Judge Clark Douglas thinks it's too bad that all the talent involved with this documentary was in front of the camera and not behind it.
A place that has changed the world of movies forever.
George Lucas. Francis Ford Coppola. Sofia Coppola. John Lasseter. Saul Zaentz. These are just a few of the famous film makers from the fine city of San Francisco. There's a lot of cinematic history in San Francisco, and an almost suspicious amount of talent has been rooted there. Fog City Mavericks: The Filmmakers of San Francisco seeks to pay tribute to some famous directors and the city that formed them. It's a well-intentioned idea, but sadly this documentary feels both oversimplified and insubstantial. What should be an educational and engaging look at some major cinematic figures instead feels like one of those Academy Award clip montages stretched out to two hours.
The documentary begins with a focus on San Francisco itself and makes a quick note of the individuals from San Francisco who were involved with the formation of cinema and television. This is all handled in under 10 minutes, and then we quickly move on to the primary focus of this documentary: George Lucas (Star Wars) and Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather). We learn about their childhoods, their experiences as teenagers, early attempts at making films, and so on. This is all well and good, but frankly it feels way too much like a visual Encyclopedia entry. Fortunately, there are new interviews with Lucas and Coppola here, but the snippets are too short, while there are far too many film clips and too much of Peter Coyote's hyperbolic narration.
Lucas and Coppola are featured heavily, while others such as Producer Saul Zaentz (Amadeus) and Directors Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) and John Lasseter (Toy Story) are covered in brief individual segments. While it's understandable that the two heavy hitters are getting the most coverage, I found myself disappointed that so many other talented individuals were dismissed with nothing more than quick bursts of praise via brief interview clips. Because there are so many directors and films being covered over the course of two hours, only the most well-known facts and stories are thrown out, which makes this feel a bit like a never-ending string of five-minute making-of featurettes/biographies mashed together.
The doc focuses almost exclusively on high points and great moments, ignoring the turmoils and struggles in the careers of these people (no mention of Jack, Francis?). Even when dealing with the famously troubled Apocalypse Now, the documentary ignores the challenges of the film's making (see the remarkable Hearts of Darkness) and only focuses on the remarkable end result. As the documentary progresses, we get to hear bits and pieces from such notable actors, experts, and film makers as Richard Schickel, Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Matthew Robbins, Chris Columbus, Clint Eastwood, Robin Williams (doing an impersonation of Truman Capote voicing Darth Vader), Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Jobs, Caleb Deschanel, and many others, none of whom is given very much time to speak.
Things are mostly fine on the technical end. The interview segments look perfectly adequate, though the film clips vary wildly in quality, of course. On the other hand, the music is quite disconcerting. Depending on whether or not the music rights were available from particular films, we may or may not hear some original score from a film when it is being discussed. So, on some films we'll hear the music of John Williams or Basil Poledouris, but when The Godfather is being discussed, we get a lousy low-budget Nino Rota imitation. Moving irritatingly between music that was undoubtedly written for 1982 fast-food training videos and Academy Award-winning original scores, the music is frequently a distracting and inconsistent element here. DVD Extras are limited to three "On-Air Promos" featured on the Starz network. These feature critic Richard Roeper, who does not participate in the documentary itself.
There's not a whole lot to say about a documentary like this. I suppose it's watchable, but that is about the nicest thing I can say. It's the sort of thing you might watch for 10 minutes if you saw it on TV, or the sort of thing that might run on a never-ending loop in the lobby of a movie theatre. There are dozens of interesting people, subjects, and films being discussed, but an in-depth look at any one of them would undoubtedly be considerably more interesting than this very disappointing documentary.
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