I'd be hard pressed to name a movie I enjoyed more than "Hollywood Mavericks," the American Film Institute documentary that heaves into the Charles for a couple of days on a rebel-with-a-cause double bill with "My Dinner with Abbie," about Abbie Hoffman.
As a documentary the film isn't much, more an act of aggressive archivalism than filmmaking. And it's a bit shakily conceived as it searches through Hollywood history in search of "mavericks" who made movies by their own lights and not by the industry's.
Some choices are obvious: Orson Welles, of course, and the archetypal outlaw director from the pre-talky days, Erich von Stroheim. Others demand a somewhat tortured definition of "maverick": John Ford, a wonderful director who nevertheless worked peacefully and prosperously within the system for 60 years and is one of the few avowedly great conservative artists.
In fact the movie never quite makes up its own mind what constitutes a "maverick." Sometimes it defines the term as meaning someone who works outside the system and sometimes it means someone who works inside the system but manages to buck it.
But over the long haul, it doesn't matter. What "Hollywood Mavericks" is selling is a large dosage of movie nostalgia, a look back at some of the great movies and moviemakers of the century. The film is cleverly constructed: It selects several current"maverick" directors and interviews them on the subject of "mavericks" of the past; as they discuss the past, the film cuts away to scenes from the great movies and interviews with their makers, including the star of the show, the witty, ironic, self-deprecating and continually amusing Welles.
The brusque Ford comes off well in his brief amount of cameratime: asked how he shot a great sequence, he squinches up his one good eye and with a snort of contempt says, "With a camera."
Of course one problem is that by the very nature of its structure, the movie weights all the directors equally as peers and is furthermore overly dependent upon the availability of archival material. This leads to some bizarre choices, such as more screen time for such erratic perfomers as Peter Bogdanovich, Alan Rudolph and Paul Schrader than to Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Francis Ford Coppola.
But for movielovers, "Hollywood Mavericks" is something for which to be genuinely thankful.
Produced by the American Film Institute.
Released by the American Film Institute.