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The offscreen space becomes much more prominent in this film, with much more action and change happening between films. People we detested in the earlier films become lovable here, people we worried about before become unsettling messes. It's that time between that keeps us watching - our minds instantly start creating the in-between space and that work keeps us riveted.
Neil once again becomes the primary focus for me, if only because his story is so dramatic. Still, each story has become more pronounced and the personalities stronger than ever.
Apted's questions are getting more invasive (as is his literal voice, rarely heard in the earlier films.) As the shots become more and more dramatic, I can't help but question some of the ethics/credibility. Neil getting picked up while hitchhiking is something I can believe. Neil and a film crew getting picked up while hitchhiking gives me pause.
Ethical issues (ones that all docs share) aside, the legitimacy of the overriding dramatic question, one of agency and fatalism, is at its most provocative here. Leads to great discussion.
There is this certain something that I both love about this film yet also hate about it and documentary films in general: it's the subjects' manipulated replies. You can start to understand why Jackie and her friends, and John, get defensive. The manner is so tidily set up to achieve the exact reactions and responses the director wants, making it no more real or truthful than trying to coach the proper response out of a professional actor. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it feels so contrived.
Though I do understand it is necessary to get these answers, otherwise it, the project doesn't work and it falls flat. But I feel like, and wish, there would be some better way of achieving it rather than pushing them all into a corner.
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In 4 official lists
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This movie ranks #20 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Documentaries of All Time
This movie ranks #57 in Roger Ebert's Great Movies
This movie ranks #98 in Harvard's Suggested Film Viewing: Non-Fiction Films
This movie ranks #767 in The New York Times's Book of Movies