I don’t just love watching films, I have for a long time been very interested in all aspects of the subject, from how films are made to how they influence the people who watch them.
From the first audio commentary I heard (The Usual Suspects, when released on VHS, was available to purchase with a second video where the film was narrated by the director and stars) through to the rise of DVD, when I used to hope that my most anticipated releases would come with a bumper load of extras and documentaries, I have consumed information about my favourite films.
Recently I’ve been seeking out documentary films that could expand my knowledge of the movie industry, perhaps shedding light on the quirkier aspects of the industry or even informing me about aspects of film history that should have already been familiar to me.
What follows is an overview of some of the more interesting documentary films I have come across recently on this subject.
Although the name of Roger Corman was already familiar to me, I didn’t really fully understand how influential this man has been and how he shaped (and perhaps foreshadowed) the trends of popular cinema, whilst somehow surviving almost entirely outside the Hollywood machine.
Corman’s World takes us on a journey through Corman’s back catalogue. Though it would be impossible to make a comprehensive study of all his films (he has produced more than 300), the documentary touches upon numerous career milestones, some of which I hadn’t even heard of.
Corman had a tumultuous career, constantly striving to maintain his independence and producing all manner of movies. Known to many as the king of B-movies and exploitation cinema, Corman is a softly-spoken and private guy, who’s true motivations (beyond the simple fact that he enjoys to make movies) are difficult to pin down.
Yet what this documentary effectively illustrates is that he was making movies for film geeks and modern (perhaps younger) audiences long before Jaws and Star Wars came on the scene. It is also clear that he was a great moulder of men. Without him it is likely we would not have seen films from directors such as Jonathan Demme, Curtis Hanson, Martin Scorcesse and Ron Howard.
His story weaves through the history of cinema from the 1950s forward, yet Corman’s World also shows us how he tried to touch upon real-life issues. Corman worked with budgets small enough to allow him to tackle subjects that were contemporary when studio films were unable to take such risks.
He made films for teenagers before anyone knew what a teenager was. He introduced subjects such as drug consumption, biker gangs and racism when such topics were not even an option for filmmakers working within the studio system.
The sad story of Troy Duffy, a Los Angeles bartender whose personal belief and incredible drive led him to write, produce and direct The Boondock Saints. Ultimately a victim of his own huge ego, Duffy is deserted by Harvey Weinstein (who discovered Duffy and pushed him into the limelight), forcing him to try and make his film on his own.
Whilst The Boondock Saints ultimately became a cult favourite, Duffy never managed to work in Hollywood again. A fascinating look into the unpredictable world of movie production and the risks of believing the flattering things people tell you.
Best Worst Movie charts the fall and rise of Troll 2, the film considered to be the worst ever made (at least according to The Internet Movie Database) and which holds a special place in the hearts of a few dedicated fans.
Directed by Michael Stephenson, who starred in Troll 2 as a child, this documentary is a study of the odd nature of movie-fandom, as well as an interesting look at how the stars of box office failures live their lives. In particular, George Hardy, who went on to operate a successful dental practice, proves himself to be a hugely likable and charismatic individual.
George and Michael bring the cast back together and are present as Troll 2 experiences an unexpected turnaround in its popularity. Best Worst Movie is, at its heart, a study of how a truly shitty movie still manages to effect people’s lives. Its a surprisingly feel-good film.
Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography
This documentary is a great introduction to the world of cinematography. Always playing second fiddle to the director, the cinematographer and his role on the movie set is perhaps not well understood. Yet their impact on individual films and the art form as a whole cannot be understated.
Visions of Light seeks expand out knowledge of this field and to shed light on the achievements of various cinematographers and how their creativity is affected by the technology available to them, and how their art has affected the legacy of cinema.
The film provides a potted history of cinematography’s impact on movies, touching upon classics with an important visual style, such as On the Waterfront (1954), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), The Graduate (1967) and Raging Bull (1980).
What are your favourite film / cinema-related documentaries? Please comment below with any recommendations.