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June 5, 2009 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Good movies about theatre?

I'm a high school drama teacher with one week left of school. Finals are over, grades are in -- time for moderately-educational film viewing!

I'm not looking for movie versions of stage plays, such as Streetcar Named Desire. I'm specifically looking for movies that show the process of making a play. An ideal example of this is Shakespeare in Love, which the students enjoyed and which inspired a lot of discussion. Obviously, that movie isn't meant as a faithful, realistic portrait of Elizabethan theatre, but it does give a sense of the creative, technical, and political elements of the process.

Let me know your theatre geek faves!
posted by HeroZero to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: My google-fu only turned up this pdf file, which does have some interesting suggestions.
posted by HeroZero at 7:16 PM on June 5, 2009

Waiting for Guffman?
posted by B-squared at 7:19 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Topsy-Turvy is the first one that comes to mind. I loved it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:21 PM on June 5, 2009

Stage Beauty. Preview it before you show it to your students; it has an R rating and is a little racier than Shakespeare in Love.
posted by Spinneret at 7:26 PM on June 5, 2009

Not a movie, but Slings & Arrows is fantastic at depicting so many different aspects of luvviedom. Perhaps a bit near-the-knuckle at times for high schoolers, depending on where you are, but showing a couple of episodes of that would be fun.
posted by holgate at 7:26 PM on June 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

Guffman of course as B-squared says. I have a theatrical technician friend who can't watch it because it's too close to (insane) reality.

Slings and Arrows is a hilarious Canadian comedy about a Shakespearean festival company. It's somewhat slow to get into, but pretty fun, especially if you like dry humor. Netflix has DVDs of it.

I've never seen it, but some are fond of Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway.

Marx Brothers Night at the Opera is a classic.

Me and Orson Welles is supposed to be good. No clue if you can get a copy of it however.
posted by zachlipton at 7:33 PM on June 5, 2009

Also, any chance you could do a field trip to a local theater for a backstage tour? Probably too late to arrange, but a good and fun time filler.
posted by zachlipton at 7:34 PM on June 5, 2009

Noises Off, right? There's a moment where Carol gets dragged face-first into a post that never fails to thrill me. The movie is basically a massive in-joke about everything that can go wrong with a play. Watch and learn what NOT to do.
posted by hermitosis at 7:48 PM on June 5, 2009

Noises Off. Hands down. It's an all-star cast (Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Nicolette Sheridan),and an amazingly hilarious look into theatre.
posted by frwagon at 7:48 PM on June 5, 2009

Judging from the title of the post, I'd say the OP is familiar with Guffman.

Topsy-Turvy is awesome. So well-made, and such a love letter to the theatre.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 7:49 PM on June 5, 2009

You also might want to take a look at Altman's Prairie Home Companion, but your class may not get as much out of it.
posted by hermitosis at 7:50 PM on June 5, 2009

Bullets Over Broadway was the first thing that came to mind for me as well.
posted by cali59 at 7:50 PM on June 5, 2009

Seconding Stage Beauty!
posted by pecanpies at 7:56 PM on June 5, 2009

I think Slings and Arrows is one of the most delightful explorations of this profession. Though sometimes, I would cringe about how very spot on things were.

But for educational value, I'd look at The Cradle Will Rock. It's a Tim Robbins movie about the Federal Theatre Project and depicts an interesting piece of American theatre history that doesn't often get taught in depth. Also, Hallie Flannagan is awesome and the more people that know this, the better. ;)
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 8:08 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Living in Oblivion, very funny, machination about making a movie

One starring Albert Finney, The Reader, I think it is called. Very sad.

Dangerous Liasions is supposed to be shot play style.
posted by effluvia at 8:24 PM on June 5, 2009

Stage Beauty was the first movie I thought of for this. The movie's climax is riviting theatre. Disclaimer: I could see Parents getting very upset over the gender bending and frank sexuality.
posted by pointilist at 8:46 PM on June 5, 2009

I saw & liked Bullets Over Broadway. A Woody Allen film that doesn't have Woody Allen in it, and one of the rare funny films from his later works.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:46 PM on June 5, 2009

The Dresser
All About Eve
posted by grumblebee at 8:48 PM on June 5, 2009

I have very fond memories of Who Am I This Time?, an American Playhouse production from '82. Based on a Vonnegut story, Christopher Walken plays this incredibly shy hardware store clerk who only comes out of his shell while acting in the local community theatre. Susan Sarandon falls hard for him when he's in character, but can't get him to connect with her in real life...telling anymore might spoil it, but it's very sweet. Bonus: less than an hour long.
posted by Bron at 8:54 PM on June 5, 2009

Vanya on 42nd Street
posted by minervous at 9:07 PM on June 5, 2009

The discussions you have after Cradle Will Rock could take you all week. You've got the Federal Theater Project, the 1930's, vaudeville, the opening night of the actual show The Cradle Will Rock, red-baiting, Socialism, Diego Rivera and Nelson Rockefeller...there is that one bit where John Cusack as Nelson Rockefeller is getting totally smashed and dancing around Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades)'s studio with three topless models, but that's thirty seconds out of a brilliant movie which was about my favorite theatrical anecdote ever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 PM on June 5, 2009

If you can find it, Sing Faster was made backstage at the San Francisco Opera, and shows the Ring Cycle from the stagehands perspective.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:47 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hermitosis mentioned Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion.

His other film, The Company, might be an ever closer match.

It's about ballet, which is theatre–albeit not quite the type you have in mind–and it too shows the creative, technical, and political elements of the process in great detail; but, where Shakespeare in Love is period drama, The Company is modern.


The Company (2003), Robert Altman

**With THE COMPANY, this iconic director brings his fluid, masterful camera-work to the world of dance. Altman’s vision for the film is an extremely intimate one: we will see the difficult daily work, the intense pressures of performance, the richly textured behaviors of the dancers -- whose professional and personal lives grow impossibly close -- and of course the sheer beauty of dance: exhilarating, kinetic, and thrillingly observed. The authenticity and richness of THE COMPANY is rooted in the unprecedented way in which Altman will shoot the film: with the complete cooperation of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.
posted by foooooogasm at 9:57 PM on June 5, 2009

My Dinner With Andre, a highly underrated and frequently parodied film that is about a conversation between two men over dinner.

What most people don't know is that they are both men of the theatre (in real life and in the film) and that the bulk of their conversation revolves around the stage. The first 20-30 minutes of the movie is a riveting firsthand almost totally non-fiction account of one of Jerzy Grotowski's theater workshops.
posted by Ndwright at 10:24 PM on June 5, 2009

Michael Powell's "The Red Shoes" (1948) concerns ballet, but says plenty about dramatic obsession.

Ronald Coleman is overenthused as Othello in "A Double Life" (1947). He wrings Shelly Winters' neck. Probably too violent for a schoolroom film.

Lawrence Olivier as Archie Rice in "The Entertainer" (1960) delivers his greatest performance as a contemporary character in this story of an increasingly desperate music-hall entertainer, and by implication, an increasingly dissolute England.

In "Weeds" (1987), Nick Nolte plays, essentially, a Genet behind bars. Great cast.
posted by doncoyote at 11:20 PM on June 5, 2009

Nthing Slings and Arrows. Funny, touching, sometimes disturbingly accurate and recent.
posted by stray at 1:17 AM on June 6, 2009

Well for ballet, The Turning Point would hold up as well as others mentioned. I haven't seen it but what about Synecdoche, New York, it's certainly about part of the process...
posted by sammyo at 6:45 AM on June 6, 2009

Got to second Slings and Arrows - one of the best pieces of television ever, let alone on the subject of theatre.
posted by opsin at 6:51 AM on June 6, 2009

Ricky Gervais' Extras.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:01 AM on June 6, 2009

All That Jazz -- direct by Bob Fosse, and starring Roy Scheider.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 7:14 AM on June 6, 2009

Opps, didn't read the part about high schoolers. All that Jazz is probably too raunchy in a lot of parts.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 7:16 AM on June 6, 2009

In the Bleak Midwinter directed by Kenneth Branagh is also one of my favorite moives, unfortunatley out of print.
"Out of work actor Joe volunteers to help try and save his sister's local church for the community by putting on a Christmas production of Hamlet."
posted by canoehead at 7:30 AM on June 6, 2009

Every Little Step is a compelling documentary about the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Its focus is on casting, rather than other elements of the production of the show.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:12 AM on June 6, 2009

Dangerous Liasions is supposed to be shot play style.

It's not. It's a straightforward movie adaptation. Nothing stagy about it, except maybe some longish bits of dialogue.
posted by grumblebee at 10:05 AM on June 6, 2009

Gold Diggers of 1933. High schoolers might not dig it, but from a theater/film history perspective, its an important film.
posted by rumsey monument at 10:20 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Noises Off suggestion, but the pacing of the film is terrible. I saw a stage production of this which had me nearly wetting myself in the third act. But the movie, while funny, falls a bit flat at times.

I don't know if you get the Ovation channel on your cable or satellite, but they regularly have all kinds of shows about backstage theater stuff. Not a specific show to mention, but I'm regularly surprised and thrilled with what they carry. (Although they do seem to have about 20 minutes of commercials per hour, which is a bit high in my book.)

A really fascinating show / series was Operatunity, which was a reality show about choosing new opera singers from untrained talent. It was a series in the UK, and shown as a one-off movie here in the US. It should have been full of reality TV awfulness, but was actually really really affecting and wonderful.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 PM on June 6, 2009

This So-Called Disaster is a documentary about Sam Shepard prepping and staging his play "The Late Henry Moss" with Sean Penn and Nick Nolte. I enjoyed it.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 3:57 PM on June 6, 2009

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