The Thin Blue Line
Great art can inspire people and provoke change, but can it actually save lives? Errol Morris’ 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line did just that; literally freeing a man from prison upon its release due to its incredible investigative journalism. It’s fair to say that this is one of the most important and influential documentaries ever made.
What’s even more impressive is how impressionistic and visual it is. Faced with the detailed minutiae of a murder trial and subsequent investigations, director Errol Morris was left with little footage other than talking head interviews and old photos — for the single most important interview in the film, Morris’ camera broke during the shoot and he only had an audio recording. By shooting re-enacments at different speeds and combining them with Philip Glass’s hypnotic score, the movie becomes the polar opposite of so many dry crime documentaries & TV shows. It’s a tone poem that’s also a visceral film about men on death row.
Morris would expand upon this style in other films (including my personal favorite, Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control) but this remains his masterpiece. Absolutely riveting.