Ever since the beginning of the motion picture, there have been many instances in which filmmakers turned the cameras on the process itself. No member of the filmmaking family was ignored – actors, directors, producers, writers, studio bosses, journalists…heck, even the gaffers and caterers wouldn’t be kept out of the shuffle. Yet in this Examiner’s view, these 5 films represented the best takes on the film industry, on filmmaking, and on the makeshift families you would see on every film set:
5. 8 1/2 (Otto e mezzo) (Federico Fellini, 1963)
It would later spawn a Broadway musical (which would spawn a recent film with Daniel Day-Lewis and an ultimate female ensemble), but no remake could ever top Marcello Mastroianni’s run as a director struggling to finish his latest project while trying to deal with all the women in his life (among them Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo and Claudia Cardinale). This comic drama earned Oscar writing and directing nods for Fellini, and it would win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
4. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
“I am big…it’s the pictures that got small.” With many a memorable line including that one, silent screen star Gloria Swanson revived her career – and helped kick William Holden’s to another level in Wilder’s darkly sharp satire. Holden’s Joe Gillis is a screenwriter who is brought into the home of faded star Norma Desmond (Swanson), and is asked to write her comeback film – or does she? The Hollywood influence is felt throughout (Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper and Buster Keaton make cameos), but it’s Wilder’s witty dialogue and commanding direction that makes this Hollywood-set film a biting classic.
3. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)
This was made during the writer-director’s greatest period (which included The Lady Eve and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek), but this Hollywood satire was Sturges at his wittiest, his sharpest, and even his most moving. Director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) wants to get away from comedies and take on a serious film, but when he begins his journey – which includes the aid of a struggling actress (Veronica Lake) – he really goes on an adventure he wasn’t expecting. The film’s best scene lies with the use of a Disney cartoon (and this was a Paramount film upon release!), but it has to be experienced to gain its full power – and to see Sturges at his best.
2. Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952)
This may have a reputation as one of Hollywood’s greatest musicals, but it was also an entertaining satire about the moment Hollywood went from silent films to “talkies.” Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor & Debbie Reynolds are an absolute singing comic trio (with each of them getting signature moments), Jean Hagen steals the show as the silent actress who may have a slight problem with sound films (just a slight one), and the songs & storyline blend seamlessly with nary a weak moment. And of course, there’s always that grand number with Gene Kelly dancing…oh, you know the one.
1. Day for Night (La nuit americaine) (Francois Truffaut, 1973)
For the French writer-director, filmmaking was more than just a way of making a living. Films were life and vice versa. This film chronicles the making of the romantic dramedy Meet Pamela, from the first scene to getting the cast and crew organized, from trying to get a diva actress to co-operate to getting another medically sound. The cast features Jacqueline Bisset as the struggling British star, Valentina Cortese (in an Oscar-nominated role) as the fading diva, and even Graham Greene as an insurance agent. This was Truffaut’s ultimate love letter to films – a tribute to his obsession, and an entertaining homage to his passion.