5. Burden Of Dreams
Much like The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo is one of those movies where the eccentric behaviour of its protagonist unmistakably mirrors that of its director. Both the titular character and Herzog drove their subordinates to haul an entire steamship over a whopping-great hill – and Les Blank and the crew behind Burden of Dreams were there to capture it all on film.
As the production grows increasingly hectic – Herzog’s actions begin to border on exploitation, and lead actor Klaus Kinski grows ever more belligerent – Blank suffer from depression and fatigue, further underscoring just how chaotic the Fitzcarraldo shoot really was. Fortunately, his efforts weren’t for nought, as Burden of Dreams was subsequently celebrated by critics for its unvarnished look at one of cinema’s finest filmmakers at work.
4. Best Worst Film
Full disclosure: Troll 2 isn’t so much famous as it infamous for being one of the most exquisitely awful films ever made. Best Worst Film – directed by Michael Stephenson, who starred in this 1990 horror turkey – considers how a film so loveably bad winds up being made.
Stephenson manages to secure the participation of Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso and several other key figures from the production, even coaxing reluctant cast members Connie Young and Don Packard into the interview hot seat. The end result is a refreshingly candid documentary, which doesn’t shy away from addressing the shoddiness of its subject material – but crucially, never comes across as being mean-spirited.
3. Jodorowsky’s Dune
Several years before David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune bombed at the box office, Alejandro Jodorowsky was the first filmmaker to take a stab at the material. The cult director’s ultimately fruitless labors are chronicled in Jodorowsky’s Dune, and features many of the cast and crew assembled for the aborted production.
What quickly emerges during the documentary is that Jodorowsky had a distinctive and undeniably intriguing vision for Dune, and it’s a real shame he never saw the project through to completion.
Sure, the whole thing might have ended up a great big mess – the script constituted the equivalent of 14 hours of footage, Pink Floyd and Magma were allotted scoring duties, and some of the casting decisions were…questionable (Jodorowsky wanted his 12 year old son, Brontis, to play lead Paul Atreides, for one).
But based off what we see in Jodorowsky’s Dune, it’s impossible to deny that even if Jadorowsky’s film had been an out-and-out disaster, it would have been an interesting disaster all the same.
2. Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmakers’ Apocalypse
Conditions during principal photography on 1979 epic Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now were notoriously hellish – and Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse documents every agonizing moment.
Overseen by director Francis Ford Coppola’s wife Eleanor (who narrates proceedings) and filmmakers Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, this flick mixes behind-the-scenes footage with retrospective cast and crew interviews to paint a portrait of a film shoot that steadily descended into madness. It’s a compelling watch, as Coppola is forced to contend with inhospitable weather, erratic actors (we’re looking at you, Marlon Brando) and spiralling production costs – nearly derailing both his film and his career!
On the plus side, we’re also there when Coppola makes it out the other side, salvaging both Apocalypse Now and his movie-making future, despite teetering on the brink of lunacy. At one point, the acclaimed auteur observes: “We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane” – but as Hearts of Darkness makes it clear, movie magic is often born out of insanity.
1. Lost In La Mancha
When director Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote arrived in theatres earlier this year, it was the culmination of nearly three decades worth of failed attempts to get the film off the ground.
Of these false starts, the most well-known – and perhaps the most infamous aborted film shoot of all time – took place in 2000, with French star Jean Rochefort cast as Quixote alongside Johnny Depp as time-lost advertising exec Toby Grisoni.
Met with disaster at every turn – flash flooding, ruined audio recordings and an unavailable lead actor are just the tip of the iceberg – Gilliam was finally forced to abandon the production. The silver lining here is that filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, who were hired to produce a “making of” featurette were on hand to capture each and every moment of bad luck.
They repackaged the footage as the documentary Lost in La Mancha, which – in addition to spotlighting the often-underestimated difficulties of mounting a motion picture – draws fitting parallels between Gilliam and the delusional, romantic Quixote.