Essay: The Thin Blue Line Documentary

The Cinematic Style and Structure

thethinErrol Morris is an American documentary filmmaker who approaches his works with a stylistic idea. The Thin Blue Line is one of his controversy documentary films. The Thin Blue Line stands for the skillful documentary as Morris adopts all fiction rules into it.

The Thin Blue Line tells the story of Randall Adams who has been charged as a Dallas policeman shooter in 1976. In the first scene, Morris shows Dallas City’s face in the night, lights flickering accompanied by Glass music to make dramatic outcomes.

The structure of The Thin Blue Line is linear, every scene has the correlation one another, and easy to understand because Morris does not use any symbolic approach to deliver his message. Even though the structure is linear logic, it does not mean it can not be so stylish. Morris’s unique style can be felt in the way he organizes the evidence, interviews, visual illustrations, and re-enactments. It looks like we watch fiction not a documentary. Morris begins the detailed investigations with the date so that audiences can follow the examination progress. The sequences of investigations consist of a number of interviewees with police, witnesses, lawyers combine with re-enactments in different camera angles and evidence. In applying the storytelling, Morris did not hurry, he drives his story to the final gradually.

Furthermore, at that era, reconstruction scenes are not really common in making documentary so it becomes very controversial besides all the evidence and witnesses’ reveals. Morris deals with actors and actress here. He is trying to create several viewpoints of reconstructions according to the several people. Based on Baker, The Thin Blue Line’s reconstructions style just like Film Noir, she says, “Enhance the feeling that this cannot be real, we are watching fiction. Then the picture cuts back to a simply shot interviewee and realizes that it is indeed a factual account we are hearing. But which of the people in each person has different reveal and statement. Morris explores his imagination to present those people allegations into the sequences. As making the fictions, reconstructions offer new thing in the history of documentary.

On the other hand, in the interviews, Morris just uses head and shoulder shots and the camera still. It is a very conventional way of interviews in the documentary.

The qualities in The Thin Blue Line

Morris’s documentary film The Thin Blue Line was a very influential documentary. His ability to investigate and get the evidence while he was filming released innocent person Randal Adams from wrong conviction. Despite the controversy of his works, this film has qualities that change the world. As a documentary filmmaker, Morris knows how to place himself as a witness of the problems or issues that happen in his environment. The Thin Blue Line has strong investigation approach. The ability to investigate is the first quality in this film. To distinguish the investigation sense among this film and television investigative shows, Baker examines that in this film she finds a stylish combination of storytelling, interview sequences, re-enactments, and other visual illustration diversity (Baker, 2006). The Thin Blue Line is a complete investigation movie. Morris offers the evidence such as; newsreels, key witnesses, make the clear reconstructions to make the audience understand or even participate in investigating the case. Television investigation shows don’t do as complete as Morris applies. Usually, TV investigation features just give one side point of view or the maximum is two viewpoints, such as, only shows the real reconstructions according to the evidence and the suspect, Morris imagination beyond the TV investigation shows.

Secondly, objectivity is another quality that this film builds. According to Rabiger, documentary filmmakers adopt journalist style of objectivity. Filmmakers should give two different sides of the information in order to be fair (Rabiger, 2004). In The Thin Blue Line, Morris applies objectivity in offering the juxtaposition interviewees who were related to the case solving. This film is not trying to influence the audiences with the director’s thoughts but more asking the viewers to resolve the case together. The debatable reconstructions in this film reach imagination quality which is very seldom to be found in the documentary genre. Rosenthal talks that documentary is not only deal with the truth but also imagination (Rosenthal, 2002). She adds, “Occasionally, it is worthwhile to break from reality to deal with feeling, with spirit, with thoughts, with sensuality, with movement, with beauty (Rosenthal, 2002, p.204). Morris’s The Thin Blue Line successes to apply Rosenthal means about imagination. Filmmakers have freedom to pour out all of their thoughts without any boundaries. The Thin Blue Line enables to presents what exactly happened on a tragic night, even in many versions. The purpose is the audiences can choose which one is telling the truth.

Ultimately, The Thin Blue Line offers the truth itself. While filming Morris find and give the evidence to public. Randall Adams, who wrongly convicted before, was released. The evidence is the tape interview record with David Harris. In the last shots Morris just framing the tape recorder with sound only in imaginable angle, ask people to think and applies mystery behind the record (Baker, 2006). There are ten different angles of the tape recorder which Morris applies. Each angle represents how close is the interview to the evidence. From the second shot of recording to the last shot, we are able to see the tape recorder become more and more close up. Below is the interview between Errol Morris and David Harris which shock everyone and save an innocent person:

EM for Errol Morris

DH for David Harris

EM: Is he innocent?

DH: Did you ask him?

EM: Well he has always said he is innocent.

DH: There you go. Didn’t believe him, huh? Criminals always lie.

EM: Well what do you think about whether or not he’s innocent?

DH: I’m sure he is.

EM: How can you be sure?

DH: Because I’m the one who knows.

EM: Were you surprised that police blamed him?

DH: They didn’t blame him. I did. A scared 16-year-old kid. Sure, would like to get out of it if you can.

EM: Were you surprised they believed you?

DH: I might have been. I don’t know.

I was hoping they’d believe me, you know after all was said and done, it was kind of unbelievable, you know but there it is. I’ve always thought about…if you could say why there’s a reason that Randall Adams is in jail, it might be because of the fact that he didn’t have any place for somebody to stay that helped him that night…landed him where he’s at. That might be the reason. That might be the only, total reason why he’s where he’s at today. (The Thin Blue Line, 1988)

This investigation and controversy movie finally make a breakthrough in changing the society. The qualities above help this documentary reach the stage of ‘bearing witness’ as one of the purposes of the documentary.


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