What to Drink While Watching the “Making Of”

Hands up anybody who knows which was the first film to be released alongside its “making of”. I don’t know the answer and I’m not all that bothered. I feel so uncomfortable about this whole phenomenon that I still feel I have to write it within inverted commas, as if I were wearing rubber gloves and picking it up by a corner, holding my nose with the other hand.

 

There used to be documentaries shown on TV showing how certain film stunts were carried out, and sometimes you’d see snips on the news of a director filming his latest work, but it seems to me that the whole business of making making ofs as opposed to, or at least independent of, making films is a fairly recent creation. Maybe it started 20 years ago and I didn’t notice it, but I’m going to say no longer than 10.

 

And, at first, I thought it was an attractive idea. You get to see behind the scenes, the actress in the changing rooms, the stuntman getting blown up harmlessly, the director arguing with the leading actor and all those special effects that you never suspected. When it was a film I knew, liked and was interested in (and I do kind of get obsessed about some films), then I was keen to see how it was made and no detail was superfluous.

 

But, as the making of became as important as the film itself, it developed a style of its own… The director, producer, whatever, doesn’t just explain what he did, he decides he has to justify it. The making of is used as a tool to make the film sound interesting – we are told, “500,000 tons of dynamite was used in this sequence!” and “This is where Jessica almost broke her ankle!” and we are supposed to think, “Ah! This is an interesting film!” even if (and this is the key point) we didn’t think it was particularly interesting when we watched it.

 

I don’t just mean they use the making of as a kind of trailer, promising us we’re going to like the film (fair enough, it’s just part of advertising), but when we’ve watched the DVD, we’re expected to watch the making of, as a kind of explainer/reinforcer. It’s as if the director were spelling things out to us: “Look, this is a really important part of the film! I hope you appreciated it! And just in case you didn’t, I’m going to tell you something really interesting about it!”

 

I don’t see the point of watching a making of before you see the film. Not only is it going to contain innumerable spoilers but also you’re going to hear and see explanations of things you know nothing about yet. However, the making of is used to promote the film and I suppose these marketing people know what’s good for business.

 

As for watching the making of after you’ve seen the film… well, if you didn’t like the film, you’re not going to watch the making of, are you. Maybe the director would like you to; it would give him a chance to show you how wrong you are. And, perversely, maybe you don’t want to watch the making of even if you loved the film: it could destroy the magic to see how the artifice was created, the cameras and the lights and the microphones getting in the way of the characters (who become reduced to actors) and the viewer; not only do you not need to see how a certain scene was shot, you actually prefer not to know.

 

Making ofs are getting slicker and slicker. They have become cleverly crafted documentaries, combining interviews, movie footage, behind-the-scenes shots, etc., to such an extent that in the near future I can see DVDs including the making of of the making of. (Imagine the making of of Truffaut’s “La Nuit Américaine”, for instance!)

 

Now, when it comes to selecting a beverage to accompany the viewing of a making of, one shouldn’t be swayed by the genre of the film itself. The making of is, in fact, a kind of deconstructure so I think it would be appropriate to imbibe something structuralistic such as a complex Pinot Noir. The important thing is to be able to break down the component parts and rearrange them at leisure on an aesthetic level, never losing sight of the fact that any conscious recombination is no more “whole” than any of the elements in the equation, and never involving the capricious “free will” of what is, when all is said and done, the interlocutor of the film director.

 

Or you can just drink tea.

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