When is it difficult to find a film that was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe and a prize at Cannes? When that film is a documentary, unfortunately. Because today is the 125th birthday of Diego Rivera (as recognized by the latest Google Doodle logo redesign), I was hoping to rent the 1971 film Walls of Fire. But it’s not easily located.
The film, which was the first nonfiction work from veteran documentarian Herbert Kline (who co-directed with producer/actor Edmund Penney) in more than thirty years, looks at the lives and paintings of Mexican mural artists Jose Clemento Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and, of course, Rivera. Kline also documents the completion of Siqueiros’ “The March of Humanity” at Mexico City’s Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros. Narrating the doc is actor Ricardo Montalban.
I haven’t seen Walls of Fire, but I have a mission to see all the Oscar-nominated documentaries before I die. Many are hard to find, just like this one. I’ll never understand it, except that for the most part documentary classics aren’t valued as much as fiction film classics (fortunately Documentary Channel regularly shows love and respect for the old stuff). Sure, some docs are immediately obsolete, like old-edition history textbooks, but many hold up at least as fascinating time capsules.
This film was one of only a small bunch to win a Golden Globe for Best Documentary, a category that really lasted just six years. It tied with Elvis on Tour. Other honors include a CINE Golden Eagle Award and an Eddie nomination for Best Documentary Editing. Kline went on to receive another Oscar nomination in 1977 for The Challenge… A Tribute to Modern Art. That doc, which features Orson Welles, can be viewed on YouTube.
As for Walls of Fire, I was able to finally find a website selling DVDs of the film. I don’t know the price they’re asking because I’m rather afraid to find out given the apparent rarity of the film. But if you’re more adventurous, check out the listing at Chip Taylor Communications, where it’s part of an 8-disc series called “Artists of the World.”
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