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Not 100% Factual.
on November 22, 2013
I teach two documentary film classes that require or suggest this book. In a nutshell, the prior editions, written with Jack C. Ellis, are superior. If you're not buying this book because of a requirement for a class, get the prior edition, save money and get a better perspective.
In Fall of 2013 we finally adopted the current edition of this book as our official textbook. I found it odd that Ellis' name was no longer on the cover, wondering if McLane really wrote all of those first few chapters herself since they are quite similar to the prior edition.
Somewhere in the middle of the book are where the real changes happen between the editions. McLane groups the WWII docs differently, that's an improvement. However, the last several chapters of the book are a pretty big disappointment. The voice of the book has an abrupt shift and sounds more like a movie review than scholarly writing (the coverage of Supersize Me, in particular, where McLane goes off on a bizarre tangent about wine...)
The biggest surprise was that she virtually eliminates Michael Moore from documentary history! Like him or not, he *did* make the highest grossing documentary film of all time. Ya think that might warrant a mention? Nope. Not in Betsy McLane's version of film history. The only mention Michael Moore gets is a photo! That's right. Check out the index. No mention but a photo and related caption. Bizarre... I'm wondering if there's an agenda here...
And whom does she give plenty of air time to? Davis Guggenheim. OK, I respect Guggenheim (even thought he was kinda hot at one time because I walked past him in the lobby at my job a few years back). He worked on Deadwood, which I think is absolutely brilliant. But McClane simply *glows* over his achievement in this text, noting on page 341 that "Guggenheim is the only filmmaker to release three different films ranked within the top 100 highest-grossing documentaries of all time."
There's only one thing wrong: Michael Moore has actually, not only "released" 4 top grossing documentaries in the *TOP 24* of highest-grossing documentaries of all time ([...] Moore actually directed them too. There is something seriously wrong here when a so-called authority of documentary history has re-written that history so drastically. These figures are easy to look up and refute. How did she think she'd actually get away with blatantly eliminating Moore, an important figure, regardless if you actually dig his work or not. (I'm not a massive Michael Moore defender but I respect what he's done and I respect the truth more than anything... and Betsy McLane has side stepped it in this texbook in a BIG way. It's absolutely outrageous.) Which title do you recognize more: Bowling for Columbine or It Might Get Loud? My point exactly.
So, clearly there's an agenda here that has trumped accuracy. Which really begs the question: where else is she taking liberties? After I go through this book with a fine-tooth comb, I may post a follow up and answer that question.
----- FOLLOW UP -----
This is follow up to the above. More inaccuracies found: DECEMBER 7th was directed by both Gregg Toland and John Ford, but McLane only credits Toland with being DP. I get raked over the coals by students for supplying inaccurate info, but it's hard to teach accurately when our textbook actually gets it wrong. Students are the first to point it out. Let's hope the next edition is fact-checked before publishing.