulevard | George Eastman Museum

Sunset Boulevard

“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small!” snarls Norma Desmond, faded Hollywood star. She’s right. Like most actors and actresses who couldn’t transition from silents to talkies at the end of the 1920s, she’s become a ghost, haunting the hills of Los Angeles. When flailing screenwriter Joe Gillis gets involved with her delusional fantasies of a return with DeMille, her story becomes a tragedy – one that could only happen in the movies.

Sunset Boulevard is one of the most caustic films in Hollywood history; a searing indictment of a film industry that chews up people and spits them out. Norma is a stand-in for every Mary Pickford and Pola Negri that was rejected in a heartbeat by the very system they helped to build. “Without me, there wouldn’t be any Paramount studio,” Norma says in the film. It’s true: Gloria Swanson, who played Norma, was an integral part of Paramount’s early success. 
The film was a financial success, but it sent shockwaves throughout the City of Angels. After a private screening on the Paramount lot, Barbra Stanwyck knelt to kiss the hem of Swanson’s dress. Powerhouse producer Louis B. Mayer screamed at director Billy Wilder that he – a Jew – should be sent back to Germany. This was less than five years after the end of the Holocaust. Despite outrage from industry heads, Sunset Boulevard, and its iconic final line (“All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup”), is a stone cold classic of American cinema.[Cole Duffy]

The Daring, Original, and Overlooked “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take ...

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

Strange title, huh? Wait until you hear the premise. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One is a documentary following director William Greaves and a small crew shooting test footage in Central Park for an upcoming project. They shoot the scene with different actors in various locations within Central Park, but Greaves also has a separate film crew documenting the shooting process itself to provide insight on the shooting process itself. Oh, and he also has a 3rd separate crew shooting that 2nd crew shooting the 1st crew shooting the test footage. It’s like a documentary nesting doll, but if that sounds headache-inducing, rest assured, the film is a delight to watch and relatively straightforward considering its heady premise. What sets Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One apart from other documentaries about filmmaking is how Greaves relinquishes control over the film to the crew. They film their own discussions about the project without him, often criticizing his directorial style and explicitly shaping the meaning of the film as it goes on. It’s a fascinating experiment in metatextual filmmaking which examines the filmmaking process and the shifting dynamics on a film set. A one-of-a-kind film. [Kern Wheeling]

Dennis Hopper's “The Last Movie” Is as Essential as Cinema Gets ...

The Last Movie

Dennis Hopper had lofty ambitions going into the production of The Last Movie. Following the runaway success of Easy Rider, Hopper declared his intent to make ‘the first American art movie’, and as far as he was concerned, the true America was that which was represented on screen. Thus, it only made sense his intended magnum opus would be a meta exploration of film-making, and it would end up as foolhardy and scattered as the man behind the camera and the country that birthed him.

The Last Movie is the complicated work of a complicated talent, grappling with the feelings of disgust at and dependency on the parasitic nature and gratuity involved in the business they call show. This conflict is realised through the fractured form of not only the film itself, but its ideas. Hopper blends reality and fiction in a conceptual medley, cutting in and out of time and place, emulating echoes of memories in fierce competition for headspace. It’s a complex self-reckoning; an unflinching examination of the artist’s inseparable obsessions of cinema and country as glanced through a kaleidoscopic lens.

Hopper wanted to be both first and last, the alpha and omega. For some, this burning desire for an artistic omnipresence would manifest as addled schizophrenia. I believe it resulted in the creation of a mythic cultural artefact that could have only been borne from a state of enlightenment that but a few are blessed with. [Chris Barnes]

Mulholland Drive movie review (2001) | Roger Ebert

Mulholland Drive

David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive shifts just as much over it’s runtime as it did during production. Originally intended as a TV series pilot, its a love story that seems so carefully woven into the beginning comes after, in parts Lynch filmed once he had to make it a feature film instead. This adds a meta aspect, as the stories of Diane Selywn and Betty Elms are built upon the impossibilities of Hollywood pleasure, yet they connect only when the film is meant for the large screen. It’s a masterclass in acting, a scene in which Naomi Watts as Betty Elms rehearses her audition morphs into a completely different interpretation of the same scripted scene soon after, showing how little needs to change besides the performance of an actor to entirely change the course of the script. Without giving anything away, some incredibly strong dual roles and multiple world’s of a character allow the performers to show how it is all just an illusion, an incredibly self aware interpretation of Hollywood for a film within the system. Even when a character exists the same way through all parts of the film, it is the subtleties of performance that allow multiple dimensions of this seedy Los Angeles nightmare world to form, and to reveal the complexities of the faces actors put on to hide, and the actors hidden amongst the rest of the credits reel. [Sarah]

Staff Selects

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