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Bright Leaves

Allan Gurganus , Paula Larke , Ross McElwee  |  NR |  DVD
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Allan Gurganus, Paula Larke, Patricia Neal, Vlada Petric, Charleen Swansea
  • Directors: Ross McElwee
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: First Run Features
  • DVD Release Date: June 21, 2005
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0008FXT6Y
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,971 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Bright Leaves" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Director's Statement
  • Flim Notes
  • Additional Music Tracks
  • Biographies

Editorial Reviews

The South is in North Carolina native Ross McElwee's blood, and like his best-known film, Sherman's March, Bright Leaves benefits from what he calls "a transfusion of Southernness." This is McElwee's most accessible autobio-doc since the groundbreaking March put him on the map. His films have ruminated wryly and profoundly on matters of love, family, marriage, and parenthood. In Bright Leaves, an obsession with a 1950 melodrama funds him pondering his family's tobacco-stained history and legacy. The set-up is irresistible: A long-lost second cousin introduces McElwee to Bright Leaf, a film starring Gary Cooper as a tobacco farmer embroiled in a bitter rivalry with a tobacco baron, who destroys him. Is the film a dramatized account of his own great-grandfather's "rise and subsequent fall to ruin"? Turns out old John McElwee created the Bull Durham tobacco brand, only to have it stolen from him by the powerful Duke family, who are considered royalty in McElwee's home town. Visiting the Duke mansion, McElwee can't help but ponder, "If things had gone differently, this would have all been mine."

But Bright Leaf is merely a starting point. McElwee wrestles with his "guilt over the global tobacco addition" in which his ancestors played a role. He notes the irony that later descendants all became doctors, and treated those ravaged by smoking. McElwee interviews relatives about his great grandfather, as well as modern-day tobacco farmers, current smokers (one engaged couple cannot make good on their pledges to quit), and cancer patients (fans of McElwee's films will be delighted to be reunited with Charleen, McElwee's former teacher). McElwee is the anti-Michael Moore. He is a kinder, gentler interviewer, and not at all confrontational. He has no agenda. As for Bright Leaf, he does manage to interview actress Patricia Neal, who was in the film, and the widow of the film's screenwriter, who gives McElwee a definitive answer. Along the way, there are several "stranger than fiction incidents," such as a visit to a former McElwee tobacco warehouse that now serves as a beauty school, and an interview with film theorist Vlada Petric, who, instead of being filmed seated in a movie theatre, insists that McElwee shoot him while Petric pushes him around in a wheelchair rigged to facilitate a tracking shot. --Donald Liebenson

Product Description

McElwee family legend has it that the Hollywood melodrama "Bright Leaf" starring Gary Cooper as a 19th century tobacco grower, is based on filmmaker Ross McElwee's great-grandfather, who created the Bull Durham brand. Using this legacy as a jumping off point, McElwee reaches back to his roots in this wry, witty rumination on American history, the tobacco business, and the myth of cinema.

Customer Reviews

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Documentary January 30, 2007
By Read
This is a wonderful documentary for those that like subjective and exploratory filmmaking. If you are looking for a point, or say a dummy's guide to attacking the tobacco industry or an expose, watch the nightly news. Bright Leaves is in the same vein as Stone Reader, in that both documentaries incorporate their filmmakers. While some may view this as narcissistic or unnecessary, more is revealed about human understanding and the implications of history than a selection of the facts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous and subtle. Great film! September 14, 2012
By Tatyana
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed watching this documentary. It seems that some people consider it a documentary condemning tobacco industry, and blame McElwee for having not made a stronger statement. That kind of understanding and expectation misreads this film seriously. This film cannot be narrowed down to a single theme. It is a family history, a quest for identity and meaning of life, a showcase of a place, its people and the way of living, a search for the past, and reflection on all the things above-mentioned. I just love the subtlety and the genuine tone it presented. It is such a humorous, interesting and wise film. I surely will buy it.
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Boring, Pointless Film October 7, 2009
Bright Leaves is mess. Filmmaker Ross McElwee returns home to North Carolina and begins to investigate his family's past involvement in the tobacco industry. As the film progresses, we find out that the McElwees were run out of the tobacco business by the evil Duke family and that Hollywood later made a movie, "Bright Leaf" about the family's battle with the Dukes.

The biggest problem with this film is that McElwee doesn't grasp the fact that a film should tell a story. He reports on:
- the tobacco industry,
- his relationship with his son,
- his feelings about the South,
- his family's trips to the beach,
- the film "Bright Leaf,"
- the Duke family, and
- many, many other topics.
Any of these threads might have made for an interesting film. As it stands, however, McElwee briefly comments on each of them before moving on to another topic. Bright Leaves has no center; it is like watching a series of vignettes on different topics.

While some of the material is interesting, much of it is a bore. One of the worst moments is an excruciating, bizarre scene in which McElwee interviews a visiting film scholar. The scene goes on forever and I cannot convey the level of boredom the viewer endures while listening to these two discuss the "kinesthetic" qualities of film.

After the movie, my wife commented that it was like watching a movie by a film student who has yet to learn much. That's a good summary. Do yourself a favor and skip McElwee's self-indulgent, pointless film.
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4 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Could've been a decent short January 1, 2006
By Charles
This movie's trailer was very interesting. It made the movie seem like a scathing attack on the tobacco industry and the unreflective local economies that are indifferent to the health effects of their cash crop. Instead of being packed with information like other recent documentaries of note like 'Wal-Mart' or Robert Greenwald's body of work, it's 105 minutes with about 90 minutes of padding.

The filmmaker is curious about his family's long lost tobacco empire. His family could have grown as big as the Duke family (of Duke Univ. fame), he says, except for unfair Duke competition that ended in his great grandfather's losing a lawsuit to the Duke patriarch a century ago. He and other members of his family still lament this turn of events, and continue to dream of a monstrous fortune they could have inherited.

The other main issue that he pursues is whether the Gary Cooper movie 'Bright Leaf' is about his great grandfather or about a different tobacco magnate. Eventually he tracks down ancestors of the book's author for an anticlimactic interview in which they tell him he's been barking up the wrong tree.

The lawsuit between the Dukes and his family and who the movie and book 'Bright Leaf' were based on are the two main issues of the film, right up to the end of the movie when he tours a Duke museum and sees reminders of his family's being ripped off by the Duke's in every exhibit. That he chose these two issues to fill a documentary may strike some as somewhat self-important or even self-indulgent. That would be fair. That the cover of the DVD shows a closeup of the filmmaker with his camera is consistent with how much this documentary is about himself and his own ambitions.
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