Eric Farr (and Rock Hudson) in Mark Rappaport's Rock Hudson's Home Movies

Earlier this week, cinephiles noted the passing of French actor, director, and producer André S. Labarthe, best known for the legendary documentary TV series
Cinéastes de notre temps (1964-72) and its follow up, Cinéma, de notre temps (1993-2016). In his honor, our list this week features five extraordinary films about filmones that move beyond simple documentary and are great works of cinema themselves.

Filming “Othello”
The last completed essay film of Orson Welles, and the last of his features to be released during his lifetime (1979), this wonderfully candid, rarely screened account of the making of his first wholly independent feature offers a perfect introduction to that movie and to Welles’s “second” manner of moviemaking that was necessary once he parted company with the studios and mainstream media. Significantly, the only part of Othello we see and hear in its original form is from the opening sequence; everything else—usually shown silently with Welles’s narration—involves an intricate reediting of the original material. Whether he’s addressing us beside his moviola, delivering new versions of Shakespearean speeches, chatting with his old Irish friends and collaborators Micheal MacLiammoir (his Iago) and Hilton Edwards, or speaking to college students, Welles is at his spellbinding best. 84 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Rock Hudson’s Home Movies
This brilliant hour-long video transferred to film (1992) by independent filmmaker Mark Rappaport (The Scenic Route) is in effect a subversive piece of film criticism that departs from the fictional conceit of Hudson himself (represented through clips from his films and by actor Eric Farr) speaking from beyond the grave about his homosexuality and what this did or didn’t have to do with his countless heterosexual screen roles. Part of what emerges, to hilarious effect, is the extraordinary amount of male cruising and number of barbed allusions to Hudson’s gayness that his movies of the 50s and 60s contain; what also emerges is the sexual ideology of the period. Though much of this essential work is extremely funny, it is also very much about death in relation to movies. 63 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Histoire(s) du cinema
Well over a decade in the making, this eight-part, 264-minute video (1998) is Jean-Luc Godard’s magnum opus, but it’s never been widely seen; Gaumont, which produced it, has never cleared the rights to its many film clips and artworks shown outside of France, and even there the commercial release has only monaural sound—a significant loss for a work that uses stereo so centrally. (Ironically, the proper sound track is available only in a CD set, accompanied by a translation of most of the text.) Daunting, provocative, and very beautiful, this meditative essay looks at the history of the 20th century through cinema and vice versa, mainly through a rich assortment of clips (sometimes superimposing more than one), sound tracks (sometimes paired with visuals from other films), poetic commentary (with plenty of metaphors), and captions. For better and for worse, it’s comparable to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in both its difficulty and its playfulness. In French with subtitles. 264 min. Jonathan Rosenbaum

One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich
As the title’s reference to Solzhenitsyn implies, this superb 1999 video portrait of the late Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky by his friend Chris Marker is a protest against the post-Stalinist persecution that eventually drove Tarkovsky into exile. But above all this is a work of film criticism and the best one dealing with Tarkovsky that I know, full of clarifying insights. Marker sees Tarkovsky’s seven features and his staging of the opera Boris Godunov as a kind of continuum that also echoes his life—a dangerous way to interpret the work of a complex artist, yet Marker justifies it through his obvious close acquaintance with the man and his films. In some ways a companion piece to The Last Bolshevik, Marker’s earlier video about Russian filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin, this is more metaphysical in nature, in keeping with its subject. Essential viewing. In French with subtitles. 55 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Los Angeles Plays Itself
This brilliant and often hilarious video essay (2003) by Thom Andersen (Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer) assembles clips from 191 movies set in Los Angeles, juxtaposing their fantasies with the real city as seen by a loyal and well-informed native. That might sound like a slender premise for 169 minutes, but after five viewings I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface of this epic meditation. Andersen focuses on the city’s people and architecture, but his wisecracking discourse is broad enough to encompass a wealth of local folklore, a bittersweet tribute to car culture, a critical history of mass transit in southern California, and a song of nostalgia for lost neighborhoods and lifestyles. Absorbing and revelatory, this is film criticism of the highest order. 169 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum