5 Best Films about Hollywood.

2800338627_c5df023aac5. A Star Is Born

The 1954 version, obviously. Directed by George Cukor, scripted by Dorothy Parker and starring Judy Garland as the innocent ingénue discovered by Hollywood heart-throb James Mason. Her “Born In A Trunk” medley makes this a genuine Hollywood classic.

And make sure it’s the restored 176 minute version from 1983. They stitched it together by inserting publicity stills in place of some of the lost footage. But it all works surprisingly well, and looks at times like a carefully planned art-house film.

 

4. The Player

Supposedly an indictment of Hollywood, Robert Altman’s clever thriller is in fact a closet celebration of the system it slyly pretends to satirize. The sub plot centres around a horribly believable caricature of a European writer, whose sincerity is flagged by his refusal to allow his opus to be sullied by anything as vulgar as stars.

But he quickly sees the light. And his movie ends as Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts enjoy a gloriously clichéd, Hollywood kiss.

The film’s amorality and triumphant cynicism are punctuated by the pitch perfect cameos from everyone who was anyone at the time it was made, in 1992.

 

wallpaper043. Mulholland Dr.

As David Thomson pointed out in his perceptive review, the “Dr” of the title stands a much for Dreams as it does for Drive, where the film is set in the Hollywood hills.

A director, an actress and a starlet move from dream to nightmare and back again in a series overlapping and interweaving scenarios. The idea of Hollywood being presided over by an actual cowboy is all too appealing, but only David Lynch would have imagined him taking his responsibilities completely seriously.

 

Visually arresting and hauntingly evocative, it is, given its troubled history (it was originally begun as a TV series) a surprisingly engaging film, that delivers an unexpected emotional punch.

 

2. Sunset Boulevard

William Holden is the embittered writer, Gloria Swanson the faded goddess from a bygone age, and Eric Von Stroheim (who directed the majestic Greed in 1924) her butler in Billy Wilder’s razor-sharp satire of the industry they were all working in.

It’s hard to know what’s more contemptuous; Wilder’s casting of Swanson and Stroheim as painful parodies of their former selves, or the latter’s agreement to both act in the film.

 

rg363b1. The Bad And The Beautiful

An actress (Lana Turner if you don’t mind), a writer and a director are forever embittered after an archetypally ambitious Hollywood producer launches their respective careers as only he could; as a means of furthering his own.

Played with irresistible charm by Kirk Douglas, his Jonathon Shields projects the perfect mix of magnetism and ruthlessness. And of the many, many details that the film gets absolutely spot on, my favourite is the coat of arms he insists on hanging portentously on the gates to his mansion.

They read: non sans droit. “Not without right”. Which was the motto originally penned by one William Shakespeare on his coat of arms.

That this is never referred to in its dialogue is a testament to the film’s infectiously confident swagger. And director Vincente Minnelli somehow strikes the perfect balance between sophisticated cynicism and exuberant, heady melodrama.

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Comments

  1. Superb pithy, piece of writing, and beautiful choices, Sunset Boulevard is one of my all time favourites and i watched the almost equally brilliant The Bad and the Beautiful again only quite recently. Correct that the more recent Robert Altman (another, very singular type of auteur genius, (as opposed to say, Wilder’s mastery of the various genre forms) and the flawed but often superb David Lynch also belong in such august company. My own, sole quibble, and it’s a small one, is that i would not regard Wilder as “contemptuous” in his casting of Swanson or Von Stonheim. I’d say, on the contrary, he had enormous respect for their (great) achievements of the old silent era. All parties knew that era was well over, and with it, their careers over too, that was merely a sad but simple fact of life. I’d say Swanson relished the new/last role Wilder offered her, satire or not, of the deluded, sad, mad, etc.. former star, it’s a brilliant, tragic, meaty role that almost any actress would kill to get their teeth into. Not only that however, but by agreeing to appear, and let’s face it basically dominating the entire film, not only did Swanson get one last “swansong” , but even better, she got the unique opportunity to remind a whole new generation about her place in previous cinema history, not to mention every seriously film-loving generation since. Sunset Boulevard is such a classic that people (and by “people” I am obviously not talking about teenage blockbuster fodder) but people who love film, will always watch it. In doing so they will be introduced to “Gloria Swansong” and also learn of her prior achievements in an even earlier era. Not much contempt or desperation there. Seems like everyone involved is wining all ways up. In general however, loved this piece, always great to be reminded of the real masterpieces of cinema. Regards- Arran.

    • Thanks for that Arran, there’s more going on in your comment than there was in my entire post! It, SB, and Wilder were contemptuous of an industry that had reduced giants of the screen like Swanson and to Stroheim to being offered nothing other than paradise of their former selves.
      Ironically of course, Wilder would one day find himself similarly redundant.
      But thanks for the close scrutiny! A.

  2. Yes, predictive text can be a dangerous thing. Lost count of how many times I’ve invited friends to meet me in a public house, for a “quick riot” ! Keep up the great work- Arran.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Player, The Bad and the Beau­ti­ful, even Sun­set Boule­vard (all reviewed ear­lier here) have an under­ly­ing warmth and exhibit a shy love love view of Hol­ly­wood. Not […]

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