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.