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Cut the Cord: Movies About Movies
June 2022. Volume 1, Issue 6.
Welcome back to Cut the Cord.
Pretty self-explanatory this month - they’re movies about movies.
This is a subject I keep coming back to, something about the meta-ness and commentary quality of this niche is so interesting to me. I hope you find it interesting as well.
We’re gonna start with a few narratives, then move into a list of documentaries about a million different parts of the movie-making process: how movies get made, dubbing, poster art, and the places we watch movies.
8 1/2 (1963)
Guido Anselmi, a film director, finds himself creatively barren at the peak of his career. Urged by his doctors to rest, Anselmi heads for a luxurious resort, but a sorry group gathers—his producer, staff, actors, wife, mistress, and relatives—each one begging him to get on with the show. In retreat from their dependency, he fantasizes about past women and dreams of his childhood.
I cannot say I fully appreciate 8 1/2.
But a lot of people older and smarter than me do, so it's a me thing for sure.
It's in the Criterion Collection, it won Oscars, it's considered one of the greatest films of all time.
It's the movie about making movies.
Be Kind Rewind (2008)
A man whose brain becomes magnetized unintentionally destroys every tape in his friend’s video store. In order to satisfy the store’s most loyal renter, an aging woman with signs of dementia, the two men set out to remake the lost films.
I have to be honest - I liked Be Kind Rewind in 2008 more than I do now.
There's a certain Jack Black-ness that just worked better then.
But this film launched the art of "sweding" - remaking movies or scenes crudely, quickly, and in just one take. Backyard baseball kinda stuff. And sweding is still popular all these years later. There are sweded film festivals and it inspired a whole group of filmmakers to go to YouTube and just...make movies. Don't worry about the quality, don't worry about the production values, just make a movie.
It's even easier now than it was in 2008 with smartphones and all. Be Kind Rewind says just do the damn thing. And have fun.
Being George Clooney (2016)
A documentary that delves into the creative, often humorous world of audio dubbing a Hollywood motion picture for the international market.
So many people play George Clooney.
There's a French George, Italian George, German George, Indian George, Brazilian George, Turkish George - you name it.
And he has to have the same voice in every language. You associate George Clooney's voice with George Clooney's face, it would be weird if Brad Pitt's voice came out of Danny Ocean.
This doc is all about the politics of who gets to play George in every country. What an honor that is, what goes in to their work, and what it means to be a movie star by proxy.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s “Island of Dr. Moreau” (2014)
The story of the insane scandals related to the remake of “Island of Dr. Moreau” —originally a novel by H. G. Wells—, which was brought to the big screen in 1996. How director Richard Stanley spent four years developing the project just to find an abrupt end to his work while leading actor Marlon Brando pulled the strings in the shadows. Now for the first time, the living key players recount what really happened and why it all went so spectacularly wrong.
The following appeared previously in my article Five Great Documentaries About The Arts.
This is a true story about making a movie.
Making a movie is hard.
Making a movie with Marlon Brando is damn near impossible.
And it’s amazing that Brando had notoriously stopped giving a shit almost 30 years prior and he wasn’t even the most difficult part of making that movie.
This documentary, which follows the unbelievable behind the scenes of what became 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, is absolutely bonkers. While most making-ofs feature casting decisions or going way over schedule and budget, this one features the world’s smallest man, real-life warlocks, and, of course, Marlon Brando.
De Palma (2015)
An intimate conversation between filmmakers, chronicling De Palma’s 55-year career, his life, and his filmmaking process, with revealing anecdotes and, of course, a wealth of film clips.
De Palma is one of the masters of the craft and this no-frills documentary gives him the spotlight to show why. He talks about his inspirations, explains how just about every project came to be, and tells some stories it doesn't seem like he should be telling.
From indie dramas to Hollywood blockbusters to Hitchcock homages to more Hitchcock homages, De Palma gives a one-man master class in just two hours. Free film school? What more could you want? Mandatory viewing for aspiring filmmakers.
Drew: The Man Who Behind the Poster (2013)
A documentary on legendary movie-poster artist Drew Struzan.
This documentary maps out the career of Drew Struzan, the man behind the iconic movie posters for:
Back to the Future, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Indiana Jones, Big Trouble in Little China, First Blood, Harry Potter 1 & 2, Hocus Pocus, Hook, Muppet movies, Police Academy movies, and The Thing.
You know all of those images. Learn about the stories behind the images and behind the man.
At the Drive-In (2017)
Unable to purchase a $50,000 digital projector, a group of film fanatics in rural Pennsylvania fight to keep a dying drive-in theater alive by screening only vintage 35mm film prints and working entirely for free.
The following appeared previously in my article Great Films About Film.
The Mahoning Drive-In, located in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, had a decision to make in 2014: raise the $60,000 to buy a new digital film projector, effectively keeping up with Hollywood standards and giving themselves the ability to show first-run summer blockbusters. The other option is a lot more risky: keep with the 35mm projector, screen exclusively classic movies still available on film and fully lean in to the retro atmosphere. The Mahoning has been screening 35mm since 1949 and they decided to not stop in 2014.
They chose the route of every celluloid fan’s dream, but it’s not all sunshines and rainbows for film lovers.
Rain seems bountiful and on some nights they spend more on electricity than they make back in ticket sales. Money is tight, employees are volunteers (and many travel from so far they sleep on cots or air mattresses Thursday-Sunday). Their love and passion for the theater is contagious and they don’t want to see anything happen to the film haven they love so dearly.
My girlfriend and I had the pleasure of visiting the Mahoning a few seasons ago on October 3, known to many as Mean Girls Day, for a double bill of the 2004 teen comedy classic, preceded by a similar film and my personal favorite of the two, 1995’s Clueless. We snacked on a specialty menu item of popcorn mixed with Hot Cheetos and washed it down with some Glen Coco(a). Folks around us dressed up, sang and quoted along, and a good time was had by all. We look forward to going back again soon.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.