April 21, 20016. On April 21, the Tribeca Film Festival presented a once in a lifetime event – a 40th anniversary screening of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 movie “Taxi Driver.” The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring an incredible line up of “Taxi Driver” alumni, which included Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader, actors Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Jody Foster, Cybill Shepherd and producer Michael Phillips. The event took place at the Beacon Theatre and was moderated by writer and performer Kent Jones.
De Niro introduced the screening by claiming that every day for the past 40 years someone has come up to him and said, “You talkin’ to me?” – arguably the most famous line from “Taxi Driver,” spoken by De Niro, as Travis Bickle, the film’s main character. De Niro’s anecdote got a huge laugh from the sold out audience. De Niro then invited the audience to “get it all out.” Then, in unison, we all repeated the iconic line, along with De Niro.
As is my habit, for the Tribeca Film Festival 2016, with little exception, I eschewed the glitz, glamour and celebrities of the festival because, for me, the festival is all about the films, documentaries in particular. At film festivals the documentaries are always the best parts, in my opinion, while fiction films can be “hit” or “miss.”
Starring Austin Pendleton
“Starring Austin Pendleton” is a well paced, infectious and informative 19-minute-long documentary, about character actor, writer, teacher and director Austin Pendleton. The title is a bit of a misnomer, or perhaps an inside joke, as one of the film’s points is that Pendleton has had a career consisting of supporting roles in the 100 plus movies in which he was cast…that is, until now, as the title suggests!
November 30, 2015. I am probably going to get myself in trouble, with some readers, for writing this, but I do not have a problem with those who named names during the MacCarthy era. My problem is with the government, and the cooperating social institutions, who threatened and pressured these people (not to mention ruined lives, in many cases) into testifying against their friends and associates. The new film “Trumbo” takes a detailed look at this period, a time filled with colorful characters, both on the right and wrong sides of history. “Trumbo” has a stellar cast, headed by Bryan Cranston as the larger than life blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.
From dodging a charging bull in the mountains of Peru to crossing a sea in a small boat with threatening storm clouds looming overhead in Siberia, Seth Kramer is the Indiana Jones of documentary filmmaking. Kramer travels the world to make documentaries for his company Ironbound Films, produced in conjunction with his partners Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger.
Ironbound’s latest film, “The Anthropologist,” will have its world premiere on November 13 as part of DOC NYC. In discussing the new documentary Kramer explained, “You are looking at the world from the eyes of a social scientist trying to make sense of the world .” Read the rest of this entry
November 8, 2015. DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival, runs from November 12 – 19 at IFC Center (323 6th Avenue), Chelsea’s SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street) and Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas (260 West 23rd Street). The 2015 edition of DOC NYC will include 104 feature length documentaries. More than 200 documentary filmmakers are expected, in person, to present their films. Special guests will include Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martin Scorsese.
On Friday, November 13 the documentary “The Anthropologist” will have its premiere screening at DOC NYC. The screening will take place at the SVA Theatre at 9:30 pm.
“The Anthropologist” is the latest documentary made by Ironbound Films, a unique company which has produced some fascinating documentaries. Ironbound Films boasts no less than three directors – Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger – all of whom work on the company’s movies. Previous Ironbound documentaries include the 2012 documentary “Evocateur: the Morton Downey, Jr. Movie” (available on Netflix) and “The Linguists” (2008). Read the rest of this entry
November 4, 2015. From November 4 – 12 Film Forum will present a new, 4K restoration of director Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 masterpiece, “Spartacus” starring Kirk Douglas. “Spartacus” is an all out big budget Hollywood “sword and sandals” epic that more than holds up. Its battle scenes are nothing short of spectacular and its political maneuvering just as relevant as ever.
It boasts a magnificent cast, the likes of which we will never see again. In addition to Douglas the cast includes Lawrence Olivier, Charles Laughton (incapable of giving an even remotely bad performance), Peter Ustinov (who won an Oscar for his role in “Spartacus”), Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons and John Gavin.
I remember seeing the 1991 70mm restoration of “Spartacus” at the Ziegfeld theater. I actually snuck into its premiere and was so struck by this 197 minute long Hollywood epic about a slave revolt in ancient Rome, that I returned a week later to see the film again. Prior to this I had attempted to watch “Spartacus” on a VHS cassette and found it unwatchable. Therefore the 1991 restoration was, for me, a revelation and I have been a fan ever since. The 1991 restoration, done prior to the strides that we now have in digital technology was done photochemically by film restorer Robert Harris, who also restored “Lawrence of Arabia,” among other films. Read the rest of this entry
August 24, 2015. The timing of my seeing writer and director Macdara Vallely’s very enjoyable film “Babygirl” could not have been more appropriate. I have just finished teaching a summer course at CUNY Queens College called “Sociology of Cinema.” The class focused on events occurring in society and how these events influenced the movies being made at different times.
One of the subjects covered was neorealism which, to put it succinctly, focuses on poor people living in the actual circumstances of the time in which a particular film was made (for example, in the case of Italian Neorealism, post WWII Italy). Neorealism also places an emphasis on the environments in which the stories take place – in particular run down sections of urban areas. I wanted to show how Italian Neorealism (an example being “Bicycle Thieves” – 1948) influenced films made in other cultures. To that end we screened the Indian film “Siddharth” (2013) and “Gimme the Loot” (2012), the latter being a film about cash strapped graffiti artists in New York City. Incidentally, “Siddharth” and “Gimme the Loot” are both on Netflix and are highly recommended.
“Babygirl” (now available on iTunes and VOD – Video On Demand) is a nice addition to the genre of modern day neorealism (and what could be more in keeping with the spirit of neorealism than the fact that “Babygirl” is being distributed on affordable platforms, such as iTunes and VOD, as opposed to having an expensive, per ticket, theatrical release?). Read the rest of this entry
August 19, 2015. As a teacher of sociology and media I found myself intrigued by the new documentary “Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery,” now playing at Film Forum. It is a documentary which takes its place among some very good documentaries about art, specifically the perception of art, value of art and the business of art. My list includes “The Art of the Steal” (2009), “Art and Craft” (2014), “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (2010) and “Herb & Dorothy” (2008). I use all of these films in my classes to make points about art and the role played by the media to present art in different ways.
“Beltrachhi” concerns Wolfgang Beltracchi, a very successful German art forger who was finally found out after about 40 years. He escapades included fooling museum curators, art experts, art dealers, the auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s, not to mention movie star Steve Martin, who bought a painting. Read the rest of this entry
I will be teaching two courses in the Sociology Department of Queens College from June 29 – August 6, 2015. The classes are “Sociology of Cinema” soc 249-01 (7863) and “Mass Communication and Popular Culture” soc 218-01 (7862).
“Mass Communication and Popular Culture – soc 218-01 (7862). This course examines the role of media in terms of how it frames a narrative, including the malleable nature of truth. The course also looks at how media can create instant celebrities and, on the flip side, how media can be used for social action. The class also looks at how government tries to punish those whose use of media it does not approve. While the course examines current media related issues, it also uses media: narrative films, documentaries, TV and internet to illustrate its points. In addition the class has an array of fascinating guest filmmakers who come to class, in person and via Skype.
“Sociology of Cinema” soc 249-01 (7863). Sex, drugs, alcohol, gangsters (and those are just the films from 1930 – 1934!). “Sociology of Cinema” looks at cinema from the point of view of what was occurring in society at a particular time and how this affected the movies being produced. Topics include Film Noir, Pre-Code and Post Code Hollywood which includes Gangster Films, Social Issue Films, Sin Movies and films of the 1970s, a time of major upheaval for Hollywood.