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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Run OJ, Run: A great story with great storytellers

There's a feeling that to make a good documentary you need all sorts of tricks, that you need to mix the performative with the reflexive, that the story won't stand up on its own.

But then sometimes you get stories that are just great stories, and they're told by great storytellers, who actually allow the story to be told with as little interference as possible. It makes me wonder if great story-telling really changed that much ever. Sometimes we like to think that the more sophisticated the story, the more layers we lay upon it, the better it is.

But then you get documentaries like OJ: Made in America (which won an Oscar for best documentary).I started watching it yesterday and it's fantastic. It's also very simple.

First of all, it's the first time I've seen what the attraction of American football might be, and why Simpson was such a sports star (he was Pele and Maradona and Messi all wrapped in one  and then some. The old footage of him is quite something).

Secondly, it combines sports, politics, race, fame, education and the American dream in a package that is entertaining, intelligent and ultimately quite tragic. It's not just about sports in other words. It's about advertising, about business, about class, about the depth of skin colour and the superficiality of skin colour, about community, about individuality, about isolating yourself from your history, or maybe creating your own history.

Finally it's a documentary that comes with no voiceover, no reconstructions (not yet anyway - I haven't watched to the end). There are no tricks in OJ: Made in America. There's nothing new in there. It's a very traditional way of telling a story. But it's a great story and it's told brilliantly.

This is what the director, Ezra Edelman says about the film in an interview with the Guardian.

OJ: Made in America is constructed as a seamless oral history, told by friends, colleagues, relatives, lawyers, detectives, even jury members. The lack of narration adds to its authority and immediacy. Edelman says he had no agenda: “There was no point I was trying to prove, beyond searching for greater clarity and understanding. This was about the recollections of these people who lived through this history, and I very much did not want to manipulate that. Who am I, as this outside arbiter, to come in and say I’m going to write this story? No, I’m going to let you tell these stories.”

The thing is the people who are interviewed do tell the story and they tell it beautifully, with wit and humour, anger, regret, frustration and sometimes love. I said at the beginning that it's a simple story  but of course it's not. The awareness of history of how all the elements mentioned above coincide and interfere with each other, the finding of the people to interview, the vivacity with which they talk, the clips that are shown, the life that is brought to the subject is immensely difficult to do. It's easy-difficult, the most difficult kind of difficult there is.

Read the whole interview here. 

Watch OJ: Made in America on iplayer here (if you're in the UK at least).

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