what i'm watching: edge of outside

I recently had the opportunity to see a reviewer's copy of Edge Of Outside, a documentary about independent film, directed by Shannon Davis. It premiered on Turner Classic Movies earlier this month, but the filmmakers are trying to get a wider release.

Many people think the expression "independent film" is synonymous with "low budget," or imagine independent filmmaking to be a very recent phenomenon. Edge Of Outside dispels both those myths. Independent filmmakers and actors who have worked with them are asked to define independent cinema, and to talk about their influences. How many of us would immediately recognize Charlie Chaplin as one of the great independents? In the context of this documentary, his inclusion makes perfect sense.

Edge Of Outside uses interviews with directors, writers, actors and technicians, intercut with movie clips. There's no narrator, and the effect is one of great immediacy, which is very appropriate to the material. There are interviews with Martin Scorsese, Peter Falk, Ed Burns, Spike Lee, Henry Jaglom, Arthur Penn, Gena Rowlands and John Sayles, as well as people who worked with filmmakers Nicholas Ray, John Cassavetes, Sam Peckinpah and others. I especially loved hearing my favourite filmmaker, John Sayles, talk about his influences and early struggles.

The film takes an in-depth look at maverick filmmakers such as Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Samuel Fuller, Ray, Pekinpah and Cassavetes. You hear about the filmmakers' process - each widely different, and uniquely his own - and the obstacles they faced. Each took a different approach to making movies: some were able to maintain independence within the Hollywood studio system, some were always on their own, and others were banished and had independence forced on them. The common thread is an artist with a personal vision.

I would have liked to see at least one woman included in this section: one could easily come away from this film with the false idea that women never made movies. But that's my own quibble. On the whole, it's an excellent movie.

Many of the movies referenced in Edge Of Outside are ones I've heard of but not seen, or else saw when I was too young to appreciate their significance. So one thing this movie did for me was lengthen my already-long list of movies to see!

If you're interested in movies and moviemaking, you should try to catch Edge Of Outside, either in a rebroadcast on Turner Classic, or when it's out on DVD. More information is here on the TCM website.

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