I love learning and writing about film. I love it even more than making films myself. Hence, in today’s Journal we will look behind the scenes to the magic of filmmaking. We will start out with a forgotten classic and follow it up with several documentaries.
SCOTT’S FILM JOURNAL – ENTRY 44
THE STUNT MAN (1980) – A fugitive (Steve Railsback) is trying to evade capture when he hops into a car on a bridge. The man in the car nearly kills him but winds up dying in the process. It is only then that the fugitive realizes that he has stumbled onto a film set being run by the eccentric, enigmatic director Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole). Rather than turn him over to the authorities, Cross shelters the fugitive and has him assume the identity of the dead stuntman. The new stuntman is introduced to a strange and surreal world of smoke and mirrors where everyone is larger than life, he romances the leading lady (Barbara Hershey) and nothing is what it seems. And while it seems like he’s walking through a dream, he wonders if Cross has deadly designs on him.
THE STUNT MAN is one of the magical films ever made. It’s a favorite of virtually everyone who has seen it… and yet, very few have seen it. Even though I’ve seen it many times, I often let a few years pass between each viewing and in that time, I tend to forget just how incredible it is. Thankfully, I do keep going back to it and every time I do, I fall in love all over again, often for completely different reasons.
The performances are fantastic across the board. The plot is riveting and the script has character insight that you won’t find if you search through a hundred other films. THE STUNT MAN defies classification. Is it a drama? A comedy? A thriller? It is so skillfully put together by director Richard Rush that you just look at the screen, slack-jawed in wonder, trying to figure out how they pulled off something this special. Rush has a knack for playing with the audience, just as Cross plays with his stunt man. Is what we are seeing real or fantasy, and where does one end and the other begin? You’re never completely sure. Anyone who claims to love the movies should make watching THE STUNT MAN a priority. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
GREAT DIRECTORS (2009) – Director Angela Ismailtos takes her lifelong love of cinema and shines a spotlight on some of her favorite filmmakers. Some of these people are living and some are dead, but she gives a fine overview of their careers and viewpoints in a very limited amount of time. Perhaps the only real failing is just that, that she only has so much. This feels like it should be a limited series sometimes rather than a feature film. However, once can’t fault some of her choices. Ismailtos does not go to the usual suspects – Hitchcock, John Ford, etc. Instead, she looks at Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, Liliana Cavani, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach, David Lynch, John Sayles, Agnes Varda and possibly a few others I’m forgetting. This makes the film more educational than other similarly-themed films. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE: THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009) – This documentary looks at American history since the early 20th century and shows how the fears, hopes and psychology of the nation could be reflected in the horror films of the era. For this, they wrangle a bunch of talented filmmakers such as Darren Lynn Baussman, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Roger Corman, John Landis, Mick Garris, John McNaughton, George A. Romero and others.
The definitive documentary on this subject is Adam Simon’s THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE, which analyzed the American horror films of the 1970s and how they bared the soul of a nation in turmoil. Still, this is a subject that I admittedly feel very close to. To that end, NIGHTMARES IN RED WHITE AND BLUE does a good job and it’s always nice to see my favorite genre treated in a more artistic and sociological light. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
TALES FROM THE SCRIPT (2009) – In the world of filmmaking, no one is as underappreciated as the screenwriter. They write the stories that the films become and yet their work gets questioned, rewritten, thrown out and their names are never prominent when the film is being shopped to the public. There are trailers that say “From the studio that brought you FIGHT CLUB.” But wouldn’t “From the writer that brought you FIGHT CLUB” have more meaning?
This documentary examines a number of well-known screenwriters as they share their stories on how they got involved in film, their opinion of the film industry in general and their advice to budding screenwriters out there. On this third point in particular, TALES FROM THE SCRIPT should be seen by film students. They’ve grabbed a bunch of talented people here, too many to mention here. But that doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a series of talking heads. And there’s a reason why some of these guys put the words in the stars’ mouths and aren’t the stars themselves. There are some interesting stories and points of view, some of which are downright depressing. But the film itself winds up being pretty bland after a while. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
SIDE BY SIDE (2012) – There always seems to be a lot of controversies going on within the film industry. Most of these surround the fads of the day. 3-D, the proliferation of remakes and various film techniques are being debated about these days. But few expect that these choices will resonate throughout the industry forever. Digital film however is a game-changer, something that changes the way we make and see movies. As traditional film fades away and digital film takes over, SIDE BY SIDE examines the issue. Is this a new world that will open up filmmaking to more people or are we losing something along the way? Though the film seeks to educate you and does a fine job of it, it is geared towards film students. In other words, lots of technical jargon with explanations is still a lot of technical jargon. But there are a lot of great viewpoints and it will be hard not to come to an informed decision yourself after viewing it. ★★1/2 (out of ★★★★)
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 205
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