Top 10 Bits: Movies Within Movies

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

With the magnificent Argo out in cinemas this week, we saw how the CIA made a fictional movie to pull off one of the most elaborate exfiltration exercises in spy history. We take a look back at some of our favourite movies within movies.

These are the films we wish existed in their full form, but will forever remain teasing snippets within greater (and sometimes lesser) works. As always, this is a favourites list, so if yours isn’t on there, make a suggestion in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter.

Brock Landers: Angels Live in My Town (Boogie Nights)

Brock Landers: Angels Live in My Town (Boogie Nights)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s opus Boogie Nights was wonderful for a number of reasons, but PTA also managed to perfectly capture the joys of 1970s porn. In the film, misguided director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) wants to create pornography so good that viewers will remain glued even after they’ve…had their fill of pleasure. To this end, he makes a series of films for his star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) as the kick-ass Brock Landers. (“So you know me. You know my reputation. Thirteen inches of tough load, I don’t treat you gently. That’s right. I’m Brock Landers”). As we learned from PTA’s commentary, the real challenge for the cast as acting bad enough for 70s porn.

Chubby Rain (Bowfinger)

Chubby Rain (Bowfinger)

Having saved up all his life for the $2,184 production costs, bargain basement director Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) wants to make his mark with an alien invasion script penned by an accountant. Their devious plot is to arrive in raindrops, which naturally makes the rain “chubby”. He casts mega star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy), although this is a fact Ramsey is entirely unaware of. Casting his exact double in Jiff (also played by Murphy), along with out-of-work actors (played by Christine Baranski, Heather Graham and Kohl Sudduth), Bowfinger makes the film and events lead to its Hollywood premiere! The only movie we want to see more is Bobby Bowfinger’s follow-up, Fake Purse Ninjas.

Don't (Grindhouse)

Don’t (Grindhouse)

There are so many movies-within-movies from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse that could have been made, thanks to a string of faux trailers at the ‘intermission’. Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving and Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS never saw the light of day, but Rodriguez did make good on Machete, as did Canadian contest winner Jason Eisener for Hobo with a Shotgun. However, the one we really want to see is Edgar Wright’s Don’t, a 1970s Hammer House of Horrror style film, the trailer features a who’s who of British actors, but you’d never know it. Cut together as though it was screened for an American audience, that voiceover you hear is Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett.

The Duelling Cavalier (Singin' in the Rain)

The Duelling Cavalier/The Dancing Cavalier (Singin’ in the Rain)

Singin’ in the Rain is the greatest film of all time. No question. It’s so terrific, that it even has another film inside of it. Already in production at the start of the film, the success of The Jazz Singer means that studio boss R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) must turn costume adventure The Duelling Cavalier into a talky (“Well of course we talk. Don’t everybody?”). After a disastrous test screening, it becomes a musical called The Dancing Cavalier, with newcomer Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) dubbing Lina Lamont’s (Jean Hagen) shrill voice alongside star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly). Possibly the best example of the Hollywood system mentality, and is still relevant 60 years on. See also: The Artist.

Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back)

Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back)

There isn’t much to like about Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Kevin Smith’s fan-fuelled tribute to his own Askewniverse. However, for film fans, there were a slew of amusing cameos and parodies, the most memorable being Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season, a fictional sequel to the feel-good Oscar-winning hit for good sports Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Casting art house director Gus Van Sant as a disinterested money counter, we catch a glimpse of a scene in which Will Hunting turns the tables on the famous ‘how do you like them apples?’ scene by way of shotgun. Where it goes from there, we’ll never know…

Day for Night (La Nuit americaine)

Meet Pamela (Day For Night)

A film about filmmaking is unsurprising from a filmmaker who spent the early part of his career as a critic. Throughout the course of Day For Night, Truffaut himself is the director attempting to make the melodrama Je Vous Présente Paméla (Meet Pamela). The bigger film actually turns into something of a melodrama itself, as the director spends time juggling the problems behind the camera including romances, break-ups and even death!

Purple Rose of Cairo

The Purple Rose of Cairo (The Purple Rose of Cairo)

Possibly Woody Allen’s greatest film of the 1980s, and certainly one of the best in his career, the Depression Era film sees Cecilia (Mia Farrow) escape her troubled marriage at the cinema, watching pulp adventure The Purple Rose of Cairo over and over again. Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) notices her and steps out of the film, beginning a romance not only with Cecilia, but attracting the attention of actor Gil Shepherd (also played by Jeff Daniels), who is worried about his Hollywood career. A magical effort that sees two wonderful films playing out simultaneously.

Satan's Alley (Tropic Thunder)

Satan’s Alley (Tropic Thunder)

The obvious choice here would have been box-office bomb Simple Jack, starring Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller). Yet we’ve taken the film’s own advice to “never go full retard”, and chosen homo-erotic drama Satan’s Alley instead. Another film about filmmaking, we are treated to several of the previous efforts of the stars throughout Tropic Thunder. The faux film is the story of two 12th century gay monks. Starring Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr), often compared to Russell Crowe, and his Wonder Boys co-star Tobey Maguire as the other monk. This must be made.

Stab (Scream 2) - Heather Graham

Stab (Scream 2)

The metafictional Stab series has to be given props for being one of the few movies-within-movies that has more entries than the movies it is within. First appearing in Scream 2, the Stab series are based on the “real life” Woodsboro murders as seen in the original Scream. As Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) predicted, her fictional counterpart was played by Tori Spelling. The series-within-a-series goes on to Stab 7, where we also first glimpse in Scream 4. To take the metafiction even further, Stab 6 is the movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie inside Stab 7. That sound was your head exploding.

Tristram Shandy (A Cock and Bull Story)

Tristram Shandy (A Cock and Bull Story)

Films about filmmaking seem to lend themselves to this kind of thing, don’t they? Laurence Sterne’s 18th century metafictional novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, could only have really been made as a metafictional movie. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing themselves as “co-leads” in a mockumentary portion of the film, are also playing the lead roles in an adaptation of the aforementioned novel. Using the same conceit as the original novel, which is so bogged down in diversions that his own birth is not related until Volume III, this film version uses the direct-to-camera comedy of the leads to take us off on a self-referential path down the distractions involved in making a film. Like Day For Night, this is just as much about the filmmaking process as art imitates life.