There is evidence of human artwork dating back 500,000 years. It is our very nature to express ourselves through creative endeavors and share them with others. Creativity is in our blood.
The passage of time has allowed us to graduate from crude paintings on cave walls to magnificent moving images projected onto massive theater screens. But the point is still the same: sharing a story.
Not surprisingly, the creative art of filmmaking loves looking at creative types.
Movies are the perfect vehicle to explore the creative process, the method, the origin of inspiration, and the struggle to bring them to fruition. Movies utilize many of the great arts: writing, music, acting, composition, color, and of course a little magic – the age-old deception of doing the impossible.
Let’s gather ‘round the fire and share some stories.
15. Hustle & Flow
Terrence Howard made a big splash in 2005 with his performance as Djay in Hustle & Flow. Written and directed by Craig Brewer, the story is about a small-time pimp struggling to survive in Memphis. He lives in a run-down house with the women who work for him, including Nola (Taryn Manning) and Shug (Taraji P. Henson in a small but powerful role). They are all dreaming of something more.
When Djay bumps into his old friend, Key (Anthony Anderson) who spends his spare time recording gospel music, he realizes his chance. Motivated by the success of another Memphis rapper, Skinny Black (Ludacris), Djay combines rhythm, rhymes and raw energy, to makes his play.
Hustle & Flow follows each step of the creative process: the inspiration (a breathtaking gospel performance), the writing, building a studio, recording tracks, and finding the all-important hook.
“You know it’s hard out here for a pimp.”
Bowfinger tells the story of Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin), a struggling Hollywood filmmaker taking his last shot at success. He gathers a crew of misfits and together they embark on making the low budget science fiction movie, Chubby Rain.
His only chance of selling the movie is if he can somehow get an action superstar to be in the film. Bowfinger’s stroke of genius is to just make the movie without telling him. Eddie Murphy plays dual roles, as neurotic movie star Kit Ramsey and the crew’s hapless assistant Jiff.
Despite their serious lack of funding, experience and skill, Bowfinger and his crew find clever and inventive ways to overcome their numerous obstacles, never giving up. Written by Steve Martin and directed by Frank Oz, the movie is funny and inspirational with nearly every character in the story undergoing change.
13. Shakespeare in Love
Written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love tells the story of how mankind’s greatest writer lost his mojo and then got it back, in a way you will never guess, unless you’ve seen the film’s title.
Joseph Fiennes plays the Bard as he struggles for inspiration to fuel his next play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. He finds his muse in the beguiling Viola De Lesseps played by Gwyneth Paltrow. The creativity starts flowing and he makes some changes to his work.
We watch as the legendary play we all know and love, is created from bits of his life, variations on a phrase, and of course the great inspiration of falling in love.
The film is teeming with creative types: writers, actors, theater owners, even producers, all working on their art. The film is funny and charming and clearly gave Academy voters a heavy dose of the warm fuzzies as the movie took home seven Oscars including Best Picture.
How did it beat out Saving Private Ryan?
“I don’t know, it’s a mystery.”
12. The Player
While 8½ is about the experience of making a film, The Player is about the business.
Set in a modern Hollywood movie studio where no one reads scripts anymore, films are pitched to executives in twenty-five words or less, distilling their essence to simplistic analogies – “it’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman.” Buck Henry pitches a sequel to The Graduate.
Tim Robbins stars as Griffin Mill a movie studio executive being threatened by a disgruntled screenwriter.
Directed by Robert Altman and written by Michael Tolkin, based on his book, The Player is a movie for people who love movies. With the passing of Orson Welles, Sam Peckinpah, and John Huston, Altman was one of the last maverick filmmakers still operating in the early 1990’s. When Hollywood learned he was making The Player, virtually everyone wanted to be a part of it.
If you haven’t yet seen the film and don’t want the cameos spoiled, skip the next paragraph.
The cast includes Sydney Pollack, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Stockwell and Richard E. Grant. But the list of cameos is incredible, including Jack Lemmon, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Malcolm McDowell, Steve Allen, Harry and Shari Belafonte, Gary Busey, Robert Carradine, James Coburn, Peter Falk, Cher, Jeff Goldblum, Buck Henry, Anjelica Huston, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds, Susan Sarandon, Ray Walston, and John Cusack – to name a few- all appearing as themselves.
The film is packed with references and respect for movie history. There are spectacular tracking shots and clever visual tricks, along with Altman’s trademark overlapping dialogue. But there is also biting commentary on the status of modern Hollywood, and the endless pursuit for a hit film. If you are looking for the truth, you aren’t going to find it in a big studio picture.
All we want is a happy ending.
11. All that Jazz
“It’s showtime, folks!”
Directed and co-written by Bob Fosse, All that Jazz is the semi-autobiographical tale of a hard-drinking, drug-taking, workaholic director/choreographer as he simultaneously puts together his next Broadway show, while editing his latest movie. And if the workload wasn’t enough to overwhelm him, he also has to deal with his ex-wife, his daughter and his current girlfriend.
Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, an exhausted man burning the candle at both ends. Joe may be working himself to death, but if he is, he’s going to leave something memorable behind. His life, his dreams, and nightmares all find themselves woven into his work.
Fosse’s talents were vast and they are on display here in all their glory.
We see the work and preparation that goes into casting a theatrical performance, the grueling rehearsals, the set design and preparation. Plus we see him working with his editor, cutting together his latest motion picture, as they screen various versions of the same scene, struggling to make it work.
The film has everything, great music, dance, humor, it’s sexy, smart and moving.
Written and directed by John Carney, Once is the story of two people who meet, fall in love, and make beautiful music together.
He is a Dublin street musician moonlighting as a vacuum repairman, she is an immigrant who plays piano and harmonizes beautifully. He shares with her his dream of bringing his music to London and she agrees to help him.
Glen Hansard is the guy.
Markéta Irglová is the girl.
As their collaboration grows, their songs tell their story. The chemistry between them is palpable and drives the emotional core of the film. We watch them as they perform together inside a small music store and the performance is breathtaking.
Once features a collection of amazing songs, written and performed by the two stars, rendered with sparse production, highlighting the soul of the material.
Together they create something magical that will last forever, the sort of thing that only happens once.
9. The Producers
Artists are usually portrayed as struggling to create something special. In The Producers, writer/director Mel Brooks shows his genius by having main characters do the exact opposite. His screenplay won the Oscar.
Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are brilliant as the titular characters that embark to create a massive flop of a Broadway show, because it will make more money than a hit. Their manic energy together on screen is the stuff of legend.
The story shows us the creative process from the producer’s perspective: searching for the right material, working with the writer, hiring the director, and of course the casting call for your leading man.
Whenever watching films about creative pursuits, it’s always fun to see the movie-in-a-movie, or in this case, the show-within-the movie, Springtime for Hitler, come to life. Mr. Brooks packs so much humor into the production; you need a second viewing just to catch it all.