Four Movies About Movies
If you love movies the way I do, you’ll appreciate the quadruple goodness Netflix is currently offering.
First off, Shirkers, a wild story about a lost film made over 30 years ago by a group of female Singaporean punks and their con-artist film school professor.
Of course, being a Singapore punk back in the 1980s meant you looked like an anime fan girl, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Wikipedia sums up the basic premise:
“In 1992, Sandi Tan, alongside friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique, as well as film teacher Georges Cardona shot the independent film Shirkers. After wrapping, Tan, Ng, and Siddique left the footage with Cardona as the trio went to study abroad for college. However, Cardona disappeared with the footage and the trio never saw or heard from him again.
“20 years later, and 10 years following Cardona’s death, Cardona’s wife emailed Tan, informing her that she was in possession of the footage for Shirkers, minus the audio tracks. In the proceeding years, Tan decided to digitize the footage and use it to make something new - a documentary about the making of the film.”
Shirkers is a delight. It captures the edgy exuberance of youth (and contrasts same with the middle age reality the three teens grew into) and offers an insight into the culture of Singapore, squeaky clean on the outside but containing its own forms of social rebellion.
Cardona, the bogus film school professor, is one of a long line of cinematic con men who tried to get a project off the ground with nothing more than a smile and a shoeshine.
That he comes across as more misguided than malevolent may be part of Tan’s shading of the story, but it may also reflect something about the man himself: Never fully satisfied with who he really was, always wanting to build and embellish on that life, but while reckless apparently never cold hearted or cruel.
It’s a wonderful movie and extremely thought provoking.
It’s the savvy film company that releases not one but two movies based on an infamous lost / unreleasable film.
We’ll start with They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a documentary about Orson Welles’ struggles to complete The Other Side Of The Wind and incorporating a lot of footage from that project that couldn’t be used in the final assembly (among other things, actors were replaced or changed parts).
While one could cite Welles as the titular con man, in truth there was a legion of schnooks, scammers, and slickee boiz attached to The Other Side Of The Wind over the years. The film was a hard luck project from the gitgo, getting mixed up with deposed shahs, revolutionary governments, and international embezzlers.
By the time all the dust had settled and some sense could be made out of the complicated rights’ claims, Welles and 90% of his cast had died. What little bit he had assembled was analyzed, his copious notes and interviews were pored over, and in the end The Other Side Of The Wind was finally released.
Was it a good movie?
Well…let’s say it a movie, an Orson Welles’ movie, and let it go at that.
The Other Side Of The Wind had a long genesis, starting shortly after Hemingway’s suicide and evolving over the years to become a story about a macho film director.
However, the Great Big Shocking Reveal that Welles planned in the 1960s / 70s had become pretty passé by the 1980s and is now kinda corny. It’s valid in the movie as a period piece but that works against the film; it’s not a living document but a look back at a different era, a different attitude.
The conceit of The Other Side Of The Wind is that it’s a documentary about the last film / last night of a legendary film maker, J.J. Hannaford (played by John Huston). “The Other Side Of The Wind” is the uncompleted film he is shooting at the time of his death; it will remain uncompleted because the star stormed off the set (part of the aforementioned Great Big Shocking Reveal) and Hannaford, faced with a hostile studio and investors who have pulled their cash, dies in a car crash, possibly a suicide.
The bulk of the film takes place at Hannaford’s home during a birthday party for him; it is shot using various film gauges and stocks to represent different film crews / journalists / film buffs recording the same event.
It’s a very free flowing / highly improvised affair with moments that can pass from brilliant to banal and back again in a flash (how much of this is because Welles was unable to assemble it the way he envisioned, and how much is just a lack of material is open to debate).
A grim joke running through the bigger film is that “The Other Side Of The Wind” (i.e., the film-within-the-film) is constantly being interrupted during its various screenings, so there’s no way of appraising it as a totality.
“The Other Side Of The Wind” was Welles’ attempt to ape the free form film making style briefly popular during the late 60s and early 70s.
It actually looks like a Russ Meyer film of that era, beautifully photographed, filmed with striking images, and lots of naked ladies.
Lots and lots and lots of naked ladies.
There’s a story about Alfred Hitchcock working on his supposed last film at Universal (in reality, the studio indulging an old man who made them a fortune by giving him an office and a secretary and the chance to hang out with old film making friends). Hitchcock worked on a script with a writer he’d used in the past, but the further they got into the story, the more the writer realized what he was writing had nothing to do with what could possibly be filmed and released by a major studio, but rather were the erotic fantasies and fetishes of a doddering old man.
“The Other Side Of The Wind” has that kind of feel to it, and while it’s well done and memorable, lordie, it ain’t good. That The Other Side Of The Wind manages to rise a couple of notches above that is a credit to Welles and his posthumous collaborators.
Rounding out our list, Filmworker is a fascinating story about Leon Vitali, a successful young actor who landed the choice role of Lord Burlington in Barry Lyndon and become so mesmerized by Stanley Kubrick’s directorial prowess that he abandoned his acting career to becomes Kubrick’s assistant.
This isn’t the kind of story one expects to see about a talented film maker, a story about an acolyte who remains loyal and steadfast decades after the master’s death.
While Filmworker references most of Kubrick’s films, it focuses most tightly on Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut.
There’s a wealth of fascinating material here, including R. Lee Emery crowing about how he stole the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from under Tim Colceri in Full Metal Jacket, and the intricacies of finding a compatible work around for Kubrick’s obsessive directorial style vs child labor laws.
Vitali’s own career and early life, especially the not-at-all-positive influence of his father, are also delved into.
By the end of the film, one feels happy for Vitali:
Looking back, he thinks he made the right career choice, and if he’s happy with the way things turned out, who are we to question that?
© Buzz Dixon