Entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at a couple of movies about movies, going behind the scenes on cult classics The Boondock Saints and From Dusk Till Dawn.
IN THESE DAYS of DVD bonus features, behind-the-scenes documentaries are just another option alongside deleted scenes and a blooper reel. However, now and again, however, one will come along that breaks the constraints of the medium and becomes a standalone piece of art.
Probably the most famous example of this is Hearts of Darkness, which takes a look into the torturous production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Almost as riveting as the film itself, Hearts of Darkness provides a fascinating insight into the filmmaking process and the lengths that actors are willing to go for the right director.
Another notable entry is Boytown: Confidential — a movie reputed to be so much better than the ill-fated Australian movie Boytown, that saw director Mick Molloy fight to block its release and had him end his longtime friendship with Tony Martin over the feud.
Today, we’re going to take a look at two films from directors touted to be the ‘next big thing’ — one of whom lived up to the promise and one that … well ... didn’t.
More than anything else, Overnight is a tale of hubris.
Kicking off in 1997, we are introduced to Duffy as a young director with a healthy ego being courted by industry bigwigs The Weinstein Company.
In a remarkable display of self-confidence, Duffy talks Harvey Weinstein into buying him a bar as part of the movie deal and, as a result of the hype, the bar becomes popular with mid-level celebrities like Jake Busey and Jeff Goldblum.
Duffy revels in the celebrity association, hanging out with Patrick Swayze and Matthew Modine, all the while hinting they will have roles in his upcoming film. A young Mark Wahlberg makes an appearance around this point, saying that Troy Duffy is the future and old directors are losing their edge.
Not the most intelligent thing you’ve ever said, Marky Mark...
It isn’t too long before chain-smoker Duffy reveals himself to be a massive dickhead, losing his temper over minor setbacks, insulting and dismissing longtime friends and business partners. Worst of all, Duffy is exceptionally rude to his mother, who seems to be a nice enough woman unfortunate enough to give birth to this toolbag.
Given the opportunity, Duffy also demonstrates that he isn’t that bright — at one point describing himself as ‘a deep cesspool of creativity.’
Once the movie starts filming Duffy, briefly seems to get himself on track, and we get some light scenes of him interacting with Boondock actors including Billy Connolly, Willem Dafoe and Norman Reedus, who went on to become crossbow-toting badass Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead. Before too long Duffy’s combination of arrogance and ignorance of how to actually make a movie brings things to a crashing halt, and the Weinsteins put the movie into turnaround. At this point Duffy seems to lose touch with reality, telling people he can ‘do whatever the fuck he wants’ and is ‘exactly where he deserves to be’ without a hint of irony or self-awareness.
Through a combination of luck and begging, the movie gets picked up by a smaller distributor for a lot less money, and Duffy is able to finish production. The result is a fun yet disposable gangster flick with the barest hint of social commentary, and picked up a reasonable buzz on the festival circuit. When it hit mainstream cinemas however, The Boondock Saints was a massive failure, grossing only $30,471 in the U.S. against an estimated production budget of $6 million.
Overnight is a cautionary tale, with a simple message: if you get a big opportunity, don’t stuff it up by being a wanker.
Full Tilt Boogie (1997)
In addition to directing and producing the film Rodriguez also wrote it, shot it and edited it, originally planning it as a release for the Mexican home video market.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the film was picked up by Columbia Pictures and went on to make over $2 million at the U.S. box office, kicking off the ‘Mexico Trilogy’, that included Desperado (essentially El Mariachi with a bigger budget and Antonio Banderas) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (same film again but add Johnny Depp).
Based on a story by special effects guru Robert Kurtzman, From Dusk Till Dawn tells the story of the Gecko brothers, charming Seth played by a fresh-off-TV George Clooney and the creepy Richie, played by possibly-worst-actor-ever Tarantino. The film also starred Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis and Salma Hayek, along with genre legends Danny Trejo, Tom Savini and Fred Williamson.
Full Tilt Boogie goes behind the scenes of From Dusk Till Dawn, set up as a non-union set in an effort to keep costs down. It is the conflict that this creates between director and crew that provides most of the meat of the movie, as Rodriguez struggles to get past his independent roots and his crew fight for something approaching fair pay for the ridiculously long hours they work.
Somewhat unreasonably, they also want health insurance.
The situation isn’t helped by arrogant producer Lawrence Bender and (at the time) novice director Tarantino, who is already buying into the legend of his own genius and seems to think that a film can be made without important people like grips and lighting techs.
Depending on your attitude to unionism, this central storyline may float your boat, but to me it just came across as Rodriguez trying to screw people over. It’s a minor slap in the face when he eventually relents to the pressure and provides health insurance — then he tries to spin things to make it look he made the decision because he’s a nice guy.
It is interesting to note that, through good management or good luck, Robert Rodriguez managed to avoid the fall from grace that befell Troy Duffy, going on to direct Machete, Sin City and the successful Spy Kids franchise.
He’s also set up his own TV network…
After way too much discussion about money, Full Tilt Boogie picks up pace near the end with an interview with the deeply weird Harvey Keitel. It has been theorised that the actor was either in character as troubled preacher Jacob Fuller or out of his gourd on some illicit substance, but the interview is a high point in an otherwise pedestrian documentary.
Of the two docs, Overnight is by far the more engaging, simply because it’s hard to believe that Troy Duffy can become an incrementally even bigger tosser as the movie progresses — yet somehow he does.
If you’re a fan of Robert Rodriguez, or interested in making your own horror movie, you could do worse than Full Tilt Boogie — but for casual movie fans there are far better film documentaries out there.
If you’re interested, check out the aforementioned Hearts of Darkness, Lost in La Mancha (about Terry Gilliam’s doomed production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote) or The Snowball Effect (about the making of Kevin Smith’s Clerks).
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License