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A guide to fun movie references in ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’

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Olivia Cooke as Rachel, Thomas Mann as Greg and RJ Cyler as Earl in "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl."
Olivia Cooke as Rachel, Thomas Mann as Greg and RJ Cyler as Earl in "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl."

Olivia Cooke as Rachel, Thomas Mann as Greg and RJ Cyler as Earl in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has slipped in lots of sly movie references in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Many of the references are related to the director’s past — his association with Martin Scorsese, as well as Scorsese’s championing of such people as British director Michael Powell, who was basically persona non grata in his home country after the release of the controversial “Peeping Tom” in 1960.

Even the most devoted lovers of movies might miss a few of the references, so here’s a guide to some of the most notable nods toward cinema. Many of the references are personal for Gomez-Rejon, who says he sees the movie as a “love letter to the people who have taken care of me and influenced me and I was lucky enough to have in my life.”

Let’s start with Scorsese

Director Martin Scorsese is a mentor to filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who included many references to Scorsese and his movies in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

Director Martin Scorsese is a mentor to filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who included many references to Scorsese and his movies in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

The Martin Scorsese references are everywhere. On the walls of lead character Greg’s bedroom, you’ll see posters for Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” and “The 400 Blows,” the classic 1959 French New Wave movie from Francois Truffaut. (Scorsese is one of the leading experts on Truffaut’s films.)

On Greg’s desk are two scripts. The first is for “Casino,” the 1995 Scorsese drama that was written by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi also wrote Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Pileggi was also married to the late Nora Ephron, another mentor for Gomez-Rejon.

The other script on his desk is for Ephron’s “Heartburn,” which was about the screenwriter’s breakup with Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. (Among other associations, Gomez-Rejon was an assistant to Ephron on “You’ve Got Mail,” and she’s the one who got him into the Directors Guild.)

Greg also wears a T-shirt for “The Last Waltz,” the 1978 Scorsese documentary about the Band. (Other T-shirts include one touting New York’s Film Forum, a leading independent and repertory theater.) He also has a copy of the original 1989 edition of “Scorsese on Scorsese,” from Faber and Faber, as well as a DVD of “Taxi Driver” and “The Tales of Hoffmann,” a Powell film for which Scorsese did the DVD commentary.

Thelma Schoonaker, editing footage of "Woodstock," in the lower left corner.

Thelma Schoonaker, editing footage of “Woodstock,” in the lower left corner.

Greg’s computer screensaver is a photo of Thelma Schoonmaker, editing footage from the 1970 documentary “Woodstock.” Schoonmaker was married to Powell, and she became the main editor for such Scorsese movies as “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” She has won three Oscars, and she was a regular in Scorsese’s Manhattan office, where Gomez-Rejon interned in his senior year at New York University.

Schoonmaker gave Gomez-Rejon a copy of Powell’s autobiography, “A Life in Movies,” and it’s visible in a scene when Greg and Earl are working on one of their mini-movie parodies.

When Greg mistakenly eats some pot-laced food, a math teacher gives him a strange look. That’s Tony Buba, a beloved film teacher and documentarian from Pittsburgh. (Posters of his films are hanging on the wall in a DVD store that Greg and Earl visit.)

Movies-within-the-movie

The sly movie references really kick in when Greg and Earl start making their mini-movies, which Gomez-Rejon expanded from the book on which the movie is based.

The Archers logo for the production company of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is used for a fictional movie production company logo in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

The Archers logo for the production company of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is used for a fictional movie production company logo in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

Greg’s last name is Gaines and Earl’s is Jackson. So they label their movies as Gaines/Jackson productions. But their logo is the same one that was used by the Archers, the production company of Powell and his business partner, Emeric Pressburger. (The logo is a target, with an arrow in the bullseye.)

The Gaines/Jackson parodies take viewers through some of the most heralded art-house films in history. The parodies, which look like they could have been made by a couple of kids, feature Greg and Earl but also the visual stylings of Pittsburgh-based filmmakers Edward Bursch and Nathan O. Marsh, who have worked on some of Wes Anderson’s projects.

Gomez-Rejon came up with a list of movies that should be given the Gaines/Jackson treatment. Although not all of them made it into the bigger film, a partial list follows:

• “Anatomy of a Burger,” based on 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” directed by Otto Preminger.

• “Ate 1/2 (Of My Lunch),” based on “8 1/2,” directed by Federico Fellini.

• “A Box O’ Lips, Wow,” based on Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”

• “The Battle of All Deer,” based on “The Battle of Algiers,” by Gillo Pontecorvo.

• “Breathe Less,” based on Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.”

• “Burden of Screams,” based on Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams.”

• “Can’t Tempt,” based on Godard’s “Contempt.”

• “Crouching Housecat Hidden Housecat,” based on Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

• “Death in Tennis,” based on Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice.”

• “My Dinner With Andre the Giant,” based on Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre.”

• “Don’t Look Now Because a Creepy Ass Dwarf Is About to Kill You!! Damn!!!” based on Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now.”

• “Eyes Wide Butt,” based on Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

• “Hairy, Old and Mod,” based on Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude.”

• “La Gelee,” based on Chris Marker’s “La Jetèe.”

• “Gone With My Wind,” based on Victor Fleming’s “Gone With the Wind.”

• “Grumpy Cul-de-Sacs,” based on Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”

• “It’s a Punderful Life,” based on Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

• “The Janitor of Oz,” based on Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

• “The Lady Manishness,” based on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes.”

• “Monorash,” based on Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon.”

• “My Best Actor Is Also a Dangerous Lunatic,” based on Werner Herzog’s “My Best Fiend.”

• “Nose Ferret 2,” based on F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu.”

The DVD cover of “Peeping Tom,” with Martin Scorsese commentary. Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” inspired one of the mini-movies made by characters in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

The DVD cover of “Peeping Tom,” with Martin Scorsese commentary. Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” inspired one of the mini-movies made by characters in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

• “Pittsburghasqatsi,” based on Godfrey Reggio’s “Koyaanisqatsi.”

• “Pooping Tom,” based on Powell’s “Peeping Tom.”

• “Rear Wind,” based on Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

• “Rosemary Baby Carrots,” based on Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.”

• “Senior Citizen Cane,” based on Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.”

• “The Seven Seals,” based on Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.”

• “A Sockwork Orange,” based on Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.”

• “Vere’d He Go?” based on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

• “2:48 p.m. Cowboy,” based on John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy.”

It also might be fun to see if you can spot the allusions to Andy Warhol, the Pittsburgh native who attended the school that’s featured in the film, in the final mini-movie that Greg makes for his friend Rachel.


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