THE ATROCITY AUTEURS
STALKING AND TALKING
Fiction--who needs it? Not when real life is so gripping, so bizarre, so very real. TV went the reality route long ago; now movie audiences are finding that Superman is no match for Grizzly Man. Some gifted directors (Martin Scorsese, Michael Apted, Werner Herzog) commute easily between fiction films and documentaries. They know that good stories don't always come from a writer's imagination. JT Petty makes horror movies for a living. (He also writes video games and children's books.) But he was haunted by a real story from his youth: a neighbor had been stalking and taking movies of local women. Decades later, Petty couldn't get the man to talk on camera, but he did track down several directors of grimy, no-budget films in which women appear to be tortured and killed. The result is S&Man (as in sandman), the year's most instructively icky documentary. Are these atrocity auteurs, and their pathetic victims, for real? Can we believe what we see? Petty explores the appetite for sick sensation that lurks in many a moviegoer. And it won't help if you keep repeating, "It's only a documentary ..." --By Richard Corliss
AS THE YEARS GO BY
SEVEN LITTLE LIVES
Just over four decades ago, Michael Apted was asked by Britain's Granada TV to help make a show that aimed to say something about the effect of the country's class system on a disparate group of little kids. It gathered a lot of attention, and seven years later the network asked him to revisit his subjects. Thus was born the Up series, perhaps the most original and innovative enterprise in the history of documentary film. Apted, who has gone on to a distinguished career in features, has just released the seventh in the series, 49 Up, which brings his subjects well into middle age, and says he'll keep going back to them "as long as I'm compos mentis," in large part because his subjects keep surprising him.
And us. Class consciousness has turned out to be less a factor in shaping these lives than he thought. It is energy and accident that have made all the difference. A cabdriver who Apted was worried might succumb to criminality has become a mini real estate mogul in Spain, a man who was for some years homeless is now a minor government official, a librarian who works with the severely handicapped continues to stick to her idealistic guns, while a schoolteacher who worked extensively in the Third World is back at the traditional public school he once attended in England (and he's still playing cricket).
The series has a long history, which means its subjects have developed an ambiguous self-consciousness about their participation in it. But that only adds depth to the films, which are now being duplicated by other hands in other countries. Watching these lives unfold has been for Apted something like "living in a Victorian novel"--one that he says "becomes more intimate and emotional" for him (as it does for us) as the years accumulate. --By Richard Schickel
TALKING IN TONGUES
Ecstasy in the Heartland