Hollywood has always been in love with portraying its own process of creation. Picking a random 1988 example, viewers of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? see the cartoon lead working on the fictious cartoon Somethin’s Cookin’.
Later, Schwarzenegger’s alterego Jack Slater in early-90s comedy-action Last Action Hero takes on the role of one of Shakespeare’s greatest heroes, to reimagine the tragedy Hamlet (itself a play containing a play) in a movie-within-a-movie. It boasts a no-nonsense, cigar-chomping Slater hilariously miscast as the tormented Prince of Denmark. Parodying Arnie’s own action movie background, the action remake has the gungho tagline: “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark…and Hamlet is taking out the trash!”
The fake flick even gets a helpful bogus review: “For those of us who have never understood a word of Shakespeare, a thick Austrian accent can only help. The only question the Prince of Denmark has here is if this movie is going to be, or not to be…the biggest movie of 1993.”
In this century, Mel Brooks’ musical comedy The Producers features a failed Broadway producer creating a play based on the deliberately-awful Springtime for Hitler, designed to be so bad it folds on the first night. To their horror it instead proves to be an ironic hit, and they go on to produce the even worse Prisoners in Love.
More recently, the 2012 Ben Affleck drama Argo featured some Americans trapped in Iran and facing execution if they can’t escape. Based on real events in 1979, the three Oscars winning drama sees Affleck’s character Tony Mendez in Los Angeles, determined to rescue his countrymen from “the most watched city in the world”.
To have a suitable reason to get in the country, he picks the worst film script he can find – a hammy science fiction called Argo (in reality, the script was called Lord of Light) that will probably never get made. He decides to say he needs the six Americans to impersonate a Canadian crew for a science fiction movie that in reality he’s “not gonna make”.
As one of his fellow “producers” (pictured) announces that no matter how bad the bogus script is, it still has to be successful: “If I’m doing a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit”. Mendez describes it by reading the logline: “Fade in on a starship landing…an exotic Middle Eastern vibe. Women gather offering ecstatic libations to the sky gods….Argo, a science fantasy adventure!”
As it’s set in outer space, it needs to be shot in an exotic, uninhabited land, so Mendez has to persuade officials he needs to shoot in Iran due to its deserted locations being ideal. To do this, he has fake storyboards designed, to ensure that the Iranian government will believe the Americans are in fact “crew” for the fake film.
Their resulting success in convincing LA this “film” will be made leads to a hilarious dress rehearsal reading of this (pictured). After designing Barbarella-style costumes, Mendez organises a readthrough in LA’s Beverly Hilton Hotel. This sees a room full of the actors at a table in full space warrior costume, including a “galactic witch”, enthusiastically declaiming dialogue such as: “The ship is turning around. Fire the thrusters!”
And all this effort for a film that was never going to get made – although Argo’s invented Hollywood production office Studio Six was considered real enough to get scripts sent by hopeful writers later on, according to the real-life Mendez. Fake or “real”, cinema has always enjoyed parodying itself by creating films that never existed…but from imaginary cartoons starring a fictitious Toon, to “Star Wars ripoff” melodramas, maybe the faux-films should? After all, who hasn’t wanted to see Arnie kick some Danish arse and take some tragic names, or a space opera full of glamourous galactic witches?