[Female-Directed Docs] Visual Interest and Bias in ‘Making Of’ Documentaries

As part of my #52filmsbywomen challenge and my goal of watching more documentaries, here is part two of my female-directed doc series. Yesterday I discussed True Crime docs and today the topic is:

Making Of

‘Making of’ documentaries are films that reveal behind-the-scenes details of a film’s production. I was super excited to absorb some new knowledge of my favorite horror films. I originally wanted to focus this entire series on this type of documentary, but (surprisingly) I discovered that there is a lack* of women-directed ‘Making Of’ horror documentaries.

*Two of the films that I originally wanted to include in this article, I am Nancy (2011) and Celluloid Horror (2004), are unavailable to view online and I was unable to order the DVDs at this time.

Silence of the Lambs

Inside Story: The Making of Silence of the Lambs (2010) Dir. Rachel Boyd

Inside Story: The Making of Silence of the Lambs is a documentary that features interviews with the cast and crew of The Silence of the Lambs, as they reflect on the film and its production almost 20 years after its release. The documentary was made for release on cable.

I mentioned in my run down of the true crime documentaries yesterday that both were able to balance “talking head” interviews and still photos with b-roll footage. One reason b-roll footage is important to documentaries is that it adds a lot more visual interest than still imagery and interviews.

Inside Story: The Making of Silence of the Lambs includes barely any footage of what its interviewees speak about. Most of what is presented is interviews. When the film does show an example of what is being discussed, we are given still photographs. Even when the documentary discusses The Silence of the Lamb’s sweeping Oscar wins, it chooses to use mostly photos rather than video of the Oscars.  

This documentary succeeds in being extremely comprehensive. It shows the journey of The Silence of the Lambs from casting all the way through the cast and crew’s reservations about its sequel. Not only is it provide a comprehensive timeline of the film’s history, it also discusses many of the issues brought up by the film. There is time devoted to the gender politics of the film, the history of the crime that inspired the character Buffalo Bill, and the backlash from LGBT+ activists over Buffalo Bill’s effeminate depiction.

My favorite thing about this documentary is the how it frames The Silence of the Lambs’ production as an underdog story. This framing gets the audience’s emotions invested in the sometimes dry facts that are being spewed at them. As a lover of The Silence of the Lambs it is also great to hear the cast and crew discuss how special the film is to them. It makes an old fan want to immediately pop in their DVD ( or Criterion release if you’re fancy) of The Silence of the Lambs.

Making Of The Shining

Making ‘The Shining’ (1980) Dir. Vivian Kubrick

Making ‘The Shining’ is a behind the scenes look at Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining, filmed by Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Vivian during production. Included in the doc are interviews with actors, moments between takes, and footage of Stanley Kubrick’s directing style. It is a short film with a 35 minute runtime.

This is without a doubt the most interesting documentary I watched for this series. Many people will find a chance to see Stanley Kubrick’s directing in action as the biggest draw to the film. However, what I find interesting about Making ‘The Shining’ is the juxtaposition it creates between Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. It feels like it was edited with an agenda to make the viewer see Nicholson in a positive light and Duvall in a negative one.

An interview with Duvall is shown where she says she enjoys attention, and immediately the film cuts to Nicholson having fun with the camera between scenes while Duvall lays on the floor in the background after collapsing from exhaustion, with the crew trying to help her.

Making 'The Shining'

An interview with Nicholson is shown where he discusses how he likes to go in whatever direction the director envisions, followed by a cut of Duvall trying to discuss an upcoming scene with Stanley Kubrick, who is visibly annoyed. There are also scenes where Duvall complains about how the stress of the role is giving her hair loss, and where a mistake causes her to enter a scene late.

Nicholson, on the other hand, only has scenes showing him being funny and turning out great performances. Perhaps the reality is that he did not make a single fuss or mistake on set, or that Duvall’s mistakes are considered more noteworthy, but the doc’s overall message is skewed. Nicholson is presented as a playful guy who does everything the director wants him to do and is easy to work with, while Duvall comes off as high maintenance and frustrating (even though discussions about her character’s motivation in order to create the right mood for a scene is unequivocally part of Duvall’s job as an actress).

What is and isn’t shown in documentaries is always a choice. I believe this documentary is an interesting, somewhat frustrating, look into the attitude that was bred on the set of The Shining.  There is no reason for this film to take such a strong stance on Duvall, yet it clearly does. Anyone who is interested in studying how the bias of a filmmaker can shape a documentary should watch this film.  

The Quick Rundown:

I would not consider Inside Story: The Making of Silence of the Lambs a well-made documentary because it lacks even the most basic level of visual interest. It is, however, very informative. I would suggest it to people who already love The Silence of the Lambs. If you have not seen The Silence of the Lambs, or you’re just not a fan of the film, it isn’t really isn’t worth your time.

I would recommend Making ‘The Shining’ to a wide variety of viewers. If you love film, have an interest in Stanley Kubrick, love the horror genre or The Shining, or if you have an interest in documentaries, you will find something to enjoy or think about when watching this film. I do not think you need to see (or enjoy) The Shining to get something out of watching Making ‘The Shining.’

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