It’s not exactly a revelation, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Turner Classic Movies loves movies. American Movie Classics, which runs Piñata: Survival Island all the damn time, does not. But TCM airs the Film Preservation Festival, releases restored classics on DVD, programs incredible marathons that cover every genre in film history and still finds time to produce original specials.
Who else but TCM would create “Edge of Outside,” a one-hour documentary tracing the roots of today’s indie film movement? Granted, the film speaks mostly to history-loving film geeks, but that pretty much covers TCM’s demographic.
“Edge of Outside” isn’t exactly glamorous fare. It’s a straightforward talking-head doc in which film people speak to film people about film people. Among those interviewed are such indie icons as Ed Burns (The Brothers McMullen), Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing), Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), John Sayles (Matewan), Peter Bogdonovich (The Last Picture Show), Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull) and Henry Jaglom (Eating). These noted directors are asked to reminisce on their spiritual godfathers, the early filmmakers who bucked the Hollywood studio system to craft their own unique visions.
Among the profiled filmmakers of yesteryear are D.W. Griffith, Sam Fuller, Frank Capra, Nicholas Ray, Orson Welles, Sam Peckinpah, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick and John Cassavettes. Some (Griffith, Allen) are briefly cited. Others (Fuller, Welles) are given more in-depth coverage. Occasionally, footage from the classic films of these directors is spotlighted. More might have been nice, but seeing brief snippets of Fuller’s unique Shock Corridor, Welles’ troubled Othello or Peckinpah’s bloody The Wild Bunch are more than enough to whet viewers appetites to hunt down the full-length versions.
A handful of the named pioneers appear in all-too-brief interviews (Fuller, Welles). Again, it might have been nice to hear more of each director’s own personal philosophy. But the thrust of “Edge of Outside” is really the effect these indie originators had on the next generation of filmmakers. Certainly Arthur Penn’s realistically violent Bonnie and Clyde would not have existed were it not for Peckinpah’s pioneering Western bloodshed.
Perhaps the most interesting thing this movie-loving documentary imparts is the concept of what independent filmmaking really is. Nowadays, “indie film” is a genre onto itself--a low-budget mixture of drama and comedy assembled by the Weinstein brothers and aimed at hip, young film fest patrons. But so many of the pioneering indie filmmakers didn’t make quirky niche products. Frank Capra an independent filmmaker? Absolutely. Despite the exalted position It’s a Wonderful Life holds today, in 1946 it was a risky flop that was financed without studio help and was labeled “subversive” by the FBI.
As “Edge of Outside” more than proves, indie filmmaking isn’t a genre. It’s an uncompromising attitude that forces artists to stay true to their original visions and to fight for what they believe in, no matter what the obstacles. If they went through all that trouble to make these films, the least we can do is watch them.