In Hamlet, William Shakespeare gives acting directions.
HAMLET: Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, by use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise…
And on Hamlet explains. For any Shakespearean actor, those lines must become their guiding light. Those are the only instructions that greatest playwright of all time ever gave about how to act in his plays.
The same can be said of films about making films. When Hollywood turns the cameras on themselves, we mere mortals get to see how the magic happens. Here is our list of some of the best films ever made about filmmakers and the making of films.
This is a Western in space. The bad guys are dealing drugs and only one man stop them. The dialogue is fast and silver-tongued, especially between Connery (as Marshal O’Neil) and Doctor Lazarus (played by the always perfect Frances Sternhagen).
Ed Wood – The worst filmmaker of all time. That’s what the call this crossdressing fanatic. But the film and the person behind it are a story of passion, perseverance, and personality. Ed Wood went on to make movies so bad their success is measured in groans and the number of people who leave the theater. In this movie, though, we see a man who delighted in his craft, which he was terrible at, and the group of friends who would encourage him and take the ride with him.
American Movie – The story of two guys from Wisconsin trying to make a movie, this is a film about the pain of trying to make it big in film. It’s a documentary of the troubles of independent filmmakers. There are millions of would-be filmmakers out there who want to make their own masterpiece, but the golden staircase that is Hollywood’s elitist attitude makes it nearly impossible to break in.
Heart of Darkness – Apocalypse Now is one of the most iconic films ever made. The story behind the making of the film is as fascinating as the story itself. Between the lack of preparation of Marlon Brando (Coppola had to take a week to teach him his lines), Dennis Hopper’s (alleged) insistence on having cocaine as part of his pay, and Martin Sheen’s real life heart attack, this was one film that likely would not have ever been made but for the force of the director’s will and some brilliant actors who worked on it. This is the documentary of the making of this extraordinary movie.
The Player – If you want a movie about making movies, who better to direct it than Robert Altman? This film is a brutal look at how much Hollywood can be a meat grinder and how much of it kills art for money. Peppered with great actors and a murder in the midst of a soulless Hollywood studio, this is the side of Hollywood that most people can’t imagine. Then again most of them wouldn’t care if they knew.
8 1/2 – Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni. Not sure if we need to say too much more. But we will. Visually, this is a film that captures the eye. The thrill of filmmaking and the horror of a lost soul collide in the hands of one of the greatest directors of all time working with one of the greatest actors. Many people haven’t seen the film, but it’s not possible to be a movie buff without having watched this at least once. This isn’t about Hollywood; it’s about film and the impact it has on the lives of the people who make them.
What are your favorite films about making films? What do you think of our choices?