Deconstructing the Beatles: Wow, ‘Something’ Else!

I can’t say enough positive about Deconstructing the Beatles Abbey Road Side One. This more than any other doc at the Cine-World Film Fest is an impressive grab. On Scott Freiman’s website, the creator and presenter of the documentaries, one can see these showings are few and far between.

I walked in after a hard day’s night at the book store and initially at the film’s start, thought, “Ugh! Not a lecture, I need an easy ride.” But wait! This film was soooo engaging, I was re-energized to try to remember all the gorgeous facts and foot notes about the stereo speakers, the Moog synthesizer, Timothy O’Leary, etc, etc.

I was dying to reach for a pen in my bag, but that would have meant sounding like a squirrel rummaging through a crinkly plastic bag for a food scrap to the anger of those around me. They definitely would have wanted to Maxwell Silver Hammer my keister.

Scott Freiman is a riveting story teller who uses precise, but uncomplicated visuals to show, for instance, how the Beatles created certain sounds on a new mixer for Ringo’s Octopus’s Garden. In the same song analysis, he showed a beautiful moment where George helps Ringo with the song as George Martin chimes in with harmonies. Magic!!

I signed up for alerts on Scott Freiman’s Live Lectures and most definitely will be buying my musician and singer son (Liam Enright, check him out on YouTube) a ticket when Scott does another in New York City.

“Leaving Home, Coming Home” Doc: Tribute to Robert Frank

Another find at the Cine-World Film Fest at the Sarasota Film Society’s Burns Court Theater was the rare gem (as far as big screen showings) from 2004 “Leaving Home, Coming Home”. While the doc seemed on the home made side, cinema verite the fancier terminology, the depth of the doc really shone in its second half.

And this makes perfect sense, since like a stereotypical artist, Robert Frank is a bit guarded and quite eccentric demanding a film maker, in this case Gerald Fox, do his time to build trust. In at least two instances in the doc, Frank lectures the vidoegraphers that he is not going to perform and that he must be allowed to be natural. Only for his sweet second wife June, is he cajoled into ‘performing his scream’.

I loved the way Fox played with black and white vs. color. In some of the ‘current’ 2004 scenes, Fox chose black and white, proving that people, in a general sense, do not change with time. On Coney Island, Robert explains his original photographs were done with ordinary people in a natural environment and that the same photos could be taken now. People as a subject matter, remain fascinating, a status quo we have over our burgeoning android competition.

His stories about horrible 1950’s and 60’s racism experienced secondhand (in one case Robert was reprimanded for giving a ride to a black man) and then firsthand in Arkansas, when he was thrown in jail merely because the police found him suspicious, details how mean spirited our former years in the U. S. really were.

In another scene, Robert seems to get upset in modern day Coney Island at first, trying to ask people where the setting of one of his past photos was since the landscape had changed so. A few folks blow him off and you see him start to wilt, until he speaks to a black man in his 40’s who takes interest in Robert’s pursuit and helps his fellow man locate a former train station pictured in the print. As they say goodbye, Robert shakes the black man’s hand and the former, hugs his arm in a beautiful humanizing moment.

Frank’s home in Nova Scotia where the second half of the film takes place, was a refuge away from the busy streets of NYC. Here we discover life facts about his son’s schizophrenia diagnosis in the 70’s and 80’s leading to his ultimate early death and equally tragic, his daughter dying in a plane crash.

The doc is saved from being too sad due to his gorgeous marriage to his wife June, also an eccentric artist (her medium is metal figurines). I’m just guessing, but without this bond, I wonder if Frank could have made it through the death of his children.

My main disappointment was that the doc did not bother to update and put a card at the end explaining that Robert passed away in September 2019. I had to look that information up, not a hardship, but ti would have given the audience pertinent information. And if Robert was somewhat miserable in ‘old age’ already in 2004, I can’t imagine what he was like in 2019. While he seemed ok with aging (is anyone a fan really?), you could tell he was not pleased with the physical setbacks.

A secondary quibble is my preference to front loaded the doc Robert made with Mick Jagger called “Cocksucker Blues” rather than tacking that on at the end. It seemed to be more fitting with the Jack Kerouac parts, celebrity with celebrity as it were.

In the end the doc is a peaceful piece on aging and a message that you need to find solace where you can. For Robert Frank, that home was ultimately in his art.

“Where’s My Roy Cohn?”, Just like MJ, he’s dead and gone

Ok, I saw Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” last night at Sarasota Film Society’s (https://filmsociety.org/) Burns Court on it last night.

There have simply been too many fantastic docs out this year for this to land as a ‘must see’, though it certainly was enlightening. I didn’t mind that it was an advertisement for the Democratic 2020 campaign by showing Roy’s legal prowess helping to acquit Trump in a racial bias suit decades ago.

But let’s face facts though…as I read the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” in preparation for the “The Irishman”, JFK, a respected Democrat, had mafia help to gain his election win.

Politicians are under such money pressure (see the NPR News I heard as I rode home from Joker:(http://www.getroxy.xyz/promise-no-spoilers-jokers-wild/) it’s no wonder they all smell of the swamp. I’m not sure if we’ll ever drain it, at least not in my lifetime. But let’s just try to remain civil to one another.

And speaking of civil, while Cohn was a morally corrupt person, I did find offensive the fact that narrators repeatedly called his mother ‘ugly’ and unwanted, and then also depicted Roy with the same adjectives. The lawyer who was basically paid to marry Dora (Roy’s mom) was no looker either, but yet none of the narrator’s mentioned his ‘Facebook’ rating. I saw that as very mean spirited narration. Let’s recognize people’s worth based on what they did in life. Surely their behavior was ugly, but let’s leave looks out of it. There’s plenty of pretty people who are just as ugly on the inside, Ted Bundy, just to name an infamous one.

Also, let’s recognize the shame Roy underwent being called out as a fairy back when homosexuals were disparaged, as well as the fact that once disbarred, his ‘true friends’ were no where to be found.

Again, let’s make 2020 a year of balanced perspective and stick to an individual’s current (meaning past two decades) behavior as what’s fair game for judgment.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice es Magnifica~

The best movies make you feel Y.O.L.O. in all caps and this was certainly true of “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. I’m sure I am not the only person who left the documentary saying, “who knew?” in just how prolific Linda Ronstadt has been, achieving hits simultaneously on the country, pop and R&B charts, not to mention mastering opera and a Spanish mariachi music album! I mean, really? Is she human? Amazing!!

Epstein and Friedman previously teamed up on Howl, Celluloid Closet and most recently on an Oscar nominated short documentary called End Game. Epstein is a two time Oscar doc winner for The Times of Harvey Milk and Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt.

While the doc category is getting pret-ty (Larry David call back) jammed packed for possible Oscar contenders, The Sound of My Voice has to be right up there. For me it’s a dead even tie between this and Ask Dr. Ruth, each equally thrilling and moving.

While some lame-o’s might whine that this was typical chronological story telling with video footage doing most of the narrative work, I contest this criticism with two pieces of defense. First, her prowess as a singer is so remarkable, writing over her talent would be ludicrous. Second, saving a display of her present condition until the very end packs the best evocative punch.

I’ll be rooting for this documentary come Oscar time for sure!! And to my singer son, Liam Enright, may I say sing as much as you possibly can with all the passion you possess. Time is of the essence!

What’s Up Doc? David Crosby: Remember My Name

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As I called the era a few blogs ago, 2019 really does seem to be the Year of the Doc. Ask Dr. Ruth, Pavarotti, Marianne & Leonard, Maiden, Echo in the Canyon… all in the running this year for best documentary. But really, who’s the best?

I have to say, three stand out for me and all for a similar reason: Ask Dr. Ruth, Pavarotti and now David Crosby: Remember My Name.

The reason? They give a specific perspective and arc of a person’s life and show that human beings, no matter how famous, all have hardships to overcome. In all three of these folks, the individual has prevailed giving hope to the doc’s audiences, that we, too, can and should overcome odds to be a better human being.

I’m leaving out Marianne & Leonard partially after discovering the director had a personal prejudice for the subject matter and while I felt emotion while watching, also felt somewhat manipulated, and coercion was not part of my experience with the other three.

David Crosby fully admits he has a temper, which I’ll paraphrase as a blind rage which provoked him to say the most vile, unforgivable things to those most close to him, aka Nash, Stills and Young.

Who hasn’t screwed up a friendship by snapping at the wrong time or to an irrevocable extreme? I confess I self-righteously chewed my decades long friend Terry Van Wuykheuese out many moons ago (probably 2006ish). And similar has been done to me, quite recently actually. There are some words that are impossible to forget or forgive and Crosby has admittedly crossed that line.

In so many words, director A.J. Eaton and Cameron Crowe show Crosby’s remorse and also his acceptance that at this late point in his life, he should feel grace toward his wife and be damn glad for his health and musical talent (including a still beautiful melodic voice).

Much like Howard did for Pavarotti in showing his transition from operatic diva to charitable humanitarian, Crowe does an excellent job wielding our way through David’s life, beginning with the initial scar of a father who couldn’t show love, to his overly fortunate beginning rock and roll days, through addiction, prison and back out again.

And as much as the media wants to chastise and shark feed on the blood those who made mistakes, documentarians are salvaging people who have made human error, but continue to create and live full lives. Louis C.K. and Al Franken, just to name a few, should take heart in knowing, many people can forgive and if they can’t, life does indeed go on.

Maiden: Using undertow as a verb

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I’m declaring undertow as a verb, as in underdwhelmed, as in, ‘I got undertowed’ by the high praise for the documentary “Maiden”. I like the sound of it and hope to have it goes viral. Of course I’m saying this somewhat tongue in cheek.

On the one hand, what the women on “Maiden” did, as the first all woman team to sail around the world, is a really big deal.
Yet I was undertowed by the footage and the narrative by Alex Holmes. Consequently, the doc only grabbed me near the end.

What’s sadly ironic is that in the late 80’s the women were asked almost solely about the crew members relationships crew vs. tactical questions fed to men, yet Alex Jones the writer and director only focused on the women’s faces in present day interviews and soundbites of male chauvinists. If you want to help evolve, tell mini stories of the women, show moments that make us realize just how big a feat this was.

The relativity of it all, is that other documentaries I’ve seen this year that were much more inspiring, “Ask Dr. Ruth” and even “Echo in the Canyon” showed more humanity. And that’s the crux of the problem. I didn’t get to know any of the other gals besides the skipper and even her story didn’t ‘dive’ into the angst enough for me to have the big splash or payoff.

Interviews of present people and old 80’s blurry film doesn’t make for riveting story telling. Lesson learned: Don’t get undertowed by over enthusiastic reviewers.

Amazing Grace: Everything and Desire for More

Amazing Grace was a labor of love that Sydney Pollack was never able to pull off alive. He was always too busy according to IMDB, to finish syncing voice to video. Instead, before he died of cancer, he handed off the project to Alan Elliott (whose IMDB bio does not glean much info, besides a personal blog link to a spooky place that hasn’t been touched since the early aughts). Sure, Alan has done a lot of composing, but this is his first directorial production.

My guess is he’s a man of few words. The only narrative contained were the four to five captions that started the film. Perfection for a music purist, a mindset of, “Just let the girl (and marvelous choir and studio band) sing and play”. Raw footage without ‘story interruptus’ allows the audience the vicarious awe and joy as the church onlookers dance, cry and shout out passionate spiritual yelps.

Yet, I was still hungry for story….what was happening behind the scenes? What was Aretha like as a woman? Why didn’t she want this made until after she passed away?

Story implied in the footage was that her dad was adoring and proud, and I loved the paternal moment where he wiped her adorable 29 year old face of sweat as she began another feverish number.

Maybe it’s that I’m/we’re so use to knowing every intimate detail (and then some) these days of documentary subjects that I felt like I was missing something. Perhaps what I really miss are days like these in 1971 when things were simpler and people were afforded privacy. No one in Aretha’s audience was caught looking zombie like into phones or surreptitiously trying to capture an image on such nuisance contraptions.

So really, Amazing Grace was everything you’d want it to be. And in the words of philosopher Slavoj Zizek, perhaps it’s time for us to stop trying to be progressive to the point of ruination and actually reach back to what worked in the past. I loved the 70’s. And moreover, I also loved Aretha, too.

Making of Montgomery Clift: A Timely and Worthy Mission

With a busy life, I was able to score two Sarasota Film Fest Tickets.

My first film was a new documentary by Rob Clift, Montgomery Clift’s nephew, Making of Montgomery Clift .

First and foremost, bless Rob Clift for caring enough about his Uncle’s reputation (and indirectly his Dad who ripped Clift’s biographer for warping his life story) to try to establish facts. My friend Barry Rothman, author of Mary Ann or Ginger?, a film aficionado, basically told me the side of the story he (and most of the general public) was fed.

Unfortunately, Barry did not see the film and now I must burst his bubble, taking the torch of Rob Clift in informing him that Montgomery was not losing his mind during Judgment at Nuremberg, but tormented with rewriting the script (proof shown in this documentary) to make his role more believable. In fact, Montgomery did this with almost every script, carving it into his own language. Thus, he was not only an accomplished actor, but a script doctor as well.

He was also NOT miserable after his car accident and actually thought his refurbished face had more character for acting.

Probably addicted to pain killers and quite the drinker, he did die very young from a heart attack. But women and men alike who loved him, knew him to be engaged with life.

In this post fact world, where the loudest and most repetitive propagandist voices are the ones given credibility, Rob Clift stands up to try to set the record straight. May we all be blessed with such a noble relative. Or how about this goldenish rule, unless you know what you are saying or writing is absolutely factual about another person’s life, shut the heck up.

And one nostalgic post script: I was tickled pink to see the man who played Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) in Super Man interviewed. Who knew he was still alive?

The Invisibles: Better Title, A New Term Perhaps: Tenacitators

Tenacitators might be a strange term, but something about the title The Invisibles makes this film sound like a new Marvel movie or animated deal. And when I think of the four principle characters, real humans who survived hiding during Hitler’s last desperate days, invisible is the furthest word from my mind, rather they are tenacious people who just kept moving until rescue finally came via the Russian and American troops.

In this post Oscar movie drought, how did director Claus Rafle know that I was fatigued with both historical reenactment films and also straight documentaries? Yet here was his film, miraculously braiding the two genres into a moving piece about, can I use my new word? The Tenacitators. Ok, does the tator suffix make it sound too tater totty? (yet another new phrase)

In all seriousness, The Invisibles made a poignant case for those brave enough to resist the Nazis; in one case a brave man typing up letters to send business mail in rallying people to rise up at the risk of his and his family’s life. In the most moving case of the movie, a man thanks the woman who saved him by hiding him and thus forsaking herself.

Claus Rafle is co-credited with Alejandro Lopez for the screenplay which also included well edited stock film footage of bombed out Germany. So perfectly woven, I was never confused going between the three threads: doc, film and real film. The four actors: Max Mauff, Alice Dwyer, Ruby O. Fee and Aaron Altaras, while not ‘big stars’, were serious and believable.

Looking back, the film was strongest in these candid interviews of the two women and two men who lived to tell. Each beautiful in their own right, not preaching or whining, but simply grateful for the literal ‘it takes a village’ salvation. Reading Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles the same day as seeing The Invisibles, I couldn’t help but notice a similar theme in that our ‘family’ ends up being those who care for us daily. Fleeting relationships or those we are lucky enough to see endure are equally important in keeping us alive and well.

Maria “Solo Me So” Callous (Pun intended) vs. Freddie Mercury

It’s all in the ear of the beholder of course, but one of the reasons I cared so much about Bohemian Rhapsody (thank you Golden Globes by getting that right!) was the purity (and full length songs) of original Queen music. The benefit that Bohemian Rhapsody had besides my halcyon high school and college memories forever linked with Freddie’s voice, was that it also told the poignant story of Freddie’s life in full.

In a documentary such as Maria by Callas however, I would have loved more narrative, rather than operetta after operetta. True, I had Habanera in my head all the next day (and liked it!), but that would have sufficed for the sake of more of her life story.

After reading more about Callas after the fact (I was trying to save any surprises to my own ignorance aka Three Identical Strangers for the doc viewing), I wish the documentary had addressed her supposed feud with a fellow opera singer, dating Warren Beatty or Omar Sharif, her childhood (IMDB reports she was in a 22 day coma after being hit by a car), etc.

Instead, the movie either cheats, or is too lazy, relying on three old interviews where Maria speaks of her tough upbringing and destiny to be a singer, with obvious regrets about being childless.

Like Freddie Mercury who I fully realize died of AIDS complications, you have to wonder if regret, loneliness or a broken heart may have contributed to his and Maria’s early demise. I’m certainly not the first to mention this theory, but true genius (Mercury, Callas in singing, Philip Seymour Hoffman in acting, David Foster Wallace in writing just to name a few) often comes at great cost. No matter what, I do believe this doc could have been much more moving had emphasis been placed on story over song.