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On the Docs

I usually resist writing about documentaries because it’s so difficult not to fall into the trap of summarizing the subject without actually dealing with the film — and the bullying/self-congratulatory tone of so many of the current advocacy docs, whether I happen to agree with their politics or not, turns me off instantly.

But for reasons not entirely within my control (which is to say, Criterion’s terrific new Blu-ray of “Stagecoach” was recently covered elsewhere in the New York Times), I’ve given in to peer pressure and reviewed three recent non-fiction releases: the 1977 “Word Is Out,” which Milestone is releasing in a fine restoration from UCLA; “Inner Voice,” Barbeth M. VanLoo’s study of the dancer and composer Meredith Monk; and “For the Love of Movies,” Gerald Peary’s long-gestating survey of the rich past and uneasy present of film criticism in the popular media. The piece is here.

The latter film, which is available through Gerry’s website, features interviews with a number of folks who participate these discussions; needless to say, they all come off as highly intelligent and irresistibly attractive.

Of course, if anyone wants to talk about “Stagecoach” instead, I’ve got nothing against it.

208 comments to On the Docs

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Very nice tribute Joe. Thanks for the link.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I guess can rightiously excuse ETERNITY’s compromises, since I regard it as very good movie indeed.’

    Alex, there is three attitude about FROM HERE TO ETERNITY:

    Bad movie, completely, but it does not matter if novel was betrayed.

    Bad movie, good acting, and novel was betrayed also bad point.

    Good movie, so no problem with compromise of novel.

    For me, movie fitting description of being good and betraying novel is THE QUIET AMERICAN (1957) Joseph L. Mankiewicz. If he had directed FROM HERE TO ETERNITY even with same screenplay, I think it would have been good movie.

  • Michael Worrall

    Brad wrote: “Zinnemann is the perfect example of a director who made ‘A’ films simply because he wasn’t good enough to make ‘B’ films, where there would have been less to compensate for the director’s lack of even the most basic filmmaking skills.”

    “Someone who can work with the minimum can work with the most. One who can with the most cannot, inevitably, with the minimum.” – Robert Bresson

  • Brad Stevens

    Just to clarify, my comments about the differences between the book and the film of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY have no bearing on my evaluation of the film’s cinematic value. I merely offered them as an aside.

    It seemed to me that the heart of Jones’ novel was located in those scenes with Jack Malloy in the stockade. But there was simply no way that any Hollywood film of the 1950s could accommodate a character who was an overt leftist, so his exclusion from the film was inevitable. Malloy has a great deal in common with Dieter in Robert Stone’s DOG SOLDIERS, and it’s interesting to note that this character was himself eliminated from Karel Reisz’s excellent film of the novel, WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN.

  • Michael Dempsey

    Years ago I had a chance to read a draft of a “Dog Soldiers” screenplay (before the film was made and then retitled “Who’ll Stop The Rain”). Dieter, the philosophical drugged-out hippie/sage from the novel, was very much present in this draft.

    Totally eliminating him from the film, dropping his verbal comments in favor of the Nick Nolte character’s vigorus action, was a dazzling stroke, much like the avoidance in “Tootsie” of episodes in early scripts that laboriously tried to make “believable” the efforts of pain-in-the-butt actor Michael Dorsey to pass for a soap opera actress.

    These draconian cuts dropped what amounted to unnecessary narrative clutter, and the exhilarating sharpness of the cuts greatly enlivens both pictures, especially the passionate, eloquent, yet dreadfully neglected “Who’ll Stop The Rain”, my nominee for Best Film of 1978.

  • Brad Stevens

    “Years ago I had a chance to read a draft of a “Dog Soldiers” screenplay”

    Was this by Charles Eastman?

  • Michael Dempsey

    “Was this by Charles Eastman?”

    No, Judith Rascoe was credited alone on the title page of the “Dog Soldiers” draft that I read. There were also reports of a screenplay adaptation by Truman Capote that allegedly intrigued the film’s producer, Herb Jaffe, but displeased Karel Reisz. I’ve never heard why in either case.

  • Alex Hicks


    Thanks for reminding me of the centrality of the Stockade portions of Eternity, which i’d pretty much forgotten. (I’d forgotten Malloy!) I’d though of the Prewitt narative as the core of ETERNITY, and one could say it remains intact in it basic trajectory and crucial relations to the Warden-Karen and Maggio stories, but without the Malloe story the book is themtically and dramatically dropped to another much lower, if still powerful, level.

    I guess my recollection of the book, which I read in the 60s and again in the 80s had been distorted by several post-80s viewings of the film.

    As social criticism I think the film is still in the 99.9 percentile of Hollywood fare. (A freend of mine in the James Jones Society told me Jones liked it though I seem to recall Tony Williams disagreeing.) But I’ll agree that a film that could accomodate the Stockade portions would have been far greater, though the mythical American director to have done it would have had to have been some fantastical analog to the Visconti of Obsessione and Le Terra Tremma or some big budget Joseph Losey in an America that never wasn.

    I suppose the Laughton-Mailer plans for NAKED might have gotten as as far on the Stateside drawing boards toward what i have in mind as any U.S. film ever did.