(Pardé) Jafar Panahi, under house arrest, has been ordered by the Iranian regime not to make movies for twenty years (or, to give interviews, a ban that he has also broken). After “This Is Not A Film,” Panahi co-directs his second, forbidden film from internal exile (along with Kambozia Partovi). The first, shot in his Tehran apartment, took on the impossibility of a director not “directing” as part of its allegorical project, while also demonstrating his spirit of resistance. “Closed Curtain,” shot from inside a house along the Caspian Sea, swirls ever more with allegory, comprising a shifting limbo of mingling memories and reenactments and the apparition of what are essentially ghosts of former selves. It’s a deeply sad self-portrait of the inner workings of an artist’s stymied imagination. Read the rest of this entry »
It was years and years and years and years ago, just past the turn of the twentieth century. 2001, to be precise, January, only a few months before, well, you know. That single day. When everything supposedly changed.
We’re in Park City, Utah, at the largest of the Sundance Film Festival venues, the 989-seat Eccles Center. The latest film by Richard Linklater is about to debut, and there are whispers that afternoon that this showing will be a tightrope act. Two hard drives had arrived too late to test, only just in time to show, from a then-pioneering video effects company in Europe called Swiss Effects. There’s a primary and a backup of Linklater’s first animated feature, a movie about all time set in no time at all, “Waking Life.” A deep breath: this is new technology, made on computers in Austin, finished in Switzerland. It might not work at all. There’s no time left.
Of course, it worked. (So did “Waking Life,” the film.) No one in the audience knew the difference unless they’d heard the chatter. The illusion of onrushing narrative in continuous time swept us all away, as it has a way of doing. Not too long after that, Linklater shot the first portion of contained annual bursts of what was eventually entitled “Boyhood.” He hoped to trace the rituals of childhood, with a soulful-eyed, pout-lipped little casting find named Ellar Coltrane trusted with holding the center of the narrative for the twelve years to come. His character, Mason, would grow from the age of six or so to eighteen, from 2002 to September 2013, from pouty little boy to willowy, pillow-lipped man. Read the rest of this entry »
The Journey Of Roger Ebert: Ray Pride Remembers His Colleague and Talks to “Life Itself” director Steve James About a Life in Search of Candor, Intimacy and TruthBiopic, Chicago Artists, Documentary, Recommended 1 Comment »
“If you could’ve found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would’ve explained everything.”
—“Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz.
INT. VIRGINIA THEATRE, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – DAY
Here is one of the most chilling and thrilling sounds I have ever heard in a movie theater, from a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2012. Everyone in the 1,500 or so seats knew the attraction: a projection of the Blu-ray of “Citizen Kane,” on the big screen, with Roger Ebert’s time-honed commentary playing over the soundtrack. Roger hadn’t spoken since his surgeries of 2006. Heavy red velvet curtains part and the words “An RKO Radio Picture” appear—a radio tower girdling the globe and transmitting worldwide—with the words: “This is Roger Ebert, watching ‘Citizen Kane’ with you.” And Roger was watching “Citizen Kane” with us, from a lounger seat at the back of the auditorium. But it was the simple manifestation of that stilled voice—chummy, smart, ready to entertain and edify, that made the heart jump for just a second. Ebert’s two-hour weave of history and insights rushed forward, a dispatch from a friend long unheard-from. The last words spoken from the screen: “I’m Roger Ebert. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing ‘Citizen Kane.’” The curtains close, the lights rise, the room rocks with stifled sobs and fills with honest tears. Read the rest of this entry »
At the time of the untimely suicide of twenty-six-year-old internet savant Aaron Swartz, I was blindsided by the loss, and on that day I compiled everything I could find in a blog entry here. Among others, Rick Perlstein wrote: “He was also the first person I knew who wrote five-word emails, no more information, and no less, than what he needed to convey, Twitter avant la lettre—like all of us now; we are all Aaron Swartz… I remember a creature who seemed at first almost to be made up of pure data, disembodied… Only slowly, it seems, did he come to learn that he possessed a body… I remember the time, at the height of our friendship, when he announced he was taking a month off from connecting to any computer. I remember him telling me afterward about what it felt like: glorious, radiant, strange, alive, true (he mostly read history books). Dude got to see what it was like outside Plato’s Cave two separate times in his life. How many of us can say that?” Read the rest of this entry »
Alison Klayman’s fine 2012 documentary, “Ai Weiwei Never Sorry” was a high mark in depicting the travails of the protean, prolific Chinese artist and dissident. In “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case,” Danish filmmaker Andreas Johnsen continues the story of one man against his country in a bruised, bruising sequel, accused of tax evasion and refused the right to travel outside China. “Crazy dreams, wild dreams,” he says of his state of mind after eighty-one days in solitary confinement and his release on bail. It’s a heartening chronicle of the further “crazy dreams” of an artist who doesn’t intend to have freedom defined for him by the state. Read the rest of this entry »
Mike Myers’ “Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon” is a genial, ribald hagiography of the longtime manager of musicians and performers, beginning with Alice Cooper and through the decades toward his creation of the celebrity chef. “The consummate Hollywood insider” is a phrase that suits this friend of the Dalai Lama. In what one would presume is a characteristic shared by the director and his former manager, famous face after famous face testifies to Gordon’s tendency to throw himself into his work, which was the work of others, in lieu of defining his own personality. But “Supermensch” may be strongest in showing how he realized that before it was too late, shifting his priorities, living well and helping others in ways besides making them rich. Tales of all manner of hedonism, drug use, drug abuse and sexual excess abound, and they’re all funny. You get the sense they’re well polished, but they’re also well told. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m not as angry reflecting on the nonfiction jumble “Fed Up” as I was during its slovenly length, but from modest distance, it still feels like a ruinously wasted opportunity, an inconvenient botch. The future of food is a virtuous and valuable subject for journalism, and there’s already a small buffet of documentaries on the subject. But the glib, brightly colored, overstuffed “Fed Up,” near-ADD in its disorganization, is hardly more than empty audiovisual calories. Co-producer-narrator Katie Couric intones substandard television narration to stitch together the episodes, and pretty quickly I knew it wasn’t my cup of Olympian patronization. (Couric describes a “veritable tsunami of obesity.” “Veritable tsunami,” uh-huh.) Class condescension rises through the depiction of obese young people, given small, low-grade video cameras to confess to when they’re hungry. The parents are given ample time to describe their poor diet choices, but the effect is more patronizing than illuminating. Read the rest of this entry »
A fifteen-year labor of love as well as a fifteen-year labor of personal pounds sterling, Charlie Paul’s “For No Good Reason” captures the personality and process of the great illustrator Ralph Steadman, best-known for the caricatures that accompany the work of Hunter S. Thompson. There’s a stirring sense of the rare vitriol and vigor that’s kept him going for seventy-seven years so far.
Paul and his wife Lucy kept the project going for years alongside many television documentaries about artists, and “For No Good Reason” benefits from those years of experience. The film also profits from a willingness to employ detailed sound design and to texture images to reflect and refract the art. Steadman and his friend Johnny Depp, lingering in the painting studio, are the only present-tense figures seen whole. Other figures, like Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner and Terry Gilliam, are projected against textured backgrounds. The talking heads become artifacts. A device like that could turn into a tic, but along with the examples of his morally invested, vivid work and a bursting song score, it gives a vital sense of the artist’s creative pulse. It’s a kind of palimpsest, like writing atop writing, much after the fashion of the techniques Steadman is seen using to create his profuse, sprawling, often howling images. Read the rest of this entry »
“I believe in ecstasy for everyone,” proclaims the poet-experimental filmmaker-gay activist at the top of “Big Joy: The Adventures Of James Broughton.” Stephen Silha, Dawn Logsdon and Eric Slade’s documentary situates the protean Broughton in midcentury San Francisco, after the War and before the arrival of the Beats, among the likes of Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Madeline Gleason, Kenneth Rexroth in a close and largely queer “North Beach bubble.” Archival footage, stock images and a spoken narrative carpenter the origins of his work, as well as the historical moment that created his emphatically positive persona and led to his eventual embrace by the emerging 1960s counterculture, “happenings,” and later, logically, by members of the gay liberation movement. Read the rest of this entry »
Hilla Medalia’s “Dancing In Jaffa” documents the return of ballroom champion Pierre Dulaine to his home city of Jaffa for the first time since childhood emigration. He’s spent his life as an educator, introducing a ballroom dancing program in New York City Schools in 1994 that affected an estimated 350,000 children. An earlier documentary, Marilyn Agrelo’s 2005 “Mad Hot Ballroom,” encompassed the work of his not-for-profit, Dancing Classrooms. Now Dulaine has another dream to fulfill: teaching ten-and-eleven-year-old Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli children to learn Latin dance together in a ten-week course. Complications ensue, and how. Read the rest of this entry »