A dark night in Dallas, 1986. A patrol car stops a stolen vehicle with the headlights out. Shots, as they say, ring out. An officer dies. Hitchhiker Randall Dale Adams is convicted of the crime and receives a death sentence, later commuted, despite the evidence against teenage driver David Ray Harris.
If you’ve ever sat through a TV documentary reenactment of “true crime” — and you have, for that defines a whole subgenre of reality TV — you can place the credit or blame on Errol Morris and this 1988 film, a landmark both as a documentary and in Texas legal history. Through interviews and highly stylized, brazenly “unrealistic” reenactments, as scored by the minimalist intensity of Philip Glass’ rhythms, the film methodically dissects the evidence against Adams and examines that against Harris.
So persuasive and popular was this film that it proved decisive in Adams’ release and in the commercial flourishing of documentaries. As Morris’ films would continue to explore, documentary isn’t only about facts but about the emotional fog of interpretation surrounding them, and about the poetic power of cinema to illuminate that fog.
$10-$15 suggested donation, Tue July 31, 7:30pm, Santikos Bijou, 4522 Fredericksburg Road, (210) 614-8977, tprcinema.org.
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