Films that delve into other films are catnip for cinephiles. Recently a bunch of interesting titles have popped up exploring the likes of Alien, Showgirls, kung fu movies, William Friedkin films and more.
It just might be cinema’s ultimate genre: films that delve into other films. Some venture behind the scenes of established classics, others ponder what might’ve been if difficult productions had come to fruition, while plenty work their way through specific types of movies. And every single one lets cinephiles indulge their love of the medium.
And if you’re obsessed by Ridley Scott’s Alien or Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, can’t get enough marital arts movies or rom-coms, adore William Friedkin’s work or are inexplicably drawn to Uwe Boll’s career, you can work your way through these six new documentaries about cinema.
In space, no one can hear you scream. That’s not the case on earth, of course, with the world hearing ample screaming about Ridley Scott’s Alien over the past four decades. The sci-fi classic’s merits have been firmly established, however Alexander O. Philippe isn’t just concerned with why the film is great. Rather what inspired it, where it connects to movie, literary and cultural history, and how it made its way from screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s mind to the cinema.
It’ll go without saying for devoted fans, but there’s nothing simple about Alien, Ripley, the crew of the Nostromo and the xenomorph that terrorises their intergalactic trip. There’s clearly much that’s complicated about the fears, fables, myths, worries and desires that all of the above taps into as well. And also how they’re realised in O’Bannon’s involving story, artist HR Giger’s jaw-dropping designs and Scott’s iconic direction.
Expensive trash? An unappreciated classic? A film with more flesh and flash than substance? Nearly a quarter-century after it first hit screens, Showgirls still inspires divisive reactions. Not just for its slight tale about an attractive drifter who chases fame and glory as a Las Vegas stripper and then showgirl, or for the copious nudity used to tell its tale, but for the way Paul Verhoeven puts the whole glorious mess together.
Whether the movie turned out exactly as the director intended is the subject of much conjecture, which is one of the topics that You Don’t Nomi sets in its sights. Jeffrey McHale’s documentary comes from a place of affection for the 1995 erotic drama, as well as Elizabeth Berkley’s distinctive performance, the film’s array of near-inexplicable sex scenes, its place within Verhoeven’s oeuvre, and the cult following that has grown in its wake – and that feelig is infectious.
Girl meets guy, sparks fly, but the path to true love doesn’t run smoothly – because if it did, it wouldn’t make for much of a movie. That’s the rom-com genre, whether Doris Day is navigating amorous woes, Meg Ryan is arguing with Billy Crystal, or Renee Zellweger is trying to decide between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.
Unpacking the formulaic nature of romantic comedies might seem like the simplest act of film analysis possible; however Elizabeth Sankey’s cine-essay does more than state the obvious. By examining the templates and tropes that have long become rom-com staples, stepping through both typical and subversive examples of the genre, and enlisting a horde of critics to help, this probing documentary explores the impact that ostensibly seeing the same story played out over and over again has on audiences, why it happens, who they’re about and for, and what it says about society.
The best compliment that can be paid Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks’ way is also the most obvious: it’ll leave viewers hankering to spend days watching martial arts movies. Working through the history of the genre from its origins in historical melodrama, to its proliferation under the famous Shaw Brothers, to the worldwide attention that Bruce Lee sparked, this Australian documentary serves up a loving ode to a specific cinematic realm.
Naturally, it’s also as fast-paced and jam-packed as the action scenes that’ve always been a kung fu film drawcard. While Lee and Jackie Chan earn the bulk of the attention, and rightfully so, director Serge Ou has plenty of other tales to tell. The appeal of the genre among marginalised portions of US society, the influence evident in today’s big action flicks, the reaction in unexpected corners of the globe and the championing of strong, complex women – they all rate more than a mention.
Talking through his career, he’s generous with his reflections. The long list of famous faces enlisted to sing his praises, including Ellen Burstyn, Willem Dafoe, Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Anderson and Dario Argento, are too. Filled with clips from his work, behind-the-scenes tidbits and an appreciation for Friedkin’s impact, the result is a standard filmmaker portrait, but one that holds viewers’ interest because Friedkin and his films have always held viewers’ interest. Unsurprisingly, his Shaquille O’Neal-starring 1994 movie Blue Chips doesn’t come up.
Uwe Boll has never been one for subtlety and he has the filmography to prove it, thanks to a prolific resume largely littered with cheap, over-the-top video game adaptations. The German-born director’s dismal on-screen output is just one of the reasons behind his notoriety. However his vocal, hostile reaction to criticism — including taking on his detractors in the boxing ring – has earned him just as much attention.
It all makes for quite the tale and, as its purposeful title suggests, Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story is here to tell it. So is Boll, steering the show and proving as candid as ever, and as combative about his naysayers as well. Documentarian Sean Patrick Shaul surveys Boll’s willing colleagues and collaborators too, plus those firmly outside of the filmmaker’s camp, but he usually settles for taking the easiest route, painting his polarising subject as complex and misunderstood.