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Welcome to The Fourth Wall, CHIRP's weekly e-conversation on cinema. This week's subject is the classic 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line.
This edition is written by CHIRP Radio volunteers Kevin Fullam and Clarence Ewing.
When I was an undergraduate, I took a class I think was called “Visualization and Reality,” or something like that. We studied a bunch of different topics like depth perception in painting, movie effects, holograms, etc. It was a fun, eye-opening experience, but for the longest time I didn’t think the class was worth anything other than helping me get credit toward my major.
Now, though, I feel that was one of those classes where I learned something that I carry with me to this day – that “reality,” or “truth,” may not be absolute, because it depends on perceptions, and perceptions differ depending on who is doing the perceiving.
This is the idea behind Errol Morris’ 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line. The movie explores the answer to the question of who shot and killed police officer Robert Wood late at night in November 1976.
Two men, David Ray Harris and Randall Adams, were at the scene of the crime. But the answer to the question of who fired the gun differs depending on who supposedly saw the event as well as who was involved in the subsequent proceedings.
Along the way, the audience listens to the viewpoints, of witnesses, prosecutors, and police officers involved in the case. Everyone has their own motivations for what they believe in and the actions they take. “Getting to the truth about what happened” isn’t at the top of all, or even most, of these individuals’ lists.