This coming Friday sees the re-release of Francois Truffault's stunning La Nuit americaine, which is easily one of the greatest movies about making movies ever created. This film genre has been explored by many film-makers throughout the history of cinema, retelling the well travelled story technique of 'write what you know'.
1. In The Soup (1992) – Dir. Alexandre Rockwell. Star. Steve Buscemi and Seymour Cassel
Steve Buscemi plays a down and out screenwriter called Aldolpho, looking to get his 500 page screenplay into production. His rent's due, his neighbours hate him, he scrounges of his mum and boils up any leftovers he can find round the house to survive. In walks Joe (Seymour Cassel), a charismatic and eccentric mobster, who not only wants to bank roll the script, he wants to produce as well. Joe is completely insane and spends most of the time getting slightly too close to Aldolpho, whilst pulling money out of various dodgy dealings. Aldolpho gets stuck more and more into Joe's crazy ways, highlighting the reality of what many screenwriters do, to witness their artistic vision up on screen. Aldolpho deals with hookers, coke dealing midgets, and dances in the moonlight with an old friendly gangster, all for the sake of his beloved 500 page script about an angel.
2. Be Kind Rewind (2008) – Dir. Michel Gondry. Star. Jack Black and Mos Def
This film starts off pretty...well dull and stupid. Mike (Mos Def) runs a video store owned by Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover). The store still rents out VHS's in a completely dead market to the magnetic based format. In walks Jerry (Jack Black), recently electrocuted in one of the film's most silliest scenes. The electric based events surrounding Jerry are the film's most let-down moments. For a film that is so subtle in its humour and delivery throughout, Jerry's electrification and subsequent de-electrification, looks completely out of place, belonging to the realms of fantasy. But, anyway, digression has happened. Jerry, in his new magnetised state wipes all the videos clean. Jerry and Mike decide to re-film all the tapes in the store, in their own distinct style. The 'Sweded' tapes end up being wildly popular, until Universal Studios/MGM/Fox Searchlight etc sue them for billions of dollars, for infringement of copy-right. Unable to ever pay, they have one last send off of the store and make their own film involving the people of the town.
So, why the hell is this film in here? Because of the ending. At the end you genuinely feel for the people of this town. You realise that despite its silliness you have been drawn into their mad world and have affection for the characters on screen. What keeps the film alive is its passion for films; it is in the final moments where this passion comes in one cathartic release, that actually left me quite emotional. All in all, you think it is crap until the end where you reflect and realise the truth.
3. Living In Oblivion (1995) – Dir. Tom DiCillo. Star. Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener
Nick Reve (Steve Buscemi) plays a struggling director who's film is falling apart around him. There are problems with camera focusing, a squeaky dolly, so little money a carton of milk cannot be replaced, a prima-donna actor who keeps changing the line order and positioning throughout etc. Reve gets madder and madder as the film goes on, resulting in mammoth outbursts and hosts of screaming. One of the funniest aspects of this film is the film-within-the-film: it is god-aweful. It plays with silly cinema clichés like midgets in dream-sequences – something touched upon by the midget within who asks the director if he in his whole life has ever dreamt about a midget – dialogue that belongs in a soap-opera and extremely uncomfortable melodrama. The irony is that the actors and crews lives end up becoming melodramatic and cliched.
One of the annoying aspects of the film is the fact that the entire first hour is a dream. There is a reason for this though. The film is technically in three parts: part one and two are two people's separate dreams and part three is reality. Originally, part one was made as a stand alone film, but it was too long for a short and too short for a film. DeCillo then wrote parts two and three. Due to the ultra-independent hyper-low-budget aspect of the film, there was no way of changing part one, so, instead of scrapping the whole project, they kept the one thing you are never supposed to do in storytelling: they done and kept a Dallas.
4. Ed Wood (1994) – Dir. Tim Burton. Star. Johnny Depp and Martin Landau
Johnny Depp plays Edward D. Wood Jr., the writer and director who created such calamitous affairs such as Plan 9 from Outer Space, and Bride of The Monster, which starred an aged and drug addled Bela Lugosi. Tim Burton's depiction of the maverick film-maker is wonderful, containing all that Tim Burtean weirdness. Johnny Depp plays the character beautifully and looks pretty epic in a furry jumper – the real Ed Wood did have a penchant for dressing as a woman, which his first major film Glen or Glenda is about.
Ed Wood is a fitting comedic tribute to a man who's films have achieved ultimate cult-status. They shows a man who makes movies for the love of making movies. Despite how bad, well technically really shit, he is, Ed Wood went further than most who said 'I want to be in movies'; he went out there and made it happen. Tim Burton's piece documents Wood's and Lugosi's relationship brilliantly. Towards the end of his life, Lugosi was penniless and addicted to morphine. It was Ed Wood who helped him through rehab and got him back in front of the camera again for the last time. It is great to think that in Legosi's last few years of life, that he had a loving and respecting friend like Ed Wood. He surely would have been thankful for Wood not letting himself slip away unheard of in a sea of morhpine. Lugosi may actually be Dracula, but it is Wood who has securely sealed Lugosi into the world of the cult-film forever more – what greater respect can be given to one of the greatest figures in cinema. Plus, Martin Landau kicks ass as Lugosi – yeah he won an Oscar for the portrayal.
5. Man Bites Dog (1992) – Dir. Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde. Star. Benoît Poelvoorde
This is fucking brilliant. A crew of documentary filmmakers follow around Ben, a psychopathic serial killer who likes to start the month by killing a postman. They record Ben like a fly on the wall documentary, chronicling his actions across Belgium. The film itself was made on a shoe string budget by four Belgian film-students, supposedly for their final dissertation. If this is their dissertation, I seriously took the wrong degree. The film crew following Ben are at first outside observers, watching in on the chaotic life. After a while, the crew begin to get involved with the killings, from helping Ben chase someone through a warehouse, to actually holding down a victim whilst Ben's gun goes kablamo. There are some wonderful moments in this film, such as a dinner with the killer's family going slightly awry and the explanation of how it is better to cause a heart-attack in the elderly than wasting a bullet. Potentially disturbing for some, this film is bloody amusing.
The front cover is a man shooting a dummy...how can you resist?