VAL LEWTON: MAN IN THE SHADOWS (2008). Writer/director: Kent Jones. Narrated by Martin Scorcese.
Turner Classic Movies presented this interesting, informative look at the life and work of the producer and writer Val Lewton, who is best-known for a series of moody, low-budget, yet elegant horror films from the 1940's. Lewton published several novels and works of non-fiction before entering the movie business, and he tried to make tasteful films that were often given highly exploitative titles such as I Walked with a Zombie. He tried other genres in later days but these films failed to make much of an impression. Like many documentaries of this nature, the film tries a bit too hard to convince us of Lewton's genuis, and some of the film scholars who talk about him are pretentious to the extreme. They also ignore the fact that if Lewton's films worked it wasn't due to his influence alone -- he worked with highly gifted cinematographers and directors such as Jacques Tourneur. (Tourneur directed one of the finest horror films ever made, Curse of the Demon, in 1958, and Lewton had nothing to do with it, although it could be argued that it was influenced by the Lewton style, which did seem to pervade a film regardless of the director.) Some of Lewton's films still hold up quite well, while others are vastly over-rated, but his work remains interesting and watchable. Talking about him as if he were on a par with Hitchcock, however, is seriously over-stating the matter.
Verdict: Holds the attention. ***.