Break A Leg: Great Films About Putting On A Show

Here, the FLOOD staff compiles a few of our favorite flicks that go method (and meta).

In Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new cinematic masterpiece Birdman, Michael Keaton stars as a fictionalized version of himself—an aging former comic-book movie star—struggling the lead-up to producing and starring in a Broadway play. Shot by visionary cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and cut to imply one single take, the camera takes us on stage and off stage, pre-production and post-production, as the audience and as the actors, weaving through dressing rooms, the streets of New York, rooftops, and any place else drama might be found. (Turns out, there aren’t many places to hide.)

Here, the FLOOD editorial staff compiles a few other instances of some of our favorite films about putting on a show. As in Birdman, recurring themes permeate, like meta-isms, subversion, slapstick, madness, existentialism and, of course, an epic finale as the curtain comes down. After all, there ain’t no business like it. [Spoilers, obviously, ahead.]

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

At the height of Beatlemania, all audiences of screaming girls wanted to see were the Fab Four up on the silver screen. Richer Lester’s black-and-white icon A Hard Day’s Night was the beacon of light for crazed fans everywhere. With fantastic cinematography by Gilbert Taylor and an unbeatable soundtrack, The Beatles’ film debut follows the lads through their prep and performance for a television variety show. Four charming leads, a few great montages, and some excellent slapstick—what’s not to love?

All That Jazz (1979)

Bob Fosse’s meta cinematic tour de force has Rob Scheider in the character of Joe Gideon (hint: Fosse) in the throes of a personal and professional, pill-poppin’ breakdown in the lead-up to the production of  his biggest show yet (hint: the 1975 Broadway production of Chicago). All That Jazz won the 1980 Palme d’Or and remains one of the greatest productions of a master and his craft—the ending even going so far as to foreshadow Fosse’s own death in 1987 from a heart attack.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

The mother of all “Save the Orphanage By Playing a Big Show!” comedies, this classic features R&B, soul and rock legends coming together to…save the orphanage by playing a big show. Belushi, on a mission from god, was born to play Jake Blues.

Waiting For Guffman (1996)

Christopher Guest is widely known for being the master of the mockumentary, but it should be noted that his films always revolve around (and excel at with flying colors) putting on a show of some kind. While all of Guest’s films would be worthy for this list, Waiting For Guffman takes the top spot. With his regular cast of characters and a stellar show—brilliantly titled Red, White and Blaine—Guest (as the play’s director, Corky St. Clair) has a hope for taking his community theater production all the way to Broadway. That is, of course, if Mort Guffman gives it a stellar review…or shows up at all.

The Truman Show (1998)

Top-notch directing by Peter Weir, an acclaimed screenplay by Andrew Niccol, a soundtrack by Philip Glass, and one of the best-acted ensemble casts of the last twenty-five years come together for The Truman Show, with Jim Carrey delivering the performance of his career as Truman Burbank, the unwitting star in the reality show of his life. Upstairs, the director (played by Ed Harris) oversees it all, controlling Truman’s whole world and relationships, to put on a show unlike anything ever attempted or accomplished before—in real life or fiction. The only thing that can’t be controlled or scripted, as it turns out, is Truman himself.

Topsy Turvy (1999)

Detailing Gilbert and Sullivan’s lengthy run-up to “The Mikado” as presented by the one and only Mike Leigh, this delightful film hearkens back to a bygone era of Victorian Britishisms and in-the-know stagecraft. Jim Broadbent’s portrayal of the stubborn and brilliant Gilbert is truly remarkable, and the film as a whole is a fine look into the difficult yet necessary sacrificial art of collaboration.

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Angels and Axemen unite in this roaming Robert Altman ensemble picture. Garrison Keillor’s long-running radio show is coming to a close, and the last hurrah is the focus of this fun and Dad-joke heavy film. Perfect for holiday gatherings with your old man.

Black Swan (2010)

Before this film, Darren Aronofsky had practically built his acclaimed career on committing passions gone too far and subsequent descent into madness onto celluoid. But, suffice to say, things get real crazy in Black Swan. Natalie Portman (in an Academy Award–winning performance) takes commitment  to another level as Nina Sayers and her spiral into paranoia, fear, pressure, delusion, and…perfection.  FL

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