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Films Within Films


This week marked the 50th anniversary of the release of one of the most memorable films of all-time: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho debuted in New York City on June 16, 1960.  

What can I say about Psycho that hasn’t already been said? 

The shower scene? Bernard Herrman’s score? The fact that it was the first film to show a toilet being flushed?

has been referenced in one way or another in countless other films, which got me thinking of films that appear in other films.

You know what I'm talking about.  How many times have you ever watched a film where a clip from another film is shown? Sometimes the clip appears in the background on a television set that no one is watching, but more times than not the clip is prominently featured. It is a pretty common creative device. Perhaps the director is paying tribute? An homage?  Maybe the clip helps to set a mood or reinforce themes? Maybe it helps with character development?  Whatever the reasons might be it certainly helps to make a connection with the viewers.

Here is a short list of films that feature film clips from other films:

The John Waters film Serial Mom appropriately features clips from Annie, Strait-Jacket, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Blood Feast.

Clips from Frankenstein appear in countless films including Weird Science, Jack the Bear, and The Spirit of the Beehive.

A "monstrous" chase scene from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser can be seen on a television set in Basic Instinct.

True Romance features a clip from The Return of the Street FighterQuentin Tarantino wrote the screenplay for True Romance which, like all of Tarantino’s work, features a plethora of film and pop culture references.

The Shining is playing in the drive-in scene from theTwister, though the timing is a little off. It goes from the Diane Arbus-like twin girls in the hall scene to the “Here’s Johnny!” scene in a matter of minutes. Suspend your disbelief.

Tammy and the Bachelor is featured in The Long Day Closes. Actually, as Frank mentioned to me, you hear the film (Debbie Reynolds singing) but don't see it.

As mentioned in this previous post, Blue Velvet is featured in The Squid and The Whale.

My list could go on and on, but I’d be more interested in what you have to say. Do any ‘films within films” stand out for you?

(On a side note: In Serial Mom John Waters can be heard as the voice of Ted Bundy.  The next list to start thinking about: directors who make cameos in their own films.)



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Another aspect to your idea

Dear Billy, What about more subtle nods that one film makes to another? That might be an interesting addition to a possible exhibit you might do. For example, I was watching Hitchcock's "Rebecca" recently, and in the film, the main character sneaks into the West Wing, the deceased Rebecca's old quarters. She pulls aside a thin curtain of fabric, she walks past a mirror. I wondered if Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" borrows these motifs on purpose. Belle, too, pulls aside torn fabric and walks past a mirror into the grim West Wing of the Beast's castle. For another example- in the opening of the movie "Marty," two main characters talk in circles: "Hey Ang, what do you wanna do tonight?" and the other says, "I don't know what do you wanna do?" This goes back and forth, and it's hilarious. In Disney's "The Jungle Book," a few vultures engage in essentially the same dialogue. Are these nods on purpose? What are some other examples? Best to you, Penelope

FIlms Within Films

I love finding these kinds of films within films! I believe there is a clip from the ending of Charade in Pretty Woman.


Hi Penelope, You are right. The use of dialogue and the way scenes are composed and shot is definitely another form of tribute. It can be very subtle or more obvious and heavy-handed. Some directors have made a career of making films infused with influences of other directors and films. The Disney scenes you mention are great examples. Their animated features are filled with film and pop culture references that are meant for viewers who can make the connections. Toy Story references a range of films, from The Exorcist, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Moonstruck. Do children recognize these and think "I know where that is from!" These are definitely there for the children's parents. Billy

Psycho and Carnival of Souls

Great comment, Penelope - and speaking of Psycho, the b-movie classic Carnival of Souls - definitely unique in its own right (that crazy organ music!) - borrows from Psycho: the closeup of a peeping eye, the shots of the heroine driving through the night, even the dress the she wears is very similar to Janet Leigh's in Psycho. Great post Billy! (and I was thinking of writing a post on Psycho....maybe I should now!)

The Seventh Seal or Bill and Ted?

What is the overlap of people who have seen The Seventh Seal and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey? Somehow Bergman's image has become so ingrained that it doesn't matter.

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