286 posts categorized "Documentary"

July 06, 2017

THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN'S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY — NYFF 54

The B-SideDocumentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris has crafted his sweetest film to date. Morris’s filmic love letter to his longtime friend, photographer Elsa Dorfman, is a deceptively straight-forward telling of Dorfman's progress as a portrait photographer in the early ‘80s. Dorfman’s chosen photographic format, a Polaroid Land 20x24 camera provides a topical conversation piece for the documentary to contextualize a social landscape that includes Beat poets, musicians, and families who sat before Elsa Dorfman in her Cambridge, Massachusetts studio. Poloroid's eventual collapse plays heavily into the narrative. 

Elsa’s [oversized] photos give the film its “B-Side” title; she always took two shots for her clients to choose from. Naturally, many of the rejected images are better than the chosen versions. Part character study and part social expose, “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” examines the artistic process of a woman whose divinely quirky personality informs her formerly overlooked career. Elsa Dorfman may never have received the accolades she deserved from the art world, but Errol Morris’s delightful documentary does her, and her lush photographs of icons such as Jonathan Richman, Alan Ginsberg, and Jorge Luis Borges, justice.

The-B-Side

Rated R. 78 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

March 26, 2017

ALWAYS FOR PLEASURE

Always For PleasureLegendary documentarian Les Blank’s roughhewn social study soaks up New Orleans’ vibrant culture of traditions, parades, music, food, and joyful people in 1978. Learn the proper way to eat a crawfish, and dig the festive vibe in a doc that is a little bit history lesson and a lot of fun.    

Les Blank’s intuitive sense of documentary filmmaking is purely organic. His films allow for a natural symbiotic exchange to occur between the viewer and the work at hand. You can feel it happening when “Always For Pleasure” gets into the Second line musicians and partiers at a funeral procession.

Irreverent joy overflows into Blank’s wanton absorption of a melting pot made up of Black, White, European, French, Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Mexican, Appalachian, and West Indian influences. Outside of society, and yet minted within primal human instincts for shared communal experience, the Second line musicians and their followers give back all that has been taken away from most of America’s citizens. You can guess the rest, with a smile on your face.

Always For Pleasure

Not Rated. 58 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves) 

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts for your enjoyment.

Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

February 25, 2017

KEDi

KEDICeyda Torun’s filmic love letter to the feral cats of Istanbul, and to the community of local residents they inspire, is cinematic ice cream for the soul.

Cat-level roaming photography contrasts with helicopter-views of this beautiful old port city to give audiences a visual sense of how seven feral cats command their territories with agility, charm, and persistence. Generous fishmongers make for prime stalking.

Local shop owners keep a running tab with multiple vets that they frequently visit for the sake of their feline pals. The community’s willingness to care for the cats that share their streets, apartments, and shops, speaks volumes about the culture and people of Istanbul.

The filmmakers make spritely connections between cats such as the charismatic Gamsiz, a black-and-white smooth slinky operator who keeps more than a few humans at his beck and call.

There are even a husband-and-wife couple of cats whose female counterpart keeps her male partner under close watch, lest he be tempted away by the charms of another cat.

Kedi2

The film’s insights come from locals who have a lot to say about their cat companions.

“People who don’t love animals can’t love people either” makes sense on a fundamental level. “Kedi” is an ideal family documentary that captures the beauty of Istanbul from a cat’s eye perspective. And yes, there are plenty of kittens bouncing around in various predicaments for survival in the crevices of Istanbul’s (mostly) welcoming streets.

KEDi3

Not Rated. 80 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts for your enjoyment.

Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

February 13, 2017

THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

Decline-of-Western-CivilizationPenelope Spheeris’s infamous documentary of L.A.’s hardcore early ‘80s punk scene was banned by police chief Daryl Gates after the film’s premiere.

If that isn’t reason enough to watch this essential punk document, seeing staged performances by The Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Catholic Discipline, Fear, Germs, and X will surely do the trick. Spheeris captures the humor, energy, and mindset of L.A.'s short-lived punk scene between interview clips and live music footage.

You can't put a price on a filmic document such as this one. Also, you can plainly see and hear how much better X was than most of the other bands in the film. 

“We’re desperate, get used to it.”

Not Rated. 100 mins. (A-) (Four stars - out of five / no halves)

PATREON BUTTON

In episode #30 we give a big shout-out to FilmStruck with their currently streaming THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION over a ROGUE DEAD GUY ALE — an homage to Darby Crash. Cole's early '80s San Diego punk band The Rockin' Dogs make a couple of guest appearances. Eat.

THE DECLINE2

The Decline of Western Civilization 2


COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

PATREON BUTTON

Click Here to Pledge Your Support Through Patreon

February 12, 2017

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

I_am_not_your_negroSamuel L. Jackson’s pitch-perfect rendition of James Baldwin’s unmistakable voice is as pure as Baldwin’s memoir recollections of his murdered civil rights peers Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., as collected in his unfinished manuscript “Remember This House.”  

Haiti-born filmmaker Raoul Peck not only captures the essence of James Baldwin’s fearless perspectives on racial injustice in America, but he breathes fresh historical perspective into the harsh realities that too many Americans mistake for justice so many decades later. Fiercely articulate, handsome, and perfectly dressed, James Baldwin comes across as a bantamweight intellectual poet-warrior prepared to command the center stage of whatever arena he enters.

A clip of Baldwin’s debut (1968) appearance on the Dick Cavett television show speaks volumes about the mindset of liberal (white) culture at the time. You will never think of Dick Cavett the same way again, but you do come to understand the nature of James Baldwin’s magnetic, if heroic, attraction to truth that led him to abandon America for France where he lived as a writer-in-exile until the end of his life. Only in America would James Baldwin be considered a radical. 

I Am Not Your Negro

“I Am Not Your Negro” is as bold and forthcoming as its uncompromising title. It is one of the best 10 films of 2016. You might want to watch it more than once.

Rated PG-13. 95 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

PATREON BUTTON

January 02, 2017

MIFUNE: THE LAST SAUMRAI

MifuneWhile not the in-depth character study of the prolific Japanese actor that its title implies, “Mifune: The Last Samurai” is a rollicking survey of the gifted artist who played muse to Akira Kurosawa for much of the director’s storied career.

Keanu Reeves provides charismatic voice-over narration in telling an abbreviated (read sanitized) version of Toshiro Mifune’s transition from son to Japanese missionaries living in China, to Japanese Imperial Army soldier during World War II, and on to becoming one of Japan’s most highly regarded actors.

Predictable interview segments with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese put Hollywood’s stamp of approval on Mifune’s well-crafted character creations in films such as “Rashomon,” “Seven Samurai,” "Yojimbo," and “Throne of Blood,” all of which are referenced in essential clips. Never mind that Hollywood only recently included Mifune in their "Walk of Fame," long after his death in 1997.

Mifune

“Mifune: The Last Samurai” functions best as an introduction to one of Cinema’s most disciplined and unique actors. Watching this documentary should have the desired effect of inspiring its audience to seek out some of the more than 150 films that Toshio Mifune starred in, to witness the nuance, humor, and untamed fury of his dynamic performances. There are only a handful of actors in the history of Cinema that have created anything close to the number of indelible characterizations that Mifune made palpable on the big screen. Indeed, no other actor embodied the tragic face of the samurai legend and legacy as did Toshiro Mifune.

Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 11.57.08 AM

Not Rated. 80 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts for your enjoyment.

Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

October 26, 2016

THE BEST DEMOCRACY MONEY CAN BUY

Best Democracy Money Can BuyIf you don’t know who Greg Palast is, you should. This (64-year-old) New York Times bestselling author and freelance investigative journalist for the BBC and for the Guardian dresses like a gumshoe detective from a Dashiell Hammett novel for good reason; he can back it up. This background information is important to take into account when watching “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” because Palast’s presentation comes on strong. In this day and age, such trappings could be confused with caricature, rather than character — by which I mean a person with integrity. There’s a word you don’t see very often because every time such a human being exerts his or her attempt to free the truth (see Bradley/Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald, Ted Rall, etc.) they are slandered and demonized by both sides of America’s neo-liberal media and its corporate fathers.

Palast makes Michael Moore look, well, small by comparison. Moore (two years Palast’s junior) has partaken in so much of the Hillary Clinton Kool-Aid that he may as well throw in the towel. Check out Palast’s investigation into the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Voter fraud in America is the focus of Palast’s bumpy documentary, which Palast co-directed with David Ambrose. It would have behooved Palast to hire a more experienced director to take on those duties, but the meat of this film far outweighs its filmic weaknesses. Odd how in the few weeks since this film’s release, all sorts of news outlets have been jumping on the band wagon to state that Donald Trump’s version of voter fraud — namely where citizens cross state lines to vote twice — is microscopic as to be nonexistent. What Palast shows, describes, and tracks down are the billionaire corporate raiders (see the Koch Brothers, John Paulson, and John “The Vulture” Singer) who fund insidious things like Interstate Crosscheck, which effectively blocks non-white voters from casting their votes.

Screen Shot 2016-10-26 at 8.30.18 PM

“The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” isn’t a great documentary, but it gets the job done. From its title, you know that democracy isn’t real. So if Greg Palast and his girl Friday (Ms. Badpenny) seem over the top, well it goes with the territory of a country on the verge of yet another fraud-based election. As always it isn’t the voters you have to worry about, it’s the perpetually rigged system that will deliver Corporate America’s latest puppet. Sometimes you need to hear such bitter truths from a private-dick-styled journo like Palast. Check it out.

Not Rated. 114 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series