I was relishing the prospect of exploring this theme, watching people trying to make movies as everything falls apart around them, battling against all the odds to do something as seemingly simple as producing a finished film. Many of the films below were new to me, and almost all of them made for amazing viewing. We have documentaries about events so bizarre, so catastrophic, so unlikely, that you’d be forgiven for thinking they were fiction. Then there are fictional stories of attempts at filmmaking that turn out to be so disastrous and silly that you could just as easily believe were true. This has been a brilliant theme of discovery for me, I’ve given all but two of the films a rating of 4 or 5, and there’s at least three that are amongst the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. I urge anyone reading to check out the higher rated films; if you’re anything like me, there’s events in these that will have your jaw hitting the floor.
“If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams and I don't want to live like that: I live my life or I end my life with this project…” (Werner Herzog, on the hellish production of Fitzcarraldo, in Les Blank's Burden of Dreams)
American Movie (1999)
Burden of Dreams (1982)
And then see My Best Fiend (further down this list), Herzog’s own doc about his filmmaking experiences working with the seriously disturbed Klaus Kinski. If can take even more, Herzog wrote a book about it all too; "Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo". I haven't read it yet, but definitely plan to.
Day For Night (1973)
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)
Living in Oblivion (1995)
Lost in La Mancha (2002)
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)
The Making of ‘…And God Spoke’ (1993)
Mia Madre (2015)
top 20 films of 2015, and tells of a female director trying to make a movie whist her life falls apart. Her mother is ill in hospital, her relationship has hit the rocks, and she’s questioning the very point of the film she’s trying to make. Added to that, her film features an Italian American actor (John Turturro) who seems to be on the verge of a breakdown, can never remember his lines, and repeatedly misunderstands his part in the scenes. It’s a fine comedic performance by Turturro, one of his best for many years, and this comedic tone helps balance against the more downbeat strands of the story. There’s also a wonderful scene outside a cinema, which is turned into perfection by the use of a Leonard Cohen song. I’m a fan of Moretti’s work, he often explores aspects of life that should be downbeat yet finds a way to lighten them, and this is certainly one of his best. Another of his comedies on a similar theme that I’d recommend is Caro Diario (Dear Diary), which tells the story of a screenwriter buzzing around Rome on his scooter, contemplating life and his next script.
My Best Fiend (1999)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You…
The final part of my season of movies about the movies will take a different direction. It feels like we’re at the beginning of an exciting new era in filmmaking, where the power of the traditional studios is diminishing, and the ways we consume movies is radically changing. The future of independent cinema seems like it could lie in the hands of Netflix and Amazon, the new moviemaking superpowers, so for the next part I’m going to watch my way through the currently available Netflix Originals.