Can a Narrative Film Be Remade as a Documentary?

In my latest Doc Talk column at Movies.com, I ask the question, “Can a narrative film be remade as a documentary?” Inspired in part by Hal Ashby’s “The Landlord” and Martin Scorsese’s “Public Speaking,” as well as Scorsese’s confirmed future collaboration with Lars von Trier for a new “The Five Obstructions” project, the post also involves Werner Herzog, “American Teen,” “The Parking Lot Movie,” “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” “The King of Kong” and “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” Also: minor thoughts about new releases “American: The Bill Hicks Story,” “The King Speaks” and “Rejoice and Shout.” Here’s a teasing snippet:

But here is a novel idea that might also work in a reciprocal way: remaking narrative features as documentaries. Actually, I should stress that it should be fiction films, since narrative features can include works based on true stories, which wouldn’t be too unlikely or difficult. For instance, Werner Herzog could have technically made the documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly after making the dramatic version, Rescue Dawn, as opposed to vice versa.

Read the rest at Movies.com and then share some possible fiction films that could have also worked as a documentary in the comments section.

Watch Martin Scorsese’s “A Letter to Elia”

Last week was a good one for fans of Martin Scorsese documentaries. First, his new Fran Lebowitz showcase, “Public Speaking,” hit home video on Tuesday (see my review here). Then, a day later, his other recent doc, “A Letter to Elia,” became available for free on PBS.org. This second film, an ode to filmmaker Elia Kazan, had aired as an episode of PBS’ “American Masters” program. It’s also a supplement to the DVD box set The Elia Kazan Collection, which features 15 films curated by Scorsese himself. Before all this, it screened at the 2010 New York Film Festival, where I reviewed it. Here’s an excerpt:

it’s a film as appropriate, if not more so, for a Scorsese retrospective since it’s as much about himself as it is his idol…and it’s worth addressing the fact that nobody but Scorsese, who has previously made personal “journeys” through Italian and American cinemas, could make such a subjective tribute like this and have anyone caring. This is fine, it’s mostly for those people who will pay $150 for a set of 15 Kazan films personally selected by Scorsese, but the doc isn’t just for die-hard Kazan fans. You have to be a die-hard Scorsese fan, too.

The film is only an hour, and I’m sure there are plenty of readers who are seriously into both Kazan and Scorsese, so go ahead and watch the whole film at the “American Masters” site (apparently PBS video embeds are not supported by WordPress, so my apologies on not being able to watch here).

[via Gordon and the Whale]

Review: “Public Speaking”


What a perfect time for “Public Speaking” to be released on video, one day after the NYC smoking ban was augmented to include beaches, parks and major public areas such as Times Square. Actually, perhaps HBO planned it so Fran Lebowitz would be too distracted by the DVD release to think about her annoyance with Bloomberg. Then again, she does imply in the documentary that she doesn’t go to Times Square, and for some reason I don’t see as much of a beach person. So maybe she isn’t too bothered. Oh, who are we kidding?

Directed by Martin Scorsese (“The Last Waltz”), this may actually be one of his most important New York films. Like 2004’s “Lady by the Sea: The Statue of Liberty” (co-directed by Kent Jones), the doc is about one of the Big Apple’s most well-known women. This time, the author and humorous intellectual who hates smoking bans, New York tourism and all manner of modern gadgetry. She discusses these things and more in interviews and speaking events, which are intercut together for a funny stroll through Lebowitz’s mind and history.

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