Top Ten Films About Filmmaking, From Altman to Vertov

Peeping Tom Michael Powell

In honor of David Holzman’s Diary finally getting a proper theatrical and online release, we’ve conducted a poll among 27 Fandor contributors and respected colleagues to determine the best films about filmmaking. See if you agree with their choices, and chime in on what other films deserve to be mentioned among them.


10. Peeping Tom (1960, Michael Powell)
A major influence on both Martin Scorsese and David Holzman’s Diary, Powell’s dark portrait of a disturbed filmmaker who literally kills women with his camera gets right at the sex and death drives that fuel our fascination with the movies. “The camera gives life and then it murders, in the most coruscating illustration of Cocteau’s definition of cinema (“la mort au travail”). – Fernando F. Croce

9. Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton)
Ed Wood beautifully captures the attitude and romanticism we filmmakers need during the trying weeks of production. The tunnel-vision, the hustle, the inspiration, the soft-shoe shuffle; the delusion in which we must submit to create the ‘Illusion.’ No one sets out to make a ‘Wood’ film; instead we aspire to produce a masterpiece in the fashion of Welles, Kubrick, Lubitsch, Kurosawa, etc. No one knows until it screens how close to either end of the spectrum it will shake out. In school, we were not taught Wood’s technique or his mise en scene. In fact before Tim Burton’s film, we only knew of him as ‘The Worst Filmmaker of All Time.’ But as portrayed in this film, Wood is the ‘holy-fool filmmaker’ who you can’t help but cheer for. His unique style dooms him from the outset and his directorial choices seem obtuse, but his tenacity is unshakable and heroic. His love of filmmaking is his guiding light. – Preston Miller

8. Beware of a Holy Whore(1971, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Fassbinder’s tenth film (in two years!) meanders around a movie set, depicting the cast and crew’s worst impulses as they manipulate and seduce each other and never quite come together to engage in the communal act of creating great art. Inspired by the sexual tension-filled production of his previous film, a polymorphously perverse Sirk-like Spaghetti Western called Whity, Fassbinder used the movie-about-a-movie conceit to illustrate the inevitable failure of utopian ideals. That a masterpiece was made about how hard and horrible it is to make such a masterpiece is oddly appropriate. – Brandon Soderberg

7. The Player (1992, Robert Altman)
I could easily get drawn into writing about the incredible first shot — which simultaneously pays homage to and reinvents the opening of Touch of Evil — or analyze the movie’s endless parade of celebrity cameos. But I won’t. When I think back on The Player, what I find most interesting is how it looks at Hollywood. Made by Altman as he rebounded from a dismal decade during which he — and almost every other U.S. filmmaker who thrived during the 1970s — was shamefully marginalized, the movie presents a scathing satirical portrayal of the Hollywood studio system, which calls itself a dream factory but is fueled by bullshit and self-interest. The Player, however, is incredibly fair in its portrayal. There may be bitterness in the very DNA of the movie, but it’s because bitterness is an inherent part of any honest Hollywood tale. Altman, who by then had experienced all the highs and lows of the system, shows us the evil that is at the heart of Hollywood. But, he seems to be saying, that evil is all too necessary. I guess it’s a twisted love letter of sorts, and it worked — Hollywood took Altman back. – Nick Dawson

6 (tie). Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire (2000 and 2005, David Lynch
For me, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire is a trilogy on the cinematic unconscious. The near-total blurring between onscreen and offscreen, and the way that onscreen has become interior life. Lynch creates a cinematic network of desire–or a network of desire that once belonged to the cinema but has now seeped into our “real” lives–and then obsessively mines all of its tropes–desire, gender, sexuality, memory, fear, and horror. So that movies are not just dreams, they are dreams that have changed the way we dream, and what we dream. In Lynch’s three films, categorical demarcations like “behind-the-scenes” or “off-screen” are no longer applicable. Lynch has said that Inland Empire is about “a woman in trouble,” but I think it would probably be more accurate to say that the film is about an unconscious in trouble, since I’m not sure what “woman” means in Empire’s fractured context, which has no real social or material reality. Laura Dern’s character(s) in Inland Empire, aren’t coherent or stable. Instead, like in Lost Highway and Mullholland Drive, there are simply multiple personalities, fragments, and narratives. She exists in a movie, she is making a movie, she is a movie, she watches herself in a movie, and we exist in all these spectator forms with her. – Masha Tupitsyn


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