3 posts categorized "Cinema Verite"

March 28, 2019

THE BRINK

BrinkDocumentarian Alison Klayman (“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”) brilliantly contextualizes Steve Bannon’s bizarre racist mission within the many coded ways the right-wing fascist ideologue expresses his murderous subtext to politicians (see Nigel Farage), billionaires (see Blackwater’s Erik Prince and Guo Media’s Miles Kwok), hack journalists, sycophantic fans, television interviewers, and during personal interactions.

It says a lot about a man by those who he admires; in Bannon’s case most such icons (seemingly) have direct links to the Nazi regime. Indeed, Bannon goes out of his way to put a fine point on his love affair with Hitler’s genocide of the Jews.

Bannon

Klayman opens the film with Bannon chugging a Red Bull while going over “spots” (shorthand for Bannon’s ongoing television media propaganda campaign) over the phone with an unnamed associate.

“You talk about culture being upriver in politics; this is the way you make a statement. I’ll see you at five o’clock and I’ll feed you dinner.”

Cut to Bannon bragging about “Torchbearer,” the 2016 “documentary” he directed. Oh yes, Steve Bannon is a director and producer. Check out his IMDB page, it will give you an idea Bannon’s obsessions. Shocker, Bannon executive produced the Sean Penn written/directed “The Indian Runner.” Still, Bannon can’t bring himself to remember his film’s proper title, “The Torchbearer,” or “Torchbearers,” or …

Bannon 2

The subject brings up filming that Bannon did in Auschwitz.

“My shit in Auschwitz rocked.”

This weird, out-of-context statement reflexively begs the question, does Bannon think Hitler also “rocked” Auschwitz? Evidently so. Bannon’s profane scatological reference is the needle that punctures the mind of the listener as Bannon normalizes his audience to his objectively racist beliefs that he carefully masks behind a sleepy-eyed gauze of overt respect and appreciation the Nazi death camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau).

Visually excited, Bannon nods his head with praise.

“We leave for Birkenau. This gets to the punchline of the story. I look around and I turn around in the chair and I go, “Man, I said, this is the most haunting place I think I’ve ever been. It’s something about this. This actually is the feeling I thought I was going to feel in Auschwitz.

And he (the guide) goes, ”Oh everybody says that.” Bannon breaks into a laugh and shakes his head like a puppy.

“And I go, What are you talking about?”

And he goes, “Oh no, no, no.” He goes, “Maybe I didn’t explain it.”

“He said, “Auschwitz was a Polish cavalry college. The Germans just requisitioned it immediately. That was like the beta site (test); this was made from scratch.”

Bannon raises his finger to make the point, “German industrial design. He says, “The whole thing’s perfect.”

“I’m walking around going oh my God. It’s precision engineering to the nth degree. By Mercedes, then Krupp, and Hugo Boss. It is a (sic) institutionalized industrial compound for mass murder.”

“Here it finally hits you that — think about it, good people back in Germany were sitting at their desks drawing, and having arguments, and meetings. This thing was so planned and so engineered — down to perfection; you could see the conference meetings. You could see all the cups of coffee, and all the meetings, and all the argument. There were actually people who sat and thought through this whole thing and totally detached themselves from, you know, the moral horror of it. That’s when you realize, oh my God, humans can actually do this. Humans that are not devils, but humans that are just humans.”

Bannon 1

Bannon’s dog whistle works on a handful of signifiers that he employs 24/7. He thinks he’s doing the "Lord’s work.” He may as well have LOVE and HATE tattooed across the knuckles of his hands. His disarming Virginia accent, folky linguistic style, compulsive physical mannerisms, unshaven ruddy face, unkempt overlong hair, outlier habit of always wearing two button-down shirts (usually under a hunting field jacket), all come into sharp focus under Alison Klayman's close eye.

Bannon

Steve Bannon knowingly embodies the banality of evil. We watch Bannon weaponize words such as “Deplorables,” and “Populism and Economic Nationalism” (i.e. “military and economic patriotism which inclines us to the side of pervasive national defense.” —William Safire).

Thebrink

To view “The Brink” is to get a peek behind office doors at private meetings of right wing radicals from far and wide intent on spreading hate, greed, and brutality through political and corporate means. In order to defeat your enemy, you must know him. Alison Klayman’s brilliant documentary gives you plenty to chew on.

Not Rated. 91 mins. Five Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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March 20, 2018

PORTRAIT OF JASON — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Portrait-of-JasonShirley Clarke’s 1967 cinéma vérité masterpiece remains a scathing social and character study of race in America for the enigmatic quality of its unreliable subject, Jason Holliday (nee Aaron Payne, 1924-1998).

Filmed in her Chelsea Hotel penthouse apartment on a cold winter night over a 12-hour period, from 9 pm to 9 am, Clarke uses out-of-focus segues to interview Jason, a gay African-American hustler as he talks about his troubled life and uncertain future. Jason Holliday is nothing if not a performer, and a tragic figure for the ages. 

Jason

Jason is at once candid, guarded, jovial, sad, articulate, affected, and presentational as he tells of working on a cabaret act, that we the audience may be witnessing excerpts from. The movie lights up when he breaks into song. He is talented.

Clarke and her partner (actor Carl Lee — “Super Fly”) goad Jason from off-camera, peppering him with questions or prompting him to tell specific stories from his troubled past.

Portrait1

Jason tells of hustling all of his life to avoid the 9 to 5 grind. His involuntary laugh is constant. Infectious as it is revealing of the deep sadness he carries with him, it is Jason’s laughter that keeps you on pins and needles. You can sense him wanting to cry throughout the interview, but he lets the sound of his own laughter carry him through edifying stories about working for rich white folk as a “house boy” or talking to prying psychiatrists about his sex life.

“I’m a stone whore, and I’m not ashamed of it.”

Portrait3

Jason drinks a cocktail while standing in front of a fireplace mantle, wearing stylish coke-bottle glasses that magnify his heavy-lidded squint. His Oxford shirt’s collar is unbuttoned so that the collar falls over the lapel of a dark blazer, giving him the appearance of a black James Dean whose better survival skills have given him passage in upper class white culture. He may be stoned from drink and pot, but his speech is never slurred. His word choice is rarely less than erudite. The stories he tells of his interactions with Miles Davis ring with anecdotal truth, especially a funny one involving the drummer Philly Jo Jones.

Portrait of Jason (1967) - Covering Media

How much of Jason’s stories are real or fiction never comes into question because the force of his being is so convincing. So whether Jason’s sly delivery is merely a persuasive form of carefully constructed editorial narrative or not, doesn’t matter; there is too much intrinsic truth in every word he utters with damaged conviction and regret.   

Portrait2

Aaron Payne studied acting at the Actor’s Workshop in Hollywood under Charles Laughton before studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He recorded a comedy album that was released in 2007.

Cinema '67 Revisited: Portrait of Jason

Not rated. 105 mins. Five Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

June 08, 2015

THE WOLFPACK

Wolfpack-posterIt’s too bad that a first-time documentarian (Crystal Moselle) stumbled onto the extraordinary familial subjects of “The Wolfpack,” as opposed to an experienced filmmaker like, say, Errol Morris who would have better clarified the onion layers of context and indoctrination backstory that this documentary/cinema vérité blend lacks and sorely needs. Still, despite its glaring flaws, the picture provides a compulsive viewing experience.

“The Wolfpack” works best if seen cold (as I did), so stop reading here if you want to enjoy the pure sense of miraculous discovery that this unusual film offers. Cinematic opportunities such as this are rare, so I advise you to stop reading this review.

Wolfpack

The film is an off-kilter document of an unplanned domestic social experiment conducted by Oscar Angulo, a Peruvian-born husband and father of seven children (of which six are boys). Hippie Oscar met his adventurous Midwest American wife Susanne while leading an Inca Trail group hike that Susanne was on. It was the only job Oscar has had since meeting Susanne, who appreciated Oscar’s non-materialistic and antiauthoritarian values. Oscar expresses his intrinsic human freedom not to be “a slave to society,” by refusing to work and indulging in alcohol. Oscar describes himself as self-enlightened, as God. He has many rules for his children, and even more for his wife. Oscar’s Hare Krishna belief system means that he doesn’t want his family to be “contaminated by drugs, or by any philosophy or religion.” He thinks most Americans are the equivalent of programmed robots. He gave his children Sanskrit names (Visnu, Govinda, Mukunda, Bhagavan, Jagadisa, Krsna, and Oscar’s daughter Narayana). All of the boys wear a mane of black hair down his back.

WPA major stumble in Moselle’s doc lies in a failure to use chyron graphics with the Angulo brother’s names when the boys appear singly on-screen. The siblings share their father’s Peruvian dark skin, and handsome facial features. The older brothers are taller, with shockingly skinny bodies. How the children exercise enough inside their relatively small apartment to be in such good physical shape is yet one more of the film’s burning questions.

Circumstances led Oscar and his large family to live on the 16th floor of a New York City public housing project on the Lower East Side where his worst fears haunt him just beyond his apartment walls. The city pays Susanne to homeschool her children as a licensed teacher.

Wolfpack

In one scene, Oscar describes how he felt when he first moved into the housing project: “It was like a piece of jail outside.” Elevator drug deals and murders inside the building convinced Oscar not to let his kids outside their apartment, with a few annually counted exceptions. One of Oscar’s sons (between the ages of 16 to 24) describes not leaving their large but modest apartment more than nine times per year. He says, “One particular year, we didn’t go out at all.” Another brother describes, “going though long periods of remaining quiet.”

Needless to say, the boys have lived with an inordinate sense of fear of the outside world. But when one brother describes how a SWAT team broke down their door and put the entire family in handcuffs while searching for weapons that didn’t exist; Oscar’s overprotection scores a big point.

Wolfpack

Movies are a big deal for the kids. One brags about the family having over 5000 DVDs. The brothers escape from their physical prison by filming their recreation of gritty scenes from movies such as “Reservoir Dogs,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Batman: The Dark Knight.” Moselle leans too much on the treasure trove of ready-made video content at her disposal, but well exhibits the boys’ natural talents for filmmaking and acting. We can cull how the boys have gone about creating their own personalities based on Hollywood movies like “The Godfather.”

You can’t help but root for these highly articulate and reserved kids to make good in the real world. You just might be hearing more from the “Wolfpack,” as filmmakers in their own right.

Wolfpack3

Rated R. 80 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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