Shirkers, Halcyon Days

Shirkers is a 2018 documentary written and directed by Sandi Tan which made the short list for Oscars Best Docs of 2019. As much as I talk smack against Amanda of The Big Picture Podcast (mainly because she has not given Shia LaBouef nor Robert Pattinson the credit they deserve), I am blessed to have watched this doc at her encouragement.

Shirkers tells the story of Sandi’s young adult infatuation with an exotic American film director living in her native country of Singapore. Sandi’s shaky upbringing and non-conformist personality led her to seek out charismatic mentors.

Without giving spoilers, Sandi becomes estranged from her man of admiration and attempts to discover the murky parts of the man’s life of which she was unaware.

The music by Ishai Adar and Brad Dutz set the a dreamy atmosphere. Movie clips from classics like Fitzcarraldo and Sex, Lies, and Videotape add to the intrigue. Last, any woman who had an older man crush as a youth will appreciate Tan’s halcyon view of her past, and her attempt to recapture the naive innocence we all once had of the world.

Moment of Zen: Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams isn’t for the Fast and Furious crowd, but given the overload of stress and information, the documentary certainly fit the bill yesterday granting me a much needed Moment of Zen.

The cave which was discovered in the 90’s dates back 35,000 years ago (not a typo:) Within it’s walls lay works of chalk art that have survived throughout history. While my friend had an apt and well timed Mystery Science Theater 3000 comment, “a nerd parade” in relation to the scientists and film makers lucky enough to venture in (the cave is now closed for preservation), the doc was enthralling to think of past civilization who survived much more than Covid.

Ernst Reijseger’s music also added to the documentary’s grandeur. Unplug from the news feed and check it out.

Once We Were Brothers: RR & The Band

Not sure how reviewers can give this film anything lower than a 95. What on God’s Earth do they want?

So dog gone it, I’ll be the sales woman:
In Once We Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, written and directed by Daniel Roher, you’ll be rewarded with:

*a gorgeous history invoked by Robbie Robertson who appears to be a cross between Captain Kangaroo (meaning innocent passion) and Ron Howard (straight laced, but still super hip).
*extraordinary stock photos of the entire band and also precious family photos

(Here’s where I digress to a deja vu I had of my 3/16/2009 concert venture with my sweet son Liam Enright, in the 9th row of Fleetwood Mac, where I repeated at least three times, “Lindsey Buckingham is a very sexy man”, to which Liam eventually said, “Mom, please!”
I had the same heat generating at Burns Court over Levon Helms, who was drop dead gorgeous in his prime.)

*a cautionary tale of the havoc and chaos alcohol and especially heroin can do to one’s creativity and obvious health: Helms (age 71 throat cancer), Richard Manuel (age 42 suicide), and Rick Danko (age 55 heart failure)
*tremendous film footage of Dylan back in the day. And man, do I admire his fashion sense!
*great film footage of The Last Waltz, probably one of, if not THE most important concert of our lifetime (ok, tied with Live Aid)
*Scorsese’s genius re-establishment (in my mind after the abysmal The Irishman), capturing The Last Waltz for film and music history

The only trouble I can see is the odd absence of present day commentary from Garth Hudson (83), who, along with Robbie Robertson, is the last living member. Does this put a question mark on Robbie’s point of view? Did Robbie really take more credit than his due, as Levon emphasized?

In truth, the last man standing gets the final say, but I’d love to know Hudson’s take.

Yet even with that lingering question, you’ll walk out of this doc in a buzz of musical euphoria.

Make it a Double: 63 Up and The Assistant

Not able to run leads me to get desperate, hence I took in two Burns Court movies yesterday.

First 63 Up, the longitudinal British study turned documentary is directed by Michael Apted, Bafta winner for previous incantations of 28 Up and 35 Up. This is my first foray into this series and I was moved. So moved in fact, that I had to opt out with an hour to go. Sure, I lasted 3 hours for The Irishman, but bored-hoping-for-gold sitting is more tolerable than being shaken by actual real lives flashing before your eyes. 63 Up was akin to a music festival, where you’ve already seen 8 great bands, now you want me to watch 5 more? I’d love to see the last hour TODAY, but could not take it all in one shot. Again, that’s a tribute to how well crafted the stories were done. Go see this film!

In the evening, I took in the contemporary drama The Assistant, written and directed by Kitty Green, a champion of realistic psychological abuse issues regarding children in “Casting JonBenet” and Me, Too abuse in The Assistant.

The film stars Julia Garner (best known from Ozarks and The Americans) as a college educated, yet working poor young woman living in Astoria, grinding out a meager living working at a film production office. The film portrays her as virtual slave; as janitor, waitress, irate wife counselor, and secretary, just to name a few.

The film had many similarities to film festival selection “The Chambermaid” which followed the life of a Mexico City Hotel maid, and in comparison pales due to lack of conflictual topography. HOWEVER, the film is worthy of seeing for Julia’s wispy performance as she stifles winces from her bullying boss, and her rejected visage at model types who are granted privileges to which she is never offered. Not only is her job without perks, she is rarely addressed as a fellow human. She is just ‘there’ to work and her pale pick blouse further helps to establish her invisibility.

I enjoyed some of the visual symbolism; when Julia is cleaning up pastries after a meeting, she puts a knotted donut in her mouth making her appear like a canine with a bone. In the HR office where she attempts to level a concern, the chastising manager, slides a cold metallic Kleenex box her way which again evoked an almost dog bowl like sound.

The film will open your eyes to working class loneliness in New York City and I suspect, every city in America.

The Bees’ Knees: Honeyland

I looked at several movies to watch this afternoon trying to fit in one more film that was ‘in the conversation’ as the hipsters say, so I chose Honeyland, which has been Oscar shortlisted for both best doc and best foreign film. Additionally, Honeyland’s been nominated for the Independent Spirit Award and won prizes at both Sundance and even the little ol’ Sarasota Film Fest.

Part The Gods Must Be Crazy and Ulee’s Gold (sorry the last beekeeper movie I’ve seen), Honeyland is a survival of the fittest story that makes Biggest Little Farm look like Disneyland.

Set in Macedonia (geographically, think of it like the toilet paper that Italy kicked off it’s heel) the story follows a 50 something female beekeeper and her relationship with the noisy neighbors that move in next door.

Directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, the film is a miracle in the cold hard truths about life in the Macedonian frontier. The neighbors who come with five children and herd of cattle, are the European Grapes of Wrath. The children are fundamentally uninsured employees, kicked by cows, injuring each other in play and work, at times refusing their abusive existence.

Meanwhile the main character, Hatidze Muraova, beekeeper and dedicated daughter to an sick elderly mother, had made out adequately by caring for bees and selling honey at local markets. Even in the primitive world, Hatidze tries to improve herself by buying chestnut hair color. I marveled at the fact that our first world and her third world have some of the same preoccupations.

Yet, without giving any spoilers, suffice to say, her world is turned upside down by the interlopers. Morally, I wonder how film makers justify filming families in chaos and suffering just as I wonder how dispassionate reporters detail the afflictions of other third world countries. On the one hand, it’s good to bring awareness to the needs on our collective human planet. And true, I’ve read that the documentarians did share their awards income with Hatidze, so I guess good karma does outweigh exploitation.

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.