Edge Of Outside should be mandatory viewing for all people involved in the film business. I say this because this is on of the first documentary films I have ever seen that really draws a distinction between independent and low budget films. It also points out that many interesting films have come from the studio system, while a lot of garbage has been thrust open the world via the "Indie Film scene" and organizations like Sundance.
Made by Turner Classic Movies this documentary, which will air on Wednesday, July 5th at 8pm ET/ 5pm PT, examines the work of Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, Sam Peckinpah and John Cassavetes. Right off the bat, I want to state that I think that is the only problem with the film. These are all directors who rightfully deserve their own movies (and many of them in fact have documentaries about their filmmaking exploits), but aside from trying to put across too many careers, Director Shannon Davis has very much achieved the essence and spirit of the people being examined.
By having people like Peter Biskind (author of Down and Dirty Pictures and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls), Edward Burns, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and other film folk dissect these creators, Davis weaves a very interesting story that ultimately proves to be a historical look at both American Independent Filmmaking and American Filmmaking in general. As I watched this documentary I was reminded of something that John Sayles (he's also featured here) said about other filmmakers wanting to "make films" like him. He said that what he thought they meant was that they wanted the "freedom" afforded him by going the independent route, but that they didn't really want to broach similar subject matter.
John Cassavetes, who stands out the most in this documentary, was someone that was truly unwavering in the films he choose to make. Having studied a lot about him, he was also somewhat forced to be the filmmaker that he was. Cassavetes' films, as discussed in Edge Of Outside, are not the kinds of movies that grossed millions of dollars. They are different in a way that can only be described by actually experiencing them because that's precisely what they are. An experience. As a result, what offers there were to distribute Cassavetes films were often so low that the director found them insulting. So he distributed them himself and with a few exceptions met with great failure while he was alive. It seems to be only in the last 10 years or so that Cassavetes has been recognized for what he was able to put across on screen.
This is yet another thing that I think is interesting. Organizations like the IFP often talk about John Cassavetes and his films, but nobody really puts it on the line like he did as a filmmaker. I have yet to see a movie come out of that or the Sundance system that isn't just a lower budget "studio" film. It would have been interesting to get Nick Cassavetes impressions of his father and perhaps have him discuss what his Dad would have thought about his career. Interestingly enough, working within the studio system, I think Nick Cassavetes is probably one of the more interesting filmmakers around today.
As I mentioned before, this film is very much a historical overview of American filmmaking. We start of with the early pioneers like D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim and then move throughout the decades to people like Orson Welles, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, Roger Corman, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese and eventually Quentin Tarantino. One could make a comment that the film is incomplete as there are glaring omissions, however I don't think a fully comprehensive history was Shannon Davis's end goal with this film. At the end of the day, she has provided a gateway so that interested parties could be exposed to a pastiche of filmmakers that we otherwise might not know about. In doing this she also inadvertently showed why the filmmakers that are always going to be remembered are those who took chances and really broke from convention.
CLICK HERE to check out Edge of Outside on TCM.