Categories
Directors Documentaries

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies

The BFI have put Martin Scorsese’s 1995 documentary about American cinema online.

Titled A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies it was produced by the British Film Institute and originally aired in three parts on Channel 4 back in 1995.

Co-directed with Michael Henry Wilson, it explores Scorsese’s favourite American films grouped according to three different types of directors:

With contributions from the likes of Billy Wilder and Clint Eastwood it is essential viewing.

You can watch it in full here:


A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese (1995) by BFIfilms

His documentaries about cinema are like the best film school you never went to, featuring invaluable insights from a master director and a passionate movie fan.

The best compliment I can pay them is that you should just see them as soon as you possibly can.

Scorsese also made a documentary about Italian films called My Voyage to Italy (1999) and is currently preparing one about British cinema.

> Martin Scorsese at Wikipedia
> DVD review of My Voyage to Italy

Categories
Documentaries Interesting

The American West of John Ford

A 1971 documentary on the westerns of John Ford provides a fascinating insight into the director and his work.

Filled with clips from his work, it also contains interviews with colleagues such as John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Andy Devine.

It was filmed just two years before he died in 1973 and the tone is somewhat elegiac, as the Western was dying as a genre along with the old studio system.

I love the formal way in which Wayne, Stewart and Fonda address the camera and share stories with their old director (Wayne calls Ford “Pappy”) along with expensive helicopter shots of the landscape he made famous.

Also note that it is screened in the 16:9 aspect ratio, which seems unusual for the TV of the time but was presumably so they could capture the widescreen images of his films.

> Find out more about John Ford at Wikipedia and MUBi
> Senses of Cinema essay on John Ford

Categories
Documentaries Interesting Short Films

The Umbrella Man

A new short film by Errol Morris explores why a man was holding an umbrella just a few feet from where President Kennedy was shot in November 1963.

Like his friend Werner Herzog, the famed director has long been fascinated by the events surrounding the JFK assassination.

Morris has written an accompanying piece for the New York Times, in which he says:

For years, I’ve wanted to make a movie about the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Not because I thought I could prove that it was a conspiracy, or that I could prove it was a lone gunman, but because I believe that by looking at the assassination, we can learn a lot about the nature of investigation and evidence.

Why, after 48 years, are people still quarreling and quibbling about this case? What is it about this case that has led not to a solution, but to the endless proliferation of possible solutions?

The only thing I can recommend is that you click here to watch the video as soon as possible.

> NY Times directors statement and video
> More on Errol Morris and the JFK assassination at Wikipedia
> Thoughts on his nw film Tabloid

Categories
Documentaries Reviews Thoughts

Into the Abyss

A powerful exploration of the death penalty sees Werner Herzog probe deep into the horrors of killings in Texas.

There is a moment in Herzog’s latest film where he tells a young man that “I don’t have to like you”.

You soon realise why.

The man he’s speaking to is Michael Perry, who is on death row after being convicted, along with an accomplice, of murdering three people in October 2001.

Viewers might be conditioned to think that a film about the death penalty made by someone who opposes it (as Herzog does) might be an issue film.

After all, Errol Morris famously got an innocent man off death row with his 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line.

But we quickly realise this isn’t an issue film about the death penalty and instead a long hard look at death itself, as seen through the ripple effects of a murder.

In a similar way to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood it provides an examination of evil in the heartland of America.

Perry was convicted, along with Jason Burkett, of brutally killing three people in Conroe, Texas: a 50 year old nurse, her teenage son and his friend.

Herzog’s conversation with Perry is one of several: he also speaks to Burkett, the families of the prisoners and victims, as well as various people connected with the business of death, including a retired executioner and pastor.

Whilst it doesn’t come to any firm conclusion as to Perry’s guilt – he protests his innocence throughout – it seems likely he was guilty.

But the film is not an exploration of who did what and instead opts to probe around the question of why people kill and condone killing.

The shallow reason Perry and Burkett murdered was to steal a car for a joyride, whilst Texas as a state seems to have a pathological addiction to killing its prisoners.

Since the resumption the death penalty in 1976 (after four years when it was suspended) Texas has executed nearly four times as many inmates as its closest rival, Virginia.

But Herzog isn’t singling out the Lone Star state – the disturbing details of the murder case are constantly in the air and some of the people not directly connected with the case have an impressive moral dignity.

There is the retired executioner who forgoes his pension because he is tired with legally killing people, whilst a pastor manages to give an unexpectedly profound answer to Herzog’s curve ball question about a squirrel.

As usual the small quirks of human behaviour are picked up on although this is a much more sober film than Herzog’s recent work and at time Mark Degli Antoni’s sparse score gives it an appropriately sombre tone.

Herzog is a past master at eliciting revealing answers by asking deceptively straightforward questions.

One of the most startling dialogues here is with an articulate woman who became attracted to and pregnant by Burkett.

Quite how an inmate gets a woman pregnant from inside prison is an open question, but that is part of the rich tapestry Herzog weaves with this film, managing to touch upon the trend of death row groupies.

Always a director attracted to extremes, be it pulling a boat over a mountain in Fitzcarraldo or putting his cast under hypnosis for Heart of Glass, here the extremity of the subject matter is complemented by a notable visual restraint.

We never see him on screen and his regular DP Peter Zeitlinger opts for a restrained visual style, but this is purposely not a fly-on-the-wall film.

In fact it’s quite the opposite, as Herzog’s probing presence and restless curiosity can be felt in every frame as he engages with the people surrounding the killings and the issues such actions raise.

Just a few days after filming in July 2010, Perry himself was killed by lethal injection, which provides the film with a brutal final stop.

It doesn’t come to any definitive conclusions, but therein lies its power – after the film is over the questions raised stay with us, precisely because they have no definitive answers.

The title of this film could describe many of Herzog’s previous movies, as it perfectly describes deep themes and stark feeling of awe embedded in his best work.

It is hard not to come out profoundly shaken as the questions of how and why human beings destroy one another are presented with such piercing clarity that they linger in your mind long after the final credits.

Into the Abyss is out now in the US and opens in the UK on March 23rd

> Official site
> Reviews of the film at MUBi and Metacritic
> Interesting Guardian article on the case by Joanna Walters, who interviewed Perry just after Herzog

Categories
Directors Documentaries Interesting

Errol Morris at BAFTA

Famed documentarian Errol Morris was at BAFTA this week where he gave the annual David Lean lecture and a Q&A with Adam Curtis.

He has been in London this week promoting Tabloid, his new film about a bizarre scandal involving a beauty queen and a mormon, and the event was live streamed over the web on BAFTA Guru.

To watch the full 30 minute speech head on over to the BAFTA site, but here is a clip:

Afterwards he engaged in an interesting Q&A session with fellow director Adam Curtis which can be seen here:

I first saw Tabloid at the London Film Festival last year and it is going to be a strong contender for the inaugural BAFTA documentary award.

Interestingly, the film hit the headlines this week when Joyce McKinney (the main subject) announced she was suing Morris for her portrayal in the film, which has echoes of Randall Adams suing Morris, despite the fact that (or maybe because?) his 1988 film The Thin Blue Line got him off death row.

Perhaps there is a follow up film to be made?

> Tabloid review from LFF 2010
> BAFTA Guru
> Adam Curtis’ essential BBC blog which regularly culls interesting material from the archives
> More on Errol Morris at Wikipedia