DVD Article

Lenses in the Looking Glass

Movies about making movies -- Classics like ''The Barefoot Contessa,'' ''8 1/2,'' ''Day for Night,'' ''Stardust Memories,'' and ''Good Morning, Babylon''

Like magic, the art of the filmmaker is illusory. But every once in while, a director (most recently, Clint Eastwood with White Hunter, Black Heart) will enter another level of legerdemain and pretend to show us the world behind the camera, seemingly revealing the tricks of the screen trade. Here are some of the most notable juxtapositions of the real world and the reel world — five films about filmmakers and filmmaking.

The Barefoot Contessa (1954, MGM/UA)
Humphrey Bogart is Harry Dawes, a Hollywood writer-director making a comeback. He discovers the beauteous, libidinous Ava Gardner in a Madrid flamenco club. He turns her into a star but winds up narrating her unhappy story from her graveside. This is writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz trying to do for moviemaking what he did for the theater in All About Eve. Contessa is a witty, appealing film. B+

8 1/2 (1963, MPI)
Having trouble deciding on his next project following the international success of La Dolce Vita, Italian director Federico Fellini went ahead and made a movie about just that — a director's creative block. Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido, who faces down a mid-life crisis while at a health spa. In a dazzling succession of surreal images, Fellini weaves the director's memories and fantasies into a brilliant blend as Guido comes to realize that lives, like movies, need direction. But watch out: Shot in wide screen, the movie has been electronically squeezed (all the characters look 10 pounds thinner) for video release. Black and white. Dubbed and subtitled versions. A-

Day for Night (1973, Warner)
The director of a movie being shot on the French Riviera (portrayed by the film's own director, François Truffaut) has his hands full, from a cat that won't take direction to the raging hormones of human cast and crew. Jacqueline Bisset costars with Jean-Pierre Léaud and Valentina Cortese. An affectionate, light-toned tribute to the drudgery and the intricacies — and, of course, the magic — of making movies. But beware: This print is horribly dubbed. B

Stardust Memoris (1980, CBS/Fox)
Woody Allen plays a serious filmmaker famous for his early, funny movies (ahem). He's besieged by autograph hounds, studio executives, and the three women in his life during a weekend retrospective of his work. Self-consciously shot in black and white, this film borrows shamelessly from both Fellini and Antonioni, not to mention Allen's own Manhattan. C

Good Morning, Babylon (1987, Vestron)
Two brothers (Vincent Spano and Joaquim De Almeida), Italian marble cutters, come to America and work for the granddaddy of directors, D.W. Griffith (Charles Dance), on the set of his 1916 epic, Intolerance. Codirectors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani created a giddy valentine to pioneer moviemaking, but they work in English, not their native tongue, resulting in some verbal clumsiness. Yet there are moments of utter enchantment, and Dance makes a dandy Griffith. B-

Originally posted Mar 15, 1991 Published in issue #57 Mar 15, 1991 Order article reprints