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.

The Player

Producers are sometimes depicted on screen as monstrous yet magnificent (Kirk Douglas’s character in The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952), sometimes as just monstrous. But movie execs were never as abject as empty-souled, smooth-suited studio apparatchik Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins). Written by Michael Tolkin, this scabrous satire was Robert Altman’s gleeful revenge on the Hollywood system – with hordes of names from both sides of the camera showing solidarity by contributing cameos as themselves (Cher, Bruce Willis, screenwriter Buck Henry pitching a sequel to The Graduate). The opening shot, riffing on Orson Welles’sTouch of Evil, is the most spectacularly mounted movie in-joke ever.

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