Looking for some movies to watch this weekend? How about some films by the Coen Brothers, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, Gérard Depardieu, Alexander Payne and Alfonso Cuarón? You can squeeze them in, and sill have time for more by Olivier Assayas, Richard LaGravenese, Sylvain Chomet, Tom Tykwer, Walter Salles and nine other internationally acclaimed filmmakers.
They’re all contributors to Paris, Je T’Aime a new example of what is called the omnibus or anthology film. The idea is that multiple directors are asked to contribute a short film on a given theme, all of which are then packaged together. Here, the theme is Paris, and it’s not hard to see how filmmakers could find something about the world’s most romantic city to inspire them.
I’ve always liked this idea. It gives filmmakers a chance to make short films that will actually be seen, as opposed to playing a few film festivals and winding up as a DVD extra. Shorts are a great way to use ideas that may interest a filmmaker but aren’t worth (either artistically or financially) expanding into a feature—after all, novelists also write short stories. But while omnibus films have been popular for years in Europe, they’ve never really caught on in Hollywood, probably because of the fractured nature of the business—it’s hard enough assembling a director and cast and crew for one film, much less a group of them.
But there have been some over the years, including:
Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) – Joe Dane and John Landis were among the directors who worked on this collection of comic shorts satirizing obscure television programming.
Dead of Night (1945) – Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden, and Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda) contributed to this quartet of horror stories, including “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” the first film about a ventriloquist controlled by his puppet (and considered by many people to be the scariest film they’ve ever seen).
Eros (2004) – Steven Soderbergh, Wong Kar Wai and the late Michelangelo Antonioni each spin a carnal tale in their own inimitable styles.
Four Rooms (1995) – It got awful reviews, but I enjoyed Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s efforts of these four stories that take place in a stately hotel (linked by an antic performance by Tim Roth as an overworked bellboy). Rodriguez and Tarantino got along so well that they collaborated again on From Dusk Til Dawn, Sin City and Grindhouse.
New York Stories (1989) – Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola did segments averaging 40 minutes each, and at least the first two rank with those directors’ best work.
Spirits of the Dead – Federico Fellini fans consider “Toby Dammit,” his segment of this trio of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations to be one of his best films, making up for lesser work by Lous Malle and Roger Vadim.
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) – A drawback of the omnibus film is that some segments are usually better than others, and they usually save the best for last. If you gave up on this quartet of Rod Serling stories somewhere during the weak episodes by John Landis and Steven Spielberg, you missed two good ones by Joe Dante and especially George Miller, whose terrific “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” alone makes the whole movie worth your time.