TCM’s Edge of Outside Series

Through the month of July, Turner Classic Movies is screening a festival’s worth of films by maverick American filmmakers. (Click here for the schedule.)

The lineup of films is a great mix of acknowledged classics (A Woman Under the Influence, Raging Bull, Bonnie and Clyde) and some more rarely screened films. Since it’s not available on DVD, John Casssavetes’ A Child is Waiting, while not a major work of his, is probably the one I’m most eager to see again.

To coincide with the series, TCM has produced an original documentary, Edge of Outside. Unfortunately, the film feels like a primer for viewers largely unfamiliar with independent film. Regrettably, for me, it was a bit of a disappointment.

For one thing, the movie treads a lot of the same ground as the far-superior A Personal Journey Through American Movies with Martin Scorsese. In some cases (e.g., profiles of Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller), identical behind-the-scenes stories and film clips are shown. Anyone that’s familiar with the Scorsese film will probably feel like they’ve seen some of this before.

Edge of Outside is almost entirely structured around interviews with filmmakers, and the roster of interviewees is largely predictable. Scorsese is here, as is Peter Bogdanovich — both speak sagely as Elder Statesmen of American film. People of color are spoken for (and represented by) Spike Lee. Women are largely seen (in clips), not heard (in interviews).

Edge of Outside suffers from a lack of focus, too. The film tries to cover the history of American independent film from Griffith to today, but doing so in only an hour results in a predictably superficial tour. I was left craving fresh revelations about the familiar faces and films it covers or, alternately, I would have liked to have heard the stories of filmmakers operating closer to the “edge of outside.”

To be fair, the version I saw was not the final cut, so judge for yourself: Edge of Outside premieres tonight at 8pm, and repeats on TCM throughout the month.

6 Responses to “TCM’s Edge of Outside Series”

  1. Daniel Kremer Says:

    I knew there would be a posting about this documentary and the program line-up on this website, but I thought I would make a bet with myself and check. I agree with you on the documentary wholeheartedly. It was another “cheap penny-arcade tour” and vastly inferior to the countless other documentaries about the American maverick directors. Many directors were ignored. I have yet to see something to be done at all with seriously looking at the overlooked works of Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin. They were the first true-blue independents…even pre-Cassavetes.

    Cassavetes is my personal hero and very much a god to me, but if one more documentary filmmaker aims part of their piece at only *superficially* examining his seminal works and how “oh-so-independent” he was, I think I will go mad (although I appreciated seeing clips of his seemingly forgotten and overlooked Minnie and Moskowitz)…that, in conjunction with yet another (in a series of an eye-rolling umpteen) abortively pedantic, ostensibly knowledgeable and, yes, obligatory Peter Bogdanovich interview, made this new attempt at capturing the American independent a misbegotten effort. Bogdanovich thinks his insights are the last word on every legend, which is just as maddening to me and, it seems, a great many other film enthusiasts. A friend of mine said it best: “Wow, you knew John Ford and Orson Welles…let me kiss your feet and lick your Guccis!”

    However, I continue to give TCM big-time kudos for continuing to be the best television showcase for cinemaphiles then and now. Hmm…it’s late and I am tired and bored enough to write this lengthy rant. Oy vai! I hope the last word in American maverick documentaries rest in my dreams (I fear that is where it will stay for at least a long time).

  2. David Lowery Says:

    I only saw the ads for this, and so I can’t criticize it too squarely, but I can’t say I was too inspired to tune in. I’d have loved to see the doc start off with Cassavetes, Ray, Fuller, etc. and establish the by now well-known groundwork they laid before moving on to the filmmakers who were and still really are the embodiment of that title. I’m thinking of folks like Monte Helleman, Jon Jost, and maybe Todd Haynes and other more modern filmmakers who’ve remained on and defined ‘the outside.’ There’s no need to get esoteric – there are plenty of filmmakers who in the past twenty years have carried on in the tradition of those whose work, great as it was and still is, isn’t so much in need of public awareness.

  3. [this savage art…] » Blog Archive » The Edge Of Outside Says:

    […] If you know nothing about the independent film movement, which is really not a movement but actually the way films got made back in the day, then the Turner Classic Movies documentary, The Edge of Outside is something you should take a look at. It’s for anyone who doesn’t know the personal history of those filmmakers and their passionate drive to make personal films part of the world of cinema. My pursuit of a film career wouldn’t exist without them. This is why as much as appreciate and enjoy documentaries like this one I know they only scratch the surface. Those directors made films the hard way and we only see a glimpse of the price they paid for being outsiders — it’s essentially a primer for the freshman in the film program at NYU. These filmmakers are that of legend and they should be recognized for having the sheer tenacity, balls and mental instability to take on a career making films. That is what we already know. I want to hear the crazy stories, the amazing stories, of the fights, the reasons these films had to get made not just the fact that they did. I think TCM dropped the ball on this one. This should have been a series profiling, in detail, all of the mentioned filmmakers with a fresh 2006 perspective of their influence and relevance. Apparently I’m not the only one who thought so. Overall it is worth a look and through the month TCM is playing selected films from some of those filmmakers. Posted by william Filed in Filmmaking, Biz, Directing, Independent […]

  4. [this savage art…] » Blog Archive » Edge Of Outside Says:

    […] If you know nothing about the independent film movement, which is really not a movement but actually the way films got made back in the day, then the Turner Classic Movies documentary, Edge of Outside is something you should take a look at. It’s for anyone who doesn’t know the history of those filmmakers and their passionate drive to make personal films part of the world of cinema. My pursuit of a film career wouldn’t exist without them. This is why as much as appreciate and enjoy documentaries like this one I know they only scratch the surface. Those directors made films the hard way and we only see a glimpse of the price they paid for being outsiders — it’s essentially a primer for the freshman in the film program at NYU. These filmmakers are that of legend and they should be recognized for having the sheer tenacity, balls and mental instability to take on a career making films outside the system. That is what we already know. I want to hear the crazy stories, the amazing stories, of the fights, the reasons these films had to get made not just the fact that they did. I think TCM dropped the ball on this one. This should have been a series profiling, in detail, all of the mentioned filmmakers with a fresh 2006 perspective of their influence and relevance. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. Overall it is worth a look and through the month TCM is playing selected films from some of those filmmakers. Posted by william Filed in Filmmaking, Biz, Directing, Independent […]

  5. Paul Says:

    Dan – Great rant, er, comments. And, yes, TCM still gets my kudos for most of its round the clock schedule. Without them, I would never have been able to see countless otherwise unavailable works by Fritz Lang, Clarence Brown, and (especially) Frank Borzage.

    David – The filmmakers you mention are almost, to a name, the same ones I had in mind. In addition to yours, I was thinking of the “L.A. Rebellion” filmmakers — Charles Burnett, especially.

    Alas.

  6. Daniel Kremer Says:

    Speaking of Frank Borzage, I have been waiting for TCM to air his presumably “lost” epic film THE BIG FISHERMAN with Howard Keel, a Holy Grail of mine. Still waiting…and yes, without TCM I would have also missed out on countless and otherwise unavailable films. A Preminger fan, I was thrilled to have both his long-lost first films and his lost films from the 60’s air on the station.

    Fighting a case of insomnia last night, I ironically popped by old copy of Bogdanovich’s TARGETS into the VCR after flapping my wings into a stir within that comment.