Steadycam Columns

Notes on films about films


The writer on how his stint at FTII helped him discover a unique set of films that were about other films

One of the many chapters in my peripatetic life was at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. I enrolled as a student in the direction department, promptly made for the library and greedily devoured Eleanor Coppola’s Notes: The Making of Apocalypse Now. The film remains one of my all-time favourites but the book was not widely available at the time. From the book, it was but a short step to Eleanor Coppola, Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) that transformed the book’s prose into visuals.

My brief time at the FTII before I dropped out strengthened an already strong obsession with cinema — in particular films about films. Hickenlooper again was the man behind another 1991 documentary, Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas that details the meltdown director Bogdanovich had while making his 1971 classic, The Last Picture Show. Incidentally, fans of Bogdanovich’s films will be happy to know that he’s now back and in Woody Allen-esque form with She’s Funny That Way (2014). And it stars Imogen Poots. Case closed.

Another masterly ‘film about film’ is Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982) which documents the anarchy that was the production of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982). It’s about an obsessive man who decides to build a grand opera house in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, and in doing it, takes on the might of the Amazon herself. Over the decades, critics have remarked that the film about the film is better than the film itself, but I disagree. They are both masterworks and deserve to be viewed as a diptych.

While on the topic, Sarah Kelly’s Full Tilt Boogie (1997) about the production of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk till Dawn (1996) is hugely enjoyable while Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s Lost in La Mancha (2002) about Terry Gilliam’s failed attempt to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote remains a cautionary tale about all that can go wrong during filmmaking. In a similar vein, Frank Pavich’s Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) looks at cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed attempt at turning Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune into a film. Incidentally, Gilliam fans can rejoice in the news that the Quixote film is now back up and running, and is in pre-production with Amazon as the new producer.

Anyone interested in Hollywood will thrill to Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen’s The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002) based on the eponymous memoir of Robert Evans, the producer behind films such as The Godfather and Chinatown. Moving eastward, Mami Sunada’s The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013) explores the world of Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki has meanwhile said that his 2013 feature The Wind Rises was his swansong. However, hope is at hand as he has agreed to do a 10-minute 3D animation short for the Ghibli Museum, featuring a hairy caterpillar. While in Japan, Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-Ga (1985), where he travels across locations used in the iconic Yasujiro Ozu’s films, is a minimalist slice of perfection.

The FTII inspired me to seek all these films out. Now, in keeping with the times, I should perhaps explore the oeuvre of Gajendra Chauhan.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 8:23:19 AM |

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