Sep 3, 2010

Time Marches On Again

This Sunday, September 5th, Turner Classic Movies will present four hours of selections from the legendary newsreel-documentary series, The March of Time. Currently being screened in a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, these short films were shown regularly in movie theaters between 1935 and 1951.

The New York Times:
It’s hard to know today even what to call these films. (Raymond Fielding, a retired college educator who wrote a book about the series, told me that roughly 290 were made.) “Newsreels” seems inadequate; they are longer, more detailed and much more opinionated than the standard-issue newsreels that preceded them. “Documentaries” is closer, but the blaring orchestrations and outlandish voice-overs sound nothing like a modern documentary.

It’s tempting to give up and label these whats-its a mass-media Neanderthal — an evolutionary dead end; an attempt to merge the tools of newsgathering and filmmaking that had its moment but died out. Except that, once you watch a few and learn about how they were made, you start to see a little “March of Time” in almost everything: Fox News, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” the History channel, schlocky reality shows of the “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” variety, PBS’s “P.O.V.”
“The March of Time” series, a creation of the folks at Time magazine, began as a radio broadcast but made the leap to film in 1935. It often tackled subjects and themes that audiences weren’t used to seeing — foreign affairs, social trends, public-health issues — and did so with a combination of panache and subterfuge that today seems either absurd or visionary.

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