Staff Picks: Movies
Writer, editor, partier, commercial pitchman, and friend of the rich, famous and artistic, George Plimpton was never really taken that seriously as an accomplished, literary heavyweight like many of his writer friends (James Salter, Peter Matthiessen, Ernest Hemingway, Gay Talese). Yet nevertheless, he co-founded and served as editor of one of the most important and prestigious literary magazines of the post-war era, The Paris Review. When not publishing some of the most important writers of his time, Plimpton’s reputation grew mostly from his pioneering development of what he referred to as “participatory journalism”, the act of collecting unique experiences and then detailing them in book form. His most famous gimmick was when he tried out for the Detroit Lions football team as a quarterback, culminating in the bestseller Paper Lion. Much of his interest in being the subject of these journalistic “stints” led critics to suggest that his work can be seen as a precursor to what was dubbed the New Journalism (see: Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson) of the 1960’s. For more on Plimpton’s life, relationships and accomplishments, check out the new documentary Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself.
Fans of Errol Morris documentaries will not be surprised by his approach to understanding his most recent subject, the life and philosophies of Donald Rumsfeld. There are the standard cutaways to spirited music (Danny Elfman’s score) blended into a particular image or graphic that relates in some way to the film’s subject. There is the occasional moment where the viewer hears Morris pose a question or request additional information from off camera. Basically, this is a very typical Errol Morris film. Like his previous film The Fog of War, where he allowed former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to candidly speak about his role in the escalation and continuation of the Vietnam War, Morris lets Rumsfeld freely talk to the audience, only interjecting here and there in order to pose a question or contradict his subject’s commentary, much of which exhibits Rumsfeld’s talent for turning a phrase (always with a gleam in his eye and a smirk). Morris is clearly fascinated by Rumsfeld’s hubris, confidence, sense of moral clarity, and ability to be dualistically self-aware and ludicrously delusional-- at times he embodies both within a single exchange of ideas. Those who blame Rumsfeld for the invasion and occupation of Iraq will likely be frustrated that Morris refuses to take a more confrontational stance toward some of Rumsfeld’s claims. This has always been Morris’ artistic approach however, to engage his subject by allowing them to feel comfortable enough to be frank and thus more honest, a successful method that allows the viewer critical insights into the mind of Rumsfeld that otherwise would be lost within a polemical or satiric slant. Ultimately, Rumsfeld doesn't blink, doesn't self-evaluate, and therefore, one mostly sees in his glib snark, a man who sticks to his schtick.
The Unknown Known
As with most of the wonderful films that have been made under the ESPN film series 30 for 30, Youngstown Boys is a moving examination of the relationship between power, money, urban neglect and the role that larger socioeconomic forces play in molding the lives of individual athletes as they develop both on and off the proverbial field. These are not films about sports as such but rather powerful documentaries that explore the lives of the famous and infamous through a sociological lens, positioning their subjects within a broad framework for understanding the causes and effects of noteworthy events. This is the story of the rise and fall and rise again journey of a successful college football coach and his star player. It’s also a story all too common in today’s world, where young, inner-city athletes are confronted with difficult challenges and choices in regards to their future. Running back Maurice Claret and coach Jim Tressel were the toast of Columbus, Ohio for one magical year of success before controversy erupted on Ohio State's campus, leaving both men in very different situations, both trying to succeed in a world of greed, influence and big money. Claret’s story unfolded under the intense glare of the national media whereas the documentary provides greater clarity and a more nuanced context as to the events that would test the strong bond between these two Youngstown Boys.
This surprisingly moving and affectionate biography of a celebrated skateboard team from the 1980’s will appeal to both current skateboarders as well as those Generation X kids who grew up following these legendary shredders of the street, pools, and ramps. Cobbled together by 70’s skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta, The Bones Brigade was comprised of the era’s most talented and original riders, including: Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen and Tommy Guerrero. This is an entertaining film that recounts both the personal stories of each individual skater and provides fans of the colorful sport with an insider’s account of skateboarding’s golden era.
The Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
70 years ago today, one of World War II's most significant battles was D-Day, the day in which thousands of Allied soldiers crossed the English Channel to invade German occupied France. There's certainly no shortage of informational resources on this topic but if you're a WWII buff or simply want to know more about this imporant day in the fight against Nazi Germany, check out The War by Americana documentarian Ken Burns. This is my favorite work of Burns and his most emotionally dramatic. Soldiers who were there, storming the beaches of Normandy, recount with unfiltered descriptions, the horrors, heroism, and blunders that they experienced on that fateful day and in doing so, provide an unromanticized version of their sacrifice. It's Burn's most stirring documentary and one that is required viewing for those interested in World War II. For those who want their history fictionalized, KPL owns many feature films set during wartime, including Saving Private Ryan, Life Is Beautiful, Schindler's List, The Big Red One, Force 10 from Navarone, The Thin Red Line, The English Patient, The Winds of War, In Darkness, Ivan's Childhood, The Cranes are Flying, and Flags of Our Fathers.
In 2009, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Catching Fire, Taxi to the Darkside) set out to chronicle the comeback of 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. But history was about to be re-written in 2013, forcing Gibney to shelve the project as Armstrong’s legal woes grew and the public’s trust in his well-insulated fraud began to erode. The doping allegations and assertions that Armstrong and his cycling teams were systematically cheating had dogged Armstrong throughout his career, even as his storied fight against cancer and celebrity stardom grew, finally forced the world’s most accomplished cyclist to publically admit to cheating during his run as Tour champion, doing so last year on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Gibney scrapped his original plan for the film and re-worked The Armstrong Lie into a fascinating examination of Armstrong’s storybook ascent to prominence and his Shakespearean fall from grace. Cycling fans will love the insider information about the sport’s well documented history of cheaters and scandal but the film will also appeal to viewers interested in the psychological deconstruction of a man who seemingly had it all but who at the same time, pathologically lied to everyone while building a fortress of corruption around his "narrative". Armstrong apologists, if any exist, will have a difficult time in justifying the means of trickery that Armstrong enacted in order to rationalize the ends. This isn’t just a great piece of schadenfreude but also an engaging study on the power of celebrity, money and the addiction to win at all cost.
The Armstrong Lie
This year’s Cannes Film Festival winners included Winter Sleep (Best Film), Bennett Miller (Best Director), Julianne Moore (Best Actress) and Timothy Spall (Best Actor). Here’s a look back at some of the films that have previously been awarded the prestigious Palme d’or.
Taste of Cherry—1997
The White Ribbon—2009
Burn is an exhilarating documentary that takes viewers inside the day to day lives of Detroit firefighters, as they confront the enormously dangerous task of stamping out the city’s ceaseless torrent of burning buildings, many of which are the result of arson. The film also explores the tensions within city government and how firefighting services are impacted by Detroit’s dwindling resources, financial woes and political infighting. It’s a great film that is packed with humor, drama and genuine heroism.
These Birds Walk is an unsanitized, visceral portrait of poverty, despair and the day-to-day struggles of an ambulance driver who ferries both dead bodies to and fro as well as transporting young runaways back to their families. Set in a Karachi (Pakistan) orphanage for unwanted and runaway children, the filmmakers have chosen to chronicle their subjects (Omar being the focus) without contextualizing or providing any sort of exposition. Their approach to their subject forces the viewer to become a voyeuristic fly on the wall of the orphanage, observing the young boys as they play, fight, laugh and confess the hopelessness of their lives. Viewers are also taken on a bumpy, chaotic ride through the busy streets of Karachi with an ambulance driver who works for the orphanage and who compassionately talks with the young boys. He sympathizes with their struggles because he too was once in the same situation. It’s easy to understand from simply reading the depth of despair on the faces of these children, how one living in these kinds of inhumane circumstances could be seduced by criminality or religious extremism. Their options are limited and they are under no illusions about their life’s trajectory. As grim a depiction of contemporary poverty as the film is, there are moments, albeit brief, where we glimpse the kindness of a stranger and the power it can wield.
These Birds Walk
Shola Lynch, a documentary filmmaker who has garnered much critical acclaim for her incisive and salient films, is one director whose films are invaluable, particularly for people like me who didn't live through the turbulent times they speak of. Lynch is interested in participatory democracy and how people, especially people who have been historically denied a voice (and a vote), forge new ways and means of being heard. As the director of Chisholm ’72 and Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Lynch shares with audiences the stories of the titular African American women, both activists and leaders in political and social justice movements in the late 1960s to 70s.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed
Shirley Chisholm was our nation’s first Black congresswoman, and her gutsy run for president several years later was another first in U.S. History; she was working under the belief that people would vote with their conscience, rather than cynically voting for “the man most likely…” Lynch portrays the complicated political forces involved that make for a gripping story.
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners
Dr. Angela Davis sought social justice, not by running for elected office (that would transpire years later) but initially by teaching and working directly with local activists. The events that transpire thereafter are so incredible and outrageous that I cannot retell them with any justice here - Lynch has already done that.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed
DisneyNature has done it again. This time it is a year in the life of a Bear family. We follow Sky, the mother, and her two cubs Scout and Amber through the first year of their life. We start with their birth and we follow them cross the Alaska wilderness from the snowy mountains to the rivers full of salmon. It is spectacular scenery, breath taking views and a prodigious insight into the life of Bears. I saw DisneyNature-Bears in the theatre and paid movie going prices, you can place a hold now and see it for free from your library. We also have many more movies you may be interested in, come on in and take a look or go to our KPL website and browse from home.
DisneyNature – Bears
Most of us prefer sound with our visual imagery when it comes to movie watching. However, if you’re looking to challenge yourself to experience visual poetry and storytelling in new ways without the element of music or dialogue, here’s a quick introductory sampler of well-regarded works.
People on Sunday
Le Quattro Volte (sound, but no dialogue)
The Passion of Joan of Arc
People on sunday
It’s no secret that the craft beer movement is burgeoning in Michigan—with Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo taking first and second place respectively in the annual Beer City USA poll last year, it’s clear that Michiganders love their craft brews. If you’re interested in finding out more about craft brewing in Michigan, check out The Michigan Beer Film. It focuses mainly on Southwest Michigan, following Greenbush Brewing Company as it rapidly expands and crediting Bell’s for founding the craft beer scene in Michigan. It takes a brief tour of the U.P. and a stop at Short’s Brewing Company, along with a look at a brewing upstart in Detroit. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of brewing around the state, but it is nice to see what’s going on in our area of Michigan, and it’s particularly good to see an industry that’s growing in Michigan. So grab an Oberon and watch The Michigan Beer Film!
Michigan Beer Movie
Edward Shackleton’s failed expedition to the South Pole in 1914 produced the greatest rescue/survival mission ever recorded. Chasing Shackleton is a PBS documentary that follows six modern day adventurers as they attempt to replicate the astounding feats of bravery, ingenuity and physical endurance that Shackleton and his crew members used in their attempt to sail the most dangerous ocean waters on the globe and traverse an unmapped mountain to save their fellow crewman. Led by an audacious leader in Tim Jarvis and clad in the wool clothes of the early 20th century, these six intrepid explorers set out in a tiny sail boat from an island near the South Pole to test their grit and know-how while tackling the enormous obstacles which a hundred years before, lay in the path of Shackleton’s redemption. Pushed to the point of death, will these men survive these harrowing environmental conditions in order to match their predecessor’s glory?
In case you needed one last, post-Oscars list to use for upcoming checkout's. According to a survey of the editors and contributors of Film Comment magazine, these are the Top 20 films of 2013. Some have been released on DVD and others have yet to hit the shelves.
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- 12 Years a Slave
- Before Midnight
- The Act of Killing
- A Touch of Sin
- Computer Chess
- Frances Ha
- Upstream Color
- Museum Hours
- Blue Is the Warmest Color
- Spring Breakers
- Like Someone in Love
- Stories We Tell
- American Hustle
- The Grandmaster
About twenty years ago, I stumbled on a documentary called Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. It told the story of the investigation into the murder of three eight year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the subsequent conviction of three teenagers, casting doubt on whether the teenagers were guilty of murder or just guilty of wearing black, listening to heavy metal music, and enjoying horror films.
Over the years, the documentary filmmakers who made the original Paradise Lost have produced two other films: Paradise Lost: Revelations and Paradise Lost: Purgatory. These documentaries and other information about the case convinced some high profile people like: Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp, and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to lobby for the release of these teenagers.
After a bizarre plea deal, they were released on August 19, 2011 after serving over eighteen years for crimes they possibly didn’t commit.
Now, Damien Echols, who was on death row for those eighteen years, tells his story in Life After Death. Watch the documentaries and read his book and decide who you believe.
Paradise Lost: Purgatory
Sandra Bullock may have taken on deadly space debris in Best Picture contender Gravity, but it’ll likely be Cate Blanchett that destroys her chances at winning a second Oscar come Sunday, March 2nd. That’s right, the 86th Academy Awards ceremony is less than two weeks away, which mean now’s the time to catch up on all those critically-acclaimed movies you’ve been meaning to watch. Thankfully, the Kalamazoo Public Library is here to help with this list of all the Oscar-nominated films that you can check out from us right now:
- Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips received 6 nods overall, including Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (Tom Hanks just missed the cut for Best Actor, but his performance is riveting, especially in the film’s final 10 minutes).
- Cate Blanchett is the front runner for Best Actress in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. The film also received nominations for Supporting Actress (Sally Hawkins) and Original Screenplay.
- Best Animated Feature nominees The Croods and Despicable Me 2 are available now (Front-runner Frozen will be here in March). Despicable also received a nomination for Best Song with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”
- Four of the five Best Documentary Feature nominations are here: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, and 20 Feet from Stardom.
- Big-budget summer films Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Lone Ranger received nominations for Best Visual Effects. Ranger also received a nod for Hairstyling & Makeup alongside fellow unlikely-contender Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.
- Baz Luhrmann’s opulent take on The Great Gatsby was recognized for Costume Design and Production Design.
- Best Foreign Language Film nominee The Hunt is currently available, while fellow contenders The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Great Beauty will arrive in March.
- The third part of Richard Linklater’s beloved romance trilogy, Before Midnight, received an Adapted Screenplay nod.
- All is Lost features a great performance from Robert Redford and was recognized for Best Sound Editing.
- Abduction thriller Prisoners is competing for Best Cinematography.
Several more Oscar contenders will be available on DVD or Blu-ray very soon:
- With 10 nominations (including Bullock’s), Gravity (available February 25th) will be a force to be reckoned with on Oscar night. It has a great shot at winning Best Picture and Director (Alfonso Cuarón) and is also the front-runner for technical categories like Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. The film was also recognized for Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, and Production Design.
- Also out on February 25th is Nebraska, which welcomed nominations for Best Picture, Director (Alexander Payne), Actor (Bruce Dern), Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Cinematography, and Original Screenplay.
These Oscar contenders will be available in March, and you can place a hold on them right now:
- 12 Years a Slave received 9 nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Steve McQueen), Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o).
- American Hustle was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director (David O. Russell), Actor (Christian Bale), Actress (Amy Adams), Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), and Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence).
- Dallas Buyers Club has 6 nominations, including Best Picture, Actor (Matthew McConaughey) and Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), and both actors are favored to win in their respective categories.
- The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for Best Picture, Director (Martin Scorsese), Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), and Adapted Screenplay.
- Philomena is competing for Best Picture, Actress (Judi Dench), Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay.
- Also arriving in March are nominees The Grandmaster (Cinematography, Costume Design), Inside Llewyn Davis (Cinematography, Sound Mixing), The Book Thief (Original Score), Saving Mr. Banks (Original Score), and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Original Song).
Keep an eye out for the rest of the nominees, which are sure to follow. In the meantime, come on down to KPL and start prepping for Oscar night!
Tom Hanks is not talking to a basketball named Wilson this time and I haven’t seen any cute UPS type commercials like there were after the Cast Away. Captain Phillips was a more serious movie and it was made after real events. A real Captain Phillips was really steering an ocean going container ship carrying much needed food and water to Africa. It was attacked by Somali pirates and boarded. The movie starts out introducing you to lives on both sides. We see Captain Phillips saying goodbye to his wife as he boards a plane to go to Oman to captain the boat. We see the Somali people and how they are forced to be pirates. The movie does not waste a lot of time showing you background, it jumps right to the actual attack. The Container ship repels the first attempt but when the one boat comes back they successfully board the container ship, largely due to a malfunctioning fire hose that was supposed to keep the little boat away. What I found interesting is that there were only 4 Somali pirates and they were not that bright. But they had automatic weapons. If the container ship had even a couple of guns they might have staved off the attack. When the little boat gets close and hooks it’s ladder to the ship I kept thinking why don’t they go and repel boarders. The people who lived in castles did it all the time. Somebody puts up a ladder, you push them and the ladder off. Once boarded Captain Phillips misleads the pirates, tricks them, tells them the ship is broken etc. The Pirates were not the brightest. I think the Somali Pirates should use this movie as a training film for what not to do when hijacking a ship. When the Somali pirates took Captain Phillips in the lifeboat it got very real for me. I remembered watching this lifeboat and hearing about the Navy Seals and their 3 shots fired simultaneously and how much praise they got for their accuracy. In the movie when they rescue Captain Phillips it wasn’t like in a Sylvester Stallone movie where they pounce around all macho. Tom Hanks did an excellent job of being in shock. He couldn’t speak, he was on the verge of crying. He made you feel his distress. I give him high praise for conveying that emotion effectively. Come on down and check this DVD out from KPL.
Reader’s Advisory is a term that librarians use to describe the act of linking similar titles together so that readers are exposed to authors and titles that possess comparable thematic or stylistic qualities. This is the first installment of a film version of that kind of process of suggestion. It’s not scientifically based and so absorb these lists with a grain of salt.
• Liked Goodfellas, try Miller’s Crossing
• Liked Charulata, try Everlasting Moments
• Liked The Truman Show, try Real Life
• Liked Drive, try Taxi Driver
• Liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, try Petulia
• Liked Last Year at Marienbad, try Memento
• Liked The Ice Storm, try Ordinary People
• Liked Groundhog Day, try Being There
• Liked Take Shelter, try Repulsion
• Liked Il Postino, try Amelie
• Liked E.T, try Super 8
• Liked Doubt, try The Silence
• Liked Mad Men (series), try The Hour (series)
• Liked Paper Moon, try The Last Picture Show
• Liked Harold and Maude, try Delicacy
• Liked Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy, try The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
• Liked Goon, try Slapshot
• Liked Harry and Tonto, try Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
• Liked The Newsroom (series), try Sports Night (series)
• Liked Platoon, try The Thin Red Line
• Liked Leaving Las Vegas, try Taste of Cherry
• Liked Dead Man Walking, try Into the Abyss: a tale of death, a tale of life
• Liked There Will Be Blood, try Citizen Kane
• The Bridge Over River Kwai, try Force 10 from Navarone
• Liked Blue Valentine, try A Woman Under the Influence
Force 10 from Navarone
Last month marked the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, so if you're going to be stuck inside during these cold and snowy days, you may as well cozy up with a hot toddy and watch Ken Burns' documentary series describing the passage, enforcement, and repeal of Prohibition in the United States. When I watched the series last month I wasn't sure how much I'd learn, since this era was covered in my American history classes and has been heavily mined by pop culture, but I found all five-and-a-half hours engaging. I especially enjoyed the first episode, which outlines the factors leading to the passage of the 18th Amendment, including immigration and the introduction of the federal income tax.
The library has several copies of the DVD, but it's also available to check out anytime with Hoopla, the library's source for instant streaming videos, music, and audiobooks.
If you're interested in fictional depictions of Prohibition, check out the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing, the television series Boardwalk Empire, or Woody Allen's comedic take Bullets Over Broadway.
I’ve been trying to distract myself from the extreme winter weather of late by checking out some of our documentaries on surfing (White Wash, Riding Giants). Maybe it’s the beautiful landscape of the Hawaiian coast or the vibrant blue of the ocean wafting above the earth’s surface that appeals to me as we grind through a cold, grey winter.
Surfwise is an excellent documentary film that will appeal to anyone interested in exploring the question: What is a meaningful life and what does it look like in practice? Surfwise is the portrait of a man (Dorian Doc Paskowitz) with a vision of the world that found it’s life-long manifestation in the rejection of social conventions and modern values. It’s also a film about family dynamics and the conflict between one man’s inflexible idealism and the resentment and problems it later produced for his nine children.
Friendship as a documentary subject is a rare thing and with this affecting and poignant account of the long-term bond between Pulitzer Prize-winning author/actor Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark, viewers may feel as though they are listening in on a personal conversation between two old mates. Fused by both affinity and family, these two friends, entangled within the complicated web of history, not to mention their very different views on life and living, join together to work on an University project regarding their correspondence and ephemera that may result in a book deal. Full of tenderness, humor and sadness, these two old compatriots open up and bare their lifetime of memories, laments and affection for one another before the camera’s eye, offering up fascinating insights about both the limits of male closeness and its lasting durability.
Shepard & Dark
As rabid a film watcher as I am, time restrictions will forever thwart my capacity to plow through KPL’s stellar movie collection but here is an abbreviated list of some of my favorite films from KPL’s collection, watched over the past year. While we add new releases each week, don’t forget about the diversified depth of our collection. We can’t purchase every movie that is requested or inquired about but we can work toward the goal of having most titles for most of our patrons, most of the time.
Upstream Color: With the exception of the increasingly abstract, fragmented and non-linear narratives of Terrence Malick, there have been few notable American films over the past decade or so that have attempted to remake the kind of Eurocentric, anti-classical/realist/romantic films of the 1960’s and 70’s (think: Godard, Bresson, Tarr, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Warhol, Antonioni). With Upstream Color, a sort of Hiroshima Mon Amour for our contemporary times, one hopes that young filmmakers will continue to take the value of abstraction seriously, reimagining it in new and thoughtful ways.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: A film that came out (pun intended) way ahead of its time. It’s kind of an absurdist musical that is in-your-face bonkers, but bonkers in the most vital, transgressive and beautifully rebellious way. A postmodern Hair.
Young Adult: Charlize Theron gives a great performance as an unraveled mess of a person that attempts to transition from a life of boredom and narcissism toward a more complete, self-aware state where the adjective ‘young’ can finally wither away.
Sullivan’s Travels: I checked this film out because the great American director Preston Sturges’ name kept popping up in literature on director/writer Wes Anderson (a favorite of mine). This well-written and acted screwball comedy hits the mark and lives up to its acclaim as one of the 1940’s best films.
My Dinner with Andre: A film like few others--this conventions-busting mixture of fiction and nonfiction, storytelling and improvised riffing will either bore you into slumber or thrill you with its originality. We almost forget, due to the strong writing, that the great French autuer Louis Malle was its director.
Insignificance: I’m still not sure I ‘get’ this peculiar film but it was certainly compelling, the way in which a film can unfold as both an irritant and a puzzling enigma.
Hiroshima Mon Amour: Before I saw this Alain Resnais masterpiece about memory, love and loss, I considered Harold and Maude my favorite film. Now it’s number two.
12 Angry Men: Watch this fictional, court room drama and then the documentary The Central Park Five. The very notion of facts, evidence, justice and human objectivity are brilliantly rendered as a hollow collection of outdated concepts with tragic application.
Hunger: Not to be mistaken with Steve McQueen’s first film about the imprisonment of IRA soldiers of the same name but rather the nimble and haunting adaptation of the classic, existential novella by Danish writer Knut Hamsun.
Summer with Monika: Arguably, my favorite film of Bergman’s but nowhere near his best. That distinction belongs to his magnum opus Scenes from a Marriage, a film that should only be approached by the single and the happily married couple.
Rules of the Game: My goal for movie watching this year was to view a handful of those classics considered important to the historical development of the art form according to the Sight and Sound Magazine’s list of 250 Greatest Films; a list created every ten years by an esteemed cadre of critics. Renoir’s masterpiece (rated at No. 4) is there for a reason and its influence can be seen in almost every film made since 1939 that skewers the vacuity of the rich and clueless.
La Jetee/Sans Soleil: Made by maverick film essayist Chris Marker, these two films are quite distinct from one another in both content and style. Both represent the best in avant-garde, envelope-pushing cinema that emerged parallel with the various manifestations of the European New Wave movement.
Picnic at Hanging Rock: This 70’s cult classic by Peter Weir still holds up as a truly original film that tackles the subject of loss, regret and repressed longing, all of which are tied to a mystery that leaves an Australian women’s school in shock and confusion.
Other notable films: L’ Avventura, Stroszek, Bringing Up Baby, Amarcord, The Killing, Neighboring Sounds, Damnation, The Lives of Others, Magnificent Ambersons, Harvey, Pat and Mike, The Third Man, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Searchers, Elevator to the Gallows, As I Lay Dying, Cleo from 5 to 7, Frances Ha, The Silence, Winter Light, Cries and Whispers, Blast of Silence, Through a Glass Darkly, Argo, Shallow Grave, Band of Outsiders, Fanny and Alexander, Mud, Harry and Tonto, Chasing Ice, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
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
The new documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns (The Central Park Five) is an outrage-inducing expose of the insidious injustice carried out upon five New York City teenagers in 1989. The story begins with the brutal attack of a jogger in Central Park. From there, the police department and prosecutors seek out those that they could label as the perpetrators, not the actual rapist. The evidence would suggest that investigators were neither interested in justice nor the truth about who was responsible for the vicious crime. The city explodes in racist condemnation of the teen suspects with much of the media and political class trying the case in the court of public opinion and tabloid. This is a must-watch film that should be shown in every classroom across this country.
The Central Park Five
It’s pretty easy to argue that movie expert Roger Ebert was America’s First Film Critic, in the sense that he was the country’s most well-known and respected reviewer of cinema. Ebert passed away yesterday from complications due to cancer. Ebert and the late Gene Siskel introduced millions of Americans to thoughtful conversations about both commercial and artistic-oriented films with their Saturday afternoon television show that aired from the mid 1980’s until Siskel’s death in 1999. Ebert’s brilliant reviews, many of which are collected in numerous books, are an excellent starting point for the novice fan of film to introduce themselves to the treasure trove of great movies. Ebert was known for his superb prose, much of which eschewed jargon and obtuse forms of critical theory. He also had a keen ability to criticize films he found intellectually stupefying or devoid of purpose with a biting sense of humor, some of which can be found below.
“The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.”
“Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way.”
“Dice Rules is one of the most appalling movies I have ever seen. It could not be more damaging to the career of Andrew Dice Clay if it had been made as a documentary by someone who hated him. The fact that Clay apparently thinks this movie is worth seeing is revealing and sad, indicating that he not only lacks a sense of humor, but also ordinary human decency.”
“Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve. This is the kind of movie that gives even its defenders fits of desperation. Consider my friend James Berardinelli, the best of the Web-based critics. No doubt 10 days of oxygen deprivation at the Sundance Film Festival helped inspire his three-star review, in which he reports optimistically, ‘Saving Silverman has its share of pratfalls and slapstick moments, but there’s almost no flatulence.’ Here’s a critical rule of thumb: You know you’re in trouble when you’re reduced to praising a movie for its absence of fart jokes, and have to add ‘almost.’”
And one of his most famous disses concerns Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. It "is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination."
One of last year’s most electrifying documentaries, The Imposter will leave an indelible mark, if only to remind you how entertaining (and ultimately sad) the interplay between fact and fiction, truth and fantasy can be when linked to a thriller of a story. One cannot describe this film without spoiling much of the suspense but viewers are likely to be both scratching their heads and muttering such things as “really?”, “no way!”, and “are people really that stupid and gullible?” How does a missing 13 year old boy from Texas mysteriously reappear in southern Spain, claiming he’d been kidnapped by military personnel, tortured and sold into slavery, convince the boy’s family and government officials that he is in fact the missing teen? Well, the answer to that and much more will likely leave your head spinning as you consider the subjects’ motivation and capacity to deceive. Fans of the runaway hit Catfish will find a great deal in The Imposter to like. View the trailer here.
In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, be sure to stop in and check out some of the many films that we own that feature the Emerald Isle. We have biographies, history, travel, documentaries and feature length films that highlight the rich and vibrant culture of Ireland.
The Quiet Man
Rattle and Hum
Beckett on Film
The Swell Season
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
My Left Foot
Rick Steves' Ireland & Scotland
A Love Divided
The Butcher Boy
Another Oscar season has come to a close, and it was quite a successful one at that. There were very few upsets or surprises, which helped this movie geek dominate his Oscar pool, getting 21 out of 24 correct – a tie for my all-time best. The Academy made up for snubbing director Ben Affleck by awarding Best Picture to the well-deserved Argo. The visually-stunning Life of Pi took home the most of the night with four, including one for director Ang Lee, who managed to turn what many felt was an unfilmable book into a crowd-pleaser. Skyfall became the first James Bond film to win an Oscar since 1965’s Thunderball. Lincoln ’s Daniel Day-Lewis became the first person ever to win Best Actor three times. And Pixar’s Brave just beat out the video-game-themed Wreck-It Ralph for Best Animated Feature, which is ironic considering poor Ralph spends his entire movie trying to win a trophy just so people will love him. You’ve earned top score from me, Ralph.
If you’re behind in your Oscar viewing, a handful of these award-winners are available for home viewing now, right here at the Kalamazoo Public Library:
Several of the Oscar winners are coming soon, and you can place a hold on them now:
Check back for the availability of Silver Linings Playbook, winner of Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence); Les Misérables, winner of Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Makeup & Hairstyling, and Sound Mixing; and Amour, winner of Best Foreign Film. The release dates of these films will probably be announced soon.
So what did you think of the Oscars? What were you glad to see win? Which categories would you have preferred to go differently? What was your favorite film of 2012?
As a punk rock skateboarder in the 1980’s, Another State of Mind was the most authentic depiction of life as a teenager involved in the underground music scene that any of us had seen put to film. It could only be found on late night cable television during the eighties and early nineties (you were lucky if one of your friends had a VCR and made a copy of it) and so I leapt at the opportunity to add the DVD release to our documentary film collection, hoping it would appeal to a newer generation as well as those who experienced the eighties punk scene first-hand. Made in 1982, at the time of hardcore punk’s heyday, the film takes the viewer on a cross-country journey with legendary Southern California bands The Youth Brigade and Social Distortion. There is plenty of live footage of the bands playing but the filmmakers primarily concentrated their focus on detailing the experiences of the band members as they struggled to survive the daily grind of touring in an old school bus. There’s also quite a bit of attention given to providing voice to kids the bands met along the way as well the occasional teenage denunciation (targets include: Reagan politics, middle-class conformity, religion, etc.). It certainly brought back some fond memories of my youthful days of DIY music and culture. See a clip here.
Another State of Mind
Wayne White has worn many creative hats over the years (art director, painter, puppeteer, music video director, set designer, animator, comic book illustrator, and so on) but what is most striking about this incredibly accomplished artist is his enthusiasm for integrating humor, levity and fun into his work, a rare mission for someone who has been embraced by both the entertainment industry (Pee Wee’s Playhouse) and the fine art world of museums and galleries. Like most, I knew nothing of his life or work until I saw the wonderful documentary portrait of this high energy personality called Beauty Is Embarrassing. You’ll learn about White’s humble, Southern origins and about his artistically constituted family (including his wife Mimi Pond). There are also tender moments in between the laughter and absurdity where White discusses his upbringing and the support he had growing up from his parents. This is a great film that will inspire your inner artist and rebel.
Beauty is Embarrassing
Gerhard Richter Painting is basically a straight forward, gimmick-less documentary presenting the world’s most famous painter doing what he does best--making art. The aloof Richter, now in his 80’s, shows few signs of slowing down though he admits during the film that he’ll call it quits when there’s nothing left of interest. The most fascinating part of the film, which will appeal to those who are working artists themselves, are the scenes revealing Richter’s techniques, many of which are suggestive of both an unpretentious approach and a meticulous thoughtfulness to the act of creation. Few will deny the genuine eclecticism of his highly celebrated oeuvre and fewer yet, will be able to afford one of his sought after paintings even if you win the Lotto.
Gerhard Richter Painting
In an inauspicious Tokyo subway station, 85 year-old master sushi chef Jiro Ono works each day to improve his craft and humbly offer his customers a dining experience that is simple yet sublime. Jiro Dreams of Sushi tells Jiro’s remarkable story. The documentary is a meditation on work and great sushi, as well as a zen koan about the unreachability of perfection and the beauty inherent in a life spent attempting to reach it. Foodie’s will love this film, but the added storyline that develops with Jiro’s two son’s, who are both sushi chef’s themselves, will appeal to all.
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi - Trailer from curious on Vimeo.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
We come to literature or of certain books in strange ways, sometimes circuitous, often by chance but how we get ‘there’ is of less importance than the experience we have inside of the interior worlds that our favorite books evoke. I often pick up a book when I’ve read that a particular book or author has some sort of relationship to a favorite author of mine. Usually the relationship is only tangential and often what the writers have in common is less about stylistic similarities than the sort of common themes, concerns and tones that are explored. The name of W.G. Sebald always seems to pop up in reviews, essays or on lists of great writers. Though I have not read any of his transgressive, category-less books, I recently stumbled across a documentary film that maps out his work and discusses his artistic contributions to literature. Both fascinating as a biographical introduction and as a documentary film that explores Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn, Patience: After Sebald, has now intensified my interest in his highly praised books.
Patience: After Sebald
Physicist and author Briane Greene is a fine communicator. He explains mind bogglingly counter-intuitive new physics theories in PBS's four-part Nova program The Fabric of the Cosmos with a sense of humor and economy of language that is in itself admirable. As a child, I enjoyed watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos on PBS with my family. Who could forget that great ambient Vangelis score and the spaceship of the imagination? Not to discount Cosmos - it's still well worth watching - but Brian Greene's four part series is delivered with shinier animations and has its own fine score by another European electronic artist: Ed Tomney. You can borrow the entire program on DVD from KPL or stream it directly online from PBS. Check it out!
The Fabric of the Cosmos
Today my morning coffee was served to me by a non-Native American wearing a headband with feathers. Some employees at this coffee shop even donned headdresses, while others
wore bandanas around their necks and western-style plaid shirts. I
can't say I was surprised, as culturally insensitive Halloween costumes
have grown inexplicably popular, or at least become much more visible due to the Internet, in the last few years. So popular that a group of students at Ohio University have created two campaigns raising awareness about the issue.
This incident was all the more poignant, and timely, because I
recently watched Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian,
a 2009 documentary that traces portrayals of Native Americans in
Hollywood films, from the silent era to the present, and explores
the ways those portrayals shape non-Natives' understanding of
Native culture and history. The film features interviews with
actors, directors, and American Indian activists, including Sacheen
Littlefeather, John Trudell, and Russell Means. Some of the films
discussed include One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dances WithWolves, Flags of Our Fathers, Smoke Signals, and The Fast Runner,
all of which are available at KPL.
This documentary is entertaining, informative, and breaks down common
assumptions and stereotypes. Those feather headdresses? They're worn for
ceremonial purposes, and only by American Indians of the Great Plains
The HBO film The Artist is Present chronicles the lead-up to Marina Abramovic's incredibly popular and well-documented retrospective at the MOMA in 2010. Since she emerged as a provocative performance artist in the 1970’s, Abramovic has blurred the distinction between life and art, using her body as both a literal canvas and a means to shock and move her audiences. One of the most interesting take away’s from this well put together film is how seemingly down to earth she appears compared to the intense character and controversial nature of her creative output. I also developed a much more nuanced understanding of her creative themes and intellectual motivations while not necessarily finding the entirety of her work to my liking. However, I dare even the most cynical of us to dismiss her recent (and probably most famous) work wherein which she sat in a chair for three months straight, everyday, simply staring at museum-goers during open hours. Highly emotional, the grueling performance situates the meaning of the work inside the personal responses and experiences of those who exist before her hypnotic gaze. If this sounds like your conceptual artist’s cup of tea, give it a shot.
The Artist is present
Fans of cinema will want to look over Sight & Sound’s most recent poll of 250 of the Greatest Films ever made. Compiled once a decade since 1962, this list is a great primer for anyone interested in watching the most talked and written about works, including silent films, movies from Hollywood’s golden era, contemporary art house flicks and foreign language masterpieces from the 1950’s and 60’s. Comedies, Drama, Westerns, Noir, Romance—it’s all there. Here are the top ten:
- Citizen Kane
- Tokyo Story
- La regle du jeu
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- The Searchers
- Man with a Movie Camera
- Passion of Joan of Arc
- 8 1/2
Passion of Joan of Arc
The New York City art world in post-war America was dominated by the rise of Abstract Expressionist painting. Led by iconic painters like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, abstract painting and its theoretical exponents tended to be an exclusive man’s club. However, there were several female painters who emerged during the late fifties and early sixties who are now recognized for their creative talents and artistic output. One of these pioneering figures was Joan Mitchell, a painter whose gestural works often hang upon the same museum walls today as her better known male counterparts. This documentary weaves together a strong and personal portrait of her life as a midcentury painter working through her romantic relationships and the frustrating battles with the gender politics of the art world. She spent much of her life in France, finding inspiration from nature and the physical universe.
Of course BMX is totally rad. It always has been
and always will be. Somehow, my early ‘80s Mongoose is still with me after all
these years and I still feel as cool as ever when I tool around the
neighborhood with my kids. Mat Hoffman went far beyond the concrete blocks and
plywood of my own pre-teen years in search of big air. Another in ESPN's 30 for 30 series, The Birth of Big Air documents
why Mat Hoffman is legendary in the world of BMX. He and his
friends and family constructed their own massive halfpipes in an unrelenting quest
to fly higher. Why? Who knows? But there is something uniquely human in the way
people will work really hard, even putting themselves in mortal danger, to
achieve their dreams. Plus it’s super fun to watch people do big jumps on BMX
bikes. Next time I ride around the block I’ll probably do some bunny hops.
The Birth of Big Air
ESPN Films' Catching Hell is the captivating tale of Steve Bartman and how he became a city-wide pariah and scapegoat. Who is Steve Bartman you ask? Award-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Darkside) first introduces the viewer to former Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, a man who knows a little something about having an entire city’s rage and anger directed at him and his family. During the 1986 World Series, Buckner infamously allowed a ground ball to dribble through his legs, allowing the New York Mets a Game 6 victory that would subsequently propel them on toward a Game 7 victory, thus denying the long suffering Red Sox fans a championship. Buckner was universally blamed by the Boston fans and media while the poor play of his fellow teammates went unacknowledged. In Buckner, the fans had their scapegoat and target to vent their frustration toward.
Bartman, like Buckner would also find himself at the center of a bizarre twist of fate during the 2003 National League Championship Series between the equally futile Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins. Five outs away from a place in the World Series, Bartman’s actions would forever link him inextricably to Chicago Cubs history. Gibney’s well directed documentary asks us why we scapegoat some while not others and to what extent do we take our love of sports too far.
The Fab 5 is a smart and nuanced documentary that will appeal to University of Michigan basketball fans that followed the meteoric rise of these five young men from highly touted high school blue chippers to college basketball icons. From the initial recruiting process of the Michigan coaching staff to the off-court legal problems faced by one of its star players, the film successfully weaves together the known and unknown while thoughtfully providing background regarding the experiences of these teenagers who were thrust under the media’s microscope from the beginning. The film does a nice job of discussing the high stakes world of collegiate basketball, the pressure to succeed and the high’s and low’s of the Fab 5’s on-court success and disappointment.
The Fab 5
The documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day (National Film Registry selection) is a one of a kind film that brings to life in lively Technicolor, the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, featuring live performances by musical legends like Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, and Thelonious Monk. Pieced together by art director and still photographer Bert Stern, the expressionistic film is mostly absent of dialogue or narration. However, the visual energy and kinetic tone of the film captures much more than just the great music of the day by extending its images beyond the stage to capture the colorful fashion and style of the late fifties (delight in the myriad of cool sunglasses and hipster chic), not to mention costal scenes shot of yacht races and summertime Newport life.
Jazz on a summer's day
Jack Cardiff was the twentieth century’s biggest name in cinematography. Camerman: the life and work of Jack Cardiff documents his long and storied career as a remarkable innovator of the art of shooting films. Having worked with the most famous actors and directors from the 1940’s on, Cardiff shares intimate details about the movie industry men and women who he worked with and filmed including Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Kirk Douglas, Charleton Heston, Sophia Loren, and Audrey Hepburn. Cardiff applied his interest in painting and light to his work with the Technicolor film that came of age after World War Two. His relationship with director Michael Powell during the late 40’s was incredibly fruitful having resulted in some of the most expressive and beautiful images put to the big screen including classic films Black Narcissus, Stairway to Heaven and Red Shoes. Film buffs will love this!
Cameraman: the life and work of jack cardiff
Our film collection offers a wide variety of educational and documentary portraits of many fascinating and noteworthy individuals whose contributions, in most cases, left a significant mark on the historical record. Whether you’re a history buff or a student looking to supplement print resources, don’t forget to browse our biographical works. Over the years we’ve blended artsy documentaries like The Fog of War, I’m Still Here, Man on Wire, Tarnation, and In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger with PBS portraits of Ansel Adams, Mark Twain, Ronald Reagan, Frida Khalo,Woody Gutherie, Walt Whitman, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Here’s a sampling of some of the persons you may want to learn more about:
George H.W. Bush
John and Abigail Adams
Robert E. Lee
Frank Lloyd Wright
Charles and Ray Eames
Oddballs and Miscellaneous
The Fab Five
Fog of war
Technically, I've missed the mid-year mark but here's a list of my picks for recommended film viewing. I'm sure other titles will end up on the year-end tally (I suspect P.T. Anderson's The Master will be my number one) but here's a start.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
In no way deserving of the hype that this buzzed about indie has received but certainly warrants watching. A five year old protagonist's cute face and acting chops can't save this picture's flaws but many will find its story uplifting and moving.
Damsels in Distress
Indie darling and pre-Wes Anderson autuer of the twee aristrocracy, Whit Stillman returns with a film that will no doubt divide audiences along love/hate lines.
The Turin Horse
Bleak, hopeless, painfully unfolded end of the world fair shot in a sumptuous black and white that will appeal to the existentialist-leaning devotees of Bresson, Bergman and Tarkovsky. No Michael Bay stuff here.
The Deep Blue Sea
A somber story of heartache and loss expressed through the fine acting of British actress Rachel Weisz.
Gerhard Richter Painting
A straight forward documentary that will likely appeal to those familiar with the world's most famous living painter's role in the shaping of post-war art.
The Turin Horse
The PBS television series The History Detectives, not known for drawing attention to itself, made headlines this week by declaring that they have found and authenticated the Fender guitar used by Bob Dylan at the legendary 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The current owners of the guitar, the daughter of a man who flew private planes for Dylan in the 60’s, claims that her father picked up the sunburst Stratocaster after it was left behind after a trip. Not so fast says Dylan’s representatives, who claim the famous axe is still in the possession of Dylan. Who is right? We’ll just have to see, given Dylan hasn’t stated whether or not he’ll actually provide physical proof to contradict the program’s evidence.
Several months earlier, Dylan and filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker joined forces to film several of his United Kingdom shows. Don’t Look Back is a classic rockumentary that takes you behind closed doors to give you access to a somewhat contrived Dylan and his growing dissatisfaction with fame and with his folkie fans. His sycophantic entourage and their gratuitous mocking of both the press and his contemporaries (see: Joan Baez and Donovan) are weaved in between the footage of Dylan playing songs from his albums Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited.
Don't Look Back
Summertime in hot, hot, Michigan means getting out on the tennis courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, trails and of course, diving in the water. For those days where the sweltering weather is prohibitive for even the most dedicated of athletes, be sure to stop by the library and browse our eclectic collection of sports-related documentaries.
Muhammad and Larry
Jews and Baseball
Vintage World Series Films, Detroit
ABC Wide World of Sports: 40 Years of Glory
The Birth of Big Air
Thrilla in Manila
Only the Ball Was White
Jews and baseball
Bobby Fischer Against the World is a fascinating rise and fall portrait of a man that struggled with genius, fame and mental illness. From his troubled childhood to his triumphant victory over the Soviet world champion Boris Spassky in 1972 and concluding with his final days living in national disgrace and exile, Fischer captivated the world with both his extraordinary aptitude for chess and his often peculiar public image. A fair and balanced documentary that presents the perspectives and recollections of those who knew him best throughout his life, Fischer’s tumultuous story is both sad and bewildering.
Bobby Fischer Against the World
The multi-episode series On the Waterways is a fun documentary that takes the viewer along with a young ship crew of college-age adventurers and introduces us to the many individuals and communities that lie alongside a body of water, while highlighting the important role that water has played in the development of towns and economies throughout the United States. Narrated by the late actor Jason Robards, On the Waterways may look and feel a bit outdated but it still stands up as an entertaining and educational examination on the relationship between humans and their environment.
On the waterways
From time to time, a film buried long ago, unknown to most, emerges from its cult status to reclaim its proper place in the pantheon of great cinema. The 1956 documentary On the Bowery is one such film that can make that claim. Introduced by the legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who explains why he identifies with the film both on a personal and historical level (he grew up a few blocks away from where the film was shot), Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery takes the viewer to the famously impoverished New York City street known for housing the destitute and those suffering from alcohol abuse. While there is a very simplistic plot setup that frames the film’s three day course, most of the film captures the essence of the Bowery by employing a kind of impressionistic realism that gives the film its gritty, naturalistic look. Rogosin sought to portray his subjects sympathetically, simply showing their persoanl struggles without preaching or romanticizing their plight. The film was added to the prestigious National Film Registry in 2008 because of it groundbreaking stature.
On the bowery
For steadfast Beatles fan, this HBO documentary by Martin Scorsese is a must-see film. For the casual music buff, you’ll learn all about Harrison’s life as the “quiet Beatle”, from his austere, post-war Liverpool upbringing to life in the Fab Four and thereafter. Harrison’s unique contribution to both the music world and his interest in Indian spiritual practices are fully explored through old interview footage, concert clips and the honest remarks of friends and family like Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Olivia Harrison and Paul McCartney.
George Harrison: living in the material world
I’ve really enjoyed watching many of the sports-meets-society series called 30 for 30, produced by ESPN Films. Each film tackles a singular sports subject by broadening the scope of the featured topic by taking into account the social, economic, and cultural determinants as well as the historical impact. The films are well produced and include candid commentary by journalists, athletes and entertainers. One Night in Vegas details the final moments before the rapper Tupac Shakur was killed. The library owns the following films in this series:
Straight Outta L.A.
June 17th, 1994
One Night in Vegas
The Birth of Big Air
The Two Escobars
No Crossover: the trial of Allen Iverson
Little Big Men
Muhammad and Larry
One night in vegas
Every December, the National Film Preservation Board, established by Congress in 1988, chooses up to 25 movies to be added to the National Film Registry (NFR) List. The “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” films chosen must be at least 10 years old, though not necessarily of feature length, nor must they have been released to a theatrical audience (though you will recognize many that have.)
KPL has a great many of these films in our collection. I was intrigued to find a wide variety of movies, such as Halloween, El Norte, Toy Story (I) and Marian Anderson: the Lincoln Memorial Concert (produced in 1939.) Watch several of the shorts from the NFR list in Treasures from American Film Archives and More Treasures from American Film Archives
To learn more about NFR films, check out 2 books from our collection, both with the main title of America’s Film Legacy. The older edition focuses on the first 500 films on the list, while the newer version updates readers about 50 movies more recently added to the list.
To find NFR films in the KPL catalog in the future, choose Movie Search on the horizontal menu, and type “National Film Registry” in the Word or Phrase search field.
Treasures from American Film Archives
Can you name two other Romneys that have run for President? Of course, there is Mitt's dad George, but what about Hugh Romney who ran for President as a clown named "Nobody" in 1976? You might know him better as the 60’s counterculture icon Wavy Gravy, after whom Ben & Jerry named a very tasty ice cream flavor. When I lived in Berkeley, I always hoped I would catch a glimpse of him. We even tried trick-or-treating at his house, but he was not home. So I was excited to see that the library purchased the new documentary Saint Misbehavin’ about his life so far.
I knew about his Hog Farm Commune, his run for President, and his work with the SEVA Foundation and Camp Winnarainbow; a performing arts summer camp for inner city kids, but the documentary introduced me to so much more. I did not know that he was a Beat poet in the New York scene before heading to California, that he was the one making announcements at Woodstock like, “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000,” or that Bob Dylan shared a room with him for a short time and wrote “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall” on his typewriter.
If you are a fan of Wavy Gravy or have never heard of him, check out this documentary and catch his infectious commitment to change the world for the better.
For those too young to remember or to have lived during the Black Power Movement of the late 1960's, this film will function as an introduction to some of the seminal figures in this political and cultural movement designed to radically reorganize society, redistribute economic power more equitably and shift the Civil Rights Movement toward a more confrontational style. Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975 is composed of mostly news footage shot by Swedish journalists eager to understand the explosive social issues confronting American society, namely, the role that key civil rights leaders like Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis and the Black Panthers were playing in rethinking the movement’s strategies and goals. Throughout the film, both new and old commentators alike (Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Talib Kweli, and Melvin Van Peebles) share their thoughts about the legacy and importance of these historical figures and their relevance to today’s younger generation.
Black Power Mixtape
In the documentary Stone Reader, filmmaker Mark Moskowitz tries to locate the author of the 1972 novel The Stones of Summer, a book that was critically acclaimed when first published but that dissapeared from library shelves as quickly as its author dropped out of the limelight, never writing another book again. Moskowitz cites the book as one of his favorite reading experiences while in his twenties and is clearly fascinated by the cultural and pyschological power of great literature. He wonders why a writer as talented as Dow Mossman threw in the towell after his initial success. Along the way toward locating Mossman (assuming he does), Moskowitz interviews writers and critics about the creative process in an attempt to better understand what may have driven Mossman's retreat from writing. A small yet affecting film, Stone Reader will reinvigorate your love for the classics and for reading in general.
Charles and Ray Eames were the two most popular American furniture designers during the 1950’s but they were more than just the creative face of mid-century, American modernism. They made a variety of different kinds of films, designed groundbreaking homes, constructed wartime leg splints using plywood, were commissioned to create animated commercials for IBM and much more. Follow this fascinating journey from their humble beginnings at the Michigan-based Cranbrook Academy of Art to the evolution of their successful firm in Los Angeles. Eames: The Architect and the Painter is a dazzling introduction for the lay person and a wonderful celebration of two of the most important artists of the 20th Century for the rabid fans of their coveted chairs.
Eames [videorecording] : the architect and the painter
I should warn you that this blog post is not actually about cats, despite the titular tease of feline tomfoolery. So if you were lured in with the promise of kitties doing adorable things, well then, you probably haven’t even bothered to read to the end of this sentence. I only mention cat videos because they are, as we all know, The Reason the Internet Was Invented. Who doesn’t love to watch cute, playful creatures getting themselves into all sorts of mischievous situations? And it doesn’t stop with our solitary enjoyment; once we catch a kitty giving a dog a back massage or playing the keyboard or flushing the toilet ad infinitum, we have to make sure everyone else we know and love sees that video too. We share it on Facebook, we Tweet about it, and we talk about it in our daily conversations. The next thing you know, somebody’s puddy tat has been seen by millions of people virtually overnight. Of course, these memes don’t have to be about cats. They can be music videos, famous quotes, photographs, articles, or any other sort of thing that makes you laugh, think, dance or feel inspired. My point (which I am somewhat habitually and infamously taking my sweet time to get to) is that—before the Internet gave us YouTube and other social media outlets—it used to be a lot harder to create “viral” pop culture sensations.
That’s right, kids. As recently as the late 90s, someone would have to resort to compact discs or—gasp!—VHS cassettes to spread sound or video recordings to their friends. Today, I can give hundreds of my Facebook friends the opportunity to laugh at Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video or the strategic ineptitudes of Leeroy Jenkins with just a few clicks of the mouse. 15 years ago I would have needed a VCR and some gas money to get them to just a few dozen. Fortunately for us, there are two great documentaries that you can check out chronicling the Dark Ages of viral recordings with a couple of infamous examples that you may have missed.
The recently-released documentary Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure tells the story of two young guys named Eddie and Mitch who, in the late 80s, created a pop culture sensation after recording the nightly screaming matches coming from the apartment next door. Their neighbors were an odd couple; a pair of older, anger-filled alcoholics who fought loudly and incessantly, and their profanity-laced, often nonsensical arguments were so jaw-droppingly shocking (and yet darkly hilarious) that Eddie and Mitch decided to record them lest no one believe the stories. Those sound recordings would be passed from friend to friend until, years later, they would be the source of inspiration for comic books, movies, a play and other culturally-inspired art.
Another documentary—this one from 2010—is called Winnebago Man, and it’s about a former RV salesman named Jack Rebney who, in the 80s, became infamous when the outtakes of a commercial he was filming were passed around, catching him in some notably cantankerous and (again) profanity-filled behavior. Still alive, Rebney is now a bit of a hermit but just as crotchety as ever, and the filmmakers’ interviews and Rebney’s subsequent confrontation with his cult popularity make for a wholly enjoyable look at an early viral phenomenon.
So, dear patrons, what are some of your favorite viral videos? What is it about these kinds of videos that make you want to share them with your family and friends? Curious minds want to know…
And now, a trailer for Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure…
…and a trailer for Winnebago Man…
…and for those who stuck around even after finding out I wasn’t writing about kitties, I’ll throw in a cat video just for you.
Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure
The film review web site rottentomatoes.com gave the documentary film The Interrupters a score of 99 percent “Fresh”. Other movie critics have also been quick to praise the gritty, unromanticized film that brings to light the challenges faced by a small group of urban mediators tirelessly working to halt violence and resolve conflict on Chicago’s most unforgiving streets. Day after day, shooting after shooting, the members of CeaseFire take to the streets in Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods to work with communities on how to better resolve disputes. You’ll learn about the personal stories of these community heroes and why they’ve dedicated their lives to stem the tide of youth violence when the odds are so clearly stacked against them. There is little discussion of the social and economic factors that play a central role in why violence is such an epidemic fact of everyday life in many parts of the United States however even as it refuses to explore solutions or to critically analyze the roots of violence, this striking film is well worth exploring. Here is a video clip of one of the featured interrupters on the Colbert Report.
Like many of the famous rock stars of the 1960’s who lived fast and died young, Jean-Michel Basquiat exploded on to the world art scene in the early 1980’s, made a sizeable impact on the development of painting, was befriended by his idol Andy Warhol, grabbed headlines as an enfant terrible, and then was dead at 27. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of this painter whose relationship to the art world was deeply complicated. Once the beloved darling of the downtown art scene, then castigated as a manufactured, one-hit wonder, Basquiat’s legacy and artistic achievements have been firmly cemented with the passage of time. This is a perfect documentary to watch in celebration of Black History Month.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: the radiant child
If you love movies like I do, you may have been waiting anxiously for the Academy Award nominations that were announced this morning, which is kind of like opening day for Oscar season. And if you’re a hardcore fanatic like I am, you try to see as many of the nominated films as possible before the Big Night. Thanks to the nearby Rave Cinema, which often shows more independent and limited-release films than its in-town competitors, I can often catch many of the nominees in a timely fashion. But for some of the more esoteric films, I often find myself driving to places like Grand Rapids, Lansing or Ann Arbor, as I have already done this season. (Crazy, I know, but I did use the word “fanatic” to describe myself.) For those of you normal folks who’d prefer their cultural horizons to be expanded without breaking their odometer, I thought I would mention all of the year’s Oscar-nominated stuff that you can get right here, right now at KPL.
Four of the Best Picture nominees are available now on Blu-ray and DVD:
The film Hugo had the most Oscar nominations with 11, which included Best Picture, Director (Martin Scorsese), and Adapted Screenplay. As of this writing, it does not yet have a release date for Blu-ray or DVD, but you can read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick’s Caldecott-winning book upon which it was based. Howard Shore’s score was also nominated and is currently on compact disc.
Other Best Picture nominees not yet available on Blu-ray or DVD but based on books you can read now include Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Descendants (5 nominations), Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2 nominations), and Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (6 nominations).
Beyond the Best Picture list, there are plenty of currently available films that received Oscar nominations today:
David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s mega-popular mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo received five nominations; it’s not yet available on Blu-ray or DVD, but you can read the book, check out the original Swedish version, or listen to Trent Reznor’s score (which was, in my opinion, the Academy’s biggest snub this year).
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy received nominations for Actor (Gary Oldman), Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay. You can read the novel from spymaster John le Carré, or check out the original British mini-series starring Alec Guinness.
Flight of the Conchords vet Bret McKenzie received a Best Original Song nomination for the amusingly existential “Man or Muppet” track from—what else?—The Muppets. The soundtrack is available now. The only other song nomination came from the soundtrack to the animated film Rio.
So there you have it: an exhaustive list of currently available materials from this year’s crop of Oscar nominations, complete with links to the items themselves. Whether you use it to browse for some ideas, or turn it into a checklist for immediate consumption is up to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some driving to do.
(Psst. If your interested in my personal choices for the ten best films of the year, you can find them here.)
Over the holiday I was able to catch up on some film titles from the past year that I had failed to see during the previous twelve months. In particular, I enjoyed two documentaries, Page One: inside the New York Times and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, that were both listed on KPL staff 2011 Best of Lists. While very different in style and content, the films relate in my opinion because the subject of each documentary seem to be, at least at some level, “in” on the project and are using the documentary format to take a position and very effectively tell the audience something about themselves. In the case of Page One, it’s the NYT convincing us that they remain relevant and the authoritative place for news in an ever splintering media landscape, and in the case of Conan O’Brien, which was filmed in the aftermath of O’Brien’s famously contentious split with NBC and Jay Leno, its O’Brien convincing us that he is an incredibly, almost compulsively, driven entertainer. Both films have compelling characters featured prominently, with Page One its NYT media and culture columnist David Carr – who, after watching this film, I think of as the Keith Richards of journalism – and with Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop it has to be O’Brien himself, he is in nearly every frame of the film and working incredibly hard to entertain everyone near him during his every waking second. I’m glad that I had the time to watch both films, and I recommend using KPL staff picks, our Movies and Music pages, and KPL staff in all our locations to help keep your “to watch” lists full of great titles.
Page One: inside the New York Times
As a new year is upon us, and we all march onward indefinitely through time, I need to admit something both to myself and to the world; I have made a huge mistake in my life. Sure, we all make mistakes, but this is a big one. What is this mistake I'm speaking of? Well, best I just get it all out in the open. The mistake is...I had never actually watched Carl Sagan's Cosmos...until just a week or so ago.
Why is that such a terrible mistake? Well, if you're asking yourself that question, you must have never seen Cosmos yourself. In that case, I think you can deduce what needs to be done!
In all seriousness though, Cosmos is a brilliant mini-series on all things related to our world, our universe, and our own existence. Deep stuff, right? Of course it is. But, what makes Cosmos so great isn't merely the information it presents to the viewer (that is, of course, an important part). However, it's Sagan's ability to present this information in the most insightful, caring and humble manner that really allows the grandeur of the ideas presented to resonate deep within.
I've attended school practically all of my life, spent countless hours learning about the stars, planets, galaxies, etc., but I never felt like any of it really connected to me. None of it ever seemed as poetic or purposeful as the way Sagan is able to describe and explain it.
Amazing as it may seem, the TV series originally aired in 1980, but the show rarely feels dated. Sure, clothing styles have changed and technology has undergone massive improvements, but the majority of the material still feels fresh and current. It would seem that humanity continues to search for answers to the same questions, now over thirty years in the future.
In short, if you have any interest in this type of subject matter, this is a series that begs to be watched. The 13 one-hour episodes may seem daunting at first, but you'll soon find yourself so enthralled that you'll probably wish there were 13 more.
You can check out all 13 hours on just 7 DVDs, all in one package, at the downtown location. Plus, you can renew as many times as needed - as long as no one else wants what you've borrowed! So, sit back, open your mind, and prepare to take a trip on the "Spaceship of the imagination."
A difficult documentary to summarize, Nostalgia for the Light is one of the best nonfiction films I’ve seen in a while. The film is not about one thing in particular but rather synthesizes relatively tangential subjects into a beautiful lament for innocence lost and memories of lost ones. Beautifully crafted, NFTL ties the scientific quest for understanding the origins of our planet with the somber task of mourning and emotional closure for victims of the Chilean military coup in 1973. Highly recommended.
Nostalgia for the Light
There have been several touching, documentary portraits of musicians that are known both for their significant contributions to the world of music and for their personal struggles. Fans of cult artists like Daniel Johnston (The Devil and Daniel Johnston), Gram Parsons (Gram Parsons, Fallen Angel) and Harry Nilsson (Who is Harry Nilsson: And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) will surely want to watch Be Here to Love Me, the story of influential troubadour Townes Van Zandt. This is a wonderful introduction to Van Zandt’s story and one that shouldn’t be ignored if you enjoy the music of country and folk artists like Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and Steve Earle.
Be here to love me
The Human Experience is a documentary film featuring Jeffrey and Cliff Azize, two brothers who go on an adventure to discover the meaning of life. Jeff asks the ageless questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? Jeff and Cliff grew up in an abusive home, no love, no security. Now they live in a halfway house in New York City. They and two friends decide to explore communities where people shunned by society live.
Grassroots Films actually films the events as they happen, thrusting the truth at us. For their first experience they live homeless for one week in New York City in February’s frigid 5 degree temps. They converse with the homeless and discover a commonness amongst the homeless: humility and vulnerability, a desire for dignity and respect.
For their second experience they travel to Peru with Will Kinnane, founder of Surf for the Cause, a group of surfers who work on community projects. They volunteer at a children’s hospital that treats mutilated, abused, and abandoned children. The children are so happy despite their physical conditions and people cannot understand this. One volunteer states: it’s not what we give them, it’s what they give us. They give us a reason to live. The joy of living is what the kids have. Many young people do not have a purpose and meaning of their life. Many young people need to experience that this life matters.
For their third experience they travel to Ghana, Africa, and see African people dancing and celebrating life, the joy of life. On their way to visit a leper colony, Jeff and Cliff visit a community where dying AIDS victims live, a mother and her baby, where suffering and death prevail. How do they cope with facing death? Then, at the leper colony, the lepers are looked at as outcasts, segregated from the rest of society. When Jeff asks a leper why do you bother to get up every morning, he responds that Love is what matters, you are my brother, it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
This captivating documentary is very worthwhile. It’s not always easy to watch, but it is rich with joy; featuring commentaries from experts in humanitarian and religious fields. This film zeroes in on what it means to be human and it delivers!
The Human Experience
“That is the reason you go to college, not to make more money, but to gain the knowledge to make this a better world.” – Sambo Mockee
The fantastic documentary, Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the spirit of the Rural Studio, tells the inspiring story of architect and teacher Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and the thought provoking work of the Rural Studio, a design/build program offered through Auburn University’s School of Architecture, which Mockbee co-founded. The Rural Studio focuses all of its projects on the citizens of Hale County Alabama, one of the poorest areas of the country and that is what makes it so utterly unique and what really makes this film so fascinating. Using recycled, found, or donated materials, the Rural Studio and it’s architects in training get a very real world, hands-on experience in creating what Mockbee referred to as an “architecture of decency”. Gifting beautiful, functional, and efficient structures to people whose day to day lives are spent in pretty shocking conditions, but whose dignity and worth as human beings is clearly respected by the students and the faculty of the Rural Studio. The program and Mockbee have become an inspiration for similar design/build experiences at other universities, and this film certainly does inspire, but it is the uniquely compassionate and socially responsible vision of Mockbee, who passed away from leukemia in 2001, that really shines and will, hopefully, reverberate far into the future.
This is a must-see documentary for parents who have children engaged in violent sports like football. Tackling the dangerous rise in concussions and physical injuries to young football players, Football High also shines a light on the culture and industry of high stakes football programs. As more and more evidence mounts regarding the brain’s response to concussions and accumulative damage from physical trauma, the film's producers pose the question: what are the long-term risks associated with violent sports and are schools prepared for the consequences or will big money and athletic prestige trump the safety and health of student athletes?
Marwencol is the story of Mark Hogancamp, a man who constructed a fictional universe made up of World War 2 toy soldiers and Barbie dolls. This first-rate documentary follows Hogancamp’s artistic endeavors and provides the contextual grounding for understanding Hogancamp’s drive to heal both physically and emotionally while exploring in great detail, the highly personal and original nature of his work. Hogancamp was brutally attacked outside of a bar by five people. After emerging from a coma, he lost most of his memories and suffered both physical and emotional damage as a result. For therapeutic reasons and to aid in his recovery, Hogancamp began to develop a fictional account of a war strewn town called Marwencol (constructed outside of his trailer home) populated by soldiers, wherein which many of the characters assume the names of friends and co-workers in Hogancamp’s real life. Hogancamp situates the dolls within a variety of plot twists, even going so far as to fashion a time machine out of an old VCR that allows one of his characters travel time in order to save the story’s main protagonist from the Nazi dolls. He then photographs the dolls playing out their various scenes, many of which mirror Hogancamp’s own life.
What happens when Hogancamp’s fantasy world of violence and revenge is discovered by an art critic and subsequently asked to exhibit his work in a fancy NYC art gallery? You’ll just have to find out. Marwencol will appeal to artists and non-artists alike. Recommended.
This year, in recognition of LGBT Pride month, I watched Fagbug. I’d read about it online and wanted to know more. On the 11th Annual National Day of Silence, Erin Davies’ VW beetle was vandalized, with the words “fag” and “u r gay” spray-painted on it. Instead of cleaning it up and erasing the evidence of the hate crime, Davies chose to take the ‘fagbug’ on the road, building awareness of homophobia and hate crimes all across the country.
It was a brave move, and the movie chronicles people’s reactions – positive and negative—all over the U.S. Near the end of her journey, Davies learned that VW would sponsor her, and on completion of the trip, she transformed Fagbug, covering her car with gorgeous rainbow stripes. Fagbug was dubbed the “Best Gay Car Movie of the Year” by Vanity Fair.
When you look for Fagbug on the shelf, these are some other movies you might find nearby.
Inside Job, winner of the 2011 Oscar for best documentary, details the events that led to the economic crisis of 2008. It’s a well-made, informative film but one that you really have to be in the right mood to watch. That is, be prepared to get angry! Don’t let my warning stop you from watching it, though; if you don’t know much about the happenings behind the economic crisis, Inside Job clearly explains how decisions made over nearly thirty years culminated in a disastrous crash that cost the global market $20 trillion dollars. Along with this film, I recommend a 2008 episode of NPR’s This American Life to understand just what happened to the economy.
Anyone having seen the resounding documentary Restrepo will have overwhelming feelings of angst, sadness, amazement, awe, injustice, wonderment, and all other things emotional when learning of Tim Hetherington's death in Libya this week. I'm not sure if it would be irony, poetic justice, or poetic injustice, that he died doing what he loved and what was so very, very dangerous in spreading the deep, complex messages of war. He, and several other journalists, were in the line of rebel fire in Misurata.
Of the few war documentaries and films I've seen, Restrepo will stand at the forefront of the one that had the most impact on me. WWI and WWII films were about grandparents. Vietnam and Korean conflict films were about fathers and uncles. But, Restrepo was about contemporaries, colleagues, friends, peers, brothers, and husbands. Identifying with the ages and faces of the soldiers in Restrepo, I was able to finally connect (albeit superficially) with war on the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual level.
Rest in peace, Mr. Hetherington.
This blog is fourth and final in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
El Inmigrante (The Immigrant)
This final documentary, El Inmigrante, tells the story of one who succeeded in reaching America, one who actually had succeeded several times and was experienced in crossing the desert where he would go on to work in America sending money home to his family. The last time Eusebio de Haro crossed through the desert he would never get home again. He and his travelling companion crossed the dessert, plagued by thirst, and found themselves before an elderly Texan couple, on whose land they stood. They pleaded the Americans for water and a rifle was drawn. Eusebio’s companion ran for his life and Eusbio was shot down from behind while fleeing. From here the documentary fleshes out Eusebio’s story with accounts from his mother, father and his numerous siblings who share memories of their fallen brother and give us a sense of where he came from and why he would make the journey.
Members of the U.S. Border patrol are interviewed and found to be surprisingly sympathetic toward the travelers they guard the border against. Less sympathetic, the vigilante border guards who’ve decided their government is not doing enough and with rifle in hand they watch over their small piece of the border. You hear from people who lived and worked with the gun man including his friend and Sheriff, the same officer who was called to arrest him. and his opinions about his guilt as well as his feelings on the justness of his punishment. And we also hear from Eusebio’s brother who took the news of his brother’s death as a challenge to make the same crossing himself. Now he works in construction and sends money home and remembers his brother and his jokes. Those who made the journey or attempted it contemplate whether the crossing is worth it, whether America is the land of plenty they imagined.
Having travelled via film from Honduras and Chiapas, through Mexico by train, across the Rio and through the desert, into America itself with these poor, tired travelers, will your opinions of the immigration debate be altered, re-affirmed? Whatever your take on the issue, I think everyone can benefit from the rare opportunity of hearing the voices of those the debate is centered on, not just the lawmakers and U.S. citizens who contribute to the debate. Whatever your opinion is, each of these films are excellent stories of individuals who take up a journey of which they have fear, perhaps not too much knowledge of the dangers waiting them and with hope for better things driving them on.
This blog is second in a series in which I take a look at four films in our collection which deal with illegal immigration, first and foremost from the perspective of those who undertake the journey, but also from viewpoint of their family, the communities they immigrate to and border patrol officers charged with repelling them from entering the country. Sin Nombre, Which Way Home, Mojados: Through the Night and El Inmigrante are all films that take a look at illegal immigration in greater depth and with a greater diversity of opinions than can be included in the typical media coverage of the debate. If you have a desire to take a closer look at the hows and whys of illegal border crossing, I urge you to check out one or all of these films.
Which Way Home
With Sin Nombre still fresh in mind I was pleased to come across Which Way Home while I was perusing the new releases in the Audio Visual department. This was a documentary about the real-life youths making the journey by train. Even more astounding than witnessing the same dangerous circumstances of riding “el tren,” now with actual lives at stake, was the extremely young age of those who rode it. “La Bestia,” the beast, this is the affectionate and fearful title given to their transport by the main figure, Kevin “El Gordo” or “Fatty.”
Kevin made this journey at the age of 14, making him the eldest among the children featured in the film. In fact, most of the children in this documentary are only around eight or nine years old. What a terrifying thought to think of my own child riding on top of a train all the way across the length of the Mexican territory. Some ran away from home. Some never had a home and some were sent by their families with hope they would arrive in America and be able to send money back home. The children laugh, make jokes and sing just like any other children. It is difficult not imagining a child you know of the same age making the journey.
I was very moved by two travelers in particular, Olga and Freddy, whose youth and innocence seems impossible in those surroundings. They are preoccupied with childish games but also worry about the dangers of their journey and sit awake through the night telling horror stories of what happens to those swept off the roof by a tree branch and between the cars below. When they talk about crossing the desert, as they must when they reach the end of the line, they have an air of bravado. They seem unconcerned with the warnings given by social workers who have volunteered to assist and inform the travelers in their crossings. However, although the situation is pitiful there is a lot of joy in the movie, thanks to the children.
The journey they share ends differently for all of them, and without saying too much, I can assure you that none of those endings is entirely unhappy, but it should be remembered that happy endings are not in store for all those who travel this way, perhaps they are even the exceptions to the rule.
Which Way Home
This hilarious and ultimately heartwarming documentary tells the story of the people responsible for the "so bad it's good" film Troll 2 and what has happened to them as the low budget horror film they were involved with in 1989 slowly turned into what is affectionately known as “the worst movie ever made” - a cult favorite with maniacal fans and Rocky Horror Picture Show like midnight showing parties. Written and directed by Michael Stephenson – who actually starred in Troll 2 as a child – Best Worst Movie’s main focus is George Hardy, the father in Troll 2, who is now a well loved general dentist living a quiet and happy life in a small Alabama town. The film examines the Troll 2 phenomenon and follows George and many of the other cast members, several who are clearly not as well adjusted as George appears to be, as they hit the Troll 2 circuit, engaging with rabid fans and soaking up the weird fame that they have in this realm. The film is well made, touching, funny, and above all entertaining. Even if you have never seen Troll 2 you will be a fan after viewing this great documentary.
Best Worst Movie
I had read some reviews that recommended the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, but by the time I got around to watching it, I had completely forgotten what it was about. It took me by storm. After watching the first fifteen minutes, I had to call my wife to come see it and then I had to call my teenage son.
The premise for the documentary is that an amateur filmmaker, Thierry Guetta, got really interested in the street art scene and used the line that he was making a documentary to get access to some of the world's most famous street artists, including the extremely private Banksy. When Banksy finally calls his bluff and tells him to make the film, the guy does a horrible job. Bansky decides to make his own film using Guetta's footage and encourages Guetta to do some of his own street art in the meantime. Guetta decides this is a good idea and becomes a overnight sensation using the pseudonym Mr. Brainwash.
If that sounds a little unbelievable, join the club of people who think the whole Thierry Guetta character is a hoax, used as a framework for Banksy to promote his work as well as others in the street art scene.
It doesn't really matter though, because the film is so much fun.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Street Stops Here mixes dramatic tension, high-stakes basketball and the economic recession into a documentary film that packs an authentic, emotional punch. The film is a superb portrait of a small, Jersey City Catholic school (St. Anthony) under pressure financially to keep its doors open while the school’s storied basketball program and its inimitable coach Bob Hurley Sr. seek to win their 25th state title. Like the award-winning Hoop Dreams before it, The Street Stops Here depicts the lives of several key seniors, both their off the court struggles to transcend their disadvantaged upbringing as well as their struggle to win their first state championship, However, its Hurley, a former probation officer, who takes center stage throughout the film as the audience gains intimate access to his heavy-handed forms of discipline and tough love approach. A big thumbs up.
The Street Stops Here
The 1970’s were arguably one of the best decades for film making in the United States. Many of the major studios began to allow young directors much greater power and freedom to craft artistic pictures and in doing so, gave birth to the last golden age of American cinema. The seventies saw the emergence of decorated and influential directors and writers like Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), William Friedkind (The Exorcist), George Lucas (American Graffiti, Star Wars), Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Mean Streets), Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Trilogy, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now), Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven), Robert Towne (Chinatown), Peter Bogdanovich (Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show), Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor, The Way We Were, All the President’s Men) Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico) and Robert Altman (MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye) to name but just a few. Here are just a few of the most interesting films made during this original decade that we currently circulate. Lastly, a great documentary that chronicles this subject, Decade Under the Influence, will soon accompany these other classic films on our shelves.
The Last Picture Show
Harold and Maude (VHS)
Little Big Man
Kramer Vs Kramer (VHS)
The new documentary film Obscene tells the story of maverick book, magazine and film publisher Barney Rosset. Name an author or book in post-war America that was considered dangerous or that was banned and chances are, Rosset was centrally located near the controversy. A committed First Amendment activist, Rosset fought the politics of banning books by aggressively contesting legal and cultural obstacles throughout his time at the helm of Grove Press and Evergreen Review. No doubt a controversial subject, Rosset’s court room victories allowed libraries and book sellers to introduce some of literature's most popular books, many of which today are considered part of the literary canon. Some of the books and authors discussed include Samuel Beckett, Che Guevara’s diaries, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.
Having recently taken over the responsibilities of selecting films for our audiovisual collection, I’m excited to report about some of the new titles that I’ve recently ordered. Some are here in the building and others are on their way. Why these films you ask? Well, these are personal favorites of mine that I would argue with great adoration and zeal that because of their artistic merits warrant their inclusion within our diverse and varied cinema collection. Some are big name classics and others are great films that have either languished in obscurity or have been appreciated only by its ardent fans. Some may have already been part of our collection in years past and now have a second chance at falling into your hands. I hope you enjoy these movie treasures.
- The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
- Ghost World
- Carnal Knowledge
- Coming Home
- Hoop Dreams
- Killing Fields
- Lone Star
- Little Big Man
- My Left Foot
- My Private Idaho
- Il Postino
- My Beautiful Laundrette
- The Professional
- Splendor in the Grass
- Silence of the Lambs
I watch more films than the average person, so while the allure of the Lake Michigan shore often takes priority during these warm, sunny months, I've still managed to find some time to view several exceptional films that are worth checking out.
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Classic political satire from Frank Capra)
- La Vie En Rose (French biopic on singer Edith Piaf with an amazing performance from Marion Cotillard)
- Vivra Sa Vie (Classic from the French New Wave master)
- Avatar (Lot's of CGI without much of a plot, at least not an original one)
- Metropolitan (A cult indie classic from influential director Whit Stillman)
Fran Junker, who retires in August from the Oshtemo Branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library after more than 33 years of knowledgeable, devoted, caring service, recommended this MOST EXCELLENT MUST-SEE DVD titled: Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. Dr. Ben Carson is one of the leading Pediatric neurosurgeons in the world; he works at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD.
Ben and Curtis, his brother, were raised by their single mother in Detroit, Michigan. The story takes us into their home where Ben and Curtis watch too much television instead of doing their homework, much to the disgust of their mother who determines to change her sons’ lives. She insists that they study and read and she encourages them to achieve goals and to be successful . She instills priceless values of Faith in God and a belief in their own ability to accomplish whatever they desire. She tells them: “use your mind and develop your God-given gifts. You’re smart boys, but you both can do better. You got all the world in here. You just got to see what you can’t see”. We watch Ben’s physical and academic growth. Ben’s weaknesses, heartaches, trials and triumphs throughout his life are exposed.
The rewards of Dr. Ben Carson’s intelligence and medical expertise are intensely magnified when in 1987 the world awaits the outcome of his surgery performed on conjoined twins born in Germany . This inspiring story of Dr. Ben Carson is appealing to all ages. Thank you, Fran, for recommending this spectacular MOST EXCELLENT MUST-SEE DVD.
Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson story
The documentary film Painters Painting: A Candid History of the New York Art Scene 1940-1970 is an excellent introduction to the ideas and inspirations behind the explosion of American, post-war art. Packed with rare and archival footage, the film is a who’s who of New York artists (Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell), all of whom are today considered transformative visionaries associated with the development of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Emile de Antonio’s wonderful film will attract those both familiar with this highly influential time period in addition to younger artists whose works will undoubtedly be created within the shadow of these pioneer painters. Below is a clip from the film, featuring Barnett Newman discussing the problems of modern painting that he and his contemporaries sought to explore.
Painters painting [videorecording] : a candid history of the New York art scene, 1940-1970
The Beaches of Agnes is a clever, Surrealist mash-up that chronicles the life and memories of Belgian director/screenwriter/editor/producer Agnes Varda. Employing both documentary and memoir, Varda whimsically stitches together her recollections using photographs, scenes from her films, and playful reenactments that retell her story, from her childhood in coastal France, her success as an influential film maker during the sixties and seventies, to her long marriage to French director Jacques Demy. In addition to being a love letter to the great film makers of French cinema, this is a fun, lively and visually experimental piece that locates the nebulous nature of memory as one of the primary characters.
Beaches of Agnes
This is following upon Ann's earlier post about the depth and diversity of our film and television collection. I'd also like to point to the marvelous array of foreign language movies and in particular those that have been released by the Criterion Collection. There is no better way to introduce yourself to the rich body of world cinema then to explore Criterion's growing pool of cult films, many of which have never found a broad audience here in the United States. I'm referring to Larisa Shepitko's heartbreaking The Ascent (Russian), François Truffaut's memorable new wave coming of age story The 400 Blows (French), Hong Kong action hits like John Woo's The Killers (Cantonese), the highly influential masterpiece Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa (Japanese), and Steven Soderbergh's provoking narrative about drug trafficking Traffic (Spanish/English).
Essential art house. Rashomon [videorecording]
This is not a blog post about any particular movie, rather it is to call attention to our strong, current movie collection generally.
As I read movie reviews, see the announcement of what is playing at the Little Theatre on campus, or hear a friend mention a good movie, I jot down the title and check our holdings. We usually have the movie in our collection OR have it on order OR will order it as soon as available on DVD.
New titles are added to our catalog on Tuesdays. To see the listing in the KPL catalog, click on “New Items”, then “New DVDs.”
I’ve just added these titles to my list of “movies to watch sometime”: Amelia Earhart, Big Fan, and Inglourious Basterds. They are all in our collection already.