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5 Essential Movies That Break Down Broadway

5 Essential Movies That Break Down Broadway

[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. Today’s pick, “She’s Funny That Way,” is available now On Demand. Need help finding a movie to watch? Let TWC find the best fit for your mood here.] 

“All About Eve” (1950)

What is probably regarded as both Bette Davis and Joseph Mankiewicz’s best film, “All About Eve” is a surprisingly immediate and bitingly funny portrait of the price that fame often demands. When aging Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) takes young and seemingly innocent aspiring actress Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) under her wing, the girl begins working to supplant her. After a period of success, Eve’s deception is found out and she soon becomes trapped in a prison of her own making. A still-relevant tale of what it is like to be a woman on stage or on screen, “All About Eve” has reverence for the stage even when it has little reverence for anything else. Indulging in the often complex relationships between playwrights, directors and their stars, “All About Eve” is quintessential Broadway. And really, who else but Davis could sell, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night” with such aplomb?

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014)

Though “Birdman” was certainly one of the buzziest titles of last year’s awards season, Alejandro Iñárritu’s sweeping, one-take wonder still feels just as fresh a year later. The film concerns washed-up Hollywood actor Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) and his attempts to reinvent himself as a serious actor in a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. Visited by figments of his old superhero self and plagued by provocative Hollywood golden boy Mike Shiner (Ed Norton), who insists upon authenticity even when it means swapping his on-stage water for gin or attempting to actually sleep with a co-star during a scripted sex scene, Riggan’s attempts to prove himself “artistic” gradually break down his mental being and force him to come to terms with his life choices. A frank and lively depiction of the rich backstage life of a Broadway show and a surprisingly worthwhile rumination on the nature of stardom and artistic achievement, “Birdman” has earned all its accolades along with its well-deserved spot on this list. 

“Me and Orson Welles” (2008)

It’s no easy task making one of the most iconic filmmakers of all time the subject of your movie, but leave it to Richard Linklater and his slice-of-life sensitivity to do justice to a narrative version of the great Orson Welles. The Oscar nominee’s period drama focuses on a 17-year-old high-school student (played by Zac Efron in one of his strongest performances to date) who lands the role of Lucius in Welles’ Mercury Theater production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” As the two grow close over the rehearsal process, the boy gets a front row seat to Welles’ creative genius as Linklater demystifies the icon to expose his real insecurities. In the hands of the breakthrough Christopher McKay, Welles becomes a three-dimensiol artist with suave charms and bruised self-doubts to spare. The drama is one of Linklater’s most criminally underseen works, and it’s no doubt one of his more personal in the way it chronicles the sacrifices of artistic creation and the grueling reality of what it takes to bring art to the masses.

“Opening Night” (1977)

Indie filmmaking pioneer John Cassavetes and his actor/wife/muse Gene Rowlands had a handful of dynamite collaborations, none more overlooked than “Opening Night,” the director’s 1977 drama about our fatal obsessions with fame and legacy. The move focuses on the once-famed Broadway actress Myrtle Gordon, who in a last ditch effort to remain relevant and prove her talent mounts a play about a woman unable to admit she’s aging. Like any psychodrama about molding identities, Cassavetes blurs the line between Gordon’s personal and professional lives, as the play not only becomes a metaphor for Gordon’s career but also serves as a constant reminder that her glory days are well in the past. Gordon’s emotional crises only gets worse as she watches one of her biggest fans die in a tragic car accident, which sends the actress spiraling into madness with the end of her career so inevitably close. Similar to “Birdman,” “Opening Night” paints Broadway as a canvas for artistic inspiration and demise. 

The Producers” (1968)

Containing one of the most wonderfully offensive (if fictional) musicals ever conceived, this essential Mel Brooks film delivers a spastic and joyous vision of Broadway. Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a mediocre director who has spent much of his recent years eking out a living by exploiting his legions of old-lady investors in order to put on failed show after failed show. When Bialystock makes an unlikely friend in a timid accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder, in rare form), he discovers that when financed correctly, a flop can be even more profitable than a hit. That flop, Bialystock and Bloom decide, must be “Springtime for Hitler,” a joyous musical praising Hitler’s virtues that seems sure to fail. However, audiences are charmed by what they perceive as the obviously satirical play, and the men find themselves utterly at a loss. A comment on the fickle nature of critics and audiences and a love letter to satire everywhere, Brooks’ self-aware slapstick is an indispensable Broadway film, as irreverent as it is intelligent. 

Indiewire has partnered with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand for September’s Indie Film Month. Enjoy exceptionally creative and uniquely entertaining new Indie releases (“Love & Mercy,” “The Overnight,” “Time Out of Mind,” “Cop Car” and more) all month long on Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand. Go HERE daily for movie reviews, interviews, and exclusive footage of the suggested TWC movie of the day and catch the best Indie titles on TWC Movies On Demand.

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