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Fictions about cinema


"How tall is King Kong ?"
Oh i sense a custom list brewing.

I remember, long ago, a local cinematheque had a cycle about movies about movies, but I didn't see many of them and don't remember its list. It's where I had discovered The Stunt Man, which has remained one of my favorite films again. And a few days ago, I watched Sherlock Jr. for the first time, which delighted me with its Purple Rose of Cairo-like play on the cinema world.

It made me wish to inventory and explore a bit more cinema meta-narratives on itself, and I know its a genre in itself. But I didn't find many titles. Right now, I remember :

Living on Oblivion, a hilarious comedy about a low budget movie production going sideways in all the worst possible ways.

Barton Fink and The Player, two dramas about the writing and financing of movies.

Hail Caesar, a Coen bros satire set in golden age Hollywood.

Once upon a time in Hollywood, haven't seen it yet (the opportunity arose at the worst of times).

Wes Craven't New Nightmare, an amusing incursion of Freddy Krueger on a NIghtmare on Elm Street set.

Truffaut's Day for night, not seen yet either.

Last Action Hero, a fun play on the action movie conventions.

and maybe I'd count Cinema Paradiso, which is also a reflection on some aspects of the media's history. Although it's a bit peripheral to what I mean.

Hm, also White hunter black heart, I think. Haven't seen it either. Don't know how central the movie production is to its story.

And the delicious Shadow of the Vampire, toying with the (very believable) idea of Max Schreck being an actual vampire.

But there are a lot more, either that are set on a set, or that go full meta on the visual grammar of cinema. Movies that either lampshade and explicitly deconstruct this grammar, or movies that talk about how movies are produced. Or about the interaction between movies and spectators.

Any favorite of yours, or particularly interesting ones you could think of ?

Welcome to the human race...
First one I thought of was Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt. Also Fellini's .
I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.

"How tall is King Kong ?"
First one I thought of was Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt. Also Fellini's .
Great. Haven't seen them.

Just though of another favorite, unfortunately somewhat obscure even in France : Rum Runners (1971), about a tough contraband captain falling in love with a movie star and entering the vacuous world of Hollywood through her.

minds his own damn business
Mulholland Dr. - very much about filmmaking, but more significantly about the mythology of cinematic image.

French Lieutenant's Woman - Interesting film combining two stories, a love affair from the 1800s and a modern affair between two actors filming an adaptation of the former.

Why Don't You Play In Hell?/Man Bites Dog - Both films, in their own separate ways, interrogate the allure of ultraviolence.

F For Fake/Other Side of the Wind - F is about a lot more than sheer filmmaking, but it is a deconstructive and self-aware filmmaking exercise into unraveling media mythologizing, and so it's essential to any list of "cinema fiction". Wind is more firmly in the narrative of filmmaking process.

Targets - a thriller that cleverly juxtaposes cinema myth (horror, specifically) with a more verite take on everyday violence.

Ed Wood - the worst case scenario brought to life

Peeping Tom - a filmmaker has a fetish for filming the women he kills, and this film became the most condensed and palpable expression of cinema voyeurism since.

Blair Witch Project - Also highlights cinema as a filter between reality and entertainment.

After the Fox - Peter Sellers, doing a Fellini impersonation, makes a fake film and write's it off as neo-realism.

Real Life - Albert Brooks' hilarious take on the then-successful An American Family deftly skewers what would become known as reality-TV about 20 years ahead of time.

Body Double - Several De Palma films would qualify, but this is the most succinct in his deploying the fantasy/reality divide of cinema perception.

minds his own damn business
Oh, and Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, a film within a film that becomes a religious renactment of the filmmaking process. Fightening and necessary.

The Star (1952)
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)
Stardust Memories (1980)
The Player (1992)
Matinee (1993)
Swimming With Sharks (1994)
For Your Consideration (2006)

If we don't mind getting a little X-rated...

Boogie Nights is an obvious choice, with its depiction of the California porn industry during the golden age. It draws chiefly from the John Holmes / Bob Chinn collaborations and I understand meticulously recreates a few of them. I understand Chinn is not a fan of the movie, with his chief complaint being less that they make the movies look bad but that they imply that he would have thought they were well made. (In the interview I listened to, Chinn attributes the poor action scenes to a lack of money for a stunt coordinator. He has another story of being handed the budget for a movie in fifties on the spot.) I haven't seen the movies in question, but I have seen a few movies Chinn did a few years later with half-decent budgets in hand, and they are relatively slick, so I feel inclined to believe him. (He also seemed to have an appreciation for '60s art cinema, so I assume he wasn't blind to notions of quality.) Regardless, the movie is generally quite warm, and probably makes Mark Wahlberg's Holmes stand-in quite a bit more sympathetic than the real person (who I understand was a colossal piece of ****). Anderson clearly has a love for the subject and the personalities involved.

Now, Burt Reynolds' character is based on Chinn, but his appearance is modeled on Gerard Damiano, who's generally regarded as one of the best directors in the genre. My favourite of his that I've seen so far is Skin Flicks, which like Boogie Nights is about the subject of making (porno) movies, but is a lot more ambivalent about the whole enterprise and particularly astute about the tension between art and commerce. It is a porno, and features one particularly upsetting scene near the end, but it's also one of my favourite things I watched for the first time last year.

One of the stars of Skin Flicks is Sharon Mitchell, who on top of being a prolific (and I think quite good) actress in porno movies, starred in a movie called Kamikaze Hearts, a mockumentary about the making of such movies. Aside from getting a sense of the behind the scenes elements (which seem pretty consistently depicted across the movies I'm mentioning, leading me to believe they're accurate), it has the added fascination of depicting a version of her relationship at the time with fellow porn star Tigr. (I don't know how accurate it was to the real thing, but it feels uncomfortably raw and often unflattering for both of them.) Like Skin Flicks, there is a sense of the participants working out their feelings about working in the genre (even if they're fairly ambivalent on the whole), but the closest movie I can think of in terms of the overall dynamic is Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

One of the most unique films about filmmaking I have ever seen. It's been a little while since the last time I watched it but the jist is:

William Greaves books central park for a day for what seems to be some kind of a test shoot. He hires a camera crew and actors and then proceeds to give very unusual direction to absolutely everyone involved. Things like directing another camera crew to film the camera that is filming the actors. The really interesting thing about it is that he gives the crew the freedom to discuss everything that is going on privately... Which they themselves filmed. So you have a flabbergasted crew trying to dissect this absolute mess of a shoot by this crackpot director (or is he genius?) intermixed with the footage they shot of camera men shooting camera men shooting actors in central park. It's truly a brilliant little work of art by Greaves. Something every fan of movie making should experience at least once.

I know from my description it probably sounds a bit documentary-like to be considered fiction, but to me it still fits.

Recently, though I may have been alone, I enjoyed The Dead Don't Die to some degree, which has some of the more amusing meta-structure gaggery I've enjoyed in a minute.

"How tall is King Kong ?"
I've added most of these suggestions in a (temporary?) custom list. They suddenly dwarfed the number of movies I had already seen.

There's some titles I didn't add, either because they were more about tv productions than cinema productions, or seemed too indirectly about cinema, or seemed to be documentaries more than fictions. They did make my urgent watch list though (some already were on it). Maybe I'll realize I was underestimating their relevance after watching them.

For the very curious, the current state of the list is here :

Professional horse shoe straightener
Close Up
A Moment of Innocence
Black Bear
The Souvenir
The Dirties
Adaptation (maybe?)
Tale of cinema (lots of Hong Sang-Soo's films are about film-making)
Camera Buff
Super 8
Pain and Glory (The Almodovar film. Amazing watch)

There's a Korean film called 'Rough Cut' that is on my watchlist that looks good.

Another one I don't think has been mentioned yet:

My Winnipeg

Surreal film where Filmmaker Guy Maddin attempts to escape Winnipeg by filming reenactments of various moments in his life hoping to be able to get past them and escape the city once and for all. Fantastic flick.

John Carpenters Cigarettes burns
I really dont like carpenter but i thought this one was decent was made for masters of horror hbo so only 60 min but i dont mind short movies. About a man searches for a film that was rumored to have driven its audience into a murderous frenzy.