Films About Films

It didn’t take cinema long to realise that the art form could be its own juiciest subject. Silent cinema’s most famous musing on itself is Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr (1924), with the star as a projectionist dreaming himself into a movie. But eight years earlier, Charlie Chaplin made this illusion-puncturing short about the humdrum realities of the movie studio. Chaplin’s antics as a stage hand reveal the industrial nature of the silent film business, while a scowling director in dark glasses and cap worn backwards – grimly supervising a pie-throwing scene - is surely the first angst-ridden auteur to be depicted on screen. Films about films usually show the filmmaking process as pitted with heartache, chaotic, destructive to the mind and soul of those wishing to fulfill their creative urges, monstrous battles of egotism and greed. Whether that falls short of the truth or not, only those who’ve trodden the lonely path and made films can say. However, watching these films will be illuminating, cathartic and inspiring for filmmakers, and with their warts and all take will no doubt make them feel less alone.

Peeping Tom

The film that launched a thousand film studies dissertations on the politics of “the gaze”, Peeping Tom also virtually ended the career of its maker, British pioneer Michael Powell. Written by Leo Marks, this thriller is a rare study of the film-maker as committed (not to say deranged) loner, with Carl Boehm as a duffel-coated voyeur obsessed with capturing the look of terror. Peeping Tom is a rarity because it captures image-making at all levels – from studio fodder, through the science documentaries of the hero’s father (played by Powell himself), to backroom porn. At first reviled, later revered, Peeping Tom is easily as influential as Psycho in opening up the dark mindset of cinema.

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