As I sit to write about the last three weeks of attending the Tribeca Film Festival press/public screenings, I’m glad to finally be sitting in a room full of light. Readers know I am a big champion of going to film festivals. You get to see films of merit. At festival screenings the audience gets to participate in a Q&A with the director after the screening. This is why I prefer to go to public screenings. I do hope you will support a film at local theaters. People forget that films that are made for theater projection look and sound best in a theater.
I want to present some films that so excited me that I must share them with you. I hope that you will clip and paste them on your “To Do” bulletin board.
Let’s Go to the Movies…
I AM EVIDENCE
Directors: Trish Adlesic, Geeta Gandbhir
This HBO documentary is a shocking, well-crafted film on a hot button issue: RAPE! The film explores what happens when a woman chooses to report a rape or sexual assault (most do not). The procedure in most police departments is public and depersonalizing. It finishes with the creation of a rape kit containing the documentation of the circumstances and the evidence, including DNA if it’s available. Most women I know (and a few men) do not report the incident for fear of being ridiculed or humiliated. What I learned from I AM EVIDENCE was shocking. Over 250,000 rape kits nationwide remain, if not discarded, in the storage bins of police departments unprocessed! There has been no closure for the victim, no recognition of what the woman went through. And the perpetrator may still be on the street. New York State and City lead the country in follow up on rape kits and respect the victim of sexual assault’s privacy and anonymity when seeking medical attention.
Director: Oren Jacoby
SHADOWMAN is the best documentary I have seen on events in the downtown art world/club culture in New York City in the 1980s, which I was a part of. It was the time of mashing together painters, musicians, filmmakers, and creative people into a new cultural rat pack. It was a time of artistic expression outside the control of the art mafia. Street art—meaning free art—painted on buildings, walls, subway trains, etc. popped up everywhere, from artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat before they became world famous. There was also a third artist, less well known, Richard Hambleton. He, I believe, was the first person to make this kind of public art. His work was less identifiable as to what was coming to be called “graffiti art” in the art market. Hambleton painted more figuratively. He was spray painting all over town. If you lived downtown in the 1980s, unless you were blind, you could not have missed it—the black figurative image of a male splashed on a wall. Richard was well known within this downtown cultural world. He seemed less interested in the art market world than he was in his own artistic expression. He loved making art. He also loved drugs. He became a commercial sensation, but then disappeared in a way only a junkie can. Homeless, living on the street, physically challenged, addicted, Hambleton continued to paint. All this is documented in the film, as well as how Richard Hambleton was victimized by both drug dealers AND art dealers. Also documented is the driving passion of an artist to make art even when living a cockroach existence. Despite all obstacles, Richard Hambleton is alive today and still painting. I’ll leave it there. But see it.
I screened two films that feature Whitney Houston.
“WHITNEY: CAN I BE ME?”
Directors: Nick Bloomfield and Rudy Doleca
This film presents the tragic tale of a gifted singer who sold millions of records but was prevented, by constraints of record company executives and managers, to be the person she was. Bloomfield, well known for tearing off the public mask of famous subjects and exposing the taboos of their private lives (Aileen Wuornos, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Biggie, Tupac, etc.), brings his investigative camera and laser light into dark secret rooms where his subjects actually live. Bloomfield holds up to the light what happens to an artist when they become a SUPERSTAR, and family, business associates and hangers-on are dependent on the money machine for their own financial survival. In Whitney, no one is innocent, except oddly enough her real life bodyguard and her close professional companion. Tragic, yes! Condemning—you decide. Missing from this film is Clive Davis, the music mogul who signed her and was as close to an artist as any record company executive can be. Davis crossed professional lines in treating Whitney as family so the omission leaves a big open question. I have a lot more to say on this…but not here.
CLIVE DAVIS: The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Director: Chris Perkel
Perkel, a music documentary pro, delivers a well-deserved tribute to business and artist genius Clive Davis and his 50-year influence on the music industry and the musical choices for ears all over the world who love quality, well-produced recorded music, and songs whose lyrics touch them. (Disclosure: I did work closely with Clive in the late 1960s and early 1970s.) As one would suspect, this tribute to his career and influence is not in the Nick Bloomfield genre of documentary filmmaking. Perkel covers in a polished sheen the ups and downs of Davis’ career, including his amazing success in picking songs and producers that made him the most successful record company executive in the history of the recording industry. It also covers (sort of) his being fired in the 1970s for alleged financial dealings, and in the 1990s for being too old to rock. Fascinating! I believe Perkel gives Davis well-earned, well-deserved credit for what he has accomplished. It tracks his teaching lessons for young wannabe industry types and artists. Most screen time is given to his relationship with Whitney and his discovery of her unexpected death the afternoon of his annual Los Angeles pre-awards party. The guest list is an inventory of who is hot and who is not.
I also screened two narrative films I’d like to feature.
Director: Philippe Falardeau
(The Unforgettable Monsieur Lazhar)
When I was pitched CHUCK, a film about the inspiration for the main character in ROCKY, Chuck Wepner, I thought, “oh please…not interested.” Then I read who was attached to the film—Director Falardeau, actors Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Elizabeth Moss, and writer Jeff Feuerzeig (with Jerry Stahl)—and I said yes. Feuerzeig had directed two of my favorite art-related documentaries of the last few years. His choice of subjects, notably Daniel Johnston in The Devil and Daniel Johnston, an indie rock cult figure known for his profoundly innocent and revealing songs and as a manic-depressive genius singer/songwriter with a violent temper; and Laura Albert, subject of Author: the LT LeRoy Story. What I watched was storytelling at its pitch perfect best. Like Stallone’s Rocky, it’s about an ordinary Joe that most Americans can, on some level, identify with…except perhaps for art snobs (ahem!). The performances are revelatory and Watts finally gets to play a “ballsy chick,” the cliché beautiful working class bartender who takes no prisoners. Oscar/Spirit time. Watch this one.
Director/Writer: Oren Moverman
From Alison Maclean’s Jesus’s Son, to his brilliant film last year, Junction 44 (on Amazon Prime), Moverman is a director and writer whose work I will eagerly go see—always. The Dinner is an adaption of a book by Herman Koch. Like his book adaption of the award-winning film The Messenger, Moverman knows how to take the written word and adapt it to cinematic storytelling. In The Dinner, he is again attracted to complicated moral questions, class privilege, and identity. The central story in The Dinner is a complicated tale of friendship, marriage, and parenting. It asks how you remain principled to moral and ethical beliefs when it hits you personally and is not outside of you. Do men and women answer this question differently? What if the issue is your children? The subject matter here has almost been ripped from tabloid headlines. Families, ethics, moral dilemmas. True to his previous work, Moverman challenges his audience and gives no easy answers. At the screening I attended, a critic friend stood up and yelled at the screen: “How dare you end it in this way?” as the credits rolled. Talk about engagement. I left the theater debating the ending with myself. No easy answers to complicated questions is exactly what a serious movie should present to an audience. The cast—Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Steve Coogan (brilliant choice), Rebecca Hall and Chloe Sevigny—as would be expected, are up to the actor’s craft of making real the written word. This film opens May 4th.