Thursday, May 05, 2005

Documentaries: "The Thin Blue Line" (1988)

Back on March 8th, I mentioned that I'm a fan of great documentary films and promised to write about some of my favorites. Sorry for the delay. It's just that it takes me a while to accept that, no, I'm not going to do them justice. Here's my first installment.

One title that has to be on a short list of the greatest documentaries ever is The Thin Blue Line (1988). Written and directed by the great Errol Morris, it sets the standard for all subsequent hard-hitting docs.

Morris himself sized it up like this: "There are many films which tell the story of a murder investigation. The Thin Blue Line may be unique in that the film itself does not tell the story of a murder investigation; it is, in itself, a murder investigation."

Most stories of murder and mystery can grab your attention. What sets TTBL apart from almost all of them is that, throughout this film, you deeply feel.

You feel the heat of a Texas summer.

You feel the dread of being an outsider . . . wrongly accused . . . of murdering a police officer . . . in a state that executes people who do that.

You feel the seething anger against the guile and incompetance that makes a mere hapless drifter look like a cop killer.

But do you ever feel the intense relief of an accusation and conviction overturned? Ah, that's why you've got to see this one.

What makes this film so riveting? At least a couple of things:

First, the hard work of Errol Morris. Evidently, Morris is the kind of guy who knows the types of stories that interest him, finds them, and then painstakingly documents them on film. He reportedly put in 2 and 1/2 years tracking down the various people in this film and convincing them to talk on camera. Here's a guy who cares about his craft.

Second, a fantastic original score--almost invariably described with the word "haunting"-- by contemporary composer Philip Glass. It's powerful stuff.

So go out and rent The Thin Blue Line. I think you'll like it.


Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

Thanks for the great review, Frank.

I'm not sure if I've ever seen TTBL or not, although I've always heard a lot about it. Wasn't it out in Dallas? Texas, I'm pretty sure, but I don't remember where. I'll have to ask Tom if he's seen it. He probably has, since I think he's seen just about every movie ever made at least once! ha!

We'll have to "check it out" really soon. We're always going back and watching older movies that are really good. And, you know we have plenty of popcorn on hand!

Frank Bellizzi said...


That's right, Dallas is the setting for this story.

For what it's worth, Morris has done several other docs. A lot of people rave about "Gates of Heaven" (1978). It could be that all the hype I read set me up for a let down. It's not that great, in my opinion.

Then there was "Vernon, Florida" (year?).

Most recently, Morris interviewed Robert McNamara in a film called "Fog of War." I've heard that it's very good.

Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

We've seen "Gates of Heaven" several times. It's okay. Nothing to rave about. I don't think we've seen "Vernon, Florida," and we definitely want to see Robert McNamara's "Fog of War," but have been setting it aside for more "popular" ones, of late.

Will let you know when we see it and what we think. Tom and I usually have similar opinions about movies, but not always.

There's a weird new one we just saw a couple of weeks ago that I've been thinking about a lot and want to write about, with a spiritual application because I think it HAS a lot of neat spiritual applications. But, so far, I've been concentrating on more "fun" things in an effort to lift my spirits!

Well - till today that is. It's serious, but I've been thinking about it for quite a while.