Three hours of Frederick Wiseman watching people watch art, restore art, revel in the possibilities of art: there’s serene poetry here. In “National Gallery,” as in most of his work of the past five decades, Wiseman takes a few weeks to capture what goes on at an institution, listens, observes, goes back to his edit suite and makes sense of it all. In this case, Wiseman spent twelve weeks in 2012, while there were major exhibits of J. M. W. Turner, Titian and Da Vinci. Read the rest of this entry »
“Hopeless is a lie.” Jesse Moss’ specific yet elusive, moving observational portrait of a pastor in the fracking-wracked North Dakota oil boom town of Williston demonstrates the limits of community in the face of insurgent need: it’s nothing less than a nonfiction latter-day “The Grapes of Wrath” that’s both heartbreaking and urgently beautiful. “The Overnighters” is the name Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke gives the emigrants who arrive by the busload, broken yet driven men who change the face of the small prairie town. Read the rest of this entry »
Nonfiction filmmaker Margaret Brown keeps her eyes open on the Deep South she’s from, moving from the personal portrait of her hometown of Mobile, Alabama in “The Order of Myths” to the larger canvas of “The Great Invisible.” Her sober, beautiful, infuriating and utterly essential film charts the ongoing cost to be paid from the devastating 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. Brown seeks figures that range from Gulf Coast residents like oyster shuckers whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered, to workers describing the cost-cutting measures that contributed to the deadly accident, to unexpectedly candid oil executives. But Brown doesn’t neglect the larger picture. Read the rest of this entry »
In the annals of films about male vanity-of-no-vanity, James Keach’s “Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me” is one for the ages. Following Campbell on a 2011 “Goodbye Tour” that extended to 151 sold-out shows, all concerned knew that the now-seventy-eight-year-old Campbell had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. While “I’ll Be Me” is upbeat, it’s also relatively unflinching in showing the symptoms of the onset of the disease, and Campbell and his family allow remarkably tough and candid and vulnerable scenes to be captured, including some of the worst of the singer’s “bad days.” Read the rest of this entry »
“When you’re in love, catshit tastes like chocolate” is but one explanation offered for the continuation of the ancient tradition of polygamy among about ten percent of marriages among Balinese. For the starkly candid, tear-streaked “Bitter Honey,” anthropologist and director Robert Lemelson spent seven years observing the lives of three polygamous families in Bali. Interviews with the families’ “co-wives” both fascinate and appall; oppression, economic exploitation and violence are presented as commonplace. (The men believe they grow stronger with each wife.) Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
A stream of light, or a strip of luminescence courses above our heads. It’s inexorable, driven, fated. It’s also mute, dumb, like a laser pointer, or a torrent of data racketing across the internet to destinations that we do not know.
That image recurs through the first third of Laura Poitras’ serene, masterful, understated “Citizenfour,” until it is revealed as the illumination in a tunnel beneath the sea, until we see that we have been beneath Hong Kong, where the filmmaker will spend more than a week in a hotel room with only-just-former NSA operative/contractor Edward Snowden, and two journalists who were with the Guardian then, including fellow journalist Glenn Greenwald.
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Street style-blogger Ari Seth Cohen joined with documentarian Lina Plioplyte to create “Advanced Style,” an elaboration on his fixation on the style sense of women of a certain age in Manhattan, plying their couture without hauteur. These elders redefine style in each and every image of domesticated but still-dangerous divas of personal expression. The seven women range in age from sixty-two to ninety-five, and they’re unstoppable. Read the rest of this entry »
Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s “20,000 Days On Earth,” is stellar, a rich, luxuriant, calibrated auto-portrait of Nick Cave, not quite fact, not quite fiction, told as if it were taking place in a single day, in words, music, a first-time psychotherapy session, and personal hallucinations with former musical partners Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld in his car as he drives alongside the sea near his Brighton, England home. It sounds like so much attenuated tosh, but this bold, unique gem is bright, funny, brooding, hopeful, momentarily visionary, a wounded beauty exploring the creative process in a fresh and oft-brilliant fashion. Read the rest of this entry »
Talk about a film out of left field: I had no idea what I was in for stepping into Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and co-director Mark Becker’s “Art and Craft,” but it turns out to be a mesmerizing account of Mark Landis, a talented, highly medicated, mentally troubled art forger who found a way to commit the perfect crime against dozens of American regional museums. One of history’s most prolific forgers for more than three decades, Landis would quickly, capably recreate work of lesser-known artists then offer it as a bequest to smaller institutions around the country, taking not a penny for his efforts. (Thus his claim that he never broke any laws.) Read the rest of this entry »
“Meet the Mormons” resembles a standard shot-on-digital documentary, composed as it is of images and sounds, and of talking heads that are also smiling heads. But it’s actually an often-cryptic document about the lives of six members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and even could be taken for a television documentary except at the moments that it resembles a random mass of impulses. Nearly nothing in Blair Treu’s kindly public-relations film illuminates the practices or beliefs of the church, except for a will to goodness and success, and small, seemingly telling details go unremarked: for instance, the “scripture case” carried by several characters, containing the holy books of the faith; or the odd image of a Bishop of the Church at home who consults a near-disposable paperback edition of the Book of Mormon you’d find in the side table of a Marriott motel room rather than a finer copy of great personal worth. Read the rest of this entry »