Six O' Clock News

Press Reactions

From Chicago Tribune
By Steve Johnson

"Ross McElwee's new film is a deceptive little instrument. It seems slack, intimate and good natured, but its maker's puzzled narration and the film's haphazard journey obscure an editing that is military bed sheet taut in service to an elegant structure and ambitious theme. Just when you begin to think McElwee (Sherman's March) is merely an autobiographical obsessive, for whom the constant shoulder camera functions like a plastic slip-cover over real life; you realize what is happening: The filmmaker's early, new father's musings on how to keep his son safe in a world where the TV new images must be reflecting reality are turning into a meditation on the nature of God and America."

From Hollywood Reporter
By Miles Beller

"Personalizing the news, making it strike with the intimate insistence of a heartbeat such is the stuff of Ross McElwee's "Six O'clock News," airing under the auspices of PBS' "Frontline." McElwee, the filmmaker behind the cagey documentary "Sherman's March," renders a view of "current events" that is poignant and wry. Here "the news" cuts with the steel of actual emotions rather than something to be slotted into a time slot." "...So the tangents of life and personal journalism bob and weave uneasily close. Stories turned into the stuff of mass consumables, misery as entertainment for the many; broadcast news rolls ever on. Yet in McElwee's own odyssey for meaning and significance found in the tragedies that are delivered to us nightly flickers more than a small quotient of sympathy and affinity for those souls whose lives must endure beyond November sweeps and the ratings."

From San Francisco Examiner
By Bill Mann

"McElwee's underlying theme is a credible one, that dumb luck rules much of our lives; every time we get into our cars, for example, we roll the dice....... In another segment, McElwee visits an Arizona mobile-home park where a tornado has selectively destroyed several trailers, leaving some adjacent ones intact. One victim whose unit has been destroyed reaffirms her belief in God and her gratefulness for the Lord having spared her life. Back in his motel, McElwee muses, 'I guess life's easier if you believe that in fact God is in control of everything. Or maybe life's only easier if your house trailer is the one that's been spared.' The Six o'Clock News does more than just offer poignant portraits of victims: This insightful film also compels you to consider the bigger picture beyond all these sad snapshots we see every day on the news."

From Orange County Register
By Kinney Littlefield

"Six O'Clock News is your bag if you'd like the philosophizing of Woody Allen much better minus the whining. Think off-the-wall home movie with musings on scary late 20th-century life and television's complicity in the scare thrown in.
"...Like Don Quixote, McElwee encounters reality skewed by perception just as TV skews our view of life. He never learns why bad things happen. But he does show how much humanity lies beyond the shallow surface imagery of so much broadcast news."
"...Whimsical as it is, Six O'Clock News also fits neatly into FRONTLINE 's ongoing franchise of documentaries dissecting TV journalism. Although FRONTLINE is part and parcel, it seems to love zapping the competition, with past dissections of Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch, the 60 Minutes cave-in to tobacco interests, and more.
With McElwee however, FRONTLINE gets a triple pump of provocative thinking, intriguing information and stylistic edge."

From Boston Herald
By Monica Collins

"Ross McElwee is a very egocentric documentary filmmaker. His films tend to revolve around Ross and his friends and family, with all the attendant joy and angst.

Either you buy into his nonfiction vision or you don't. If you do, then a Ross McElwee film is a wonderfully droll adventure of the camera on his shoulder and records the lunch..."

"...Six O'Clock News , a foray into the real world behind the screaming TV headlines. And even though I consider myself a McElwee fan--as well as a regular critic of the 6 o'clock news--I became impatient watching this.

Just get to the point! That's what you might want to demand of McElwee as he takes many self indulgent side trips away from the main theme.

Granted, that's the man's style, McElwee's Sherman's March--a marvelously wry chronicle of the filmmaker's search for a significant relationship--is a cinema verite epic. I savored every twist and turn of Sherman's March .

Not true with Six O'Clock News , during which the ramblings become annoying."

From Los Angeles Times
By Howard Rosenberg

" It's made in the appealing, first-person, introspective, droll style of his previous Sherman's March and Time Indefinite--his camera, as always, operating as an extension of himself, his flat commentary giving intimacy to this exercise in self-reflection and self-discovery. And as always, he's a sucker for minutiae while never losing sight of the panoramic picture."

"...Six O'Clock News is built on overlapping realities. It begins with McElwee saying he's searching for epiphanies that give meaning to the chaos and uncertainty that pour from newscasts. He finds none, but does end on a tone of hope and rebirth in Boston in the company of his 4-year-old son, and also back in South Carolina with Charleen, who celebrates a bit of the life she sees outside her beloved house that somehow stood through the hurricane. 'Look,' she says, pointing to a tree. 'That's a bird's nest.'"

From Miami Herald
By Robin Dougherty

"Six O'Clock News is an extremely personal work, something that's compelling to watch even though it doesn't end very far from where it begins."

"...Fascinating stuff sometimes, but unfortunately, for anyone who remembers McElwee's groundbreaking 1981 film Sherman's March, this new film is neither as powerful nor as innovative.

With Sherman's March, McElwee accomplished what no other documentary maker had before. He showed that a nonfiction film could be as entertaining and emotionally compelling as a Hollywood product. Indeed, Sherman's March became one of the touchstone films of the 1980s. Its premise? Given a $9,000 grant to make a film on William Tecumseh Sherman, McElwee carried a camera through the South, ostensibly exploring Sherman's legacy, but all the while lamenting his breakup with a girlfriend and recording his hapless attempts to start a new relationship.

It's just this sort of self-deprecating humor that's missing from Six O'Clock News. On the one hand, plowing through other people's traumas doesn't necessarily lend itself to humor. Still, the right idiosyncratic observations by the filmmaker might have given some of the topics a less sentimental spin.

Given the growing recognition that human lives are quite often bisected, mutilated or permanently altered by trauma, McElwee's search for understanding of it is a brave and timely inquiry.

But, at times, McElwee seems like the one person left on earth who hasn't experienced disaster firsthand. To anyone who has experienced the sort of events that he films, McElwee's position will seem to be that of someone on the outside looking in."

From The New York Times
By Walter Goodman

What Mr. McElwee calls a metaphysical quests produces a cluttter of banalities. 'It's the randomness of the destruction that gets to me,' he reflects. He natters on about television coverage and fate: 'I'm not sure if any of these versions really managed to reveal that invisible virus of fate that apparently controls everything by making everything out of control.'

The Six O'Clock News is at once overblown and underbaked. The interviews (except the one with that widower, who has discovered that life without the wife can be fun) are unsurprising, and the interviewer seems mainly interested in himself.

Defining reality as what he sees on the screen or through his viewfinder (even when he is merely focusing on other film makers), Mr. McElwee searches for personal guidance. Should he accept a Hollywood contract? Should he be more appreciative and protective of his wife and young son? He confesses that he is always filming his own life. O.K. That's what home movies are for. But why on FRONTLINE ?"

From USA Today
By Matt Roush

His new piece of quirky reflection, Six O'Clock News...airs on FRONTLINE but seems more like a leftover P.O.V. It's also being screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

In this latest chapter of his ongoing autobiography, McElwee is happily married with a baby son but finds his focus in increasingly turning outward to the troubled people in the 'real world' he sees on the local news: 'Due to a twist of fate, the six o'clock news becomes their home movie, a movie they never wanted made.'

What happens to them when the cameras go away? How do they reconcile their misfortune with previously held notions of faith and stability? And just how real is the world portrayed on TV?

These are among the provocative tangents McElwee pursues with his trademark gentle curiosity. He has an appreciation for the surreal, as when a local TV crew turns its cameras on him for a feature story. He greets the crew, his own camera going: 'I'll edit this scene for my purposes just as they'll edit it for theirs. But is one version more real than the other?'"

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