5. Making the Shining (1980)
Another making of a horror movie documentary but this time we follow Stanley Kubrick as he makes his modern horror classic The Shining. Kubrick was quite a recluse and wasn’t too keen on any attention paid to him or his film making process as he preferred to let his work speak for itself. That makes this documentary, shot by his then 17 year old daughter Vivian for the BBC, on the set of The Shining all the more special.
We get a very rare and almost unique insight into Kubrick’s methods on set. That being said, the director is never interviewed as opposed to the cast of the movie and apparently he tried to get himself cut out of the final product as much as possible before the time of release, which is completely in line with what one would expect of the man.
Still, we get to see Kubrick’s mother on set, Jack Nicholson acting goofy and even James Mason, who was apparently working on a sound stage next door, introduce his entire family to Kubrick. Given how little footage of Stanley Kubrick there is out there, Making the Shining remains a rare treat for Kubrick aficionados.
4. Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner (2007)
Without a doubt the most extensive documentary on this list, Dangerous Days is a three and a half hour opus on the making of Ridley Scott’s seminal science fiction classic Blade Runner in its various incarnations.
Produced in 2007 for the release of the Final Cut edition of the movie, Dangerous Days lovingly follows the making of the movie and features a wealth of interviews with all major cast members, the director and various members of the crew. All in all more than 80 separate interviews were conducted and the documentary features many outtakes, deleted and alternate scenes from the movie, dissecting every aspect of the film in eight separate chapters making this a dream come true for the many lovers of this ground breaking piece of work.
Possibly the most intricate “making of” documentary ever made, Dangerous Days is an absolute must for Blade Runner fans and a great watch for anyone with a passion for film. It’s basically the ultimate DVD extra ever.
3. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
This is the grandfather of all movies about movies, Dziga Vertov’s Chelovek s kino-apparatom (Man with a Movie Camera). As opposed to all other movies on this list, Man with a Movie Camera is not a documentary about the making of a film.
Whilst movies were already big business in 1929, documentaries were still rare and “making of” documentaries were non-existent. This movie is a film about film. Vertov believed that narrative film could not do justice to real life and consequently came up with this silent experimental film about life in a modern Russian city from dusk till dawn.
Even though the subject here was modern urban life, The Man with a Movie Camera distinguishes itself by constantly drawing attention to the film making process itself by blatantly using every optical trick in the book (and some that weren’t in the book yet) like slow and fast motion, split screens, double exposures, animations and even the breaking of the fourth wall by including the film maker and his camera in the footage to add to the frantic representation of modern city life.
In 2012 Man with a Movie Camera was voted 8th best Movie Ever by the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound magazine.
2. Burden of Dreams (1982)
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse might hold the title for the best documentary on the most spectacularly troubled movie production ever but Burden of Dreams comes in a very close second. Burden of Dreams documents the making of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, a difficult production plagued by problems .
First of all there was the weather and harsh rain forest landscape, neither of which were ideal for film shooting conditions. Secondly Herzog also ran into various problems with his cast. After having shot about forty percent of the film, Jason Robards, who played the title role, fell violently ill and had to return to the States. He never came back and as a result Herzog had to recast the role and start shooting from scratch.
This then caused Mick Jagger, who played an important supporting role, to drop out due to other engagements with the Stones and Herzog consequently decided to drop his whole character from the movie. And to make things worse, the shoot also got caught between warring Amazonian tribes and Herzog insisted on dragging a life-size steamboat over a mountain, all in the name of authenticity.
A fantastic documentary about an obsessive director on a quest to make his grand opus, Burden of Dreams won the 1983 British Academy Film Award for Best Documentary.
1. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)
This might well be the best “making of” documentary ever made about a movie. Not only is Apocalypse Now widely seen as a masterpiece of modern cinema and one of the best war movies ever made, it was also plagued by production problems of gargantuan proportions, which have become the stuff of legend in their own right and give this documentary a great advantage.
Francis Ford Coppola had just come off the giant success of both Godfather movies and decided to adapt Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to a tale set in the Vietnam War. Little did he know that he would be living his own journey into hell with a production which was beset by horrendous problems.
The shooting conditions were extremely hard, sets were destroyed by a typhoon, Martin Sheen had a heart attack whilst on location, Marlon Brando arrived on set overweight and completely unprepared for his role and helicopters on loan from the Philippine army were called back in the middle of difficult and expensive shoots.
All of this caused the budget of the film to explode and Coppola to nearly lose his mind. Whilst that might all be awful, we as the audience have clearly come out as the winners here. Not only did we end up with this masterpiece of a movie, we got an amazing and utterly unique documentary to boot as well.
Emilio has been a movie buff for as long as he can remember. Critical and eclectic in taste, he has been described to “love film but hate all movies”. For daily suggestions on what to watch, check out his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/goodmoviesuggestions.