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.
On April 25 the Tribeca Film Festival nearly blew the roof off of the Beacon Theater with its closing night event, a 25th anniversary screening of director Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film “Goodfellas,” presented in a stunning, digital restoration. Following the screening, moderator Jon Stewart conducted an interview with “Goodfellas” cast members Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and “Goodfellas” screenwriter Nick Pileggi, who also wrote the book “Wiseguy,” upon which “Goodfellas” is based. Conspicuously absent from the event was Scorsese, who is on location in Taiwan, shooting a movie. Scorsese shot an video introduction to the evening, which was shown before the film. Irwin Winkler, the film’s producer, also shot a video introduction. Read the rest of this entry
The Tribeca Film Festival is now running from April 15 – 26 at various venues. As is my habit, I have 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, while fiction films can be “hit” or “miss.”
Autism in Love
“Autism in Love” is my favorite documentary at this year’s festival, so far. It is a portrait of autism that I don’t think has been previously brought to light. The documentary captures the logic, thinking, points of view and feelings of four autistic people dealing with real world, life issues – wanting a relationship, the possibility of taking a relationship to the next level and dealing with a health crisis within a relationship. These are poignant, frank, dignified portraits, richly observed with characters who are appealing. The film is simultaneously heartfelt, funny, sad and, above all, quite human. Director Matt Fuller has portrayed his subjects, and their families, with care and respect. Fuller’s talent as a director has been enhanced by the film’s excellent cinematography, editing and music.
First and foremost, “Autism in Love” is a beautiful looking film, shot by cinematographer Scott Uhlfelder. The subjects are photographed as thoughtful, dignified, articulate people. It is a pleasure to watch.
Film editor Alex O’Flinn has had the good sense and talent to know when to let interview segments play out and to not cut them short. Shots often linger on the faces of the subjects after they have answered questions – a tribute to editing, as well as directing. The result is that we see the subjects contemplating what they have just said and how the saying of this has made them feel. The subjects are very frank about their feelings on being autistic, how they view the world and, perhaps most important, how they feel the world sees them.
The music, by Mac Quayle, underscores the film’s emotions without poking the audience in the ribs and telling it how to feel. In other words the score accomplishes what good music should do.
“In Transit” is one of the final documentaries by Albert Maysles. The subjects are passengers on board the Empire Builder, America’s busiest long distance train route. The three day long journey runs between Chicago in the east and Portland and Seattle in the west.
We meet many passengers throughout the documentary. I had the impression I was being shown a cross section of a sub-culture of long distance train travelers. Maysles presents snippets, as opposed to fully developed portraits, of the many subjects on board. The snippets are enough, though, to sketch in who these people are.
Most of the passengers have lives that are in the process of changing. They have regrets about their pasts and hopes for better futures. Maysles’ observational style puts us right on the train in which strangers converse with each other, as well as with Maysles.
“In Transit” is also about the bonds that form between strangers, who feel free to share intimate information about themselves. A passenger points out that it is better than an airplane ride because, on a train, there is much more social mobility and time. Maysles has captured his subjects as they take breathers from their lives.
The film explains that there are actually many Empire Builders crossing the country simultaneously, headed east and west, carrying hundreds of passengers, something which captured my imagination. If one took this particular group of people and multiplied by the thousands of people who take this ride, one would get a portrait of a country not only in transit, but also in transition.
Every documentary has a point of view. There is no such thing as objectivity in documentaries. “Prescription Thugs” is certainly no exception this rule. Director Chris Bell (“Bigger, Stronger, Faster” – 2008) has created a harrowing, entertaining and, I’m sure, factual portrait of America’s dependence on prescription drugs. It is a personal documentary as well as an attack on big pharmaceutical companies, as Bell shows how drug use has effected his family, including his own demons with drugs and those of his brother.
Bell has clearly been influenced by the work of Michael Moore. Bell uses “Mooresque” techniques of humorous film clips, taken out of their original contexts, to get across his findings. “Prescription Thugs” is compelling, funny and makes great points. Bell points out that Americans (5% of the world’s population) consume 75% of the world’s prescription drugs. The bad guys area clearly the pharmaceutical companies, or, as Bell refers to them “pharma.”
While I am not saying that Bells’ points are not well taken, I do have to say that, after a while, I began to wonder about the personal responsibility of those taking the drugs. Bell does eventually, but all too briefly, touch on the personal responsibility issue inherent in the abuse of prescription drugs. He also gives a small nod to the many good things that drug companies have accomplished. After that, though, it’s back to attacking big pharma. Bell does this well and has created a thought provoking, albeit one sided, film in the process.
A part of me wants to say that I enjoyed “Farewell to Hollywood,” a new documentary co-directed by New York based documentarian Henry Corra and Regina Diane Nicholson (Reggie). However, I do not think that “enjoyed” is the correct term for my reaction to this very moving, honest, frank, poignant and life affirming personal documentary about a teen-aged filmmaker’s final, two year struggle with cancer. “It’s kind of an ordeal, isn’t it?” Corra said to me, empathizing with my reaction to this heartfelt documentary which opens at Cinema Village on February 25 (Reggie’s birthday). Reggie, the film’s subject as well as its co-director, was a filmmaker whose goal was to make a feature film. As Reggie’s mother says, in the documentary, Reggie “wont make her mark on the world until she’s done that.”
From December 25 – 31, Film Forum will present an archival 35mm print of director Ernst Lubitsch’s film, “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940). In plain English this means a very good print of a very nice movie.
I will admit that, prior to writing this article, I had not seen “The Shop Around the Corner.” As a teacher of film and sociology I am sometimes amazed at the films I have not yet seen. The advantage of this is that it allows me the joy of discovering new films and, in so doing, prevents me from becoming jaded. “The Shop Around the Corner” allowed me to accomplish both the former and the latter. As director and journalist Peter Bogdanovich said, at the 2010 TCM (Turner Classic Movie) Classic Film Festival, “If you haven’t seen it, then it’s not an old movie.” So, applying Mr. Bogdanovich’s words, I am happy to report that not only is “The Shop Around the Corner” not an “old movie” for me personally but, more important, it is a modern, relevant, literary, funny movie about characters dealing with core issues of the human experience – work, love, money, survival, happiness, security and finding a soul mate. Read the rest of this entry
As 2014 winds down, how appropriate that “Isn’t It Delicious,” one of the best independently produced films that I have seen this year, will have its long awaited debut at the Quad Cinema. For those interested in story telling that is insightful, real and funny, this is a movie not to be missed.
“Isn’t It Delicious” arrives at the Quad already a multiple film festival winner. It won the Best Feature Film award at the Rainer Independent Film Festival, Best Comedy at the 2013 Manhattan Film Festival, Best Actor (Kathleen Chalfant) at the San Antonio Film Festival and second place for Best Feature at the Topelo Film Festival. It has also been an Official Selection at many more film festivals.
Director Michael Patrick Kelly, known for his accomplished work as a documentary filmmaker (“Operation Lysistrata” – 2006) demonstrates his versatility by bringing off a narrative feature which he also co-wrote (with Kathleen Kiley) co-edited (with David Pisani) and co-produced. Read the rest of this entry
On Sunday 10/19/14 at 3:40, Film Forum will present a screening of director Frank Capra’s 1929 film “The Donovan Affair.” The film will be shown as part of the repertory theatre’s current retrospective of Capra’s movies, which runs through October 23.
I attended Tuesday’s screening of “The Donovan Affair.” It was a fun, riotous evening – a perfect blending of film history and really ingenious live performance. “The Donovan Affair” is a rare event not to be missed. The story behind “The Donovan Affair” is nothing short of fascinating and Film Forum’s presentation of this nearly lost film represents a level of commitment to film restoration, repertory cinema, and performance that I do not think has ever been accomplished.￼ Read the rest of this entry
The New York Film Festival will take place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center from September 26 – October 12, 2014. Although the press screenings have just started, this year’s line up looks to be a formidable one with over 30 feature films from around the world, in addition to 21 revivals and 15 documentaries.
From Ireland, director Yann Demange’s “’71” is a suspenseful, pulse pounding, riveting account of a British soldier, cut off from his unit, lost and trying to stay alive in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1971 at the height of what was called “the Troubles.” “’71” is a skillfully directed thriller with plenty of action, solid characters and a real sense of the historical and political situation of the time. Read the rest of this entry