Six O'Clock News (1997) - Rotten Tomatoes

Six O'Clock News (1997)





Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

An autobiographical documentary filmmaker explores the stories of those who have been made "famous" by television news reports about natural disasters. One of the people he interviews is a friend of his, who survived a devastating hurricane in South Carolina.more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Documentary, Special Interest
Directed By:
On DVD: Jul 7, 1998
First Run Features

News & Interviews for Six O'Clock News

Critic Reviews for Six O'Clock News

All Critics (9) | Top Critics (2)

Full Review… | May 28, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

a bit less fulfilling and ends things on a more sour note than in McElwee's more uplifting movies about the human condition

Full Review… | December 3, 2005

Not McElwee's best work, but thought provoking nonetheless.

November 14, 2005

August 2, 2005

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Apollo Guide

Audience Reviews for Six O'Clock News

I was jazzed to see [i]Six O'clock News[/i], because from the description, it sounded like the least personal of his films; Ross traveling the country to document folks that he's seen on the local news and how these assorted misfortunes have affected their lives. It did turn out to be less personal, but this being a Ross McElwee film, he certainly muses about his own life throughout it all. The film picks up exactly where [i]Time Indefinite[/i] left off. We see Ross' newborn son in the same shot from the end of that film. This time there's some different narration about how birth inevitably leads to death and how he's become obsessed with the TV news. That all the horrors he sees every night at six seem much closer now that he has a child, that these catastrophes could actually touch his life.

That's when he comes across the news of hurricane Hugo in South Carolina, where his good friend Charleen Swansea lives. She has been a fixture in his films, with much deserved coverage in [i]Sherman's March[/i] and [i]Time Indefinite[/i]; she is a very entertaining woman, with some wonderful observations on life. This is the second time tragedy has hit her. In [i]Time Indefinite[/i] there's a scene where she and Ross travel to her former home, where her husband died in a fire. Now in [i]Six O'clock News[/i] a hurricane has possibly destroyed her new house.

Only a few days after the news, Ross travels down to comfort her; and of course capture the scene in 16mm. The film moves from a destroyed bridge seen on TV, to Ross standing in front the exact same bridge; it is the only crossing to the island on which Marleen's home sits. Ross meets up with her on the mainland, where she is awaiting news of her home's fate. Stories run rampant of every island house destroyed, roads swallowed by the earth, and grapefruit sized balls of killer-ants attacking people. The first two calamities we soon see for ourselves, but I was disappointed when he didn't dig further on the ant story; but I know that's not Ross' style, he lets it slip off Marleen's tongue and the moment is over.

Ross and Charleen
When Marleen gets to see her home for the first time since leaving it for safety, we find out along with her that it's largely intact. And even though this takes place over a decade in the past, to a woman I've never met, I felt great wash of relief to see her house still standing among all the destruction. Not ready to go home; this is where Ross hits upon the concept of traveling the country, finding stories on the local news and following up with more in-depth coverage.

He rambles into Arkansas, where a news bite about woman's killer sentenced to life in prison, sticks in his craw. He tracks down the widower-husband; expecting to discover a broken man, the film instead introduces us to Steve Im, a Korean entrepreneur, who has successfully managed to move on with his life, fully throwing himself into his highly prosperous businesses. But the only time Ross can get him to talk about the death of his beloved wife, is when he thinks about moving back to Korea. He reflects on how America has given him so much, at how he started with nothing and is now worth millions; but it also took his wife, the mother of his three daughters.

Ross moves onto to Colorado where he wants to film a wildfire in action. Instead he ends up wandering through the woods with a philosophical forestry worker, never getting closer than smoke on the horizon. It's strange where his camera leads him, it always seems to be the least likely place, and it's the wonderful thing about his films. Instead of following a structured story line, it meanders about, destination unknown. Suddenly the film is in a completely different place than where it was originally headed; he captures life unlike any other filmmaker.

Out of the blue, a Hollywood producer contacts Ross; it seems that there is a project in the works that they want to have an autobiographical feeling. After repeatedly referring to Ross' films, and failing to find another director, they decide to give him a call. Despite never before thinking about making a fictional film, he's intrigued enough to fly out to LA to meet with them. Immediately before he arrives, an earthquake rocks southern California. The news leads him to a man who has been trapped in the rubble of a collapsed parking garage and after many hours is successfully rescued; seeking him out, he finds an amazing tale of human perseverance. Inter-cut with this story is Ross' meeting with the filmmakers who contacted him, it's an amusing scene amongst all the tragedy that fills the rest of the film.

While not all about his own life, [i]Six O'clock News[/i] follows the same unstructured format of Ross' other films. Instead of capturing his own stories, he treks the country to film the ruptured lives he finds on the local news. But first and foremost this is still a Ross McElwee film; combine it with the rest, and you'll find one movie, the movie of his life. It continues in the superior [url=""][i][color=#800080]Bright Leaves[/color][/i][/url]; if you're a McElwee neophyte that's where I would suggest you start, as it's his tightest and easiest to digest film. But if you want the whole buffet, start with [i]Sherman's March[/i] and move on from there to discover a journey quite unlike any other.

Ross Williams

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