May 24, 2016
Within the dog-eat-dog world of the film industry, getting a film from script to screen is a process that can be painful and tedious, with the studio and fellow filmmakers sometimes fighting you every step of the way. Some films make it out and gain iconic status, some never make it past the storyboards. These five documentaries seek to give an in-depth look at some films that may have had more drama going on behind-the-scenes than on-screen, if they even made it to cinemas, that is.
The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015)
When you think of Clark Kent a.k.a. Superman, you probably wouldn’t think of Nicholas Cage. But that’s exactly the person who Tim Burton (yes, him) envisioned when he took on Superman Lives in 1998. The documentary is loaded with amazing, grainy behind-the-scenes footage of Cage with long, shaggy hair in various versions of the Superman costume for screen tests. With the script being passed from writer to writer – including long-time Superman fanboy Kevin Smith – Burton’s vision of the Superman verse was set to be the weirdest one yet, and it still kind of is.
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)
Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now has been widely regarded as one of the hallmarks of American cinema, with a star-studded cast featuring actors such as Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen and Robert Duvall. The Vietnam War epic draws inspiration from Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel Heart of Darkness, based off Conrad’s own personal experience journeying up the Congo River into the Congo Free State. But despite its success, Coppola’s production process was a living nightmare, to say the least. In the heat of the jungle, the film proceeded at a stuttering pace due to various issues, each more chaotic than the last. Coppola himself admitted, “We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little, we went insane.” Yikes.
The Battle Over Citizen Kane (1996)
Citizen Kane‘s protagonist, Charles Foster Kane, grows up rich, loveless and alone. But did you know that the iconic character was based on media magnate William Randolph Hearst? As a result, actor-director Orson Welles found himself adrift in a sea of furious press as the film prepared for its release in 1941. Welles was even promised large sums of cash from various parties if he would turn the footage over to be destroyed, which he never did, thankfully. But The Battle Over Citizen Kane also highlights one clear question: how much of Charles Foster Kane was Hearst and not, in fact, Welles?
Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
If Dune sounds familiar, that’s because the 1965 epic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert was eventually made into a film under the direction of David Lynch. However, Lynch’s adaptation has been widely criticised by both critics and audiences alike, being deemed a box office failure upon its release. It also definitely pales in comparison to the vision of Chilean film and theatre director Alejandro Jodorowsky, a filmmaker whose avant-garde works are ambitious, bizarre and everything beyond your imagination. Jodorowsky’s Dune charts the development hell of one of the greatest and most influential sci-fi films never made.
The Act of Killing (2012)
This one’s a little different from the others, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling. Joshua Oppenheimer’s controversial, Oscar-nominated documentary follows Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, two men who lead one of the most powerful death squads of North Sumatra from 1965 to 1966. Almost a million people were slaughtered by these death squads – most of them ethnic Chinese as the movement was anti-Communist. Anwar Congo is said to have admitted to killing about 1000 people.
However, these men were never charged. Instead, Anwar now leads one of the most influential and powerful paramilitary organisations that have arisen from the death squads.
So why is this film on the list? Well, Oppenheimer invites Anwar to re-enact and even direct his acts of killing for the cameras in various cinematic genres of his choice, such as Gangster, Western and even Musical. Anwar is resultantly forced to come to terms with his actions, and The Act of Killing presents some crucial questions as to what may or may not be deemed ethical when it comes to documentary filmmaking.
Featured image: Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)