July 19, 2017. “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” New York in the 70s is a movie series playing at Film Forum now through July 27. The 70s, considered to be the last golden age of American cinema, is filled with some of my favorite movies, many of which were shot in New York. The titles in this series include “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “The Taking of Pelham 123,” and many others.
On the one hand, this is a series tailor made for me. On the other hand, since I already own many of these movies on DVD, why should I pay to see them in a movie theatre? Still, as a practical matter, how often do I actually watch the movies that I have on DVD? I think it’s an existential issue. In other words, having lots of movies on DVD means that I have the possibility of watching them, even if the reality is that I rarely watch them. This is the dilemma presented to the movie aficionado in the digital age, in which almost everything is available at his, or her, fingertips. Had home video and all its variations – VHS, laser disc, DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming – not been invented, then Film Forum’s series would be a “no brainer” for me. Of course I would go. So, saying I wont see a particular film when it plays in a theatre because I have it on a DVD that I almost never watch, means running the risk of not seeing the film at all! Read the rest of this entry
As someone who came of age at the tail-end of the second wave of feminism, the documentary film “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” has a special resonance for me. Featuring interviews with women who were involved in the movement and stirring archival footage, often featuring those same women, the film takes us back to a time (not that long ago) when equal rights for women was a radical idea.
The antiwar, civil rights, and free speech movements were at their peak in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, but while the male activists formulated policy and held press conferences, the women found themselves relegated to sealing envelopes and making coffee. With an evolving understanding that female disempowerment is systemic and institutional, women within those movements began rising up to claim their rightful place alongside the men. For many of the men, though, this new liberation movement hit too close to home. In one scene, shocking by today’s more enlightened standards, Marilyn Webb bravely advocates for women’s equality before a gathering of hundreds of “New Left” men, only to be ridiculed, cat-called, shouted down, and even threatened with rape. Read the rest of this entry
June 28, 2017. As a sociology teacher of mass communication and popular culture, I especially enjoyed the new documentary, “The Reagan Show.” For those of us who lived through the Reagan presidency, the title alone should tell it all.
“The Reagan Show” is a fascinating look at the Reagan years from the inside and the outside – the White House’s in- house media and the mainstream media. The story is told partly through archival footage shot by the White House TV production crew, dubbed “White House TV.” We see the expected flubs that were never shown – Ronald Reagan mispronouncing a name, Reagan saying something official to the camera and then making a humorous, off-camera remark, that negates what he just said. In addition to the in-house footage, there are interviews, commentaries and news footage of the time. It is also a primer on how media can be used to shape an image, to put it mildly. Read the rest of this entry
June 20, 2017. I can’t imagine how anyone, even someone opposed to marriage equality, could fail to be moved by the love story of Victor and Fernando, a gay couple who only want the same protections and societal affirmation that are afforded mixed-sex couples in their city of Mexicali, Mexico. The documentary “No Dress Code Required” follows their two year struggle in nerve-wracking, suspenseful detail, as the City Registry applies every possible tactic to thwart their marriage – from a fabricated bomb threat, to invented anomalies in their witnesses’ signatures, to health testing required of no one else, to shutting down City Hall. The Mexicali officials are abetted by religiously inspired protesters who carry signs invoking Jesus and decrying some imagined threat to family values. But with every roadblock, Fernando and Victor become more doggedly determined, their ten year relationship growing stronger, their commitment deeper. Read the rest of this entry
June 14, 2017. “The Apology” is one of many amazing documentary films that are being screened during the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
When “The Apology” opens, we see a group of elderly Korean women at a protest demonstration in Tokyo, Japan, peacefully demanding that the Japanese government apologize to them for their abduction and imprisonment as military sexual slaves during World War II. Japanese businessmen walk past shouting, “Go home Korean whores,” and worse, as the camera focuses on the dignified faces of these long-suffering victims. Needless to say, the apology is not forthcoming. Read the rest of this entry
June 6, 2017. The 2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival Film Festival, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center, will run from June 9-18. This will be the festival’s 28th edition.
John Biaggi, the festival’s creative director said, “In these trying times for human rights, this year’s festival lineup champions activism – from people demanding accountability and major reform in the US police and justice institutions, to Chinese workers battling an electronics giant’s unsafe working conditions, to Mayan women at the forefront of political accountability and change in Guatemala, to the remarkable work of digital activists in Brazil and Tibet. The festival highlights the outstanding work of activists at home and around the world, presenting a broad array of urgent human rights issues beyond those that command today’s headlines.” Read the rest of this entry
Faith is often defined as an unquestioning belief in something unseen – a deity, or perhaps an inexorable force that shapes the patterns of life. The documentary “Sacred,” directed by Thomas Lennon, immerses us in a multicultural world of rites, rituals and celebrations from a variety of faith traditions, all of which create meaning in times of of joy, struggle and sorrow.
The director functions as more of a curator in this film, interweaving segments from more than forty independent filmmakers, all of whom are part of the communities they are documenting. We are present at a bris (Jewish ritual circumcision), we see a young boy eagerly prepare to become a Buddhist monk, we witness an Indian coming of age ritual, as well as an Apache Sunrise Ceremony which signals a girl’s passage into womanhood. Threads of mystery, pain and unbelievable beauty connect these, and many of the other rituals, which are presented without judgement and little explanation. Read the rest of this entry
May 16, 2017. Last October I wrote an article about
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” a documentary which was
shown as part of the New York Film Festival. While I
realize most readers might not have been able to
make it to the festival, how fortunate it is that this
excellent documentary will start a run at IFC Center
on Friday, May 19. Read the rest of this entry
May 8, 2017. Israeli writer and director Rama Burshtein’s new film, “The Wedding Plan,” opens on May 12. I saw “The Wedding Plan” as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
I went into “The Wedding Plan” with a lot of expectations, which sadly were not met. Burshtein’s previous film, “Fill the Void” (2012), is a real favorite of mine. In fact I use “Fill the Void” in the “Introduction to Sociology” classes that I teach at CUNY Queens College. I use it to illustrate ideas and concepts about social structure structure, social institutions and culture. Due to my teaching schedule, I see “Fill the Void” between six and seven times a year and never tire of it. Read the rest of this entry