December 18, 2018, 14:17

What to Stream This Weekend: Five Great Movies That Were Made for Television |

What to Stream This Weekend: Five Great Movies That Were Made for Television |

Each week, Richard Brody picks a classic film, a modern film, an independent film, a foreign film, and a documentary for online viewing.

“Cinema Verite”

Photograph by AF Archive / Alamy

The theatrical première next month, at Film Forum, of Rainer Werner
Fassbinder’s 1972 made-for-TV series, “Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day,”
brings to mind other great movies that were also made for television.
One of them, “Cinema Verite,” from 2011, by Shari Springer Berman and
Robert Pulcini, not only was first shown on television; it also is about
the making of a classic television movie. It’s a dramatization of the
production, in the early nineteen-seventies, of the crucial twelve-part,
twelve-hour documentary series “An American Family” (which was broadcast
on PBS in 1973). James Gandolfini plays the documentary producer Craig
Gilbert, a New Yorker who travels to Santa Barbara, California, in
search of an exemplary middle-class family and recruits the Louds,
headed by Pat (Diane Lane) and Bill (Tim Robbins), and their five
adolescent children. Berman and Pulcini (working with a script by David
Seltzer) depict the fierce tensions within the Loud family, which were
sparked in part by hostility between Bill and the eldest son, Lance
(Thomas Dekker), who was gay and preparing to move to New York, and also
by the very making of the documentary: Gilbert himself, as well as the
husband-and-wife camera-and-sound team of Susan and Alan Raymond (Shanna
Collins and Patrick Fugit), become intensely engaged participants in the
family’s daily life. For good measure, Berman and Pulcini interweave
footage from the actual documentary series into their drama. The result
is a kaleidoscopic merging of fact and speculation, drama and
documentation, that bares mighty emotional upheavals at their fault

“Cinema Verite” is available to stream on HBO
Play, and
other services.

“The Immortal Story”

Photograph from Everett

There’s a book to be written about Orson Welles’s connection to
television (maybe it already exists); his work in that medium fuses the
primal force of immediacy and reportage with his commandingly dramatic
sensibility and his drive toward self-dramatization. The hour-long drama
“The Immortal Story,” which premièred on French television, in 1968, is
based on a story by Isak Dinesen and stars Welles himself, along with
Jeanne Moreau. The drama’s ballad-like simplicity hides iridescent
layers of passion and metaphorical resonance—and hints at an outrageous
ambition on Welles’s part to make an essentially pornographic film for
French television at a time of stringent censorship. Welles plays Mr.
Clay, a rich and aged businessman in Macao who recounts a sailor’s tale
of being paid to have sex with the young wife of a rich and aged
businessman—and decides to put this tale into practice by hiring a poor
woman (Moreau) and a scuffling young sailor (Norman Eshley) to make love
in his bed. Welles films much of the dialogue-laden action in a
near-somnolent haze of legend (reserving some bilious and crestfallen
closeups for himself). But he films Moreau in a lurid decorative thicket
reminiscent of Josef von Sternberg’s filming of Marlene Dietrich, minus
the overt eroticism, which Welles saves for the bedroom scene itself.
There he uncorks his most flamboyant strain of cinematic inspiration,
hinting—sensuously and in fragments, with a powerful sense of graphic
design—at what can’t be shown plainly.

“The Immortal Story” is available to stream on the Criterion
Channel on
and other services.

“The Police Tapes”


The very notion of independent television is exceptional, given the
corporate control of most broadcast channels, but a bold example of what
can be done with a blend of technological and practical audacity is
offered in the 1977 documentary “The Police Tapes,” by Alan and Susan
Raymond (yes, the ones from “An American Family” dramatized in
“Cinema Verite”). The duo made use of an early-generation portable video
setup to embed themselves, over the course of three months, with
officers in the Forty-fourth Precinct in the Bronx, the neighborhood
with the highest crime rate in New York at the time. While the
filmmakers camp out in the back seat of a police car, officers speak
frankly about the stresses of their job and their dismay at the
prevalence of crime and gang activity in the neighborhood. (Among the
officers’ targets is the so-called Black Liberation Army that was
present in the area, and a street-corner game of craps, which one officer
calls an “eyesore.”) The filmmakers are present at the sight of a
robbery and murder at a social club; they observe a large group of
officers breaking into an apartment where an armed and mentally ill man
is holding his mother hostage; they witness scenes of violent resistance
in the police station; and they interview the borough commander, Tony
Bouza, whose humanistic philosophy of policing contrasts with the
on-the-scene bitterness of officers on the beat, one of whom even speaks
about the “animals out here.” Plus ça change.

“The Police Tapes” is streaming on Doc Club on
Amazon and Sundance Now.


Photograph by RGR Collection / Alamy

The Taviani brothers, Paolo and Vittorio, reach a peak of inspiration in
their 1984 drama, “Kaos,” adapted from a quintet of stories by Luigi
Pirandello about his home country in southern Sicily in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (The full-length television
cut of the film, the one that’s available here, runs three hours and
eight minutes.) The tales are focussed on the piquant exoticism of
folklore and the fierce social conflicts that it embodies. The first
story, centered on a group of locals emigrating to the United States,
involves the chilled relations of an elderly woman and her adult son.
It’s a memory story that strips the romanticism from the traditions of
organized crime, showing it to be no mere picturesque banditry but also
sexual violence committed with impunity against women. There’s a story
involving the erotic frustration of an arranged marriage and another
depicting the struggle of peasant farmers as they demand land for a
local cemetery from the feudal baron. The most extensive story, “The
Jar,” is a Chaplinesque comedy about a greedy landlord who orders a
human-sized clay pot for his massive olive harvest. (The antic disputes
that it engenders result in a carnival-like revolutionary revel.) The
Tavianis film the landscape with love; the movie is suffused with a rich Mediterranean light that’s tinged with historical gall.

“Kaos” is available to stream on
Amazon, and other services.

“I Am Somebody”


Wait a few days: Icarus Films is releasing, on Tuesday, “I Am Somebody,” a set of three documentaries by Madeline Anderson, including two made for television,
and they’re of great moment. “Integration Report 1,” from 1960, is only
twenty minutes, but it embraces a vast swath of history. Its brief
episodes include a march in Montgomery, Alabama, in sympathy with
protesters engaging in sit-ins to defy lunch-counter segregation, and
closeup views of exactly such a sit-in taking place in Richmond,
Virginia, leading to arrests. Anderson shows a Washington, D.C.,
demonstration at which Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks; she interviews
Robert Williams, a North Carolina activist who decries the government’s
unwillingness to protect black Americans against violence and advocates
“self-defense” on the part of blacks. There’s a segment about the
killing of an unarmed black man, Al Garrett, in a Brooklyn police
station and a protest against the Brooklyn district attorney, who
brought no charges against the officer. And a Best Worst Actor award
should go to the white mothers in Glendale, Queens, who protest the
busing-in of black students from Bedford-Stuyvesant—claiming, in a
historic display of concern-trolling, that they have nothing against
integration and merely want to spare the Brooklyn children the bus ride.
(Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles are among the cinematographers.) In
“A Tribute to Malcolm X,” made for public television in 1967, Anderson
collects footage of Malcolm X in which he discusses his experience and
his ideas, and interviews his widow, Betty Shabazz. The program is
fifteen minutes; its discussions have an enduring power. (The set’s title film, a 1969 documentary about a strike of black women hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina, is also well worth seeing.)

“I Am Somebody: Three Films by Madeline Anderson” will be available to
stream on Amazon on February 20th.


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