Joan Micklin Silver’s second theatrical feature, Between The Lines (1977), draws on her experiences as a writer for the Village Voice to create an authentic representation of a radical newspaper’s milieu. As was the case with her debut feature Hester Street (1975), Between The Lines is a portrait of a community, though in this instance it is a community built around shared political and ideological beliefs. There is an anthropological impulse to Silver’s early features that takes the general aesthetic of Robert Altman’s ensemble films and lends it a degree of advocacy.
As much as Between The Lines is a work of self-reflection or portraiture for Silver it also functions as a snapshot of her generation at a critical juncture. Released six years prior to The Big Chill (1983), Between The Lines captures and articulates the identity crisis of the Baby Boomer generation as they either sellout or compromise their ideals. Far less sentimental and self-congratulatory than The Big Chill, Silver’s film treats its characters as uniquely individual human beings rather than as stand-ins for broad cultural currents or notions.
Between The Lines actually benefits from doing so much at once. Because the film has the same kind of meandering pseudo-plot as Broadcast News (1986) and prefers collective portraiture rather than the single character study its statements about a generation and a professional milieu take on a singular kind of nuance. In fact, it isn’t until the last ten minutes of the film that this thesis regarding the state of the Baby Boomer generation in the late seventies, as they came to a crossroads, is even made explicit. Silver knew such statements would come as the byproduct of her painstaking direction and commitment to authenticity.
Between The Lines is witty, warm, and often surprising. The aforementioned films The Big Chill and Broadcast News owe more than a little to Between The Lines, and in the case of the former, are even unimaginable without Silver’s film having come first. Between The Lines is a much better film than The Big Chill and the equal of Broadcast News in every way, especially its remarkable ensemble cast (John Heard, Lindsay Crouse, Jon Korkes, Gwen Welles, Jeff Goldblum, Joe Morton, and Bruno Kirby).
It’s incredible to think that such an accomplished film with such an amazing cast should languish in relative obscurity. In popular discourse around journalism in film and generational portraiture in movies Between The Lines deserves to be discussed and lauded. Really, it’s only been a recent development that the mainstream of cinehpilia has begun to take films made by women seriously. Unfortunately the barometer or guide for most cinephiles and movie buffs are major institutions whose canons are relatively limited and short sighted. If the Criterion Collection had put out Between The Lines on Blu-Ray it would be infinitely more popular. But perhaps the real tragedy here is that the average film lover simply doesn’t value the excellent work of Cohen Media Group.