They Shall Not Grow Old is a day-in-the-life of the British soldier during World War I. The documentary from Peter Jackson was commissioned by the Imperial War Museums and 14-18 NOW in association with the BBC to celebrate the centennial of Armistice Day. When these groups approached Jackson, they had only one caveat: Jackson must use their archived WWI footage exclusively. After a think, Jackson decided to restore this old footage using modern production techniques, all towards a singular effort: show us the life of a WWI British soldier.
Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood has been a cultural touchstone for generations of children, your humble blagger included. In Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the edifying force that is Fred Rogers resounds in every scene – despite the man’s typically reserved candor.
In RBG, directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West tell the fascinating life story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a relatively routine way. Those who watch a lot of documentaries won’t have their hair blown back by any stylistic flourishes or innovations. Instead, RBG is perfectly content with the wheels that have already been invented: archival footage, talking head interviews, and primary sources like court documentation. With these tools, Cohen and West weave together an inspirational tale of an American trailblazer and outright hero: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, second woman to sit on the supreme court and unabashed defender of the rights of minorities – particularly those of women.
This is going to be a short post to draw attention to the eight screeners from the 2017 Hot Docs Film Festival I was fortunate enough to review over on CinemaAxis. Below, I’ll link to all of the reviews once they’re posted, but for now I’ll just introduce each film and give a quick synopsis.
Filmmakers Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) and Jake Paltrow (The Good Night, Young Ones) must have had mountains of fun making their documentary De Palma. The film is something like enjoying a whiskey next to a famed director and engaging in the best conversation of your life. Baumbach and Paltrow are content to place Brian De Palma in front of the camera, shoot him flat, and let him muse away. Unfortunately, that’s all they really do. So, while some of the stories that De Palma relates are interesting, the ultimate effect is a film that feels like a haphazard collection of thoughts, shot in the most bland style possible. Cinephiles will likely drool throughout at the discussion of filmmaking craft, but unfortunately De Palma holds very little thematic power.
Anthony Weiner is a former congressman from New York’s 9th congressional district. In June 2011, Weiner resigned from Congress amid a sexting scandal that was cheekily referred to as “Weinergate”. Two years later, a pair of documentarians named Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg were granted access to film Weiner’s campaign in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. While initially I am sure the pair were interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the logistics of running a campaign, perhaps with a taste of the phoenix rising from the ashes, what they captured was infinitely more interesting. During the campaign, with the cameras rolling, another sexting scandal involving Anthony Weiner broke. Kriegman and Steinberg’s fascinating film Weiner documents the resulting media circus, and manages to offer insightful commentary on the bloodthirstiness of the media, the constitution of a politician, and the effect that a man’s failings can have on his family.
Greetings readers! I am going to post a quick blog-related post to remind my readers that CinemaAxis.com has started its coverage of the Hot Docs film festival – a festival based in Toronto that focuses on documentaries. In this month’s State of the Blog post, I mentioned that I was lucky enough to review three of these documentaries. In fact, I was offered two additional films, so I ended up with five documentaries to review. Below I will tell you the films that I got to see, the day the review will be posted on CinemaAxis, and a short synopsis of the flick to whet your appetite. Here we go!
One attractive quality of documentaries is that you can seek out the films on subjects that interest you. This being Plot and Theme, a blog on film, I am often drawn to documentaries about film making. Many different aspects of film making interest me, but a subgenre has emerged in force over the last few years: the stories of films that fail to get made. Documentaries focusing on the strife behind camera have existed for decades, perhaps most notably in Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), which details the struggles behind the making of Apocalypse Now. Similar docs portray the difficulty in making such films as Citizen Kane, Fitzcarraldo, and even The Boondocks Saints. But, at the end of the days, these films all got made according to the director’s vision, however compromised. The documentaries I am interested in showcase a different kind of film: ones that don’t make it to completion whatsoever.
In the basement that has haunted Barry Crimmins since he can remember, the acerbic comedian’s tongue falters for a moment as he hums and haws in the darkness. Eventually, unrehearsed words pour out and assemble themselves into a poignant justification for Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary Call Me Lucky. Though the film ends up in this strange place, it begins as a seemingly garden-variety portrait of the political satirist and comedy club patron told mostly through interviews with his friends and family. But Goldthwait’s keen directorial eye and editing choices reveal the film’s sinister kernel – one that we won’t fully understand until much later (if ever).