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THE BEST DOCUMENTARIES (on film history, movies or stars) THAT YOU'VE SEEN


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Always interested in knowing what documentaries about film history and stars are out there and what people would recommend as the best they've seen.


I'll start the list with the following:


1) MGM: When The Lion Roars (Parts 1,2,3)

2) You Must Remember This (Warner Brothers History in 5 parts)

3) Cary Grant: A Class Apart

4) Judy Garland: By Myself

5) Lana Turner: A Daughter Remembers

6) Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star

7) Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood

8) Hollywood: The Dream Factory

9) Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM

10) Katharine Hepburn: Me

11) Universal Horrors

12) Thou Shall Not...(Pre-Code Hollywood Films)

13) Rex Harrison: The Man Who Would Be King

14) Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days

15) The Goldfinger Phenomenon

16) The Thunderball Phenomenon

17) The Battle Over Citizen Kane

18) The Making of a Legend: Gone With The Wind

19) The Making of The Sound of Music (only available on Fox's 5 star Edition of The Sound of Music)

20) 20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years

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*James Dean: The First American Teenager* is one I prize, and I?m not particularly interested in the Dean legend.


It features narration by Stacy Keach, and original interviews with Dennis Hopper standing beside his truck in the desert, Sal Mineo sitting on his sofa, puffing a cig and enjoying a Schlitz, Jack Larson (?Jimmy Olson? from TV?s *Superman*) recalling how Dean befriended him, Carroll Baker speaking from what appears to be a theater dressing room, recalling how Dean grabbed her under the table in the bar scene in *Giant* (she did NOT like it), composer Leonard Rosenman strolling along the beach and sort of psycho-analyzing Dean, suggesting at one point that he might have been dyslexic, which JD took as an insult. I could go on, but you get the idea. Lots of people who are now gone and worthy of their own docs keep appearing.


There?s also lots of archival footage, including a public service short with Jimmy being interviewed in his Jett Rink wardrobe by Gig Young about safe driving. (Slightly spooky bit, that.) There?s even a screen test with Paul Newman from *East of Eden.* Rock Hudson, Natalie Wood and Leslie Caron appear as well.


Another facet I appreciate is the use of contemporary 70s rock tracks over the 50s film clips, including pieces like ?You Ain?t Seen Nothing Yet? from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Elton John?s ?Funeral for a Friend? and a personal favorite, ?Layla? from Derek and the Dominos.


It?s dated but that?s what I like about it. If it?s available commercially, I?m unaware of it. I have a snowy home recording from a 90s re-airing on PBS, where it was originally broadcast in 1975. I?m interested in obtaining a clean bootleg if anyone knows where I might find one.

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  • 2 weeks later...



Without question Brownlow, and Gill's Tames HOLLYWOOD is the best documentary series of it's kind every made nothing else even comes close. However, that being said, have you seen CINEMA EUROPE? Or How about D. W. GRIFFITH: FATHER OF FILM???

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  • 2 weeks later...



I agree about *Z Channel* . For those of us who lived in Los Angeles and got to experience the channel in its heyday, it was one of the best cable channels ever and in some regards, has yet to be equaled.


Long Live the Z Channel!

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  • 4 weeks later...



But also...


An amazing 6 part BBC documentary, THE RKO STORY, made in 1987 when a lot of witnesses were still with us--and not just actors and directors, but also sound technicians, assistant directors, all sorts of people with amazing stories to tell who had never been interviewed before (or since).


Another BBC documentary, THE ORSON WELLES STORY. Two and a half hours from 1988, centering around a long interview with Welles himself.


Thank God I taped both of these when they aired on A&E ages ago, because they have never been released on home video, not even in VHS.

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  • 3 weeks later...
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CINEMA EUROPE: THE OTHER HOLLYWOOD -- six hours long, and every minute is fascinating.


DISCOVERING THE 'IT' GIRL -- includes clips from 25 of Clara Bow's films.


THE BATTLE OVER 'CITIZEN KANE' -- included on Warner's double disc release of KANE.


THE EPIC THAT NEVER WAS -- about the film version of I, CLAUDIUS, starring Charles Laughton, Emlyn Williams and Merle Oberon, and directed by Joseph von Sternberg. It was never completed. Clips give a tantalizing idea of what might have been. It's available as an extra on the complete TV series release.


THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES: ALFRED HITCHCOCK -- written by Richard Schickel and narrated by Cliff Robertson. You're not likely to see anything else about Hitch that's nearly as good. It concludes, "History has confirmed Hitchcock's dark vision. The only fantasy we have left is that he's just an entertainer."


=== Happy New Year to all! ===


Message was edited by: faceinthecrowd

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  • 1 month later...

i like a good documentary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! my 2 faves are mentioned already on this board: No Direction Home and The Last Waltz.


i was at the Nassau Coliseum in 1973 to see Dylan backed by the Band. i have a huge crush on the gorgeous Robbie Robertson. When Dylan sang, "sometimes even the president of the United States must have to stand NAKED, everyone stood up for a standing ovation. Not only was this Dylan's first tour after his motorcycle accident, but 1973 (for those of you too young to remember) was the summer of Watergate.

i saw Dylan again in 1988 @ the Beacon which is a wonderful venue for concerts. This one was disappointing. He changed the tune to Tom Thumb's blues. i am partial to original tunes......especially one as poinant as TTB. i think he was drunk. But i still love him: Bob Dylan is the best poet of the 2nd half of the 20th century in America.


The best current documentary filmmaker, besides Michael Moore, is Ken Burns. PBS ran his doc. on the Statue of Liberty.

The elegance of his film style and the breadth of his knowledge allows me to enjoy anything he's done even if he's exploring a topic i'm not particularly passionate about. I was surprised that i enjoyed the one he did on baseball as much as i did, and Jazz.

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  • 10 months later...

The first one that jumps to mind for me is 1992's "Visions of Light" which focuses on cinematography, and shows wonderful footage from the silent films on up.

The year before, in 1991, I found the documentary "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Journey" to be a very entertaining record of the difficulties encountered when making Apocalypse Now.

Those two can be found on DVD.

One that can't, which I also enjoyed, was 1974's "LIFE Goes to the Movies" which was LIFE magazines documentary on the films of the 20th century.

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I got to see Visions of Light and Hearts of Darkness in the theater when they first came out and really loved both of them. Great docs about different (but compelling) aspects of filmmaking.


Visions of Light was apparently shot in high-definition format (one of the first docs to be filmed that way) and if they ever release it on blu-ray, it should look really good.

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  • 5 months later...

I enjoyed Complicated Women about the Pre code era in Hollywood. For anyone who missed it, it examines women's roles in films from 1929-about the middle of 1934, explains the Production Code and discusses how it changed the way women were protrayed in films after it's enforcement. There are film clips, interviews with film scholars, including Molly Haskell and the author of the Book, _Complicated Women_ (whose name I cannot remember at the moment) as well as priceless memories from some of the actual female stars of the era, such as Francis Dee, May Murray, Gloria Stuart and Karen Morley.


Marlene (1984) was also excellent, if odd. It is, as you might guess, a documentary about the life and career of Malrene Dietrich. I've read that Maximillian Schell (the film maker)expected to be able to film Dietrich discussing her films and her relationships and so forth. Boy, was he surprised! Dietrich had begun her self-imposed exile from the media by that time and refused to be photographed and for the most part refused to discuss her films or life. So it became more a documentary about the difficulties of making a documentary about an uncooperative star. Depsite the fact that she never appears on film (except in clips), we get a very good sense of what Dietrich was like in her later years--opinionated, impatient, cranky, intelligent and very sharp-witted and tongued. At the end, he gets her to recite her mother's favorite poem and she breaks down, apologizing to...who? She never says. It's fascinating.

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  • 11 years later...

I am new to the group, so don't know if the subject matter has to be of a certain era.  If not, I recommend Val.  It is by and about Val Kilmer and very well done.  I never followed his career, but came across this movie that is now streaming (forget which site).  It brings you up to the present about his throat cancer.  I can't imagine anyone adapting to his illness better.  I was so facinated by this video that I read his recent memoir, which was not as interesting.

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