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This excellent documentary goes through the making of Cleopatra with what happened behind the scenes and how if affected Hollywood. It starts of saying how bad things were for Hollywood at the time and that they were relying on epic films to make money and how regular films were burning at the box office. Then it shows who they were choosing for the role of Cleopatra. Many actresses were considered like Audrey Hepern, Joan Collins and Sophia Loren. But eventually 20th Century fox came to their senses and choose the right woman. Dame Elizabeth Taylor. Then it goes on to explore how Clepatra was originally set in England but Elizabeth Taylor became chronically ill and nearly died and had to be rushed into hospital and resusitated. Then how the set was destroyed in England and they started filming in Egypt. It then looks at Elizabeth and Richard Burton and how they started. It was during this film that they two of them became an item and how it crushed her Elizabeth's other husband at the time. Then it tells that the director was on ther verge of a nervous breakdown and had to have injections to give him energy then and an injection to put him asleep. Also the expensive budgeting of the film how it nearly bank rupted Hollywood as 20th Century fox was spending thousands of dollars a day on the film. Then the success of the film. They money and hard work paid off for the cast, crew and 20th Century Fox. Seats were fully booked at the cinema for 4 months after it was released. This is the best documentry I've seen in a long time. It's insightful and inspiring. Watch it.
It started out as a low-budget film to bring much needed revenue into
ailing Twentieth-Century Fox. Instead, it became a runaway production
that would change lives, destroy careers and nearly bankrupt the studio
behind it. The film in question is of course the 1963 film Cleopatra.
The 2001 documentary Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood is the
story of the making of a film with a back-story as epic as the film
As the opening of the documentary states, Cleopatra is a film surrounded by rumors and gossip. What the documentary does is to follow the making of the film, from the situation that led to the decision to make it to the release of the film and its legacy. To do this, the filmmakers use a variety of sources and materials largely unseen for the decades.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the documentary is the footage from the not one but two different productions of the film. As the documentary explores, Cleopatra originally started filming in the UK with a largely different cast, crew and indeed director. The documentary presents footage from that original production that, combined with film historians and an interview with actor Keith Baxter (originally cast in the role eventually played by Roddy McDowall), presents a fascinating look at a film that was destined never to be finished. The documentary also presents outtakes and deleted scenes from the eventual production of the film (including footage of the first attempt to film Cleopatra's entrance into Rome and the scene originally intended to introduce Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra). There's also rarely seen costume and screen tests such as footage of actress Joan Collins auditioning for the title role.
The documentary also uses a wealth of other archival material. These range from newsreels to newspaper/magazine articles to rarely seen production photos and indeed television commercials inspired by the film. The result is a look at the film through not just its making but its effect on popular culture.
Last but not least is the interviews used in the documentary. The interviews covers the entire range of the film's production from studio executive David Brown to actors such as Hume Cronyn and Martin Landau (as well as a 1995 interview with Roddy McDowall). Also included are interview with film historians and archivists who give the various piece archived footage and material context and who also discuss the attempted restoration of the film to its full length. There are also interviews with family and friends of those involved in the production from the family of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Sadly Elizabeth Taylor, the only surviving member of the main cast alive at the time, was not interviewed, (presumably at her wish) though the documentary more than makes up for her lack of presence. Given that so many of those interviewed are no longer with us, the interviews alone are worthy of note in their own right.
The result of all these materials, combined with the narration of actor Robert Culp, is a fascinating two hours. While that may seem a bit long for what is on the surface a making of documentary, the story it presents is worthy of its running time. From the background of a studio in crisis to the various mistakes and miscalculations that sent the production off track on more than one occasion (such as the abandoning of the seven million dollar UK production, the decision to re-stage an already expensive sequence six months after it was first filmed due to lighting, the fight between Mankiewicz and studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck over the running time and of course the famous love affair of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) to the film's effects on the subsequent careers of those involved, the documentary proves the old adage that fact is stranger than fiction.
Indeed that old saying could sum the documentary as well. With its wealth of material from both productions of Cleopatra, rarely seen archival materials and interviews covering the whole production, the rumors and gossip behind the film are set aside to reveal a truth that is at times incredible to believe. The result is the story of the epic behind the epic and the story of the film that, indeed, changed Hollywood.
The most famous and beautiful woman of the mid-20th century, Elizabeth
Taylor, plays the most famous and powerful woman of the ancient world,
Cleopatra. At the peak of her box office appeal, Taylor commands a
million dollars to take the role and, during filming, falls
passionately in love with the actor playing Mark Anthony, Richard
Burton. Such stories create headlines and sell tabloids. "Cleopatra:
The Film that Changed Hollywood" is a riveting feature-length
documentary that details the complex runaway production of arguably
Hollywood's most publicized motion picture.
Directors Kevin Burns and Brent Zacky set "Cleopatra's" troubled production history within the context of late 1950's Hollywood, when the idea to remake Fox's 1917 Theda Bara "Cleopatra" was first floated. With only a dusty silent-movie script, the studio engaged producer Walter Wanger, who had long conceived an epic film about the Egyptian queen, and the production escalated from an anticipated B-movie "sword and sandals" epic with Joan Collins into the most costly film of the era. Luck did not shine on Fox or Wanger; the studio teetered on bankruptcy and the veteran producer never made another movie. Filming in England was aborted by weather and the star's illness, which led to millions in losses and little usable film. New sets were constructed in Rome, Rex Harrison and Richard Burton replaced Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz replaced Rouben Mamoulian. However, the changes took a heavy toll on studio executives and 20th Century Fox coffers, and the new director had no usable script. Burns and Zacky go into great detail, and the documentary is compelling throughout, not just for fans of the film, but also for anyone interested in Hollywood history.
Keith Baxter, cast as Octavian during the London shoot, provides much insight into the English fiasco during his interview. Joseph L. Mankiewicz's wife and two sons add further depth and emphasize the stress endured by the Oscar-winning director, who was producing in the morning, directing in the afternoon, and writing during the night. Drugs kept him stimulated, and drugs put him to sleep. Mankiewicz conceived a grand masterpiece, and he was crushed when Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, fired him and cut the film from his intended six-hour two-film vision down to the 246-minute roadshow version and, subsequently, even further to a 196-minute general-release print.
Elizabeth Taylor was not only the star of the film, she emerges as a woman as shrewd and intelligent as the queen she portrayed. Her contract resulted in at least a $7 million salary; gave her director approval; earned her licensing fees for the Todd-AO process, which she inherited from her husband, Mike Todd; and put her name alone above the title. Of course, the story of "Cleopatra" is indelibly entwined with the romance of Taylor and Burton, and the love affair is well documented, but neither salaciously nor to the exclusion of the studio politics and mismanagement that played a major role in the runaway costs. Unfortunately, Taylor was not interviewed for the documentary, although Roddy McDowall, Hume Cronin, Martin Landau, and publicist Jack Brodsky provide a wealth of memories and anecdotes. Much maligned as a flop, the film was the highest grossing movie of 1963 and eventually turned a profit after the initial TV sale; subsequent cable, video, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray sales are pure gravy. Among the finest Hollywood documentaries and arguably the best on a single motion picture, "Cleopatra: The Film that Changed Hollywood" is a must see for students of Hollywood lore and those who want to separate myth from fact about the production.
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