The Past is a Foreign Country


directed by Daniel Stuyck, 47 minutes

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" intriguing mystery that plays with history. A documentary that takes a case and explores it through strange characters and dynamic structure." - David Gordon Green

In April 1989, a body floats down the Colorado River with a bullet wound in the back of its head. That body is John H. Jenkins, rare book and historical document dealer. He had been at the epicenter of one of the largest document-forgery scandals in Texas history and his death (legally ruled suicide) is the start of a journey deep upriver into that exotic kingdom known as the past. THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY is an essay about forged historical documents, murder and scenic time travel (not necessarily in that order).

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Top reviewer
3 members found this review helpful Created over 1 year ago.

On the surface this film is about a suicide (or murder) of a dealer in historical documents, especially in relation to Texas, but in a broader sense, it is about history and what we do with it. I liked the way it showed how we always change history to fit our current views. I especially recommend this to any student of history. It asks the question - do we know more about the past the further we are away from it chronologically? With distance we can see more perspective and gather more facts, but with distance we inevitably distort everything we see with our own beliefs - individually and culturally.

2 members found this review helpful Created about 2 years ago. Updated about 2 years ago.

What a great film! beautifully done with great information featuring Larry McMurtry, Dorman David, Johnny Jenkins and others about Texas documents and rare book dealing .

1 member found this review helpful Created over 1 year ago.

As a bookseller I hoped for more insight into the life and shady dealings of John Jenkins and the world of antiquarian forgeries. This film has four "talking heads" interviews with other people from the rare book world, all texans. Woven throughout is a musing-on-the-nature-of history-itself voice. From reading the comments of others I take it the musings worked for them. Since I live and work in the business of historical books and documents, I took this part of the movie for granted. And a bit overdone. Overall: I got certain info by watching this movie that I would not get elsewhere, so I'm satisfied.

1 member found this review helpful Created 4 months ago. Updated 4 months ago.

I found this strangely disturbing, yet compelling. It does not deliver what was expected based on the opening, but it's made all the richer by deviating from the murder mystery set-up, and veering instead into a bigger-picture look at how history is, in some ways, unknowable--despite our desire to preserve it.

Top reviewer
Created about 1 year ago.

As an archivist and historian, I have no idea what the philosophical underpinnings of this film are.

Created over 1 year ago.

Excellent work! Loved watching it.

Created over 1 year ago.

Great movie! Must see again!

1 member found this review helpful Created almost 2 years ago.

I have been moved beyond words.

1 member found this review helpful Created almost 3 years ago.

Wow - fantastic. Watch This Film. This is a film with the structural rigor of James Benning coupled with the exploratory nature of a Chris Marker video essay. It is not about an unsolved death, it is about the very nature of the unknown itself and uses forged documents as a way to meditate on forgotten and future times, spaces and relationships. If I want something spoon-fed to me, I'll take steak and potatoes, and if I want a true crime story, I'll watch TV. This movie, on the other hand, delivers in the best possible way.

Top reviewer
0 of 1 members found this review helpful Created almost 3 years ago.

The doubly exotic world of Texana and its colorful collectors is enticing, and the new footage is prettily shot. But not only are the facts of the case presented in a haphazard and difficult-to-follow way, the narration is sometimes snotty and sometimes pretentious, leaving the viewer in doubt as to whether there is any real value here.

Created almost 3 years ago.

Interesting...human beings are strange indeed.

Top reviewer
Created almost 3 years ago.

Potentially fascinating mystery with only-in-Texas characters and subtext. Arch and pretentious narration mars this documentary experience for the viewer.

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