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Archive for the ‘DOCUMENTARY’ Category

Three Intimate Strangers

14 Jul

Three Intimate Strangers – directed by Tim Wardle. Documentary. 96 minutes Color 2018.
★★★★★
The Story: At nineteen, three young men discover they were separated at birth as identical triplets and, in the years since that reunion, also learn the odd circumstances of their separation.
~
Once united, the boys immediately fall all over one another like puppies, and the ebullience of their meeting leads them to appearances in newspapers and magazines and on TV. They become celebrities. They are given a free pass. They have a grand old time as energetic, good-looking, young males painting the town red. Before long, they marry and go into business together.

Then the story behind their separation starts to stir. One suspicious oddity after another rises to the surface. They appear to have been the subjects of an unwise and foolish scientific experiment.

Unwise because no imagination was given to the traumatic effect of thoughtlessly wrenching apart three identical infants who had lain together in the same crib for six months.

Foolish because the separation was planned in order to compare three different child-rearing styles in a nature-versus-nurture experiment.

Nature-versus-nurture is a shallow ground for research, or even speculation, because, from the start, it overlooks the determining and more interesting factors of the boys’ inherent individuality. The young men gleefully recount that they smoke the same cigarettes, all wrestled in high school, and prefer somewhat older women. But the traits that make them similar soon appear as circumstantial. They were actually quite different.

Rather than exploring those differences, Three Intimate Strangers becomes dire and sinister in the forcing of their story in the direction of their victimhood only. The word “intimate” fades. Instead the documentary starts to level blame.

Rewarding as that is, I wished to know about their lives separate from their being triplets and about the lives of their children. What is these men’s current happiness? What are their callings? Where are they today in relation to one another? But the film sticks to its guns in a way that make one realize that they really are guns, pointed and firing all in one direction.

Of course, the real difficulty for the film is that we, its audience, have no other way to grasp these identical triplets save looking at them as physically identical. Three humans looking the same prejudices us. It blinds us to anything but the sight of three walking mirrors. That’s natural. What’s initially astonishing dominates. But looking alike, acting similarly, and talking the same way is trivial. Although we ourselves don’t realize it, we become immediately bogusly scientific. “Inside, they are also the same.”

Wrong conclusion.

Wrong pronoun.

Because they look identical and because the young men are beguiling, it’s hard not to be lured into and to remain inside of cheap speculation about them – them – not as individuals but as freaks, that is to say, always as triplets.

But the real reason God made triplets is to show that everyone has a distinct soul.

Still, the film remains fascinating and unexpected at every corner. You wake up the next day and think of its unfinished mood, its grievance. Three Intimate Strangers sticks to your ribs, but it’s not quite digestible. Nonetheless, without being satisfying, it is remarkable in letting one meet these three delightful individuals, and also the people, intelligent and varied and vivid, who are engaged with their upbringing, their case, and their individual stories.

Three Intimate Strangers was heavily advertised in my city, and, as soon as I heard of it, I wanted to go. For, when I was a kid, something about identical twins used to snare and frighten me. Was there someone on earth exactly like me? I used to wish there were. But it was a wish born of a desire for retribution and vanished with time. Besides, my doppelganger might have proved to be as flawed as I am myself.

So I went to Three Intimate Strangers – as to visit an old friend – a ghost of myself whom, still and all, I had never yet met.

 
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Posted in Biodoc, DOCUMENTARY

 

RBG

10 Jul

RGB – directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West. Bio/doc. 98 minutes Color 2018
★★★★★
The Story: The long past and present presence of a remarkable judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
~
If you do not know who that is.

If you do know who that is.

See it.

You will want to make her acquaintance.

Massively ignorant as I am, I knew of her. A Supreme Court Judge, yes – and, while I am interested in The Supreme Court more than the doings of Presidency or Houses of Congress, I am less interested in the personalities of the judges than in their findings.

RGB was a way for me to inform myself about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To see her in common dress and the robes of her office. To watch her face do what it does. To hear her voice enunciate her views. To hear tell of her. To get a sense of her vitality.

For Vitality would be the word for her. She quiet as can be, and modest and small. But the life that beams from her judicious use of it illuminates her and her deliberations.

First Generation as am, I, she was born in Brooklyn. Bright as a button, she went to Cornell, where she met her husband, and moved with him to New York where she specialized in sexual equality cases. Carter and Clinton advanced her, and when she became a Supreme Court judge and moved to Washington D.C., her husband, a highly successful attorney, resigned this practice to move to Washington in support of her.

The best part of the documentary, however, is the presence of Justice Bader Ginsburg herself. She is quiet and droll and wiser than the hills.

Do see it.

When you meet her next, tell her I told you to.

 
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Posted in DOCUMENTARY

 

Rebels On Pointe

21 Dec

Rebels On Pointe – directed by Bobbi Jo Hart. Dance Documentary. 90 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★★
The Story: A backstage collage of history, performance, wedding, family, training, rehearsal of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the celebrated all-male classical dance company which has toured and entertained the world for forty years.
~
They are all the same fruits as all the other fruits.

If they were not performing on the stage they would be stoned.

We are told they evince “gay sensibility” as though that sort of sensibility were the only sensibility homosexual life had.

And why do they do it?

Because if they do it they will be accepted in the nest?

The senseless giggle behind which there is nothing funny whatsoever. The mincing moue. The hyperbolic flare. The glare of a Paris washwoman. Eyelashes long enough to unbalance them. Bitch Queens in tutus.

They are allowed all this and, like all dancers, so much less.

And every one of them has fought for it. Every one of them have striven to legitimately embody the goddess grace and fanatical virtuosity of the dancer of white ballet, the ballerina.

No professional athletic training reaches the strenuousness of that required for toe-shoes.

So what we see is bravery under fire like no other. Doll within doll within doll, now male, now female, now both at once, now neither.

Each of these males dances an unwitting statement in the sensibility and deep knowledge of each member of the audience of the mediation of gender.

Each physical utterance contradicts and disproves the givens and doxologies of an aeon of cultural history. A pirouette revises custom to its core. An arabesque exceeds the rules of expectation.

That which would merit the exile of derision is here apotheosized.

The Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo is a sex church. Because every ballet they perform is a sex ballet. All white ballet is. That is why it is white. Their narratives are actually talking about the gestures, the moves, the graces, the physical encompassment of gorgeous mating. But they are doing it in the nunnery of classical ballet, no art form being more chaste. The entire featherbrained rigmarole of male/female reproductive presentation topples.

Parody means the song parallel to the ode. Can be below it: can be funny and mocking. Can be above it: can be inspired and adulatory. But it must include the ode. And thus their dance includes the dance, classical ballet done seriously, in the ease of its difficulty. But sometimes with a cherry on top. With a male Maestoso.

The fortitude, perseverance, stamina, rigor for toe-shoes aims each life towards this flittering devotion as adamantine as steel.

What a good time I had! What a changed person I found myself exiting the theatre!

I don’t bow to them. I bow to what lies inside and behind each one of them that impels them, through movement, to embody this truth. There’s an oracle in it that, for our own peace of mind, all of us want to hear.

It is, at unexpected times, of course very, very funny.

 
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Posted in DOCUMENTARY

 

I Am Not Your Negro

18 Feb

I Am Not Your Negro directed by Raoul Peck. BioDoc. 93 minutes B & W & Color 2107.

★★★★

The Story:  A record of the teachings of a black writer of mid-20th Century.

~

I Am Not Your Negro is to be hit by a stone wall.

Not to hit a stone wall — but to be hit by one.

The title tells it all. Rude, offensively defensive, blaming, dismissive, off-putting, denunciatory. Thus James Baldwin.

A personality ingratiating nothing.

Odd for a preacher. For, from age 14 to 17 James Baldwin was a boy preacher in his father’s church in Harlem. Preachers are usually outgoing, giving, capacious in their embrace. I can’t imagine how James Baldwin could have succeeded if this is the way he spoke.

Unlike William Buckley Junior whom, in his mental and verbal dexterity he so resembles, he speaks so fast that he runs his words together that your ears must be swift as deer’s to catch them.

“I don’t give a shit about you or what you think,” is his stance, his affect, and his message, as with Buckley. And it lodges in the title of this well organized and presented documentary of him.

“I don’t give a shit about you” tells you that things have come to such a pass between black and white populations – or rather, in modern American society, its values, practices, finances, and laws – that all America is worth is The Finger. He will deign to give utterance upon these matters, if pressed.

I lived near Harlem during the years Baldwin returned to America to research and write of the Black movement. But I was drawn to not one single leader of it. I didn’t like Martin Luther King Junior’s face, style, churchy rhetoric. I was largely ignorant of the program of The Black Panthers – partly because of the name, which was threatening to me. And Malcolm X’s name frightened me, too; so did the way he dressed and the demonic mask of him in photographs.

My strong prejudice in favor of Black folks was established in childhood, and my work on behalf of Black folks did not take the form of political or group protest. So it would be disingenuous of me to claim I needed a banner to follow. Malcom X, time proved, was the most attractive to me of these idealist-activists, but I only learned that after his assassination by reading about him. While he lived I feared him. As to James Baldwin, I read his novel Giovanni’s Room which I felt was so badly written, I didn’t feel like reading any more. I still don’t.

I do not like James Baldwin and I do not take American society at his measure. But what this documentary offers to me is the brilliant slap in the face of Baldwin’s highly sensitized emotional instrument. The terrible truth of what he says may apply to him only. Even so, it counts. I sat in an audience of Berkeley liberals; they applauded afterwards. Baldwin would have smirked in their faces at this. Applause settles nothing, dismisses everything.

What this documentary offers me is an ongoing screed. One which settles nothing, dismisses nothing. One which is curse and blessing in one. One which keeps afloat the shipwreck of injustice. One which rails at us and will not shut up because it is so indifferent to what our response is that it presents the negative situation as a permanent heroic statue in the public park of our lives. Liberal good will and applause do not make James Baldwin go away.

Death did not make James Baldwin go away. Here’s evidence. Here’s the situation.

 
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Posted in Biodoc, POLITICAL

 

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

14 Dec

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – directed by Alison Klayman. Biodoc. 91 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

The Story: A world famous artist also works on human rights in his native China, much to the chagrin of the government and for the love of the Chinese people.

~

I have recently and for the first time seen Gandhi, and in doings so was reminded of Ai Weiwei whose calm and whose shrewdness match Gandhi’s in so many ways.

Weiwei’s artwork is striking and different and rich. Much of it, because of its vast size, is executed by assistants. Gandhi sat and spun cloth.

These men’s utterance is simple, authentic, and direct. Their moves are crafty and bold. For instance, after being released from arrest Weiwei is not allowed to speak to the press or give interviews. What does he do? On the way into his home, he speaks to the reporters. All he says is, “The terms of my parole forbid me from giving interviews,” but look how many times he says it. Of course, he says it to every reporter who says anything to him. But what a proclamation against gagging, what a fire alarm against loss of free speech! And consider how thoroughly it was televised when it happened. Of course, within a few weeks he is talking out again.

I can’t recommend this documentary more firmly, not just because of his art and his work, but because we experience him as a personality, persistent, simple, true. How rare! What a privilege to visit with him here.

 

 

 

 
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Posted in Biodoc, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Tab Hunter Confidential

10 Nov

Tab Hunter Confidential – directed by Jeffrey Schwarz. Documentary. 90 minutes Color & Black And White 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: A gifted film actor famed for his heartthrob beauty when young, now at the age of 84 tells the story of his professional and sexual career.

~

It is the most important documentary ever made of a film star, perhaps even of a public figure of any kind. Unlike most documentary biographies, this one is autobiographical. He is present. He lived it and he lives it still. Its great value lies in how his life corresponds and reveals the braided phases of art, society, and sexuality as they cable through the eras through which Tab Hunter lived and of which he was a cynosure.

He is handsome and at ease in his body today as he always seemed to be. Although when he started as an actor opposite Lynda Darnell he was not at ease in his body because he did not understand that acting required it. He was a teenager. But he learned his craft over the years, paying attention, working hard, growing through practice, natural intelligence, and necessity. He became at home in the body’s intuition upon which the craft of acting depends. He came to give some very good performances.

He was cast as what he appeared to be – a beautiful young man who was a heartthrob to everyone but a sexual object to no one. That is because he inspired, not lust, but a crush.

A crush is a high charged draw towards the desired one, but it is usually not accompanied by genital ambition or babies. It has to do with idealization. It has to do with romance, which means it has to do with the excitement of distance. You do not desire to strip the other persona naked, but you do desire them to skate across the rink to you and hand you a rose. It refers to a fraternity pin and a prom. A crush is a charm on a charm bracelet, not an engagement ring. It is a powerful sexual room, but an anteroom. It has to do not with a desire for marriage but for wooing to start. You would not ask this of Robert Mitchum. You would ask it of a male in whom testosterone is not yet or, outside of marriage, never will be particularly visibly alert.

The heartthrob is very advertizable. It was the kind of thing that earmarked an era, the ‘50s. It looked false then, but it really wasn’t. It was simply limited. Hunter was asked to embody this paper doll for female fans, and he did it with self-effacing readiness. He was never hypocritical. He saw it as the job he was asked to do – a sort of public sign painting. He never felt ashamed of it, nor should he have. He was good at it and suited to it.

If you were an exact contemporary of him, as I am, of course, you turned from the shallowness of what he was required to project. It was impossible to wish him ill, because he was not of a vain and arrogant nature. But subterranean to him and contemporary with him was Marlon Brando and a style of truth which had nothing to do with what Tab Hunter presented. Brando was raw meat. Hunter was Wonder Bread. The female version of him was Doris Day.

Hunter gained good chops as an actor on television and at Warner Brothers, where he was the top money-maker, but when he cut himself loose from Warner Brothers, his career dispelled. How did he ever make a living after that? Dinner theatre. It nearly killed him.

But his survival in life probably depended less upon his fame, looks, acting ability than upon his work as an athlete, which he was from the start. He was a superb figure skater. He was a competitive horseman. A fine skier. His work with horses, his ranching, probably gave him enough to guide him spiritually in the direction of his own nature. He is a person of immense application.

We see all this in the film, we see his relation to his religion, his brother, father, and mother. But strangest of all, we see it in relation to the fact that he was homosexual from an early time, and acted on it.

If the journalists of his day knew, they didn’t let on; they had that pact with studios. Had he himself let on there would have been no Tab Hunter at all. He would have been curtailed, boycotted, disgraced. Out of a job. This is still true for public figures.

The slow revelation of his sexual career is the priceless story this movie tells for it parallels exactly the career coming-out has taken in the past 84 years. He is the model for our age of that disclosure, in its half-measures, prevarications, stumbles, rays of light, strength of conduct. The hills and dales of it are here, for us all who lived through the torment and the passion of it in ourselves.

This not a bland man. Nor is he a humorist. Nothing is laughed off. He is not processed food. He is straightforward, trustworthy, easy-to-take. This film is his greatest role, his only great role, and maybe his only role, the one he was born to perform before us all. His life.

What he did with his life illustrates the social, sexual, and cinema correspondences — torturous, inextricable, ruling — which we still live in. Tab Hunter Confidential is a document of the zeitgeist of our era, a clarification of the utmost cogency.

 

 
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Posted in Clint Eastwood, Debbie Reynolds, DOCUMENTARY, Social Drama

 

The Salt Of The Earth

10 May

Salt Of The Earth – directed by Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Documentary. 110 minutes Black and White and Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: Sabastiäo Salgado, young Brazilian economist in London picks up a camera and becomes the world’s greatest photographer of indigenous peoples.

~

What an eye!.

And what an eye he gives us to see what he means us to see!

Black and white photography differs from color photography in that color photography tends to reach out to the viewer, while black and white photography asks the viewer to enter in.

So we find the world’s depths reflected over and over again in this display of the renowned photographer’s black and white work. We see him from the time he starts out through his many long travels until the present time when he is 71, man of great feeling, a big masculine presence, and an undeviating talent.

We see him and his pictures from various trips to Africa, the drought regions, the refugee cities, the genocide roads. We see his photographs of the spectacular African gold mines with their ant-like workers scrambling by the thousands up and down quarry walls. We see New Guinea males with their penis cones dancing in the sunny heights, and we see the Amazonian tribe of naked Indians with their lip spikes hunting sloths high in the jungle trees.

The work of this this man is clearly inspired by the muse of his smart and able wife, and certain expeditions, to film Siberian walruses, for instance, are shot by his grown son. But the main presence for him is the German film-maker Wim Wenders.

Wenders talks to him, and Salgado talks to us back, in full close-up. Wenders himself creates with those close-ups a black and white depth of investigation rarely to be found in film, or in any human being, for that matter.

The film’s final sequence offers a complete surprise, which I shall no further hint at. But even without it, one has the feeling of being in the company of a human who has spent a worthwhile and loving life.

 
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Posted in DIRECTED BY Wim Wenders, DOCUMENTARY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

An Honest Liar

03 Apr

An Honest Liar – directed by Justin Weinstein & Tyler Measom. Documentary. 93 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: A magician and escape artist campaigns against phony spiritualists and gives us his long life, 86 years, with many surprises, twists, tricks, and teases.

~

A second documentary about a vibrant man in his 9th decade graces our current attention.

See them both. See Seymour An Introduction, the story of the great piano teacher Seymour Bernstein, and catch this one too.

James Randi is a dynamite man, full of virility and wit and drive. He runs away from his Canadian home as a kid and joins the circus. And before long he starts to master Houdini’s escape feats, surpassing them in many instances. Over the years it gets filmed. But at 50 he decides to retire, for he nearly drowns – not dangling over Niagara Falls in a straightjacket, which we also see him do – but in another straightjacket in a tank which failed. He is similar to Seymour Bernstein in this who also retired from the performing stage at age 50, from wounds to his soul and his body.

At which time he sets to expose charlatan faith healers and spiritualists. And we see all this on camera recorded over the years. Many times a guest on Johnny Carson where he entertained mightily, and a frequent foe of Uri Geller, whose methods he exposed, Randi develops a salty, savvy style which he retains to our delight right now.

Two big surprises await you as the documentary closes, and you will be moved and gratified as they emerge.

I felt enlivened by this remarkable man, so volatile, so pungent, so entertaining. So honest.

 

 
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Posted in DOCUMENTARY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Seymour: An Introduction

02 Apr

Seymour: An Introduction – directed by Ethan Hawke. Documentary. 84 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: Hawke memoirs the life and work of the great classical piano teacher Seymour Bernstein, 87.

~

What do we have here but a visit with a fountain!

He sits and talks with his friends, his students, his director. He plays – and plays divinely – in the great romantic repertoire – in which he concertized successfully until he was 54. Giving up the concert stage once he had passed beyond his fear of it and his dislike of its commercial restrictions, he turned to a long life of teaching. So what?

So his students love him, and we love him too, as he takes the details of half-keying the the approach to a Beethoven sonata or the minutiae of the first chords of the Rachmaninoff 2nd and opens them up to the young ones about to play them in public.

His approach to music is as his approach to life, generous, telling, devoted. He envies no one. He honors the honorable. If music is a divinity, we must hear it from someone like him. What is in his eyes is so simple, so loving. As we see him in master classes elucidating the mantra beat of a Mozart piece and suggesting when to let go the emphasis on a repeat.

When to let go of the emphasis.

So life goes too. What applies to the left hand resounds in the right. And we have a sense of a life unified, no longer compartmentalized, but rich, talented. and fun.

He is happy to think he helped get Clifford Curzon knighted, and we are treated to a delicious recital of Curzon, who was his teacher. And we are also treated to a run-down of the playing of that nut-case Glenn Gould whose eccentricities were more interesting than his Bach.

What we get here is a kindliness crowning a great art. What we get is an earned wisdom, which it is our privilege to sit at the feet of. To hear him go through the pianos in Steinway Hall to find the right one – well, did you ever think you would find yourself this close to a master? And just hear what he says about it. Just hear what he says about pianos.

And, finally, just hear him play the final movement of the Schumann Op 17. Playing it, and explaining it, and playing it.

So, my dears, don’t hold back. Betake yourself to Seymour. He’ll be glad you introduced yourself to him. And so will you.

 
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Posted in DOCUMENTARY, Ethan Hawke, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Powaqqatsi

21 Mar

Powaqqatsi – directed by Godfrey Reggio. Documentary Coffee Table Movie. Striking moving pictures of folks around the world. 99 minutes Color 1988.
★★
Tempted to give this one star, I give it two because the films of people at their work and at their play and at their dance are ravishing. So ravishing are they that their color supplants their content. And two stars because we are allowed to dwell upon them at length, which is rare these days when film-makers shoot as though the skies did not exists but  mayflies in them only.

But this film is a ghastly mess. And the mess is caused not just by Philip Glass’s score, which imposes itself and intrudes itself and pounds itself down on every frame, and is too over-wrought to allow us to keep our patience at all at all. Highly orchestrated, and, of course, formal to a degree, it slathers itself like bleak red paint over everything.

The mess is also and principally caused by the bigotry of the director’s attempt on our consciousnesses to set us up as suckers for its liberal message. We are supposed to feel compassion and guilt, I suppose, for the workers of this world in the various nations in which they wonderfully appear, and at the same time to feel that industry is the enemy, that industry is sucking the life-blood from us all.

Well, I am an old-fashioned liberal, and industry may well be the enemy, but I am so old fashioned a liberal that I do even acknowledge there is such a thing as enemies. And I certainly do not wish to be badgered into that view by a propaganda so gross. Triumph Of The Will slants Hitler up into an exaltation, and this attempts the same for the poor. It is a disgrace that a cause so fine should be shoddied up into an ideology no different in its force and temper than that of the Ku Klux Klan. The energy behind the film is one of ideological dictatorship and it does not matter to me whether that a dictatorship is fascism or liberalism – it is still Dictatorship.

Moreover, one watches the film go by – and it does go by without voice-over – and one is beguiled by the beauty of the humans it shows at the loom of their work. It begins with men covered with mud toiling up a hill in hoards with loads of mineral on their backs, but the men seem so covered in silver and gold by the light the camera has caught that one can only admire the spectacle and wonder how it is they all engage in it. And so it goes, until visions of industry appear, or almost appear, but the filmer prejudices our eye with slurred shots if it, shots in water, shots that make industry out to be something we are not to look at for clear contemplation but only in a certain way.

Big Brother has made this movie in a way that it did not need to be made. It is evidently part of a trio of Quatsi films. The moving pictures are so beautiful that I want to see more of them. If only the film-maker had let me make up my own mind about what I was watching, I should run to rent them. As it is I shall do so, but I am leery. His mentality is that of the most boring, the fundamentalist, the most absolutist of sermons.

 
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Posted in DOCUMENTARY, MUSICAL SCORE BY: Philip Glass

 

Autism Is A World

03 Dec

Autism Is A World – directed by Geraldine Wurzburg. Documentary. The emergence and education of a radically autistic girl, Sue Rubin. 40 minutes Color 2004.
★★★★★
Astonishing is the revelation of the heart and soul of this young woman, who as a child was a dangerous pyromaniac, violent, unreliable, and dense. She was taken to the office of a Harvard specialist in her condition who gave her a keyboard, and presently the girl began to communicate. To read. To spell things out on the keyboard for others to read. Eventually, to our astonishment, she graduates from college, still not being able to utter a word.

Mind you, although as an adult living separate from her parents, she still requires round-the-clock attendance. She understands her condition full well, however. She understands and she tells us, how, for instance, the autistic urges come upon her – to wander mentally, move oddly, roll her eyes, and so forth.

Very few of us have the opportunity to be familiar with an autistic person, to live around one, to grow accustomed to one, and to treat one as a human being, and ask from the autistic person that one be treated as such too. I happen to be fortunate in that regard. But if you are not, here is a thrilling opportunity to break through that disadvantage and visit with this fine young woman up close.

 
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Posted in DOCUMENTARY, Uncategorized

 

Ride The Divide

12 May

Ride The Divide. Sports Documentary. 16 mountain bikers run the Continental divide trail in a race of over 2700 miles from Banff in B.C to Mexico. 80 minutes Color 2010.

★★★★

Well, the music is inane, and folks fall into emotionalism, and the roadside restaurants sometimes take over and the actual riding is lost, but what the heck: to recount the grueling is to repeat the tedium, which ingredient is its chief torture. After a while I got used to the beautiful sights passing by, and after a while I stopped being annoyed that the riders were not seeing them or, if they were, were tired of them or were taking them for granted, or that the camera was seeing what could not distract the riders from the slog or give them relief from its trudge. The winner is a young man about to have his first child, and when he finishes he seems ready to become a father, for such are the psychic and spiritual surprises of such a journey. As to the camera crew, there is no way of really capturing the essence of such a ride. In 1979 when I was 44 I biked on a ten- speed silver Nishiki from Jasper B.C. down the panhandle of Idaho, into Utah, then into New Mexico, and on to Columbus. I did the whole thing in camp moccasins, without a hat. I met no other riders on the way, but I met people who spirited me off into many unusual adventures. That is not this. This is a race. But it is the same thing because there is no anticipating the benefit of such a feat before one starts out, because one cannot know if one will finish. A day at a time is the rule. As with life. And as for me – I was just riding. I had no other place to be. It was not a feat until I had done it and even then only a feat in the eyes of those who had not done it. So the rule is that for us human males and females, there are arduous journeys that it is some times opportune to embark on, and this film is a pretty good record of passage of one of them and the mental states endured by those who set out. The defeat by the mind, the conviction the mind erects to discontinue, the logic at odds with the odds, the plebian rationales. One is faced, not with pain or tedium but with one’s own mad mind. No matter. One pedals on. Pedal and pedal and pedal. Six finished. And ten days after he won, the winner’s son was born.

 

 
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Posted in DOCUMENTARY, Sports Documentary

 

Buck

23 Apr

Buck — directed by Cindy Meehl. Documentary. The life of celebrated horse-trainer Daniel “Buck” Brannaman. 89 minutes Color 2011.

★★★★★

I give this 5 stars, but it annoyed the dickens out of me, and I’ll tell you why.  That irritation was my own fault. It was  the fault of my expecting to see something be one thing and finding it to be something else. The expectation was the error. What I expected to witness was the work of “horse whispering,” but what I saw instead was a documentary about a horse whisperer. This latter was what the director probably intended, and that “whisperer” is a quite wonderful person, Buck Brannaman, and time in his company is really well spent. There are various ingredients to his story here. His life as a celebrated rope-trick child performer with his brother Smokie. The abusive childhood inflicted by his violently insane father. The removal of the father from them and their subsequent loving foster care. His marriage and fatherhood. His life on the road giving clinics on Western horse training to horse owners of all kinds. And the documentary technique of the director, which, even without my expectations, would have infuriated me, because of its stupid modern penchant for short shots, genre scenes, samples of, and the like, with the result that nothing is dwelt on, nothing is developed. Human attention span is not short for fascination. We need to linger longer on all of this or some of this. The director, as a result, has produced a superficiality. Fortunately the people encountering Mr. Brannaman are of a depth and perspicacity and modesty and humor that their testimonials have marvelous weight. But we are never shown at any length or with any penetration the thing for which Mr. Brannaman is nationally famous in horse circles and why we are watching him in the first place, which is the firm gentling of horses. We do witness, although not in depth or with any directorial patience, the calming of an insane stallion. The horse is golden and beautiful and probably brain damaged. It is also a lethal weapon and nearly kills its trainer before our very eyes. It was oxygen deprived and orphaned at birth, so it was never taught manners by the herd. It should have been put down at that time. Now it is a killer. Brannaman is actually able to saddle and ride it. But the horse is unaccountable and a savage and must be shot. All of this gentling is accomplished by the use of small flags on ends of long wands. that work like antennae on a snail. We are never once told how that works, and why it is the tool. Instead we are given Brannaman skills as calf roper-duo with his teenage daughter in competition. She’s a lovely girl and his wife is a beauty and good to meet. But I want to understand his craft. Clearly it has to do with his attitude towards the animals – never to treat them with impatience or contempt – and these approaches are the approaches I need to better learn towards humans. You can bribe a dog, but never bribe a horse or a child. The man has a calling applicable to us all, and there is clearly a great deal more to it than the director has given us. My annoyance is justified at this film, and so are its 5 stars for bringing this man, a characteristic American, before us to meet and be rewarded by himself and his skills.

 
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Jack Lemon Collection: Special Features. Documentary.

06 Apr

Jack Lemon Collection: Special Features. Documentary.

★★

If a disservice could be performed against Jack Lemon and actually take, this would be it: “He was such a nice guy.” What a dreadful thing to say when it is all that is being said. The tone is of a group speechifying at a wake. None of it tells anything either about Jack Lemon or about his craft, none of it penetrates into his nature or his work. What I mean is, watching him, the first thing one would notice after noticing his speed and dynamic variation of delivery, is his breath control. Watch how he breathes. And how what he is doing is governed by that. Wonder how it is his comic personality halted at the level of a Harvard senior: a mastery of affable glibness as a survival style. Often foolish, always clean-cut. What do those choices tell one? Who do they please? His father, the baker? Whom do they not offend? At a time when the torn undershirt of Marlon Brando was the cynosure of all eyes, where does this skimming boater hat arrive from? With Jack Lemon, there is so much to contemplate and explore, and none of it is touched upon here. There is an every-day soul here that no one knows and no one even thinks of looking at, perhaps because the effort is arranged by Lemon’s son, Chris, and no one wants to make a misstep or offend a sacred memory or chip at a memorial. However, for me, at the time, Lemon was not an Everyman figure and Judy Holiday was certainly not a voice I would wish to court. He only became interesting to me in Save the Tiger and in later roles, the JFK role and even the little bit in Hamlet, and certainly the Glengary, Glen Ross role. I have not seen the movie of his Long Day’s Journey Into Night, because, of course, he is miscast as a matinee idol, but now I want to. I think he would bring an Irish madness to it worth witnessing. He was a likable man, but James Tyrone is not, so I wonder what, if anything happens or can happen with his playing him. I am interested to honor with the brain of my heart what Lemon offered. I wish I could say the same for this documentary of him.

 

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin

23 Jan

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin. Documentary. The only color footage of The Allied Expeditionary Forces in the European campaign. 46 minutes Color Filmed 1943-45.

* * * * *

In early 1943, after Stevens finished the delightful comedy The More The Merrier, about the housing shortage in Washington, he enlisted. He entered the service as a major, went to North Africa with a crew towards the end of the fighting there, briefly went to Persia, and then to England, where Eisenhower assigned him to film the European campaign. He was in charge of a group which included writers already established such as Irwin Shaw and William Saroyan and a group of master Hollywood cameramen and technicians. All these proceeded to produce the black and white footage, which was then sent to London and made by Frank Capra in to the black and white movie documentaries with which we are still familiar as the film records of the war in Europe. It was clear to Eisenhower and to everyone else that the signal corps was incapable of doing a proper job of this. So Stevens and his “Stevens’ Irregulars” did it. However, for his own purposes, Stevens took along a 16mm home camera with non-fading color film, and these reels he sent home to his wife Yvonne in California as each was shot. They remained in Stevens’ attic until his son, George Stevens junior, translated them into this 1994 documentary. The D-Day landing is filmed as he came over to Normandy. He filmed the big surrenders of the generals, the liberation of Paris, the capture of 500 German prisoners, the largest underground factory in the world at Nordhausen where the V-2 rockets blitzing London were made, the entry into Dachau where the crematorium bodies lay in piles and drifts, the meeting of Bradley’s Twelfth Army with the Russians, Berchtesgarten Hitler’s mountain retreat, and then Berlin. Just as Stevens had made True Glory with Carol Reed and Garson Kanin in London which won the Oscar documentary that year, so he also stayed until the end of 1945 in Europe to make with Budd Schulberg the documentary The Nazi Plan which was used as evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. But all that is in in black and white. All of this is in color. There were over 38,000 prisoners at Dachau, 6,000 of whom were dying of typhus. Stevens saw it and filmed it, and when he came back to Hollywood never made a comedy again.

 

Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

22 Oct

Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975— Director Göran Olsson. Documentary. A compilation of modern commentary with recently discovered period footage of the personalities of the black movement. 100 Minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Black Power – what happened, where did it go? It dissolved in the drug haze of the 70s, behind whose smoke it still lies unconscious and stupefied. But we see here the remarkable personalities of the era – and we note that every one of these leaders and celebrities were well-spoken, as though they were chosen by fate to be comprehensible to the White folk of America. That too has vanished, blackwashed behind a racial patois designed to keep the Black race now segregated, safe, and aloof. So it is a treat to come upon Stokely Carmichael, poised, calm, and eloquent. And it is a treat to see the brilliant and brilliantly educated Angela Davis respond to her interlocutors’ questioning Black violence with astonishent and a perfectly told story of the violence which she experienced at first hand growing up: after all, her family were neighborhood friends with those four black girls who were blown to smithereens. Pieces of the story are missing. Louis Farrakhan is not missing, and he sure is convincing, but Malcolm X is missing, and so is the work of the Black Panther’s policy and action in Oakland to educate and feed their children properly; we see only a glimpse of it. And we are missing the raised fist of Cassius Clay, whose demeanor expressed Black Power as a personality style of an anger which because he was a fighter no one could gainsay and whom as an independent spiritual entity no one could confuse with church fustian when he became Mohammed Ali. A documentary can only skim over matters because it is covering eight years and a movement which had many contradictory elements, visions, and spirits. Black Power was essentially an expression of a desire for participation, just as was Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement. Both were styles of anger; both were non- violent, but  Black Power was not the placid version; they sometimes carried guns and sometimes used them. When they did, the media had a story far more sensational and distracting and influential than the essentially peaceful intentions of both groups. The result of Racial Protest during these years was to remove blatant surface symbols and symptoms of Racial Prejudice and replace them with democratic drinking fountains. But how deep did the Revolution go? Did it go deeper than race? Did it go to the human core of things? Did we act not because of superficial reasons of skin color or because Blacks were fellow Americans, but because no human being should be treated that way?

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Hatari

10 Oct

Hatari – Directed by Howard Hawks. Wild Animal Action Adventure. A company of animal collectors snares big game in Africa. 156 minutes Color 1962.

* * * *

Howard Hawks had no signature visual style, even when he used the same photographer. Nor was he much of a director of actors. His films are plainly shot in simple setups. What he had was a freewheeling attitude about scripts which in the morning he would make up among the actors or who ever passed through the shooting, and then film it later in the day. This openness and casualness produced a big permission for actors, so sometimes wonderful performances arrived. John Wayne’s, for instance. He is an actor who often chooses to “come from strength”, but here he pretty much lets that slide, and what comes to the fore is his wisdom, forgiveness, and rueful wit. He does not have any other actors in the picture who are on his level of artistry or humor, save Red Buttons, which is a shame, because that and their variety of foreign languages slows things down to the level of competence, which is a local train not a superchief; John Wayne is a superchief. However, what results here is a very amiable party indeed, casual, agreeable, and fun. This is not a movie you intently watch; it is a movie you hang out with. The story line is flimsy and contrived, and it all takes place indoors on Paramount sound stages, and looks it, as do the actors slathered in thick tan pancake. The story involves, if that is the right word, a couple of unconvincing romances, one of them between Wayne and the Italian actress Elsa Martinelli who is of all things called Dallas, the name Claire Trevor had in Stagecoach. (One must cover one’s eyes when John Wayne kisses anybody.) But, in the long and beautiful African scenes, Elsa Martinelli has such a terrific rapport with wild animals that I took her to be a professional trainer. She is remarkable with three baby elephants, and seems to harbor a leopard as a watchdog. The episode with the monkey tree is fascinating – evidently all the actors did the animal work in the picture – and wildebeest and rhinos and cheetahs and ostriches are caught in long and very exciting sequences. The chasing down and capturing of the wild animals feels authentic and was the raison d’etre for the film. These are interspersed with drunk scenes, which are not funny (at what moment in history did drunk scenes in Hollywood cease to be funny) and with sophomoric hijinks, which are not funny either. Hatari means danger in Swahili and the relaxed and genial nature of the story with its foolish excesses is just a necessary relaxation from the real and intense excitement of the hunts. Henry Mancini has written a brilliant score.

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Special Thanks To Roy London

30 Jun

Special Thanks To Roy London. Documentary. A famed acting coach is revealed by those he taught. 89 minutes Color 2008.

* * * * *

Patrick Swayze, Sharon Stone, Garry Shandling, Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Forest Whitaker, Patricia Arquette, and especially Lois Chiles tell all that can be told about this great mentor of their craft. He himself speaks, too, but he speaks about acting as contiguous with life itself. A few of his strategies are revealed, but they apply to the specific actor in a specific scene, so, while it is helpful to adopt his mind set, he intends to adduce no general rules from them, which is gracious of him. He evidently is not of the brutally cruel school of teacher, Sanford Meisner, Kim Stanley, Stella Adler, but is rather more like Uta Hagen, a teacher of breadth. Of course, I don’t think one would go to London for classical work or training. His focus is on tv and film and for those temperaments which suit those media. After all, one would not wish to see Clint Eastwood play King Lear; his instrument is meant for other things. London’s lovers supply their history with him and their affidavits of him. Some of his background as a New York stage actor is shown. And his death is recounted by Sharon Stone and particularly by Lois Chiles who was with him as he died of AIDS. He is worth visiting here. Acting mentors of his rare order have the highest insight into human nature; not the greatest guru in the world can equal it. He is well worth spending time with here, as are all great actors in the mantle of their craft, and for the same reason. .

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Borneo’s Pygmy Elephants

24 May

Borneo’s Pygmy Elephants – Directed by Michael Patrick Wong. Animal Documentary. A separate and hitherto unrecorded species of elephant is tracked through the jungle by a naturalist/ranger. Color 2009.

* * * * *

In this Animal Planet documentary, Bert Dausip, a young naturalist, tracks the elephants, and, eventually, they accept and befriend him. They are a shy small elephant living in one section of eastern Borneo, and they were until recently considered to be escapees and pests. But Dausip bring evidence that they are separate from African and Asian elephants. He’s a fine young man, with black hair down to the middle of his back, and a comfort in these dense jungles which he himself was reared in. Like Sabu whom he resembles and who also had a special relationship with elephants, he is quite endearing, as are, of course, the elephants we meet and get to know. The land through which we move is strange, curious, perilous. And very beautiful. As is this story.

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The Prisoner, or How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair

19 May

The Prisoner or: How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair. Documentary. An Iraqi journalist is wrongfully detained and violently tortured at Abu Ghraib. 72 minutes Color 2006.

* *

This is clearly a story with an important and stirring tale to tell, and its protagonist is natural, masculine, and appealing. His unforced presentation of himself and his predicament is winning. However, when he is on-camera, the volume of sound is too soft to hear what he says, and when he is off-camera, the volume of sound is too loud to hear what he says. I was obliged to hold the volume control in my hand and louden and soften it every few seconds, and I was willing to do this. However that was not the defining problem for me. The real problem is that the presentation of the material is violent and belligerent in style; it was so jarring that I could not go on watching. I do not mean that the content was too violent; I mean the direction and editing and music were too violent. I was blinded, deafened, and violated. I felt the filmmakers wanted to punish the viewer to approximate the punishment the protagonist underwent. It was a miscalculation. So the technical smarty-pants have, as far as I am concerned, done a great and rude disservice to this worthy subject. I see by other reviews that I am not the only one who found this difficulty insuperable. See it if you can. Read the favorable reviews instead. I wish this could be one of them, but I was not able to finish the film to the end.

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I Am

02 May

I Am – Directed by Tom Shadyak.  Documentary. A spiritual civics lesson about the family relation in the internal human anatomy and everything in the world, as a Hollywood broad comedy director seeks the truth of what has gone wrong with the world. 76 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

I wanted them all to shut up. For my sense was that every single one of them were talking about something that they knew about but never had experienced, rather like a person born blind discussing blue. But my frustration was also that I already knew what they were talking about but that I too had never experienced it – Universal Connection, Universal Identity. Acts of charity, kindness, decency don’t do it. They are excellent, of course, but for me they arise not out of a natural constant inclination such as breathing but as an occasional inspiration born out of circumstances. A rush of fellow feeling or the need to assist must be acted upon, but that is only part of what this film touches upon. For one thing, it enters into the Heart-Math Institute where scientists explore and document the vibrational relations between mood and influence of mood, where they graph the music lying between one heartbeat and the next. So don’t be put off by the words “spiritual civics lesson”, for there is real information here. And when you watch Howard Zinn and Desmond Tutu speak you can see in them the grounds of the universal relation upon which they are discoursing. You don’t need their words, maybe; all you need is to sit in their presence and watch them. Yet their words are not the occasion for our listening, or even our watching. The words, the film are the occasion for experiencing in us The Thing Itself. Go.

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The Age Of Stupid

12 Apr

The Age Of Stupid — Directed by Franny Armstrong. Docomentary. Pete Postlethwaite hands us a record of modern madness leading to Global Boiling Over. 89 minutes Color 2008.

* * * * *

Do something: Watch it. Do something!

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Young At Heart

21 Mar

Young At Heart — Directed by Stephen Walker and Sally George — a documentary about a wild senior singing group in Massachusetts. 108 minutes Color 2007.

* * * * *

Tip-top. Old buggers and buggeresses hopping-happy and singing for all their worth -— and what songs! None of your gooey sentimentalities, but red hot stuff from the new songwriters -— songs I’ve never heard before, and neither have they until they start rehearsing them. Difficult, switching, twitching songs -— and they true-blue them each and every one. The average age of the gang is 80. They get ready for a concert by taking on new material and we watch while they muddle through it until they don’t. They have toured the world and sung for the crowned heads. But they are the ones should have crowns on their heads, and let me rush to place them there. Old age is the great mystery. And its vitality!

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Making The Misfits

08 Nov

The Making The Misfits –– directed by Gail Levin –– documentary on the last film of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift  — 2001 black and white 2001

* * * * *

We who were alive at the time, knew a lot about what was going because Marilyn Monroe was such a photographed figure. Her genius was, in fact, for the still picture not the motion picture –– and Eli Wallach says the same. Monroe, Gable, and Clift all died before the film was released. I remember talking to Celeste Holm about it the week it opened; she’d gone to the Roxy to see it, and she said, “You could shoot moose in there.” Because the movie was a coffin? The theatre was empty when I went too. Holm said that Monroe couldn’t act. That’s probably right. In a sense Monroe was prevented from it by the script which makes of her a marshmallow saint whom everyone loves –– which means there was no inherent character defect or inner conflict in the character, nothing for her to play against, no failing to let us in. The film was remarkably photographed and produced, and the producers and their survivors talk about it. What the actors, such as Kevin McCarthy and Eli Wallach, say about their work is fascinating. John Houston was a gallant director, energetic but also lazy. He loved filming horses. The Misfits has a grainy and horizontal quality to it, and is well worth seeing. Its failure lies with Arthur Miller who wrote it; its failure lies not in its characters or situation but in its story. It would have been far more interesting if Monroe’s capacity for atrocious behavior had been an element in that story. Then you might have had something. Too late now, though. This documentary made years later seizes the world of studio filmmaking at it its richest. Scenes of the crew lying around in the hideous heat of Arizona while the demoralizing Monroe was hours late are a testament to the fortitude of the craftsmen whose skills and devotion brought the good strong films of that era before us.

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Hollywood Screen Tests

25 Oct

Hollywood Screen Tests –– documentary scrapbook of  stars’ screen tests. 2 discs 2000.

* * * * *

If you’re interested in the matter at all, it can’t be beat. Judy Garland, horrifyingly skinny doing color costume tests for a picture she was eventually fired from. Bruce Lee, good looking, phenomenally skilled, and displaying the arrogance that must eventually have killed him. Tuesday Weld, as honest here as she is in her pictures. Cary Grant, even wonderful opposite the non-actress Suzy Parker. What skill he had, what readiness, what modesty! He’s even better here than he was in the eventual film. It’s a lesson in supreme screen technique to watch him seamlessly adjust to her, respond to her, play with her. And Rita Hayworth, absolutely lovely, screen testing the children who were to play opposite her in Story On Page One. Her decency, willingness to help them, pay attention to them. quietly humor  them, is a model of kindness. What a beautiful creature she was, what a fine lady.

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Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids

25 Oct

Born iInto Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids –– directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski –– The Oscar winning documentary about a photographer who meets the prostitutes’ children and teaches them photography.  85 minutes color 2004.

* * * * *

Just wonderful. Zina Briski, the producer and director, enters the dark world of the Calcutta brothels by offering to teach the prostitutes’ children how to take pictures with a camera. She gives the children cameras, and what her own camera discovers is wonderful to behold. We recognize these children as just like ourselves when children. How each of them turns out is the suspense of the piece, which is beautifully filmed and is itself in every way a work of camera art. Heartening and real.

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