The sparkling allure of the Hollywood image has dazzled it’s audiences since cinema’s early infancy in the silent era…
Like moths to the flame, we have been drawn to those perfect specimens on silicon film and silver screens, press shots and posters.
They almost don’t seem real… well, perhaps because according to some in the industry these images we hold are merely fantasies of an institution that isn’t all what it’s made out to be.
Some filmmakers have played on these very notions of opulence and delusion to paint the industry with a different brush. Building from experience within the cinematic machine, they have constructed clever stories utilising dark humour, satire and parody.
Le Mépris (1963)
Sandwiched between 2 classics like Vivre Sa Vie (1962) and Bande á part (1964), it’s sometimes all too easy to underestimate the cultural impact of Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece Le Mépris or Contempt. Based on Italian novelist Alberto Moravia’s A Ghost At Noon, the film is a French satire that is as subtle as it is scathing in it’s depiction of filmmaking politics.
As creative uncertainties arise upon the large-scale production of an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey, Hollywood producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) begins to question the artistic integrity of it’s director (The great Fritz Lang playing himself), so he hires the novelist and playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) to rework the script.
As the production continues, various conflicts ensue, namely Paul’s developing altercations with his wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) after he leaves her alone with the flamboyant Prokosch.
Shot on location in and around the picturesque Capri island and at the Cinecittá studios in Rome, the film’s beauty lies in it’s sweeping tracking shots and pace-setting long takes framed by cinematographer Raoul Coutard.
Godard’s stylistic, methodist direction that seems to peel through various layers to reveal a distinct personal intimacy… and it’s standout performances from a superstar cast of unlikely industry pairings.
‘The Big Knife’ (1955)
Robert Aldrich’s cleverly witty, and outrageously over the top Hollywood parody is a fantastically bold feather in a masterful filmmaker’s hat.
Based on Clifford Odet’s 1949 Broadway production and adapted to the screen by writer James Poe, The Big Knife features more than a handful of memorable performances from Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Rod Steiger and Shelley Winters.
When Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) makes the bold decision to free himself from the yoke of the Hollywood establishment- and in doing so discontinue his contract with the studio, he pushes executive Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger) to resort to dirty games of threats and blackmail to such an excess where ultimately someone has to come out of the tragedy a loser.
True to it’s Broadway roots, in every sense the film’s melodrama feels like a modern theatrical tragedy.
Aldrich had worked closely with the great cinematographer Ernest Laszlo on Vera Cruz and Apache the previous year… the pair would go on to make the left-of-field Film Noir classic Kiss Me Deadly a year after.
The Bad And The Beautiful (1952)
Vincente Minnelli’s starkly satirical study of a reclusive film producer who manages to outcast himself from all within the industry successfully balances melodrama and black humour high atop it’s precarious beam…
The winner of 5 out of 6 nominated Academy Awards including best cinematography and costume design, The Bad And The Beautiful has lost little of it’s magnitude with today’s cinema enthusiasts and still rewards those that manage to track it down.
The story is based around the character of film producer Jonathan Shields (a first-class performance by Kirk Douglas), and, after an arranged meeting with former associate screenwriter (Dick Powell), movie starlet (Lana Turner) and director (Barry Sullivan), associate producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) attempts to reconcile their various grudges against Shields over the phone as he pitches his new idea to them collectively.
In typical noir fashion, we learn the backstory of their indifferences one by one through a series of flashbacks… and with that the web of complexities is weaved around this deeply troubled individual.
Speculation remains rife even today as to who exactly in the industry was the inspiration behind the parody, but most critics have more commonly sited film studio executive David O. Selznick, auteur Orson Welles, and B-grade visionary Val Lewton as the collective representation of Jonathan Shields’ character.
It’s rather apparent however, that Shields’ suggestion to saturate the film set with shadows for his film Doom Of The Cat Men is a clear reference to Lewton’s 1942 RKO classic Cat People.