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Wednesday, October 9, 2019


Four American movie directors of varying stature talk about directing movies in Kevin Mukherji's documentary AMERICAN STORYTELLERS (2003). 

It seems a fairly random foursome--indy legend John Sayles, actor and sometimes director Forest Whitaker, lesser-known John McNaughton, and Hollywood blockbuster success Harold Ramis.

McNaughton I know mainly as the director of the notorious HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986). His most familiar subsequent work would probably be WILD THINGS a full twelve years later.

Sayles' celebrated indy films (LONE STAR, PASSION FISH, RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN) have mostly eluded me thus far, and I know him mainly as the writer of such titles as THE HOWLING, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, ALLIGATOR, and THE LADY IN RED.

Whitaker, of course, is a highly-recognizable actor with around five directorial efforts to his credit, some for HBO. Ramis' film credits include such popular classics as ANIMAL HOUSE, GHOSTBUSTERS, and CADDYSHACK. 

What Kevin Mukherji has done here is to sit these guys down for some static interview segments and intercut them with mostly generic clips of movies being filmed (no actual clips from their works).

His questions are rather broad, as evidenced by the chapter titles (Influence, Getting Started, First Film, Acting, Philosophy, Advice, Favorite Film, Future).

The responses are mildly interesting, consisting mainly of behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the ABCs of getting movies made.  Each man reveals how he got into the business and what it took to actually get his cinematic ideas onto our neighborhood movie screens. 

All of which can get rather dry, unless of course this is of particular interest to the viewer.  I was thinking that this film would be especially useful if shown to students in film classes, or to anyone seriously considering moviemaking as a profession.

Of the four interview subjects, Ramis is by far the most engaging. This is due not only to his personality but also to the fact that most of us recognize his work and have enjoyed so many of his movies to such a degree over the years. Ramis understands popular filmmaking and knows how to give the audience what it wants without appealing to the lowest common denominator.

An interesting contrast is provided by the accounts of McNaughton and the others in their struggles to get the green light for their more personal and/or modestly-budgeted efforts, often with subjects Hollywood would rather shy away from.

None of which is particularly deep--even when questioned about their "philosophy" or advice to aspiring filmmakers, their responses are mostly just the standard stuff people toss off when they don't want to delve too deeply into their personal feelings.

The DVD from Indican Pictures contains the following extras: trailers for this and other Indican films, a 20-minute sneak preview of Mukherji's "Magnum Stories", additional interview material, and a ten-minute Mukherji short, "American Pets", also featuring Ramis and Whitaker.

A jack-of-all-trades himself in the movie business, Mukherji has assembled a technically bland but fairly watchable documentary in AMERICAN STORYTELLERS. How much it garners your own interest will depend entirely upon how curious you are about the nuts and bolts of moviemaking.

Find out more about this film at Indican Pictures

Runtime: 90 mins.
Format: 1:85 Flat
Sound: Dolby 2.0
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Documentary


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