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Posts tagged ‘documentary’

Agnes Varda, 89, Is Up, in More Ways than One @ the NYFF!

Everything is so up at the NYFF 55, it makes my heart sing! Not the least of which is their big tribute to the tiniest of French Grande Dames du Cinema, Agnes Varda. My latest review at Awardsdaily.com on the great French icon. I called it “Hot at 89” And it was published within minutes! Beautiful lay-out by Sasha Stone and her gifted editor Ryan Adams! Merci a tous, as Agnes would say.

http://www.awardsdaily.com/2017/10/01/hot-89-agnes-varda-nyff-french-cinema-Agnes Varda truck 1icon-honored/

“Hands on a Hard Body” a Warm-hearted Musical Hits Home

I really did enjoy the recently opened “Hands on a Hard Body” the surprising, innovative musical hit that just opened on Broadway starring one of my favorite Bway actor/singers Hunter Foster. Yes, THAT Hunter Foster, who is the very, very talented older brother of the much more famous Sutton Foster, she who has now two Tonys and Hunter doesn’t even have one!

Hunter does however have a Tony nomination for “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Perhaps the super-duper “Hands on a Hard Body” will change all that. Certainly, it COULD. Hunter has the role of his career here playing the much-older-than-he-is, bad-ass, red-neck lead Benny Perkins.

Based on a much-respected but little-seen real-life documentary of the same name, “Hands on a Hard Body” traces the journeys of its’ dozen or so working class Texan characters, who have accepted the daunting challenge of standing with their hands on the hard body of a brand spanking new, gleaming, red as rose Nissan pick-up truck. Whoever can last the longest, in this rather unbelievable, but true competition wins the truck. And hopefully a bigger piece of the American pie, than all of them presently have.

Yes, a cast of have-nots, singing their Country and Western hearts out, to the tune of our sluggish economy and the stagnant social mobility that used be the American Dream.

Contempo, yes, to the max. But I liked that. And I REALLY liked all these characters, and their elucidation musically by Trey Anatasio (of “Phish”) and Amanda Green. And literarily by Pultizer-Prize winning librettist Doug Wright. Who wrote “I Am My Own Wife”. I liked this MUCH better than “Wife”, and was so pleased that there were relatable characters of all ages, sizes and genders singing their hillbilly hearts out.

The way the Musical Numbers are listed in the maddening program, without the names of the characters or actors who are singing them, it’s hard to single out just who sang what. But I found much to my delight(and hopefully yours, too) that every song was a winner.

Hunter Foster really dominates here and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did receive a Tony and/or Drama Desk nomination for his memorable meanie, whose big number was certainly “Hunt with the Big Dogs”, which ended the first act with a BANG! But he also sang many other terrific tunes, too.

Top-tapping music and amazingly interesting choreography by Sergio Trujillo kept “Hard Body” (and the red truck, too!) moving so much that you never noticed its’ seemingly static premise. Kudos are due, too, to its’ sharp director Neil Pepe.

Particularly so during Hawaiian belter Keala Settle’s roof-rasing “Joy of the Lord” which had the larger than life Ms. Settle pounding away on the truck until it turned it into a percussive instrument! Tony/Drama Desk and more nominations are CERTAINLY headed her way for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Giving her a run for her awards’ money in that category will be Dale Soules, whose Texas rasp, made me feel like she had just wandered in from the Grand Ole Opry, instead of an extensive career in theater.Her big number was “It’s a Fix!”

Also registering powerfully were Jon Rua as born-in-the-USA hispanic kid with a dream who wants to win the truck, so he can sell it and he can go to school and be a veterinarian. His soulful “Born in Loredo” is marvelously moving and mesmerizing. As is the Iraq war vet with PTSS, David Larsen,in his “Alone with Me” solo that also brings down the house. As do they all.

I love that a Broadway musical takes risks like “Hands on a Hard-Body” does. And reaches and fulfills them. I hope audiences find it as enjoyable and moving as I did!

A Montreal Film Festival 2012 Moment & My Debut on Italian TV!

A Montreal 2012 Memory via Roman TV! Thank you Mariangiola Castrovilli! Who also happens to be a regular on my show for years and years! She got me in Montreal, but we missed each other in Toronto 2012!

And the name of the director I was mis-remembering was Dheeraj Akolkar, and this is his first film! And it’s also being shown in the upcoming New York Film Festival!

Docs Rock Provincetown! The Provincetown Film Fest 2012

The Provincetown International Film Festival just wrapped its’ 14th season, boasting two new theaters and a very strong line-up of Docs.

 

Documentary Film Making was taken to a whole new level of social activism by filmmaker Kirby Dick and his powerful, unforgettable expose of female(and male) rape in the military called “The Invisible War.” It’s one of the best films of the year and is certainly going to be a very serious contender for an Oscar nomination in the always contentious Best Documentary category.
“The Invisible War” was named Best Doc when the Film Festival gave out its’ awards and Dick was there being honored as recipient of the Faith Hubley Career Achievement Award for his astounding body of work. His ground-breaking docs include “Twist of Faith”, “This Film Is Not Yet Rated”, “Sick” and many inflammatory others.”The Invisible War” also won the 2012 Audience Award at Sundance.
No stranger to controversy “The Invisible War’ is Kirby Dick’s  most shocking film yet, as it details the facts that lead to the horrifying conclusion that nearly every female that enters the armed forces may very well be the victim of a violent rape. The statistics that Dick presents are beyond frightening. At least one in four women in the military have reported being sexually assaulted by their fellow soldiers and officers. And this figure is considered way under-reported.
And the women have virtrually no redress, because it is to the very same men who raped them that they have to report the crime.Which continues to go unpunished as the men are left free to pursue successful military careers, while it it the women who are accused as the perpetrators and prosecuted for adultery. In 2012, these circumstances are unbelievable, but true, as Dick carefully lays out incident after frightening incident. The viewer is left outraged and numb, as are the female victims “The Invisible War” so bravely champions.
“The Invisible War” details the stories of four or five of the bravest of these victims of these horrific casualties and how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, referred to in the film as PTSD, is something that these women, and men, too, have to live with for the rest of their lives, some enduring permanent physical as well as emotional and psychological damage.
If there was ever a doc poised to jump out of its’ category and into a Best Film race of Ten Films(if that happens again this year) “The Invisible War” is the film that could do it. It is a towering, staggering achievement in the history of cinema as social action.
On a lighter note, it was another doc that impressed me. It was “Me @the Zoo” about the trannie You Tube sensation Chris Crocker. Crocker, now 24, became famous overnight online as he wailed “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!” into his video camera at home in his grandmother’s house in rural South, racking up over 270 million hits.
Ultra-sharp filmmakers Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch have created an extremely compelling doc on this online phenom. It reminded me of “The Naked Civil Servant”, the ’70s British documentary that re-created flamboyant homosexual Quentin Crisp’s out gay life in the ’30,’40s, ’50s and ’60s in pre-Gay Lib London.
Crisp only had his flame-colored hair, painted lips and nails and outrageous female stance as his weapons against the hypocrisy of British society. Chris Crocker has the Internet and his camera. And You Tube! Another effeminate homosexual who was so bullied, his proud and protective grandmother as well as the authorities of his local schools feared for his safety daily, so they advised him not to go to high school.
A virtual prisoner in his grandmother’s home, Crocker turned his camera on himself and in a series of outrageous You Tube homages to his idol pop star Britney Spears. He found freedom, recognition and in the end, fame and also an income. by charting the Pop Icon’s every move up and down the ladder of paparazzi/tabloid infused superstardom.
In reality, a very soft-spoken, intelligent and sensitive young man, he posits through “Me @the Zoo” that all his work is really a performance. Performance Art, actually, using the Internet as a medium. In the end “Me @the Zoo” is a tremendous condemnation of bullying, which is the film’s true subject. And like with “The Invisible War” I was gripped,moved and outraged from beginning to end. Bravo! Brava! Leave Britney alone, but DON’T for one minute, leave Chris Crocker alone! Keep your eye on this young gay man. He’s more than just an Internet Flash-in-the-Pan. “Me @the Zoo” shows that he is here to stay.
And then there was the beautiful, sensitive, heartfelt documentary memoir of the late Gay Activist Vito Russo directed by Jeffrey Swartz. A friend, I found “Vito” absolutely devastating, as in the end of this engaging, moving tribute, Russo’s life is cut short by AIDS. The author of the “Celluloid Closet”, this gentle, brilliant writer, film critic, and revolutionary is tragic beyond words for he simply, like so many of his generation, and most of my gay friends, died too soon.
On a completely different note, Rory Kennedy’s biographical doc on her mother the still-with-us Ethel Kennedy, was also powerful, compelling and gripping and also continuously,surprisingly funny. The most private of public figures, “Ethel” breaks new ground by having Ethel Kennedy herself speak in her own voice about the amazing life she led as wife of the late Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the sister-in-law of the late President John F. Kennedy, both assassinated in the 1960s. Many and most of these topics have never been spoken of before by her, and certainly not in a public forum. Her youngest daughter Rory, who was born six months after Robert Kennedy was killed, is able to coax out of her famous mother. admissions, reminiscences and yes,  jokes, that most likely any other reporter or journalist would never have been able to get the publicity-shy Ethel to reveal.
How did she ever survive all these tragedies? Well, “Ethel” beautifully and warmly reveals that it was the strength she got from her Catholic faith and her love of her eleven(!!) children that helped her surmount almost every challenge life threw in her path.
There were also  some marvelous fiction feature films at the Provincetown International Film Festival 2012, too. “Two Days in New York” by Julie Delpy and “The Intouchables,” the most successful French film of all time, gave PIFF a charming, humorous Gallic flavor. “Gayby” the story of a determined duo of a straight girl and her gay BFF trying to have a baby together was delightful and very funny. “Take This Waltz” Sarah Polley’s directorial follow-up to “Away From Me” gives us another luminous performance from Michelle Williams as a conflicted Canadian housewife, torn between her stay-at-home husband Seth Rogen and her alluring lover Luke Kirby, Williams never disappoints. 
And good as they all were, it was the Docs this year that rocked my world. And Provincetown!

Video

You Tube Phenomenon Chris Crocker of “Leave Britney Alone!” fame on the Stephen Holt Show

Chris Crocker, who sobbed in drag on the Internet dressed as Britney Spears “Leave Britney Alone!” and got 540 million hits, talks to me about his stunning new documentary film “Me @theZoo” about his life online and in rural Tennessee where he was bullied so much he wasn’t allowed to attend high school! His marvelous doc tells his life story and also the story of the Internet and You Tube and the tremendous impact it has on life today.

Shot at Sage restaurant at the Provincetown Film Festival 2012.

Camera & Editing by Kevin Teller

Scorsese’s Monumental 4-hour Doc on Beatle George Harrison at NYFF!

WOWOWOW! Martin Scorcese’s monumental four-hour documentary on the late Beatle George Harrison flew by and exploded like a shower of stars at the New York Film Festival today!

I saw it at a press screening after which there was a press conference via Skype (no, I’m not kidding) with the great director, Harrison’s widow Olivia, his film editor, David Tedeschi and two of his producers. They were in a hotel room in London, getting ready for the film’s premiere, where it is sure to cause a sensation.

It IS sensational! It’s a joy and a wonder and absolutely a definitive account of the life of the late Beatle.  I found it rapturous. And for those of you with HBO, it’s going to be shown on the cable channel very, very soon.  So every one can enjoy the wonder of basking in the glow and the revelation that is “George Harrison:Living in the Material World.” I really do think this ranks among Scorcese’s greatest works. It certainly is the most enjoyable. And revisiting the Beatles music in the brand new theater at Lincoln Center is just going to be a sublime experience for all who are lucky enough to get tickets to the New York Film Festival.

We all think we know all there is to know about the Beatles, but Scorcese is here to tell us with this wonderful documentary, that no, we really don’t.

In Part One(there was an intermission), we see George and Ringo constantly being shuffled off to the side in the heady Beatle craze of their first great success, which never really ended. John Lennon and especially Paul McCartney, were the favored ones. They wrote the songs, after all, that made the whole world sing and that as Scorcese says formed the soundtrack to our lives.

George was “The shy Beatle”, the “third Beatle”, but he was with the group since the beginning. A childhood friend of John and Paul’s from Liverpool, who was only 17 when the fame that never ended burst upon them.

What we didn’t know was that as time wore on, George was the one who was more and more discontented with his place in the Fa Four. And the film shows him as leaving the group. And that is was he, not Yoko Ono, who affected broke up the Beatles. He just couldn’t stand it any more being under Paul (and John’s) thumbs.

Harrison is also there on many many film clips & interviews to assert his own point of view and testify on his own behalf, in his own words, which is wonderful. And he did have very strong views, even revolutionary ones, for the time.

He felt that what the fame and the wealth that the Beatles achieved wasn’t enough. It left him empty, unfulfilled, and so he famously sought the Meaning of Life in the Eastern mysticism that brought the great sitar player, Ravi Shankar, and the various yogis into his life, the other Beatles’ lives and through them and the different kind of music they started making really changed the perception of just what pop music could achieve and the messages, some quite profound, that it could convey.

Harrison calls himself at one point “the Beatle who changed the most” and it certainly seemed like he did. He’s almost unrecognizable in the second half of the film which is post-Beatles. As a Beatle, he seemed just a cute, but rude kid.

Scorsese also brings out the fact that Harrison was a Roman Catholic and that the influence of his childhood religion, like upon Scorsese himself, was profound, and I think may have led to him constantly seeking what solace he could find in all the Eastern religions and cultures he involved himself with.

But what was he seeking solace from? His fame? His success? He seemed also the film reveals surprisingly in its’ second half that he had a long-term, happy marriage to his second wife Olivia and a son whom he loved and who loved him. So he had a reasonably stable and happy family life. This too comes as a surprise to all who think they might have George Harrison all figured out.

And Olivia Harrison becomes a very strong narrative presence in the films’ second half. And she is one of the main instigators of this film coming into being. She sought out Scorsese, arguably among the world’s greatest directors, to tell George’s and her own story, in its mind-boggling complexity. And Scorsese more than made her wish come true.

The audience of press that I saw the film with this afternoon was all of an age certain, as the French say, which surprised me, because usually the New York Film Festival press corps skews quite young. But this also underlined to me the importance of this film and its’ bringing to a new generation who did not know the Beatles as I and most of the rest of my generation knew him, the essence of this great, sometimes underappreciated and overshadowed talent, to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness. And it is in this that “George Harrison:Living in the Material World” succeeds greatly. He was a great star, a great dedicated musician and composer and a great spirit.

Scorsese related via Skype from London that the first footage he was presented with of George, was just this seemingly endless shot of a bed of tulips. Finally, Harrison emerges for within the tulips, and just smiles for a while.Like the proverbial garden gnome. And that is the way this film now begins. It’s just us, with George, smiling.

“Hey, Boo!” intriguing new doc on the mysterious Harper Lee

I really was quite enchanted with the lovely, new documentary film “Hey, Boo!” about the reclusive Southern authoress Harper Lee. She wrote the  classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, won the Pulitzer Prize, then never wrote anything again and disappeared from sight. This very well done doc by Emmy-winning documentarian Mary McDonagh Murphy explains why.

I had no clear picture of this elusive author, except what one could glean from, of all things, the TWO films about Truman Capote that came out one right after the other in a two year period. “Capote” won Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar, and got Catherine Keener a supporting actress nomination. It was her second, and she was playing a lesbian in both films, “Capote” and “Being John Malkovich.” 

Sandra Bullock, in her best performance ever, and pre-“The Blind Side”, played an even butcher Harper Lee in the 2nd (and I thought superior) Capote film, “Infamous.” These two films made sure that Truman Capote was back in the public’s eye, even though he’s been dead for a number of years…But no Oscars or nominations were coming the way of “Infamous.” It sucks to be second in this kind of close filmic race. But Truman would’ve loved all this posthumous attention. Harper Lee, no.

However, there Harper Lee was depicted on screen in two movies, helping, traveling and being the all around best pal to Truman Capote, as he traveled to Kansas  by train to investigate the horrific deaths of the Clutter family. Massacred en masse by two gay drifters, one of whom Capote fell madly in love with Perry Smith, and who he pretty much immortalized in his greatest work “In Cold Blood.” And Smith is depicted in all THREE films.

Harper Lee doesn’t appear in “In Cold Blood.” And Capote did not win a Pulitzer Prize, fairly or un-fairly, for his greatest work. And he never forgave his former best friend since childhood, Harper Lee, for this. She had a Pulitzer. He didn’t. And this revelation, among many others, sort of forms the climax of “Hey, Boo!”

“Hey, Boo!” performs the magic trick/tap dance of not having the central character Harper Lee anywhere in it. Yet it still remains compelling. No mean feat. Kudos to filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murpphy who is also the author of the New York Times Best-Seller “Scout, Atticus & Boo: Fifty Years of to Kill a Mockingbird.” This film is so complete, Oprah Winfrey is even in it, telling how much this small, succinct book impacted her young life. To this day, “To Kill a Mockingbird” still sells a million copies a year!

We see pictures of her, and hear her heavily Southern-inflected voice on a radio broadcast from the early ’60s, but that’s about it.

Nell Harper Lee, for that is her full name, and all her friends who are interviewed in the movie call her, Nell, was Capote’s next door neighbor in the small Southern town of Munroeville, Alabama. That these two children would both become considered America’s great writers of that time is a fateful historic co-incidence.

And the film reveals many things we did not know about Nell. She was, when she came to New York in the ’50s an airline reservation ticket counter clerk for a quite a long time before some well-meaning friends, who are interviewed extensively in the movie, generously gave her money to take a year off to write “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And it wasn’t a breeze doing so for Nell, even with this generous support.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was rejected by many publishers before Nell Harper hit pay dirt and got a sympathetic editor…and the rest as they say is history.

She always reminded me more than a bit of Margaret Mitchell, that other Southern female writer, who wrote one great, best-selling novel, “Gone With the Wind” then was never heard from again, literaray-il-ly speaking.

And “Hey, Boo!” lays out why. Suddenly famous, then also suddenly weary of all the non-stop press attention she was getting, she just says simply to someone, “I have given enough. I don’t want to give any more.”

And I guess, she, being a woman of carefully chosen words, meant was she said.

In this Internet age, one wonders if one book, and a novel at that, could ever make such a stir these days. But in its’ day “To Kill a Mockingbird” coupled with the great Black and White film that won three Oscars, one for Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the heroic lawyer, patterned to a T on Harper Lee’s own father, and one for Horton Foote’s screenplay and one for Haskell Wexler’s cinematography.

It’s also a question if the book without the film’s monumental impact would have achieved the legendary, classic status both the novel and the film enjoy to this day.

But “To Kill a Mockingbird” endures and endures, and this great, thought-provoking documentary explains why.

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