Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
The new documentary film Room 237 may have only limited appeal but if you love Stanley Kubrick’s movies (Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket, The Killing, 2000: A Space Odyssey), especially his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining, then this is a must-see film. Structured as an introduction to the many provocative theories about The Shining and its meaning, viewers hear (but never shown) several die-hard fans meticulously outline what they think the film is about and what Kubrick was attempting to express. Those interested in Kubrick’s controversial version (Stephen King hated it) conspiracy theories will love the film and the way it depicts both the intellectual limits of critical semiotics and deconstruction as well as the depth of passion and obsession invested in such a project. Was it really a deeply coded criticism of the genocide of the American Indian or could it have been a winking apology for Kubrick’s participation in the faking of the moon landing and c’mon, what’s up with those cans of Calumet baking soda? If anything, the film proves that art and an artist’s intentions can be interpreted in a number of ways, often resulting with comical conclusions but it also serves as a celebration of theory as an intellectual exercise in deepening our capacity to think more dynamically and critically about the power of messaging and the coding of media.
A groundbreaking documentary when first released in 1968, this Albert and David Maysles (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter) production follows the emotional up’s and down’s of a group of door-to-door salesman who are charged with the peddling of a gold embossed version of the Good Book. Each of these real life Willy Loman’s has a nickname (The Rabbit, The Gipper, The Bull) which adds an element of fictive artifice, but what the Maysles brothers are really after, is to paint a psychological portrait of the inner turmoil these men feel as they grind their way through each pitch, expressing frustration (at both each other and their customers), skepticism toward the future of their profession and in some cases, a celebratory belief in the power of their vocation. Funny, heartbreaking and myth-busting, Salesman is an American classic of cinema verite.
The great movie directors have always shown an interest in exploring the subject of growing up and the themes of adolescent awakening, rites of passage and the sometimes complex depiction of individuals straddling both adulthood and childhood. As many different kinds of filmmakers as there are, so to have these kinds of movies been varied, both in terms of genre, point of view and style. Childhood it would appear from some of the beloved films that have been inspired by the subject, is messy, complicated and rendered as a darn right miserable experience.
Youth’s opposite condition, the aging process and growing old has also been explored with both tenderness and horror. Sometimes depicted with gritty realism, other times with romantic sentimentality, many of these films examine the way that the elderly either flourish by growing open to new and different ideas about what it means to live or in some cases, investigate the many difficulties that the elderly are confronted with. Here is a brief list of some of the great films that tackle the subject of both youth and the elderly with intelligence, artfulness and humanity.
Harry and Tonto
Harold and Maude
Away from Her
On Golden Pond
The Up Series
The Straight Story
Murmur of the Heart
My Life as a Dog
Mon Oncle Antoine
Stand by Me
Kid with a Bike
Spirit of the Beehive
The Ice Storm
Harry and Tonto
The Loving Story is just that, a documentary tale of two people bound by an uncompromising commitment to one another, fighting against injustice and hatred. Marriage equality isn’t only a contemporary legal issue that’s being struggled over in state and federal courts today but one that goes back many years and in this particularly precedent-setting case, begins in 1958, when two Virginians married in Washington D.C., neither aware of a Virginia law that criminalized interracial marriages. Our loving couple, Mildred and Richard Loving were subsequently arrested and charged with a crime. Wanting to continue to live in Virginia, the couple decided to fight this legal bigotry by challenging their convictions as well as the the very law that was designed to oppress Virginian blacks and codify social and economic segregation. Supported by two brash and youthful attorneys, the Loving’s fought their way to the United States Supreme Court and won in 1967. This is their remarkable story.
The Loving Story
The recently released documentary film Chasing Ice is the story of one of the world’s most renowned photojournalists tackling the subject of global warming by documenting the retreat and loss of glacial ice in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Montana due to climate change. This documentary, full of breathtaking images of both sublime beauty and environmental degradation introduces us to the passionate photographer James Balog, who with his team of scientists, techies, climbing experts and field guides set out to document the physical evidence of global warming by setting up cameras in multiple locations to film a particular landscape in order to archive the changes. The dramatic effects of global warming are clearly evident as Balog returns to each site several times a year to make sure the cameras are functioning properly and to review the effects upon the glaciers. The film highlights the emotional up’s and down’s and natural obstacles to such an endeavor but what really is the most striking feature of the film is the awe-inspiring magnificence of the arctic landscapes.
One’s take away from writer/director Sarah Polley’s brilliant, semi-autobiographical Stories We Tell may be that the film is about family dynamics and the complex secrets they often keep hidden. But what the film is really about is the way in which our lives are like stories, often interpreted and consumed differently by various actors involved within the circle of a particular narrative. The 'truth' about Sarah's origins becomes increasingly unstable as memories (some of which may be unreliable) of the past highlight the relativistic and nuanced nature of individual perspectives and experiences. Everyone's take on Sarah's mother is bit different, which is to say, she struggled to conform to any singular mold or characterization. The film works very much like Tim O’brien’s masterful fictional memoir The Things They Carried, a novel set in the Vietnam War but a book concerned primarily with the importance of storytelling as a way of understanding splintered, de-centered realities. It’s a wonderful film and one of the best of the year.
Stories We Tell
56 Up is the eighth and latest installment in the British documentary Up series. Began in 1964 and airing every seven years, audiences have followed a select group of seven year old children from 1964 to now with the expressed intent to examine British class structure and its power to determine one’s life. We the viewers are allowed access to the personal up’s and down’s of a participant’s life story, including a quick summation of their life as it was and as it is now. The interviews probe the typical subject matter such as married life, employment, children, health and various laments, grievances and successes. Viewers won’t be mesmerized by anything unconventional, extraordinary or surprising. Most of the children have grown up to live relatively banal, middle class lives even as they’ve likely felt a certain pressure as living subjects within an entertainment/sociological experiment.
Legendary White Stallions. If you like looking as talented gorgeous horses then give this DVD a perusal. This is a DVD about the legendary Lipizzaners. It talks about their training and their breeding and shows them in action and in the country side. Some of these quotes will give you a feel for the DVD. The Director of the Spanish Riding School says “Classic Horse riding is pure Beauty and Harmony” The Rider is the artist and the Horse is the medium” Now, while I agree with his statement and love seeing these horses, I thought that he, the Director of the Spanish Riding School looked like Prince Charles. Ok, back to serious, this is an informative and also beautiful DVD of the Lipizzaners. They are the horses of legends. Another quote “It’s Teamwork, it is as if there was a gossamer thread between the riders and the horses mind.” This is a visually powerful and educational DVD of a legendary horse. It is a wondrous photography of the Lipizzaners. Check it out, give it a watch and be enthralled and educated.
Legendary White Stallions
There are many times in life when we take an action that cannot be undone, and in so doing, head down one fork in the road, never to possibly return to the other path again. I was struck, watching Chely Wright, Wish Me Away, how real that is when someone comes out. Ms. Wright, popular country music singer-songwriter, CMA winner, was raised in a conservative God-fearing home and community. As a young girl, she knew she wanted to be a country music star and she determined to work heart and soul to reach that goal. At the same time, she recognized her crushes on girls and prayed that God would help her somehow overcome her feelings, that God wouldn’t let her be gay.
The documentary incorporates interviews with primary people in Wright’s life (family members, other creative collaborators, people from her hometown,) heart-wrenching homemade videos created by Wright during some of her most despairing moments, plus footage of Wright meeting with her spiritual advisor and, later, her publicist.
Wright’s coming-out process was exquisitely choreographed. The release of her autobiographical book, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, this movie and numerous public interviews (with Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O’Donnell and others) were all scheduled to happen one real close together, for maximum exposure. In one interview, Rosie O’Donnell bluntly states: “You’re out, honey….You’re out all day. You’re out forever!”
Chely Wright, Wish Me Away
If I had to choose my top film for 2013 today, it would surely be Mark Cousins’ epic series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, a serious film connoisseur’s dream documentary that covers the history of film from its 19th century origins up through the present. Cousins, never timid to express his own attitude toward the nature of both the economics and politics of the film industry, weaves the technical, cultural and artistic evolution of movie making through the lens of both that of an erudite chronicler, passionate critic, and corrective revisionist. He summarizes the development of movies as both an art form and as a business enterprise. He deconstructs established myths and ‘official’ accounts of film’s development while respectfully pointing to the shortcomings of conventional perspectives on the canon. His thick Scottish/Irish brogue may be too derisive an element for some viewers to overcome but overall (the project is obviously too personal for Cousins to have employed another narrator), Cousins’ work will for some time constitute the benchmark for others to follow.
Cousins navigates the viewer through the decades, styles, genres, technical innovations and regional characteristics of the major epicenters of movie-making (Hollywood, France, the Soviet Union, Sweden, Japan, and Italy) introducing us to both American films emanating from the Hollywood star machine as well as those less acknowledged masterpieces made throughout the Asian, Latin and African world. The strength of Cousins’ view, that the story of film up until now has been one of exclusion and omission, arises from his ability to present an international collection of seminal directors and films, showing how these works and the talented minds behind their production arose parallel to more celebrated works of the Western world. Much of this history has been driven by the tension and balance between art, commerce and ideas, which Cousins explores throughout the series with great attention to detail and with obvious affection for the subject. The usual suspects are all here, including, Thomas Edison, Sergei Eisenstein, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Howard Hawkes, John Ford, Jean-Luc Godard, Fredrico Fellini, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Steven Spielberg as well as lesser known directors like Hind Rostom in Bab.Al-Hadid, Abel Gance, Erich von Stroheim, George Albert Smith, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Lynne Ramsay. Cineaphiles rejoice, your love letter to movies has been made.
The Story of film: an odyssey