I’m a big fan of film documentaries. Whether they’re specific to one movie (Hearts of Darkness; the Jaws documentary that originally appeared on the super laserdisc set), one personality (Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures), or a decade’s worth of cinema (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls; A Decade Under The Influence).
This week, I had the good fortune to catch two documentaries on cable. TMC premiered The Eastwood Factor, an in-depth look at the directing career of Clint Eastwood, in celebration of the legend’s 80th birthday. Written and directed by noted critic Richard Schickel, it takes a quick yet detailed look at Clint’s directing career at Warner Bros. (It also makes a nice tie-in with Schickel’s new book, Clint, naturally).
Narrated from a first-person perspective by the great Morgan Freeman, whom Clint has directed in Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby (Freeman’s Oscar®-winning role), and Invictus, The Eastwood Factor features candid interviews with a sometimes gray-bearded Clint himself, a nifty look at a Warner lot that holds all the costumes from Clint’s films, and movie clips galore. A must for Clint fans, of course, and for film doc lovers.
The second, watched just last night, was the HBO documentary I Know It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, directed by Richard Shepard (The Matador, The Hunting Party). It’s a too-short, 45-minute portrait of the terrific actor John Cazale, who only appeared in five films before succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 42: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter.
The two Godfathers stand on their own, and Cazale is simply fantastic as Fredo, the stumble-bum Corleone brother with dreams of becoming a bigger part of the family. The Conversation is an absolute gem starring Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert and Cazale as his assistant (a role written by Francis Ford Coppola just for Cazale). Dog Day Afternoon is not a big favorite of mine, but it’s still well-directed by Sidney Lumet and well-acted all around. Holding a special place in my heart is The Deer Hunter, not only for the experience of seeing it on the big screen as a just-turned 12-year-old, but it’s also the last movie I watched as a single man, the night before my wedding. (Yeah, it’s a guy movie, definitely.) And, yes Cazale is excellent as Stanley, the whiny eccentric who seems to try way too hard whenever possible to fit in with his buddies but is still a pivotal part of their inner circle.
A worthwhile use of any film lover’s time, I Know It Was You is highlighted by a slew of interviews and remembrances by family, friends, and film luminaries such as actors Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (all of whom are obviously influenced by Cazale), directors Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brett Ratner (ok, maybe Ratner’s not so luminous, but he did co-produce the documentary so he has that going for him if nothing else), and icons/co-stars Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro (De Niro’s generosity allowed the filmmakers to cast the ailing Cazale in The Deer Hunter), and Meryl Streep, who had an intimate relationship with Cazale and is positively glowing when sharing her memories of him. Heck, the doc even features a clip of The Simpsons over the end credits, where Buscemi notes he voiced a bank robber character with a sidekick that resembled Cazale’s Sal in Dog Day.
Definitely check out both documentaries. You’ll be happy you did.