There are many types of filmmaking, and television advertising is one more. This is a film that finds common ground between filmmaking and political change, via the medium of television and the language of advertising.
FILM REVIEW: ‘Films about Filmmaking’ Theme || Director Pablo Larraín | Writer Pedro Peirano (based on the play El plebiscito by Antonio Skármeta) | Cinematographer Sergio Armstrong | Starring Gael García Bernal | Length 118 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), London, Friday 24 January 2014 || My Rating very good
As a story from his own country’s recent history, ostensibly this film by Chilean director Pablo Larraín is about the democratic overthrow of dictator General Augusto Pinochet in 1988, following 15 years of his rule, since he seized power from the left-wing Salvador Allende in a coup aided by the United States. However, it’s not really straight history, and it deftly manages to wrap in a commentary on the importance of television and the power of advertising, not to mention being a human drama about one man in the centre of this movement for change.
Among the more lauded Hollywood films that takes filmmaking as its subject is this classic musical, which casts a wry look back at the transition from silent to sound film. It’s not exactly the most accurate about how a film is made, but it includes some nice period detail nonetheless.
FILM REVIEW: ‘Films about Filmmaking’ Theme || Directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen | Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green | Cinematographer Harold Rosson | Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen | Length 98 minutes | Seen at home (DVD), London, Saturday 8 February 2014 || My Rating a must-see
I’m sitting here in front of a blank computer screen wondering what there is, usefully, that I can write about this film, which as far as musicals from (and indeed, about) the Golden Age of Hollywood go is surely as classic as they come. If you haven’t already seen it then you’re missing out, and moreover you probably know perfectly well that you’re missing out and intend to rectify that at some point. Which is just as well, because even after all this time it remains a delightful motion picture, thanks in no small part to Gene Kelly’s athletic hoofing (a quaint term for dancing which appropriately puts the focus on footwork), the spry Comden & Green songs, and its self-referential story set in Hollywood’s own (at this point, relatively recent) history.
This is another documentary which deals with the practice of filmmaking, but where Side by Side was expository, this is more a work of filmed criticism, the engagement of fans with the film medium and its creators.
FILM REVIEW: ‘Films about Filmmaking’ Theme || Director Rodney Ascher | Length 102 minutes | Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Sunday 12 January 2014 || My Rating good
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining is, I think, a brilliant work, and have reviewed it as such on this very site. But I never would have suspected such levels of careful consideration as Room 237 presents. I suppose it’s a documentary, or maybe a work of filmed film criticism, yet if I’m not sure the information it presents is always believable, or amounts to much in the way of genuine critical insight, it’s certainly interesting.
The film takes the form of a series of clips, mainly of course from the Kubrick original, as well as archival footage, still photographs, and clips from other movies, to illustrate the arguments of a number of (unseen) contributors who each has their own interpretation of Kubrick’s film. All are, of course, enjoyable and well presented — they’d scarcely make it into a film otherwise — but they certainly run the gamut of believability. Most notably, one is insistent that it’s a coded story about the genocide of Native Americans, based entirely it seems on the placement of a particular brand of corned beef can in a couple of scenes set in the walk-in freezer. Another does a similar job linking The Shining to the Holocaust (something about the number 42; it’s all pretty shaky). And then of course there’s the faking of the Apollo moon landings, which Kubrick was obviously behind, and it’s all proved here.
Also a documentary, this feature about the impact of digital technology on filmmaking is far more straightforward in the way it presents both sides of its argument, while also being passionate about the medium.
FILM REVIEW: ‘Films about Filmmaking’ Theme || Director Christopher Kenneally | Cinematographers Chris Cassidy | Starring Keanu Reeves | Length 98 minutes | Seen at home (TV), London, Monday 13 January 2014 || My Rating good
After recently seeing the subtle and mysterious Où gît votre sourire enfoui? (Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?, 2001), with its investigation into the play of light and the art of editing a film, watching Side by Side feels decidedly prosaic (not to mention mainstream). It’s a straightforward series of talking heads addressing the question of the impact of digital technology on modern filmmaking, though it has the sense not to weigh in on either side, and it even makes some reference to lower-budget indie cinema, though largely as a paving stone towards digital’s adoption by the big boys. Thanks to the involvement of star Keanu Reeves (who does the voiceover, and is seen on screen as the interviewer), a wide range of heavyweight personalities behind the camera have got involved, with many directors, writers, editors and of course cinematographers, and hearing their opinions on the subject is the chief reason for watching this documentary.
For this first review in my themed month, I’ve chosen a documentary, the most straightforward way to deal with the art of filmmaking. Needless to say this one by Portuguese director Pedro Costa is hardly straightforward and instead presents an elegiac look at a vanishing art, filled as much with darkness as light in its depiction of two avant-garde filmmakers at work.
SPECIAL SCREENING FILM REVIEW: ‘Films about Filmmaking’ Theme || Director Pedro Costa | Cinematographers Pedro Costa and Jeanne Lapoirie | Starring Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet | Length 104 minutes | Seen at Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Thursday 9 January 2014 || My Rating excellent
The majority of my reviews on this blog are of mainstream releases, and I can’t really pretend that the reviews for films I get around to seeing on the arid and obscure nether reaches of auteurist ephemera ever really garner much in the way of readership. Yet growing up in New Zealand there were few destinations to see decent films, so my tastes soon got shaped by the programming at the annual film festival and by my local video shop (Aro Street), and then of course I studied film at university. So I still get a thrill watching stuff that in our digital download age remains properly hard to come by, made by filmmakers with little regard for the norms of narrative cinema or apparent interest in the capricious tastes of audiences. The filmmaking team of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are figures from a past generation of cineastes that spring most easily to mind in this respect, just as Pedro Costa can be numbered among a more updated, modern strand of the same kind of cinematic mentality (though their methods are quite different). So this documentary made by the latter about the former, for an excellent French TV series called Cinéastes de notre temps (therefore not entirely obscure), was already fascinating to me, and seeing it in a cinema with the director present and a full audience reminds me that the cinema exemplified by Straub/Huillet and Costa need not to be quite so abstracted and rarefied a pleasure. Its appeal need not even be restricted to those with an interest in either of these auteurs, for the film which results is about filmmaking as a craft — primarily via a focus on film editing — and about finding that passion for something you love, even as it all feels a little bit elegiac.
Using all the skill I have with Microsoft Paint (i.e. almost none) I have thrown together a very basic little graphic for my upcoming month of occasional themed posts dealing with films that at some level are about filmmaking. Frankly, there’s enough of these that I could fill every day with a different review, and I could categorise at least a few from every past month I’ve been doing this blog under this rubric. However, I’ve seen a few films recently that sort of fall into this category, so I figured I’d make a month just about them.
Ever since the very earliest days of cinema, there have been plenty of directors and writers self-reflexively turning the camera on their own art. Such works have taken the route of mockery and satire about their own industry far more often than of awed self-importance (which is as it should be), but there are also plenty of documentaries which give an insight into the process. There are plenty, too, that don’t render very much insight at all, and nowadays every DVD and Blu-ray release seems to get packaged with a glut of such disposable extras. However, I want to highlight what’s good when filmmakers turn their attentions towards themselves and their practice, hence this upcoming month.
Maybe I’ll even end with a list of some of my favourite movies about moviemaking. So yes, stay tuned folks.