Reel NW


Robert Horton Recommends: More Like "Clear Cut"

This week, the film critic Robert Horton suggests three films you might like if you liked “Clear Cut.”

America's culture war gets played out in miniature in "Clear Cut," a documentary about an Oregon community at loggerheads. For years the teenagers of Philomath have had a guaranteed college tuition waiting for them, as long as they graduated from high school, thanks to a generous endowment left by local timber baron Rex Clemens. As Peter Richardson's film takes up the story, the program is threatened when the conservative custodians of the Clemens Foundation feel the school is incorporating too many progressive notions into its curriculum. Clear Cut's arresting chronicle of this battle brings to mind few other movie titles:

Inherit the Wind” (1960). It's hard to avoid citing this fictionalized variation on the Scopes "Monkey Trial," in which a progressive lawyer (Spencer Tracy) defends a small-town schoolteacher on trial for teaching evolution. It's a blunt "issue movie," but one with enormous influence and reach—and unfortunately still relevant, if not more relevant than ever. Fredric March plays a celebrated champion of faith, Gene Kelly is a skeptical newspaper reporter.

Come and Get It” (1936). Possibly the best "lumber" movie ever made, this hugely entertaining film is the saga of a great timber baron (Edward Arnold) carving out his fortune from the northern forests; eventually, his son (Joel McCrea) will have somewhat different ideas about business and life. Most of the picture displays the vigorous direction of Howard Hawks, who was fired by producer Sam Goldwyn before shooting ended. This is also the greatest performance by Seattle native Frances Farmer, who plays a duel role.

To Be and To Have” (2002). A year in the life of a small-town schoolhouse in France, overseen by a miraculously patient, yet strict, teacher named Mr. Lopez. Director Nicolas Philibert observes the changing of the seasons with the same placid, neutral attitude he applies to watching the learning process inside this little one-room school, where the education of at least one rural district seem to be will in hand.

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