Archive for the ‘BIODOC’ Category

Free Solo

11 Nov

FREE SOLO—directed by Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. SportsDoc. 10 minutes Color 2018
THE STORY: Bare handed, without ropes, Alex Honnold climbs 3000 feet cliff El Capitain in Yosemite.
What’s surprising and even more daring is the thoroughness of the preparation Honnold makes about the face of the mountains he scales. Inch by inch, handhold by handhold, minute ledge by ledge, he has looked at the bare, steep face of these cliffs and precipices, and knows their biography by heart before he takes a single tread.

Wonderful things: of course, how perfectly his face takes the camera. Then the drones which film him from angles no camera could achieve without them. Then the simplicity and lack of glamour of his non-climbing life, for he seems to be living out of a van.

Finally, on the negative side, is the dreadful presence and intrusion of his girlfriend. Poor thing. It’s clear she does not love him, because she wants him to love her more than he loves his calling, and why should he? It would be immoral. The care, attention, common sense, and gentleness with which his male team and film crew treat him is more loving than her nagging. She doesn’t mean to, but she wants to drag him down. She simply hasn’t a clue. Or rather, she seems to be driven by an understandable but irrelevant urge to domesticity which is not only out of place and dangerous but makes her look shamefully self-serving. One longs for her to go away; eventually she does.

She wants an embrace closer to his body than his body must embrace the side of a cliff. And we wonder how he does it. His two strong thumbs and the purchase on tiny ridges by the thin rims of two sneakers are all that hold him and move him up the vertical. And cleave him to it when he looks to be upside down.

The spectacle of his climbing leaves one agog.

And gravity speechless.

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Posted in BIODOC, Sports Documentary


Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday

19 Feb

Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday – directed by Matthew Seig. TV Bio-Documentary. 59 minutes 1990.


The Story: A orphaned, illegitimate girl rises from being a teen-age prostitute to become the most respected jazz musician of her time.


The renowned jazz singer is seen from the angles of those who knew her and worked with her. And we see a good deal of her singing, and some of her voice in interviews.

What was her charm?

From the start as a teenager her gift was recognized, and she also might be slotted as one of those artists who started at the top and never developed because there being nothing higher than the top than the top. We think of certain writers who begin at the top of their form – Colette, Tolstoi, Wilde – and others who develop over time – Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joyce. There’s no value judgement here; it’s simply observable.

When I was a college boy of eighteen, a few of us went down to a local Italian restaurant to see this lady sing. I had no idea who she was. I was game, I just tagged along.

No one much was in the place. Checkerboard tablecloths. A trio set up, and she came out wearing a gardenia. Not impressive. She looked puffy. The voice was thin, high, scratchy. Then she sang I Cover The Waterfront and I fell out of my chair!

In various TV appearances, we see jackass MCs introducing her, and she is not musically comfortable with TV studio bands. But at the end we have along recorded session of her singing with a big group of musicians who understood her necessities, and she theirs. Oh, what a good time she has!

Oh, what a good time you will have hearing her groove.

Musically, she had a bone-deep sense of rhythm and approach. Misery is inherent to her voice, which is that of a child – so she does not sing “ZippedeeDoDa!” She is never upbeat. Her range is lodged more in the low collines of tragedy: it is not a grand matter; not Aeschylus; not the blues, which she seldom sang; but a torch song in which the flame knows it is just about out.

“Strange Fruit” and “God Bless The Child That Has Its Own,” are here, and you owe yourself the gold mine of hearing her do them. She is a jewel in the crown of our American heritage. Avail yourself of her and all your wise children.

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Posted in BIODOC

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