Hollywood loves making movies…especially movies about Hollywood.
They’ve been doing it since the silent days, and the practice continues with the 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which chronicles the ill-fated mid-‘70s attempt of the iconoclastic Chilean filmmaker behind such cult classics as El Topo and The Holy Mountain to film Frank Herbert’s science-fiction classic.
The project was to be the trippy sci-fi epic to end all trippy sci-fi epics, with participation behind the scenes from artist Moebius, Alien writer Dan O’Bannon, designer H.R. Giger and a cast that included Orson Welles, David Carradine, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali. Quite an eclectic crew.
Alas, things eventually fell apart; Dune eventually came to the big screen in 1984, with a bomb David Lynch directed and Dino De Laurentiis produced that has been loathed and loved ever since its release. In Jodorowsky’s Dune, what could have been with the psychedelic-minded Jodorowsky at the helm is lamented by the 84-year-old director himself, along with fanboy journalists and such directors as Richard Stanley (Hardware) and Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive).
Jodorowsky’s Dune joins a studioful of other terrific movies about movies available on DVD and Blu-ray. If we were making a list, we would include these 12 winners that show the inner workings of Tinseltown, sometimes for better but mostly worse:
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952): Vincente Minnelli’s expert cinematic soaper stars Kirk Douglas as a down-and-out producer whose production head (Walter Pidgeon) asks director Barry Sullivan, actress Lana Turner and writer Dick Powell to cut him a break. As the three consider his plea, they reflect on their stormy relationships with Douglas. With a powerhouse cast that also includes Oscar winner Gloria Grahame as Powell’s doomed Southern wife, The Bad And The Beautiful is a cynical fable about the haves and have-nots of Hollywood.
Day for Night (1973): François Truffaut’s wonderful Oscar-winning drama looks at the people involved in the filming of a French romantic drama entitled “Meet Pamela.” Everyone has their fair share of neuroses, including the immature lead actor who falls into a depression after the script girl dumps him; the boozy actress who drinks to forget her family predicament; another actress who is emotionally unstable; and the director who has to keep everything in order. The love and frustration of filmmaking is in every scene here, beautifully enacted by Jean-Pierre Leaud, Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, and Truffaut himself.
Hollywood Shuffle (1987): Actor Robert Townsend, who got some recognition for supporting roles in movies such as A Soldier’s Story and American Flyers, maxed out his credit cards to raise the money for this spoof about African-American stereotypes in the industry. The results are a sometime sweet-natured and often hilarious skit-filled enterprise in which Townsend and pals take digs at movie review shows (“Sneakin’ into the Movies”), sitcoms (“Batty Boy”) and acting schools for minorities (“Black Acting School”). The satire turned out to be a sleeper hit, rewarding Townsend with steady directing and acting assignments.
The Big Picture (1989): Christopher Guest’s first feature lampoon is a terrific and little-seen skewering of Hollywood, filled with delightful little moments and tremendous ribbing of the movie biz. Kevin Bacon is the aspiring auteur given a shot by a major after taking a festival prize, and who sees his serious, Bergmanesque project getting derailed when the studio gets its paws on it. Bacon goes along for the ride, too, finding himself corrupted by the business before he learns his lesson. Martin Short plays his ditzy agent, Michael McKean is his cinematographer pal, and Teri Hatcher, Emily Longstreth, and Jennifer Jason Leigh the women in his life.
The Player (1992): Robert Altman’s comeback (although he claimed he was never gone) is a crafty adaptation of Michael Tolkin’s novel involving the murder of a screenwriter and its investigation. Tim Robbins plays the morally bankrupt studio executive who kills the frustrated author, takes up with his girlfriend, and becomes a person of interest for the police. Boasting one of the most amazing casts of all time, loads of inside jokes and Altman’s signature improv-heavy riffing, The Player is a dark and dangerous cinematic playground for movie lovers.
Ed Wood (1994): Tim Burton masterfully tells the story of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the cross-dressing filmmaker known for making some of the worst movies ever made. Johnny Depp is the eccentric Plan 9 From Outer Space auteur who worked on miniscule budgets with the most colorful cast of characters ever seen in a black-and-white film, including Bela Lugosi (Oscar-winning Martin Landau), Tor Johnson (George “The Animal” Steele), Vampira (Lisa Marie), Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray) and Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker). The movie offers no revisionist history of Wood’s awfulness as a director, but makes you root for him because of his eternal optimism and resiliency.
Living in Oblivion (1995): The traumas of making a low-budget film are surveyed in Tom DiCillo’s masterful making-of movie. Steve Buscemi plays the perpetually perturbed director trying to complete his artsy project with little help from a narcissistic star (James LeGros, reportedly aping Brad Pitt), an insecure leading lady (Catherine Keener), an annoyingly macho cinematographer (Dermot Mulroney), and a small-statured supporting actor (Peter Dinklage) who questions why dream sequences always have to have a dwarf in them.
Bowfinger (1999): Steve Martin penned and stars in this uproarious comedy, in which he plays an optimistic schlockmeister who believes he has one chance to make a hit movie. But since he can’t get the star (Eddie Murphy) he needs to even talk to him, Martin casts Murphy in the sci-fi opus without him even knowing about it and films scenes with a look-alike nerd (Murphy again). Also on hand are a never-been actress (Christine Baranski), a surprisingly cagey newcomer (Heather Graham) and a hunky actor (Kohl Sudduth).
State and Main (2000): You never know what you’re going to get from David Mamet when he directs, and here he delivers a whimsical and winning look at what happens when a Hollywood production invades a small New England town. With a cast like this, how can there not be excellent ensemble work: William H. Macy is the director, David Paymer the producer, Philip Seymour Hoffman the sensitive writer, Alec Baldwin the star with a liking for young girls, and Sarah Jessica Parker the lead actress who abruptly decides she doesn’t want to do nude scenes.
Baadasssss! (2003): Mario Van Peebles directs, writes and stars in a tribute to his father Melvin, who revolutionized the movie industry with 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. The incredible true story follows the elder van Peebles’ efforts to get the movie done on a tiny budget against all odds. At the same time the film celebrates Melvin’s incredible efforts and eventual box-office payoff, Mario also takes him to task for parental neglect, egomania and some other unsavory traits.
Tropic Thunder (2008): Roaringly funny and politically incorrect, Ben Stiller’s send-up of Hollywood actioners has Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel as actors making a Vietnam film in the jungle who find themselves caught in the middle of real warfare. While all acquit themselves well—along with Tom Cruise, Danny McBride, and Matthew McConaughey in smaller parts—it’s Downey as the award-winning method actor in blackface who gets the most laughs, as un-pc as they are.
Room 237 (2013): Many believe that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a modern-day horror masterpiece. But did you know people also seriously think the film is about a. the plight of Native-Americans; b. the war in Vietnam; or c., the faking of the United States’ landing on the moon? The advocates from these camps come forward and point out how the film backs their beliefs. It’s a bizarre, often fascinating work that is baffling, stimulating and sometimes, simply, wacky.