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Documentaries for Movie Geeks: Films About Films

March 04, 2016 by Scott Weinberg in Behind the Films

Once you’ve watched a beloved movie two or three times, you start to crave a little more information about the film’s conception, production, and cultural impact, among other things. So you hit the internet to read a few articles or (hey!) check out the DVD audio commentary that you’d totally forgotten about. And then there are the films so popular, powerful, and influential that they warrant their own feature-length documentariesmany of which turn out to be superlative films in their own right.

We’re talking about fantastic “making of” documentaries that focus on classic films like Jaws, Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, and, of course, Troll 2. So without further ado here are some highly recommended documentaries about feature films. [Which will be followed up by a piece on documentaries about films… that were never made.]

Best Worst Movie (2009)

Here’s proof that you can make a very good documentary about a very bad film, provided you approach the topic with a little bit of brains, heart, and insight. Ask any schlock expert to name the worst movies ever made and it’s a safe bet that 1990’s Troll 2 will come up sooner rather than later. Not only is Troll 2 absolutely terrible from stem to stern; it’s so outrageously bad that it earned its own cult following. Best Worst Movie covers the film, the phenomenon, and the people behind Troll 2, and it does so in highly entertaining fashion.

Burden of Dreams (1982)

Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) is certainly more than fascinating enough in its own right (it’s about an eccentric tycoon who tries to build an opera house in the middle of an Amazon rain forest!) but be sure to follow it up with Les Blank‘s “making of” masterpiece. Burden of Dreams captures not only the wild extremes to which Herzog would go to achieve his filmmaking goals, but also the plight of the local natives and how the film’s production impacted their lives. Truly fascinating stuff.

Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner (2007)

When it comes to “supplemental” materials produced specifically for home video releases, there are only a few all-star filmmakers, and Charles de Lauzirika is most assuredly one of them. This epic production runs nearly three-and-a-half hours, and it covers virtually everything a hardcore Blade Runner enthusiast might need, from the painful production to the mediocre release to the film’s resurgence as a modern sci-fi classic. It’s all here. And yes, they cover the issue of “what’s different” in each version.

Full Tilt Boogie (1997)

Say what you like about the films of Robert Rodriguez (I’d call him “inconsistent but wildly talented”) but you can’t say he half-asses anything. Not only does the man write, direct, produce, edit, but he also makes sure his best films receive a fan-friendly home video release. The Sin City mega-set is seriously fantastic, but it’d be really difficult to beat the behind-the-scenes insanity of Sarah Kelly’s Full Tilt Boogie, which covers the production of From Dusk Till Dawn so astutely, it may actually be more entertaining than the movie itself. Well, not really. But it’s pretty great.

The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys (1996)

If you’re a fan of Terry Gilliam’s wonderful sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys — and come on, who isn’t? — you should take some time to check out this feature-length “all-access” backstage documentary. The directors (Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe) did such an outstanding job that Mr. Gilliam brought them back several years later, and the result was 2002’s equally excellent Lost in La Mancha.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

Arguably the Citizen Kane of “making of” documentaries, this masterful document of the Apocalypse Now production was so personal, Francis Ford Coppola wasn’t all that hot to share it. George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr’s film has been included on numerous DVD releases, and still stands as one of the most fascinating, gripping, unflinching looks at filmmaking you’ll ever see. Some of the behind-the-scenes footage was shot by Coppola’s wife Eleanor (who also narrates). Let’s just say that a whole lot of things went wrong on the way to Apocalypse Now becoming a classic, and Hearts of Darkness captures it all.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

It’s no secret that the 1996 rendition of The Island of Dr. Moreau suffered through a particularly terrible production — but we never really knew how insane things got until this funny, fascinating (and frustrating) documentary hit the scene. What should have been a big step up for indie darling Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) turned out to be a virtual career killer — and it sure seems like only a small portion of it was his fault. And while it’s certainly a shame that so many people got screwed over in the process of creating an epic turkey, this great documentary now stands as a silver lining of sorts.

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) and Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (2013)

Whether you grew up on these franchises as a kid (cough cough) or you’re a new fan still savoring the scary bits and the silly stuff, you could do a hell of a lot worse than to supplement the experience with these massive retrospective mega-docos. These ones are made by fans, for fans, but they’re also really well-made, which helps a whole lot.

The Shark Is Still Working (2007)

The coolest thing about this exhaustive and highly entertaining Jaws documentary is not just that it was made by hardcore Jaws fans, but also that it was professional enough to get picked up by Universal and included on the swanky Blu-ray release. There have been other high-quality Jaws documentaries over the years, but this one might just be the best.

Did I forget one of your favorites? Is the omission egregious and grating? My apologies for that. I had tons to choose from. Tweet me your suggestions and I’ll (maybe) include them in a sequel to this list.

See also: Unmaking of: Stories of the Greatest Films Never Made

Scott Weinberg

Scott Weinberg is a film critic and author who has written reviews for FEARnet, Cinematical, Nerdist, The Horror Show, Playboy, Mental Floss, and Geek Nation. His book Modern Horror: An A to Z of Horror Movie Reviews is out now on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @scottEweinberg.