…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “Documentary

InsideOut ’11: Renee


Renée is a documentary about the tennis player/eye doctor Renée Richards, who made a splash in the 1970’s tennis scene because she was born Richard Raskind. There are two threads in this documentary about transformation. The first being the forces, like transphobia, that’s stopping her from taking the top spot. The second are her friendships as both Richard and Renée. We see her in present day dealing with her fractured relationship with her son whom she abandoned and occasionally visits. Renée could have been about both instead of just about Renée, but looking back now, that possibility would have been too depressing, but this film nonetheless decides to show her contentment in changing into a woman. This is also a sports film, and there’s focus on her interest in sports as a man and her technique and flaws on amateur and professional courts, shown in colorfully restored footage. Also Contains short but graphic depictions of sex change operations. 4/5.

ph. InsideOut

Playing before the documentary is a short film called “Love and Other Red Spot Specials,” about a male-to-female transvestite in Australia. I was expecting Chris Lilley.


Worst. Hot Docs Coverage. Ever.


ph. hotdocs.ca

I didn’t get to see a lot of movies from Hot Docs this year because of scheduling conflicts and other cluster fucks. This is not a personal blog so I’ll just go right ahead and talk about the whopping two movies that I did see as a plebe.

There are many similarities between Who Took the Bomp – Le Tigre on Tour and The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. They’re both a part of the late night screenings this year, both about experimental musicians who do need to be properly introduced to the viewing public who may not know about the genres and the musicians, both refuse to be elegies by showing their own brand of quasi-hipster happiness.

The first scenes of Bomp are shaky, not knowing the balance between performed amateurism and the band taking themselves seriously enough, but these  aspects of Le Tigre’s mission statement eventually merge. It’s like a Hello Kitty doll giving the finger, the film punctuated by the band performing its danceable tunes about feminism, LGBT visibility, etc. It seamlessly weaves through its characters equally showcasing each band member so it’s not just about lead vocalist/guitarist Kathleen Hanna, who has her long provenance. It’s also about the fans, like one who is memorably touched by Hanna’s kind words. 4/5. I should have given it a 3.

Ballad, however, is a film version of a shrine, showing home videos of a dominatrix/artist/musician Lady Jaye accompanied by voice-overs of her pandrogynous husband, industrial musician/artist Genesis P-Orridge. The dreamlike Lady Jaye can’t speak for herself, in her part within their strangest of couplings – they decided to undergo plastic surgery to look more like each other. But her image and Genesis’ voice is enough to make us feel the happiness of a person who finds his true love while on an impressionistic journey in finding his true self. 4/5.


Marwencol


So this guy Mark Hogencamp of Kingston, NY get ‘queer-bashed,’ leaving him brain-damaged, but comes out of it with the best revenge – better artistic skills and penmanship than me? I’m not saying with schadenfreude that his skills as an artist should be as stalled as mine, but not fair, world.

Hogencamp is as multifaceted as the aesthetic of the fictional town he has created with his two hands, Marwencol, a portmanteau of his name and the two most important women in her life, Mark, Wendy and Colleen. The film, as much as it is dedicated towards his fictional world, also focuses on the man who has created it. He talks normally except for stressing the words ‘angry’ and ‘drink,’ two of his past vices. He’s honest about the porno tape that an old VCR has eaten up or other revelations about his views and practices on sexuality as revealed through the real world and his fictional one. The film lets us watch the man evolve.

Significant portions of the film is devoted to showing storyboard stills of Mark’s stills of the WWII dolls placed in both the town he’s physically constructed, both within 1/6th scale, and seamlessly within natural settings. I’m gonna nitpick and say the the zippers seem larger than scale, but that’s about it. His friends say that he expresses his anger through the dolls, an admirable action because of how he does it. He carefully paints the scars and bullet holes into the body of these dolls instead of attacking them. At first this feels like he’s staining those dolls until we see the effect he successfully conveys, making the violence look like the dolls have inflicted them on each other, as certain plot points of Marwencol’s story go.

Those stills are more colorful than the less glamourous people like Mark and certain townspeople of Kingston, NY from whom some of the characters in Marwencol are based on. No human Barbie dolls and war hunks in Mark’s real world, which make them more special since the film lets us see the beauty that Mark sees in them. These people are interviewed one by one, their reactions to his art as unabashedly honest as the fiction Mark creates. His best friend says that he’s ‘partaken in battles and come out on top,’  Marwencol then becoming a balance between communal fantasy and a symbol for the wars Mark endures to be healed.


Inside Job


Visually, Inside Job, the documentary about the 2008 economic collapse that has led to a worldwide recession, could be broken down into three parts. The scenic Iceland. The glamorous glass infrastructure that houses our contemporary financial institutions and the mostly American men who have made this stratified section possible. The consequences of these individuals’ greed, mostly damaging the working class. The fourth part is just like the second, returning to the greedy dicks who still think they can dictate the terms of this investigative documentary.

As most films, it’s all about inclusion and exclusion. Why we see a black screen with caption about Timothy Geithner and others who declined to be interviewed for this film, instead of the same caption accompanying an unflattering picture of them. Why we see a young, good gal Brooksley Born and not a young, baddie Henry Paulsen.  The faces of those people who got huge severance that could buy islands, and that those faces don’t necessarily belong to white men. Graphs! Charts! That if Errol Morris was doing the interviewing, he would kill these people on the spot.

Yes, the film still feels like reading an article of Newsweek or another ‘intellectual’ weekly that I don’t buy off the stands. Not even Matt Damon could help me decipher what complicated of a mess the people in power has made the world’s economy into. How does credit and property turn bad? How do these people bet on mortgages and make their sadistic wishes on those mortgages come true? All these questions help generate a discussion and/or make the ones who know remember. Economics has never been my strong suit.

The film also has the potential to be interactive. At the parts I actually understood, I flailed my arms and was this close to yelling at the screen. When one of the lobbyists interviewed kept saying ‘um’ while trying to defend the criminal activities of the men he defended, some guy behind me kept yelling ‘um’ back, taunting the lobbyist. It’s like a smart, literate man’s Rocky Horror.

The third act shows that this movie isn’t just about watching grown men squirm and actually exposes the damage is more extensive that previously thought. Do you want a glimpse of how a $13 billion country is in trouble? Greed’s Reaganite roots? Where the residents of foreclosed houses go, where the jobs of both the American and Chinese manufacturing industry end up? The stratification of education as well as the amoral education that the rich get? This is your movie. And this movie doesn’t help me wanna get an adult job at all, seeing the consequences.


Science is Fiction


Two weeks ago, UofT Professor James Cahill introduced CINSSU to the work of scientist and filmmaker Jean Painleve, who associates this

ph. Criterion DVD

And this

With this.

And if you were wondering what it would be like to play Nosferatu with jazz music, Painleve answers your prayers.


A Film Unfinished


A Film Unfinished documents the story of three mysterious reels found in the mountains of a then East German film archive. These reels bear the title ‘Das Ghetto,’ a propaganda film of the Warsaw ghetto that captures the daily lives of the Jews living there. It also show the wide gap between rich and poor Jews and tries to create a strained relationship between those two groups.

What clarifies the truth within these images is a reenactment of a testimony by one of the German filmmakers documenting the footage – Willy Wist, who admits to how systematic the Nazis were.

ph. unpaidfilmcritic

Another way to shed light into the footage are a handful of elderly Jews who were children in the ghetto years who watch the footage and debunk it. They talk about the inflation and deflation of certain truths into arranged narratives. They clarify that the comfortable dining rooms are owned by twenty or so Jews who were a small part of the thousands who would eat the flowers shown in the footage. In reality, one family had a room, twenty families to a house, the ghettos overcrowded. How The Nazi filmmakers have brought in geese and champagne from the outside to film a banquet scene. But really, only a few can afford what the Germans allowed – horse meat. Children who have smuggled food into the ghetto are shot. Or how one’s mother would wear a colourful coat, keeping her ‘dignity’ despite her hunger. Or disdainfully laugh at a hilariously inaccurate funeral procession scene and circumcision scene.

What’s surprising, however, is how these lies became a bit like the truth. An elder would talk about decent people who would throw their dead family members on the street, one corpse every few meters. The German filmmakers have herded and instructed Jewish passers-by to walk by these corpses, making them look unsympathetic and callous against their own neighbours. This indifference became a way of life, an elder says, a way to keep one’s sanity.

Pardon the ‘final thought,’ and this isn’t the message of the film but what I got from it. Ignoring the homeless and their pleas – guilty as charged here. Letting ourselves be misinformed about people from other races and religions. There are traces of Nazis’ behaviour today.


Restrepo


ph. National Geographic Entertainment

Restrepo chronicles 15 months in the lives of soldiers deployed in outposts of the breathtaking, unassuming and dangerous Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Journalist/ co-directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington capture it in a cellphone camera, shaky cam, non-shaky cam and post-interviews when we get too close into the soldier’s faces. In one of the documentary’s first scenes as the troops drive up to their outposts, the Taliban starts shooting at them. The directors didn’t have time to get sound equipment. It feels like the camera has luck instead of access to capture what they can, making the experience too raw and real. Yes, the first few scenes are jarring, but things eventually smooth out when the multicultural, heterosexual platoon create an outpost they call OP Restrepo.

In another earlier scene, Cortez uses updated Joseph Conrad language but we can’t spite him because he follows that with realizing the possibility of his death within the same sentence. He also talks about the effects he’s experienced of a certain mission in his tour of duty in the Korangal. The directors juxtapose the not-so-bad with the bad, duplicating the emotional whirlwind that the soldiers face daily. Pemble-Belkin has hippie parents, goes to war, draws the scenic valley that might kill him. His mother’s birthday follows a charismatic comrade’s death. A shot of another officer sun tanning gets me nervous because we saw his legs first. They’re told they’re coming home and later told that nine men from another platoon have died.

There are so many little details packed into this film, aided by the soldiers’ different personalities. These guys are knowledgeable in geography and strategy and try their hardest in public relations. That they’re silly enough to get into wrestling matches or make faint-praise gay jokes to each other, or drag each other into dancing to shitty 80’s remix music. That they’re allowed to bring their PS2 consoles. That they’re shirtless a lot, even in winter, which still makes me kinda jealous. That asking for unconditional love and cooperation after accidentally killing a few locals is a splendid way of apologizing,  Kearney.

That reminds of the few ‘shuras’ or meetings with the elderly men with dyed red beards featured in the film show that the locals in the film might be nameless but aren’t entirely voiceless. Also, strangely, the few shots of local women and children whose costumes are still colourful despite the war, one girl shying away from the camera. Or birds circling the snowy peaks of the valley makes me think I’ve watched a muscular version of Black Narcissus.

Let me use this part of this post to kinda gripe about the conventions of war films, a genre I didn’t know I loved. Thankfully, this film doesn’t show nor push for war archetypes. Yes, the soldiers sometimes remind me that they’re still the frat boy meat heads of yore by shooting ammo and letting out a hoot. Or when they’re slightly amused by the Taliban running and their body parts dangling, but no more. There are no local bleeding hearts, just ones with grievances. There are blood-soaked uniforms instead of gratuitous death scenes, especially that of the youngest, innocentest one we see in war films. Coldly recounted events instead of soliloquies. Kearney makes passive-aggressive yet carefully constructed language about killing ‘individuals’ – delivered in a straightforward way – instead of being the groan-worthy token racist guy. And no close-ups of dead animals.

Lastly, there’s the other war archetype – Restrepo himself. The film and outpost get their names from PFC Juan C. Restrepo, the said charismatic soldier. The film’s references to him feel like laces, like a soldier gleefully remembering the drunken moments with him in Rome – and yes, I’m jealous because they’ve been to Rome. Or another impersonating his long fingernails and fantabulous flamenco guitar skills, giving us the impression that he may have talked funny. He seemed like a Cool Hand Luke figure, getting that nostalgic treatment because of his death. Nonetheless, this film isn’t about him, a story of a martyr but about the living and their everyday struggles and little acts of bravery.