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What Makes a Making-Of

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Recently I re-watched Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, a documentary included on the Mildred Pierce DVD, and marvelled at how well-made it was. It made me think about how tricky it is to make a good doc, especially with a subject matter where most of the participants are no longer with us. With many vintage film DVDs, it’s a logical choice to have documentaries on the star or the director (or even the technical process; see the great Technicolor doc included on The Adventures of Robin Hood). What are your favorite DVD “Making Of”s? I have a few of mine, along with a couple of notoriously bad ones, listed below — note that I’m just including older films here, since they’re more challenging to make than the typical recent Hollywood product.

THE BEST

Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star (on Warner’s Mildred Pierce) Nicely made doc goes a long way to disprove Joan’s “Mommie Dearest” image, even with interviews from daughter Christina (who, after all, knew JC pretty well).

Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood (on Fox’s Cleopatra: Five Star Collection) This was a two-hour special which originally aired on the pre-crap edition of the AMC channel. Watching it is like viewing a train wreck in slow motion — and it’s refreshing that the makers acknowledge that this is a flawed film with a fascinating production history.

Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (on Criterion’s Sullivan’s Travels) Kind of cheating here since this one originally aired as part of PBS’s Great Performances, but this one was beautifully produced and delved into every facet of Sturges’ life.

The Making of American Graffiti (on Universal’s American Graffiti: Collector’s Edition) What impressed me about this one is how just about everyone connected to this film got involved with loving recollections — even the reclusive Harrison Ford and bit players Suzanne Somers and Kathleen Quinland.

Freaks: Sideshow Cinema (on Warner’s Freaks) Notable for being longer than the film it covers, this one did not have the benefit of interviews with anyone involved (since they’re all dead) but nevertheless has a lot of neat tidbits on the production. It leaves you in awe that a film this utterly unique was ever completed.

All About The Birds (on Universal’s The Birds) This might be a nostalgic choice, since The Birds counted among the very first DVDs in my collection. But it’s another excellent production, long but not overlong, with choice recollections from Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Veronica Cartwright and Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia.

Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North By Northwest (on Warner’s North By Northwest) Another one that was very enthralling and expertly made.

THE WORST

Memories of Giant and Return to Giant (on Warner’s Giant: Two Disc Special Edition) Rock and James are deceased and Elizabeth wasn’t talking, so all were left with is ramblings from supporting and bit players in two docs as spiritless and boring as the Texas landscape portrayed in the film.

Celebrating Dumbo (on Disney’s Dumbo: Big Top Edition) For such an innocuous film, Dumbo actually had an interesting and thorny production — but you’d never know it from the endless, superficial puffery in this doc. Yeah, we already know it’s a good movie. Jeez.

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