North Carolina produces more tobacco than any other state in America. Bright Leaves describes a journey taken across the social, economic, and psychological tobacco terrain of North ... See full summary »
North Carolina produces more tobacco than any other state in America. Bright Leaves describes a journey taken across the social, economic, and psychological tobacco terrain of North Carolina by a native Carolinian, Ross McElwee, whose great-grandfather created the famous brand of tobacco known as Bull Durham. The comedic chronicle is a subjective, autobiographical meditation on the allure of cigarettes and their troubling legacy for the state of North Carolina. It's also a film about family history, addiction, denial, and filmmaking--as McElwee, noted director of Sherman's March, grapples with the legacy of an obscure Hollywood melodrama that is purportedly based on this curious man that was his great-grandfather. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
[on being asked about the tobacco industry]
It brings a lotta jobs and a lotta revenue, but... it has its health hazards and... everybody's gonna die of something, so...
May as well be tobacco?
Might as well die of something that's gonna help out the... the... *what's* the word? Here, I'm thinkin'...
*There* ya go. There ya go. Havin' a tough mornin'...
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I loved McElwee's unique documentary odyssey SHERMAN'S MARCH (1986), so I was curious about his other work. This time he follows the trail of his great-grandfather, who was in the tobacco business. McElwee's family legend has it that the Hollywood melodrama BRIGHT LEAF(1950) by Michael Curtiz, 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 the history of American tobacco and the myth of cinema.
Easily the funniest moment in the film is when noted (and dreaded) film theorist, and historian Vladar Petric, assaults the poor McElwee, while he's being driven round the block in a wheelchair. Long live the dreaded Vladar Petric!
Not a complete success; sometimes McElwee's odyssey becomes dreary when he tracks down some his father's patients, who was a doctor and treated many tobacco-related illnesses. His reflections on family and the relationship with his son are somewhat self-indulgent at times, but definitely has its moments with an honest look at The South, Hollywood and his family's relation with tobacco.
Camera Obscura --- 7/10
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