Sometimes it's great to take a break from all the 'fiction' films and take in something a little different. One such film for me was Docurama's The Main Stream, a film/docu-essay with noted humorist Roy Blount Jr. which follows him as he makes a journey from the start of the Mississippi in Minnesota, all the way down to the gulf of Mexico.
More than simply a travelogue, The Main Stream is a film which explores the theme of 'The Mainstream' and looks at America's Mighty Mississippi as the 'main stream' of America. One of the thing Blount does very well in this film is maintain a balance between his 'Main Theme' and snapshot portraits of the people and places he encounters along the river. Of course there are some points where it feels like he's trying a little too hard to make a point about 'the mainstream' but ultimate these points are what help bring it all together into a cohesive whole. In addition to Blounts strong work on the film, I especially liked the work of Director Roger Weisberg and Cinematographer John Hazard, both of them do an amazing job making the camera feel like it's a part of the environment and always with a perfect view of what's going on. It's some of the strongest visual documentary work I've seen in quite a while.
As a tour guide Roy Blount Jr is top notch, he has such a fantastic low key tone that really allows the people around him to come to the foreground and become the focus. All too often the main person in a travelogue seems to be performing for the camera as if they've lost faith that what they're seeing and exploring isn't interesting enough. Blount does a great job of avoiding that pitfall and while he's ever present I never felt like he was trying to put on a show.
There are some real gems in The Main Stream: towards the beginning of the film Blount has a great conversation with the head of gaming at an Indian reservation casino which is very funny; there's a priceless moment when Blount asks a man who has lived by the banks of the Mississippi for 18 years if he ever gets board - his answer is fantastic; Blount's take on the birth place of Mark Twain is really astute and I loved his comments about how the town has focused much more on the squeaky clean all American Tom Sawyer than Huck Finn and Twain's statement on slavery. There are a lot of great moments along the journey down the Mississippi, and each one is given enough time to be really enjoyed.
Video The Main Stream is presented in 1.85:1 Widescreen, which is unfortunately NOT enhanced for 16x9 TVs. I really encourage DVD production companies to 16x9 enhanced their widescreen releases it just makes sense! Having said that the picture quality was extremely solid and consistent through out without any notable imperfections or issues and there are several shots where the color clarity is really fantastic.
Audio The Main Stream is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. Since most of the movie is dialogue and voice over driven the 2.0 audio works just fine. It's clean and clear with levels consistent through the film.
Extras The Main Stream features a 'Travelogue' which is a series of photographs with descriptive text next to them. One of the things I noticed from the pictures was that there were things that Blount did which didn't make it into the final cut of the film (most notably Dragon Boat Racing in Dubuqu Iowa). It would have been really nice to see deleted scenes on this DVD, but unfortunately there aren't any. In addition to the 'travelogue' there are biographies for Roy Blount Jr, the Director/Producer Roger Weisberg as well as a number of trailers for other Docurama DVDs.
Final Thoughts I really enjoyed The Main Stream, it's a fantastic combination between travelogue and docu-essay. It's the kind of film which you can sit back and watch to be entertained while still being engaged and 'provoked' to think. Roy Blount Jr is fantastic and after watching The Main Stream I'm now definitely interested in exploring the other things he's done. The Main Stream is an enjoyable journey down the center of America, it's a trip I loved taking and would definitely take again. Highly Recommended