Saving Mr. Banks (and 7 other films about making films)
Coming to DVD & Blu-Ray next week is one of the more unusual films in this year’s calendar, but it’s no less charming for it. Most of you will be familiar with Walt Disney’s classic depiction of Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews as the magical, eccentric and ‘practically perfect’ super-nanny, but John Lee Hancock’s film reframes Mary Poppins in this dramatised ‘making-of’ story.
Starring Tom Hanks as the larger than life Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as the original Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, Saving Mr. Banks is ostensibly the story of how the Mary Poppins film cam to be, but the heart of the film’s narrative is focussed on Walt Disney’s 20-year battle with Travers to try and convince her to allow him the rights for a screen adaptation.
Walt Disney makes a promise to his daughters to make a film of their favourite children’s books, but Travers turns out to be a difficult nut to crack. At first, the answer is a flat-out no: the author has a strong personal bond with the subject matter at hand and clearly doesn’t want Hollywood getting its mitts all over her beloved character. Eventually though, through a combination of waning popularity for her books and the relentless, dogged efforts of Disney to grind her into submission, she eventually aggress to travel to Hollywood and discuss the possibility.
Disney goes on a full-on charm offensive but Travers insists on controlling every aspect, dismissing the studios ideas at every turn. It isn’t until Disney manages to get to the core of what the Mary Poppins character means to her by reflecting on his own childhood experiences that he is finally able to find some common ground with the stubborn author.
Hanks and Thompson give unsurprisingly brilliant performances in their respective roles and Saving Mr. Banks manages to carry some of the feel-good magic of the classic Disney picture, even while pulling back the curtain and turning the camera onto the often fractious inner workings of Hollywood’s filmmaking process. For those who fell in love with Mary Poppins, this film is insightful as well as being good fun to watch.
So that got us thinking, how many other films are there about making films? We’ve picked 7 of our favourites…
Charlie Kaufmann’s brilliantly original Adaptation adds a surreal twist to the idea of films about films by using one of his own pictures as the film in question. Set during the making of Spike Jonze’s equally surreal Being John Malkovich, for which Kaufmann wrote the script, he painstakingly recreates scenes from the earlier film, playing out in the back of shot while Nicholas Cage’s lovelorn scriptwriter becomes the focus for the semi-autobiographical narrative, wrestling with a screen adaptation of a book named The Orchid Thief. Unique, honest and often touching, this is Kaufmann at his most inventive.
Be Kind, Rewind
A charming film from another highly imaginative filmmaker, Michel Gondry’s Be Kind, Rewind stars Jack Black as Elroy, an employee at a run-down video rental store, and Mos Def as his friend Mike. When Mike’s friend Jerry attempts to sabotage a power station he becomes magnetised and accidentally erases al the tapes in Elroy’s store. Faced with closure and with no other option, Mike and Elroy decide to reshoot their own no-budget remake of every film using a camera in the store cupboard. To their amazement, their homemade reshoots become a cult hit with the neighbourhood and people begin flocking to the store to hire them out. Charming, original and very, very funny, this comes highly recommended.
Richard Attenborough’s lovingly assembled biopic on the legendary Charlie Chapin features a fantastic performance from a young Robert Downey Jr., back before he became Mr. Hollywood Blockbuster thanks to his role as Tony Starks in the smash-hit Iron Man franchise. The film charts his rise from a precocious but struggling actor in London’s west end, through his difficult relationships with his various wives and his role as one of Hollywood’s most uncompromising and visionary talents. The film is a touch sentimental in places, but it’s a devoted love letter of a movie and well worth a look if you are a fan of Chaplin’s films.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, this 1999 film from Frank Oz stars Steve Martin as Bobby Bowfinger, a washed-up film director & producer who is convinced his latest script is the one that will finally catapult him to fame and success, but there’s a problem. For the film to work, it needs to star Kit Ramsey, one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, in this case played by Eddie Murphy. When Kit turns the role down, Bowfinger decides to make the film with Kit in it anyway, he’ll just have to film him secretly. Bowfinger uses a combination of hidden cameras and elaborate ploys while he tries to manipulate Ramsey into speaking his desired lines, even using a lookalike in some scenes, all the while keeping the fact that Kit doesn’t know he’s being filmed a secret from the production crew. (In a bizarre real-life twist, Murphy was only available for six weeks to shoot his parts for the film, being in between commitments for Life and Nutty Professor 2.)
Based on an Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty stars John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito in a tale about mobsters that lampoons the inner workings of the film industry. Chilli Palmer (Travolta) is a jobbing gangster who by chance is sent to collect a debt in Las Vegas from a B-movie producer named Harry Zimm (Hackman) While there he pitches his idea for a movie, basically the story of his own life. Hackman is flawless as the seedy producer and the film is merciless in its send up of Hollywood as corrupt and doing anything for the money. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.
Blackmail, studio politics, shady deals… it’s all here in Robert Altman’s 1992 film starring Tim Robbins as Griffin Mill, a screenwriter who begins to receive threatening postcards which he assumes are from a writer whom he has rejected. His ambitions for success soon become murderous and the films twists and turns keep the viewer guessing as to the identity of the postcards’ mysterious author. Glitz and glamour it is not, instead The Player is a cynical but intelligent narrative highlighting the sleazy underbelly of the film industry.
Ben Stiller is both in front of the camera and in the director’s chair for this bizarre but hilarious story of a film shoot gone wrong. A bunch of actors are unwittingly stranded in the Vietnamese jungle while making a film about the Vietnam War, not realising the opium-growing drug dealers who are stalking them are real. A series of unfortunate events leads them to become the soldiers they are playing for real. Very silly but highly enjoyable, one of the film’s highlights is Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Kirk Lazarus, a white actor who has blacked up for the role and refuses to drop out of character, causing tension with one of the actual black actors in the cast. Un-PC? Sure, but it will make you laugh.
You can win a poster signed by members of the cast of Saving Mr Banks including Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson courtesy of purehmv, click here to find out more details.