Archive for the ‘BIO-DOCUMENTARY’ Category

The Wind Rises

07 Apr

The Wind Rises – created by Hayao Miyazaki. Animated BioDrama. 126 minutes Color 2013.


The Story: From the time he was a boy, Jiro Horikoshi desired to design airplanes, and after a long apprentice and during a long romance, he eventually designed the Mitsubishi  A5M and then the Zero.


Well, this renowned animator takes us along by the allure of his cells and scenes, as we wait for the next and the next, each one as satisfying and striking and telling as the one we have just seen. What’s next? What’s to come?

It is the biography of a rather naïve male, who never gives up his quest, and in that quest has no obstacles except the material ones of an industry starting from nothing and with nothing. Cloth planes, no design foundation, the want of proper engineering.

Miyazaki show us is all the angles and the experiences of a young man who, like David Copperfield, is the blank outline in which we may place ourselves to endure the drama, the waiting, and the love affair.

He gives his Japanese hero and heroine curly hair and large round eyes, so they never quite look Japanese. They are faceless creatures, and we recognize Jiro mainly because his white suits are often tinted lavender. He would be vapid, save that he is defined by what he does, and so we enter into him, not as a character, but as a role enacting a story.

But the startling crowd scenes, the remarkable air shots, the crazy planes invented around him give me enough entertainment to beguile me along. I do not feel a thing is missing. Indeed, I have never seen such intricate splendor.

The vast politesse of the Japanese is demonstrated for me also. Because the film is animated, I can witness this aspect of Jiro and the Japanese character and cultural style. I can see the good of the bowing, the waiting, the respect, the formality. I can see the human usefulness of it.

I recommend this film as an uncommon pleasure.




Show Them Who You Are

28 Oct

Show Them Who You Are – Mark Wexler. Biodoc. A portrait by his son of famed cinema photographer, Haskell Wexler.
A more despicable character it is impossible to imagine than Haskell Wexler. Elia Kazan declared his dislike for him, and Kazan found something to like in everyone. Wexler had shot Kazan’s America, America, and Kazan admitted that he had done it beautifully, but Kazan despised him, and so do I. For what we see here is a man of vicious and violent opinion, a monologist so full of himself that he cannot see anyone beyond the slashing of his own blade. He is certainly miserably cruel to his son, who adores him, and who desires his love, attention, and approval. But all those things are aimed by Haskell Wexler at Haskell Wexler. He spouts off constantly how much better he can run the world, how much better he can direct films than those he has to work for. But the truth of the matter is Wexler could not have run the world or directed those films better. And the reason is blatant before one – and it is that he had no regard for other human beings, no matter how left-wing his ideology. He would never have known how to talk to actors. They would have walked off the set. Crews would have left him. Wexler is witlessly sadistic, for he doesn’t even think he is sadistic. He thinks he’s funny. The movie does not go into Wexler’s career or contributions to the craft of filming or what Wexler brought to it. Instead, it concentrates on the intolerable difficulty Wexler presented to his son as his son tries to film him. It’s agony.

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The Last Mogul

02 Aug

The Last Mogul – directed by Barry Avrich. Biodoc. Lew Wasserman was a big-time player in the entertainment world for many years, none bigger, until…103 minutes Color 2005


During the late 50s, I worked in the mailroom at MCA.  At the corner of 57th and Madison, withy the fine old furniture that Mrs Stein selected, the quiet paneled elevator, the upper floor where Lew Wasserman and Jules Stein had their offices – this was in the heyday of MCA as a film production cum talent house, a privileged position which Wasserman had negotiated, with his influence going back many years, and which was scotched in the early 60s by Bobby Kennedy, as a gross monopoly. Wasserman was not really a mogul; he was a player of Monopoly; he was no more interested in the quality of or the products he arranged and pioneered deals for than my cat. He was not interested in the making of films or in their quality; he was not interested in acting or in drama or in show business, on any level.  That is to say he was quite other than true Moguls like Louis B Mayer or Harry Cohen or Darryl F. Zanuck. But Wasserman had a genius for figures and for figuring things out, sometimes years in advance. He was brilliant, if ill-educated, came from the slums of Cleveland and worked his way up through skill and careful and sometimes suspect connections. Jules Stein was his mentor and it was from Stein from whom he learned and learned well the arch conservative style of the modern agent, always in a black suit, black tie, white shirt, black shoes. In fact he dressed ­­– and all the non-talent agents at MCA did the same – like gangsters, who learned their sartorial strictures from funeral directors, that is to say from someone who held power over death itself. To the top floor of MCA we delivered the mail, and the mood around him was reverend. Even then only in his forties and with his bare polished desk in an office no bigger than that of the others there was a hush around his name, a daring not too look up as he passed. Why? Who knows. I was a mailroom clerk, but it was contagious. I felt it and deferred. He was Stein’s crown prince. He was a capo. But I feel this position and this awe was not ill-deserved, for Lew Wasserman had a presence. He was tall, somewhat cadaverous, and with a pale, long, large-featured face that did not evince ease of approach. He always looked as though someone had died, was about to die, or ought to die. He may have had personal warmth, although I never witnessed it, as why should I have. He had a nefarious definite elegance. He knew everything. But that is all he knew. He did not make films, he did not make art of any kind, and he did not know about it. He made deals; he made it possible for others to make, not art, but commercial work of a generally routine and commonplace standard. That is to say he made modern television of his day and he is not to be praised for it, since what he made he made to such a vast majority that the public had no alternative. He was a business genius. But once he had acquired Universal Studios and revamped it, he could keep it running at a profit only with certain lucky films which others produced, but since he did not have any real sense of film production, outside of its budgets, post-production, bookings, and so forth, when it began to go under, he sold MCA and Universal to a Japanese firm that had no knowledge of film making either, and it was sold again, to a liquor merchant, and then again, and he became merely a figure in a dark suit in a dark office whom no one paid any attention to and whom, mistakenly, no one thought they had anything to learn from. He had owned the handle to the town pump, but once he sold it, no one knew how to pump it but him and no one wanted him to pump it either. His hands were empty and the well dried up. So it goes. I guess he had never read King Lear.


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JImmy Doolittle: An American Hero

06 Feb

Jimmy Doolittle: An American Hero — Directed by David Hoffman. Documentary. 1988 Black and White and Color.,


During the Thirties and Forties, his name was a household word. At the time I was too young to get a focus on him. Now as we see him in pictures of the period, he is a handsome, fearless, and virile young man hyped on airplanes. And, also, we see him as a quite old man, still virile, quite humorous, and as wise as a tortoise. Between these two periods we see his great feats and his personally leading his most renowned exploit, the first bombing raid on Tokyo. The background of that enterprise, the bravery it took, and its results are well described and shown. Those who made that daring raid still meet, and as they do every year, while role-call is made when the names of the deceased are called out, those remaining still say, “Present!” His men loved him – and why? It’s interesting to find out what was his unerring and priceless gift of leadership, what was that quality in him? It is one we might all consider as we choose our own leaders today. His life and work were well documented at the time, and this collection-documentary is thoroughly interesting – an admirable record of a type of American alas no longer with us. Narrated by James Stewart, Robert Stack, Jimmy Doolittle.



03 Sep

Senna – Directed by Asif Kapadia. BioDoc. The great Formula 1 race-car Ayrton Senna’s life on the track, his life, his fate, and his destiny. 1 hour 44 minutes Color 2011

* * * * *

A beautiful young man calmly follows his bliss before our eyes, and there is no stopping him. He came from a well-to-do Brazilian family who supported his love of speed from his earliest days in go-carts. His life on the track was well documented, and it ended at age 34 not by a crash but by the fault of the racecar he was driving. You can see it happen. The car, making a simple turn on the speedway, simply comes to a halt. He is dead inside the car. There is not a broken bone inside his body. But the drive shaft has come apart and killed him. The car was a Williams-Renault reduction of their previous year’s car that had been robotized, had won the Grand Prix for Prost, and then banned. The new version was unbalanced and inconsistent on the turns, and Senna knew it. Everyone on his team knew it, and it fell apart as he drove it and it killed him. Death by technology.  Up until then we see this beautiful young man, modest, intelligent, striving to learn. We see him wrangle with Alain Prost, his rival, and win great races through his daring, his speed, his experience, his talent, his focus, his honesty and forthrightness, and, to be sure, his constant relations to God about which the dear fellow makes no secret. Many of the scenes are shot inside his racing car as he actually drove it. Off the track we see him as the national Hero of Brazil as he becomes World Grand Campion three times. And it is a wonder to see him, for he is before the cameras all his grown life, as though to world super-stardom born. He is never self- conscious and never duplicitous. We see his strain, his ebullience, his anger, his sweetness plain. I think you will be refreshed by this person, a beautiful creature and a saint of sport. The film won the Sundance Award 2011 for Documentary.






Southern Comfort

03 Mar

Southern Comfort – directed by Kate Davis – a documentary about a group of transgenders and their mates who gather around their feisty mentor as his life draws to a close. It has won many important prizes. 90 minutes color 2001.

* * * * *

The movie is about humans loving one another. Revelation upon revelation opens up before us, as this aspect of love is shown, that style is revealed, this gesture tells. And also about humans not loving one another. Toward the person of Robert Eads, a female-to-male transgender, walk his other FTM friends and their wives. The ostensible goal is for him to make it to the Southern Comfort gathering of transgender people, and they come to his small farm in Georgia to be with him and to help. They gather as a community as well, for comedy, comida, and comfort – and for protection — for we sense the meanness often aimed at them from a world they have not harmed, so we hear something about their job status and social status, and the pain of their exile. Regular gendered folks join them too, and we meet Robert’s grandson and his parents. Robert was once Barbara and gave birth to two boys when he was married. Now he is dying of ovarian cancer. He’s a salty cuss, and well worth meeting, as are his family of friends. Revelation results in revolution. Your mind will be enlarged and altered and your soul entertained. “Nature delights in diversity,” says Robert’s lady friend at the end. “Why don’t human beings?” True. So come. Learn anew the delight and dignity of diversity.



The Divine Bette Midler

17 Feb

The Divine Bette Midler – A&E Biography of the widely gifted entertainer. 135 minutes Color 2005.

* * * * *

She’s a classical performer in that her work is based on styles and performers who preceded her, and this gives her a tremendous foundation in modernity. Sophie Tucker and Mae West lived long lives, and Sophie Tucker was before us regularly on TV variety shows and available to Midler. So the voice you hear from Bette Midler is not her street voice. It is a professional entertainer’s voice, fortified by the buxom vulgarity of those two women, the gamey sexuality of the lecherous West and the camp tragedy of the warhorse Tucker. She’s dolled up too. And she speaks that voice with every consonant chewed out for us, nothing slurred, every vowel pointedly enunciated. This gives her great technical power, a power she abandons sometimes when she sings. But the speaking voice is the voice of a woman having a grand old time barring no holds. She’s such fun. Her heart can fill six streets around any theatre she is in. She is a one-person vaudeville show: she sings, she can do skits, she tells jokes, she dances, she acts. She is out front and carrying on and carrying it all. What would a human being be like if they lived their life to the full? Is she not our best and perhaps only example? Glenn Close calls her a National Treasure. She is more. She’s an entire National Park.



Cowboy Del Amor

01 Jan

Cowboy Del Amor – directed by Michele Ohayon – a humorous documentary about a matchmaking business, for single gents interested in securing a Mexican bride, run by a cowboy – 86 minutes color 2005.

* * * * *

Ivan Thompson, who plays Dolly in Demming, New Mexico, takes us south of the border with various hopeful hombres. The whole situation would be grim were it not legitimate and were it not leavened by the charm and savvy of this natural humorist, the sole proprietor and bride prospector of the business. He is really to be met and savored. Because of him, this is one of the most entertaining pictures I saw all year, and certainly the best recent comedy – although it is, of course, a documentary. The technical talent who made it are storeys above the usual documentarians. It is superbly directed and shot and recorded and scored, and it is edited by none other than the great documentary editor Kate Amend. The situation of American men declining to marry American women and so turning to Latin American women is a product of American men finding American women “too hard to please,” perhaps, but it also has to do with the desire in certain American men for women to consider marriage a willing peonage. In two instances we see great physical attraction in play – but with Ivan Thompson, at any rate, it leads to bafflement in his own marriage, as though women, who he says are as beautiful as horses, were meant to be roped and corralled, and that’s the story. The documentary takes us into the homes and hearts of our friends in Mexico, and into the sweet odd moment of meeting one’s maybe-destined mate. A lovely film, respectful, perspicacious, and, because of Mr. Thompson, consistently funny.



Blessed Is The Match

17 Nov

Blessed Is The Match –– directed by Roberta Grossman –– a bio-doc about Hannah Senesh, a young Israeli woman who parachuted into Rumania to save lives from the final solution. 85 minutes color and black and white 2008.

* * * * *

We are blessed to have this video record of this woman’s, brought up in comfort in Hungary, then, as a grown-up, emigrating to Israel to labor on a kibbutz. Then volunteering to parachute into Rumania with an aim to help Hungarian Jews to escape. Hungary remained neutral, and so the Jews of that country remained untouched until late in 1944, when, although Germany was already losing the war, Hitler invaded, and 80% of the Jews were immediately and efficiently whisked off to death. The story takes her behind the lines and eventually into Hungary where she is caught, imprisoned, and tortured. A remarkable story about a woman who thought herself as a mere match lighting up a little piece of life. Joan Allen narrates part of her story.



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

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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.



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.



Gene Kelly: Anatomy Of A Dancer

24 Oct

Gene Kelly: Anatomy Of A Dancer –– directed by Robert Trachtenberg — documentary –– 87 minutes color and black and white 2008.

* * * * *

I only barely prefer Fred Astaire. Kelly projected an arrogance I found distasteful and a bonhomie I never believed, never more so than in his celebrated umbrella dance. Astaire was thought of in terms of the females he danced with, as though the public wondered if they could match him and some of them did–– Cyd Charisse, Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, and his favorite Rita Hayworth. Kelly’s dance skills were not great, so, while he had some good partners, no one was worried about whether his partner could live up to him. His contribution to musicals was his imagination about dance, particularly jazz ballet. This documentary about all this is excellent. There are good interviews by Arthur Laurents and his wife Betsy Blair and others, all attesting honestly to how difficult he was and how influential. With a limited dancer’s repertory and few moves (but then so had Bob Fosse), Gene Kelly brought to the screen a brash, blithe, lower-class vitality, and great imagination and dance daring, as well as ballets the like of which had never been seen on screen before. He had a superb sense of the partnership of the camera in dance presentation on film. All this is well discussed and shown in this documentary. Anyone who watches it will learn something they didn’t know about what it all took and what this remarkable talent gave in the heyday of Hollywood musicals.




16 Oct

Rita – a documentary in which various calebrities speak of the ravishing Rita Hayworth, her impression and career. Kim Bassinger, Tab Hunter, Nicole Kidman, Ann Miller, Orson Welles, Eli Wallach, Juanita Moore, Delbert Mann. 2003 black and white and color.

* * * * *

A fine and honorable depiction of Rita Hayworth’s  long life as a movie Star – from the time as a teenager when, as Rita Cansino, she started in B Westerns and a Charlie Chan movie. It shows less of her work after They Came To Cordura than I would like to have seen; in fact I would like to have seen fuller scenes of her work throughout her working life, especially as an actress, for she had a gift for it, and to act well was her first and main ambition. Fine interviews with those she worked with – all of whom both liked and respected her. And talks by members of a family that was dear to her – her nephews and her children, particularly Princess Yasmin. Rita Hayworth suffered at the end of her life from alcoholism and Alzheimer’s. She was a unique star and one of tremendous cinematic power — quiet and reserved and even prim until the music started and the dance began, then she was a powerhouse of female sexual vivacity. Setting aside Ginger Rogers, she was one of two of Fred Astaire’s greatest dance partners. This piece about her does her justice. Film is radiance captured. Hayworth exuded it like no one else. Behind it resided a sensitive and loving spirit. See especially her screen tests for Story On Page One to reveal her kindness, modesty, and skill. Well worth watching as a record of picture-making during the Thirties and Forties.


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