Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

fast, cheap & out of control (1997)

Errol morris’ existential documentary “fast, cheap & out of control” (1997) often has the feel of a fellini movie – with its big top scenes and nino rota style music score by caleb sampson.  But if the “circus of life” attitude is prevalent throughout, it is tempered by a somewhat somber mood concerning the human condition.  Somber, perhaps because there is a belief held by some of those interviewed for the film, in the inevitable decline of humanity.  Maybe this is the reason the films’s title and the names of the principal humans involved are all presented in lower case letters.   Well, maybe…

Fast, cheap & out of control, examines the lives and work of four men, all of whom are involved in vocations that are admirably unique.  They are, in order of their first appearances in the film, dave hoover, a wild animal trainer, george mendonca, a topiary gardener, ray mendez, and expert on the naked mole rat and rodney brooks, a robot maker.  Emerging from the exploration of these wildly disparate careers, is the theme of life, human and animal, real and artificial. 

Mendez and brooks began their careers with a fascination for insects – brooks for how they moved and mendez particularly interested in their societal structures.    Brooks as a young man loved to build computers, then became enthralled with the world of robots.  Even after entering a career as a robot maker, he was startled to see one of his creations actually move.  He was responsible for the movement, after all, but was never-the-less intoxicated by the belief that he somehow created a form of life. 

George mendonca, it could be said, is a creator of life as well – specializing in huge animals sculpted from bushes.  A haunting shot, near the start of the film, features a giraffe seen from a low angle, darkened skies pouring down rain.  Stunningly photographed by robert richardson, the “green animal” seems just in time to board Noah’s ark.  This may be seen by some as a strangely apocalyptic image for such a beautiful film, but as we will see, an appropriate one. 

If the men seem exceptionally nerdy, human bonding is seen as essential as told in the story of dave hoover’s developing relationship with a childhood heroe –  lion tamer and “B” picture star, Clyde Beatty.  First introduced to lion taming by beatty’s films, hoover later met his idol in the air force and the two became friends. 

Although all four of these intriguing gentleman are given roughly equal screen time, it soon becomes clear that the circus milieu of hoover’s profession will act as the major metaphor.  As a microcosm of life, it is rarely surpassed.  Fellini was well aware of this and so is errol morris.  Every variety of humans is found here, as well as a startling array of animals.  Morris frequently places commentary by all four subjects over circus footage.  We see images of balancing acts – a man balancing a glass of water on his forehead, dogs balancing on a spinning wheel and women atop large rubber balls.  Life, it would appear is seen by the filmmaker as, indeed, a balancing act – for man and beast alike.  As hoover and mendez attest, we learn by trial and error.  Hoover even had a near death experience in his act, when a lion’s claw got tangled in the band of his wristwatch.  The lesson learned by hoover?  Never wear a watch again – at least not while dealing with man-eating animals.   

According to rodney brooks, evolution is as important in the creation of robots, as he feels it is in man’s.  “Inside the human brain is a reptile brain.  Inside a reptile brain is a fish brain.”  All life is connected – even artificial life, which he sees as an evolutionary extension of man – and the final exalting level of man’s journey.  In a surreal piece of stock footage, we see a man walking a robot on a leash.  The leash won’t be necessary for long.  But george mendonca has a conflicting view, explaining in-depth why hand shears are superior to electric shears.  It is the human touch that makes them so effective. 

Despite this, man is always learning.  As rodney brooks points out, “I seek to understand life by building something lifelike.”  And ray mendez explains that people come to his mole rat exhibits to “find themselves in another social animal, to find common ground.”  And much common ground there is.  Mendez discusses how mole rats are always able to “find the alien in their midst”, sensing by smell (these weird little animals like to roll around in their own feces and urine) which rat may be a newcomer, and behaving with the mandatory scorn.  Hoover feels lions are very conscious beings, always “scheming” , he reports.  Mendez believes the source of stability for all living things is the fear of death.  It keeps us, for the most part, in line.  But there are differences as well.  He states that mole rats are forced to separate the sick and dying from the heard.  By contrast, when the chips are down, humans “culturally let everybody die.”  There is an undeniable air of the poetic, as morris follows these words with a shot of empty shoes at the foot of a circus net. 

The title is explained when brooks discusses a theory that thousands of tiny robots could be used to explore other planets.  Such robots would be “fast, cheap and out of control,”  With many robots, the loss of one or two would be less damaging to the mission.  These comments are accompanied by shots of World War II paratroopers leaping from planes, and are followed by mendez describing how “soldiers” protect the mole rat nest. 

As with all forms of life, keeping animal sculptures (and the plants that form them) alive is a constant battle.  There are heavy storms that weigh them down and, of course, insects.  It may all begin and end with insects – or insect like robots. 

A final note of philosophy comes from ray mendez: “Only in captivity can an animal get to reach old age.”  This may say more about the human condition than anything else in the film.  Eventually,  death is the ultimate fate of all living things, except perhaps, those that are artificially created.  As rodney brooks suggests, all carbon based forms of life may be on their way out.  Stock footage from old clyde beatty serials, shows volcanoes erupting and earthquakes rattling the planet.  After this we are shown a circus clown being chased by a skeleton.  But there is hope for the continued existence of mankind, according to morris, who uses footage of beatty emerging from the ruins with a small boy and other examples of trembling humanity.

The final image is of george mendonca, umbrella in hand, walking through his topiary garden as a steady rain falls on him and his creations.  Errol morris may believe, not in the decline of man, but in what he would probably refer to as man’s proper place in the chain of life.   This is not an apocalyptic rain after all, but rather one conducive to life – in all its forms.

CREDITS: Directed by errol morris. Photographed by robert richardson. Music by caleb sampson. With: dave hoover, george mendonca, ray mendez, rodney brooks.            

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April 23, 2013 Posted by | 1990s cinema, American Film, documentary, film directors | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talmage Cooley’s DIMMER

There are a couple of reasons why Talmage Cooley’s DIMMER (2005) is the shortest film to which I have ever dedicated an entire column.  For one, most short films simply do not contain enough material to accommodate a review.  And most significantly, DIMMER is a work so rich and soulful that it can be analyzed in print and still leave viewers with hours of discussion ahead of them. 

From the very first image – a young blind man pointing a pistol directly at the camera – DIMMER takes aim at the expectations of the audience.  This amazing documentary follows four blind youths, who seem to be in their late teens or early twenties, as they traverse the ruins of Buffalo, New York.  These men destroy our illusions of what it means to be blind as they undertake activities from playing catch (though not very successfully) to riding bikes.  The latter moment is captured in cheeky fashion by director Cooley who shows the young people cycling in the pitch black of a northern New York night.  In such situations we are all equal.  One of the group discusses the ease with which sightless people can engage in fist fights with the sighted.  “Landing punches” is easy he assures us, just listen for the breathing.  Well, easy for him. 

The film’s main focus is Mike Cieslinksi, who became blind as a baby and now has artificial eyes.  He wanders the city talking with his estranged girlfriend on his cell phone.  His pain is palpable as he tries to bring about reconciliation.  A broken heart is the same in blackness or in the bright light of day. 

For a film ostensibly about blindness DIMMER is a work rife with sensory excitement.  The cinematography provided by Jim Wall is revelatory in its explicit black and white textures.  The sounds as well overwhelm us: The foul language used by the cast to express themselves.  Distant trains rumble along.  The echoing of sticks and rods banged against empty oil drums.  The winds ceaseless mourning.  The creepy Hitchcockian bird cries that follow us around.  And especially the roar of Niagara Falls.  We wonder what it would be like to experience these sounds as the blind hear them – so much more haunting and intense.  After experiencing life through these young men, it makes sense when Mike comments on his lost love: “I’m blind so I don’t judge by looks, but that bitch was ugly!”

Several times throughout the film the screen goes black, leaving us in total darkness.  For just a brief moment here and there, we can imagine what blindness must be like.  But then the lights come back on… for us.

CREDITS: Directed by Talmage Cooley.  Cinematography by Jim Wall.  Edited by Crandall Miller.  Sound by Brian Blackburn, Michael Fitzpatrick and Lustmord.  Produced by Talmage Cooley, Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti.  Music by INTERPOL.

July 28, 2010 Posted by | American Film, documentary, film directors, independent film | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Indieflix Collection Part Three

Let us delve, once again, into the indieflix collection-that rare archive featuring independent films of every length and type:  From nine minute documentaries to full length horror movies.  There is, in these infinite vaults, everything anyone could possibly want in mostly low-budget productions.  In this post I will focus on short documentaries.

                                                                                 

We begin with RYAN AT THE HOT SHOP.  This eight minute tidbit from 2005 follows master glass blower Ryan Mellinger as he creates a piece of crystal artistry at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle.  Director Jonathan Locke opens his film with a quote from Mellinger: “One morning I saw the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life-I wanted to build something out of those colors.  As a former photographer, he comes to this sort of artistic expression naturally.  In further voice over narration, Mellinger discusses the importance of having a talented assistant, and the first time he was seriously burned in a glass blowing accident.  The film’s imagery perfectly captures the colors and textures of this unique artistic process, but oddly, the picture contains no mention of a videographer in the closing credits. 

                                                           

COMING HOME (2006, 15 minutes) is as an opening title informs us, “the story of one Vietnam veteran”.  It is a story with a decidedly different message than most Hollywood films on the subject.  Filmmaker Herbert Sennett, who is also the subject, paints a mostly positive portrait of America’s involvement in the Southeast Asian nation.  What haunts the former army Lieutenant is his belief that our country “cut and ran”  leaving the Vietnamese people essentially helpless in the face of the invading North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong.  The subsequent suffering, according to Sennett “so profoundly effected me that it’s taken thirty-five years for me to deal with it”.  Made up entirely of eight mm footage and still photographs from Sennett’s personal collection, the film presents an argument that many may find offensive and many more, quite possibly, will agree with emphatically.

                                                             

CAT PARENTS (2007, 28 minutes) is director Debbie Eynon Finley’s sometimes loopy, mostly endearing (to cat lovers) salute to those touched individuals among us who treat their cats like children-often adopting the pets in lieu of having human kids.  A follow-up to Finley’s DOG PARENTS, the director/interviewer asks each parent questions like “How is your cat like a child or member of the family?” and “How do you communicate with your cat?”  The latter query prompts one woman to croon “You’re a bucket of love…” to her unfortunate kitty.  As for me,  I communicate with my cat by telling her to behave.  She communicates with me by ripping the stuffing out of the ottoman.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

July 8, 2010 Posted by | Debbie Eynon Finley, documentary, film directors, Herbert Sennett, indieflix, Jonathan Locke | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NOAM CHOMSKY AND POWER, DISSENT AND RACISM

The 2003 film ON POWER DISSENT AND RACISM, A DISCUSSION WITH NOAM CHOMSKY, begins with a shot of the earth hanging precariously in space.  The filmmaker, Nicolas Rossier, seems to be telling us something world shaking is about to happen.  When we first glimpse Chomsky, a Professor at MIT, he hardly seems the type to be worthy of the title “Rebel without a pause” bestowed on him by Bono.  His is a decidedly nondescript appearance.  It is the look of an everyman, with the only hint of fire being his modish long hair.  It seems only fair to view the film with an open mind, since Professor Chomsky is often considered by many to be the quintessential radical leftist University hack, a man consumed by hatred for his own country (and strangely enough, Israel). 

At times during the film, it is difficult to digest Chomsky’s words, since Rossier’s approach is so straight forward.  As the title suggests, this is not so much a motion picture as a picture of Chomsky talking.  And talk he does-for nearly 70 minutes, and there is very little to break up the monotony.  The footage of Chomsky being interviewed in his classroom in 2002 is alternated with moments from his 2003 lecture in New York city before the media group Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting.  The topic at both locales is the war on terror conducted by the Bush administration and what the Professor sees as the fascist history of the United States.  He explains that individuals such as Osama Bin Laden hate the U.S. and other western nations  because these powers support corrupt middle eastern regimes that thwart the growth of democracy in that region.  Our support for Israel, Chomsky maintains, is another reason for this unparalleled hatred. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

This potentially heavy subject matter is undercut on at least one occasion during the film when Rossier shows us Chomsky in his classroom discussing Anglo-American military historian Michael Howard’s approach to handling terrorism.  He then cuts to the Professor’s lecture where he says the exact same thing in precisely the same language.  Why show this argument twice?  Though this may be an attempt to emphasize Chomsky’s point, this editing choice only dilutes it. 

It is an interesting moment indeed when Chomsky comments on racism against Arabs, which the Professor claims has always run rampant in America but intensified after 9/11.  Strange, I attended high school with Arab kids in the late 70’s, and so far as I know, they suffered no great torment at the hands of their fellow students.  They seemed to fit in quite nicely.  In fact, when I first encountered them I mistakenly believed they were Sicilian Italians.  Of course, these were Christian Arabs, and it is undeniable that anti-Muslim bigotry has always been with us and has exploded in recent years. 

The final shot of the film is the same as the first: The earth floating quietly (or coldly?) in space.  From the beginning of time until the end of this film, at least, the world has remained constant.  Violent, ugly, the story is the same in every corner of the globe.  Chomsky places special blame on those of us of European ancestry.  Has he forgotten Genghis Khan?  And no one should forget the Cultural Revolution in China, the Sudanese genocide, the Bataan death march and Pol Pot.  Interviewer/director Rossier allows the Professor to do just that.    Perhaps all people are born to be fascists.  With power comes opportunity-to do good or wreak havoc.  The world will usually choose the latter.  It is part of the human condition. 

I watched with an open mind and where did it get me?  I certainly don’t think America is a fascist country, but I am no longer convinced that Chomsky is a loon.  He is ultimately a good and compassionate man who is obviously genuinely concerned about the plight of his fellow human beings.  It is understandable if he occasionally lets his passions get the better of him.  That is part of the human condition as well.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

May 19, 2010 Posted by | documentary, film directors, independent film, indieflix, Nicolas Rossier, Noam Chomsky | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

indieflix collection 2

It’s time for another perusal of my indieflix collection.  We begin with an unusual documentary on one of the most embarrassing situations anyone can face.  Just about everyone, at one time or another, has encountered that crazy feeling when a lunch or supper just doesn’t lay right-and that certain moment when we realize said meal is going to come back up.  WHAT’S UP (1998, eighteen minutes) directed by Christopher Clements and Maria Bowen,  is an often hilarious, frequently repulsive collection of tales from ordinary people focusing on the golden moment-chunks and all.  Thankfully, there are no reenactments in the piece, just people telling their stories.  The universality of the predicament is brilliantly conveyed to the audience in Spanish by a young Hispanic woman.  There are no subtitles (a smart filmmaking decision) yet we know exactly what she’s talking about. 

The next film on the menu is BOMBS AWAY, MILLIONS A DAY (2005, eight min.) by Patricia Boiko.  In this film, the director of THE CORPORAL’S BOOTS (discussed in an earlier blog entry) examines a nuclear waste dump along the Columbia river.  Hanford, in eastern Washington state, is the largest toxic waste dump in the western hemisphere.  Since the area was chosen to produce plutonium for nuclear bombs, Boiko is given ample opportunity for animation sequences attacking nuclear war.  One of these, depicting a little Japanese girl presenting her Mother with a flower, just as the bomb goes off, is terribly trite.  Oh, well… after making THE CORPORAL’S BOOTS (a masterpiece), Boiko is entitled to stumble.

 

Next up is WAITING FOR A HEART: A PORTRAIT OF MY BROTHER (2004, twenty-six min.).  Director Edward Waisnis documents his brother Donald’s ordeal as he waits for a heart transplant.  The two bond as never before in this moving film and Waisnis must, in the end, be forgiven for opting for the melodramatic climactic moment when the camera circles Donald again and again.

 

Finally, there is RALLY AGAINST THE WAR ON IRAQ (2006, nine min.).  Though filmmaker Jeff Hahn cleverly shoots his interview scenes in black and white, creating a grim sense of urgency about the Washington D.C. rally, the events and people featured are often so obnoxious and shrill that the film becomes annoying.  Even at this short running time, the film seems too long. 

These films, as well as my political documentary WINDOW ON A WORLD (2009, fifty min.) can be found at indieflix.com, one of the most well-rounded collections of independent, low-budget films on the web.  Of course, not all indieflix films are masterpieces.  A few of them are, a few are mediocre, but amazingly all of them are interesting, which is more than can be said for many big budget Hollywood productions.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

March 13, 2010 Posted by | Christopher Clements, documentary, Edward Waisnis, film directors, independent film, Jeff Hahn, Maria Bowen, Patricia Boiko | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST WALTZ (1978)

Given the exciting cinematic pyrotechnics evident in the early films of Martin Scorsese, the lackluster approach taken for most of THE LAST WALTZ (1978) seems especially disappointing.  This film chronicling the final concert of THE BAND in San Francisco on Thanksgiving day 1976, is often shot with only a moderate amount of imagination.  Of course, a documentary of this sort depends mostly on the viewer’s attitude toward the subject matter.  If you love the music of THE BAND (Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel,and Robbie Robertson) you will probably find the film enthralling.  If you are like me and are indifferent to this sort of music, you probably won’t be  impressed. 

The uninspired filming of many of the music numbers  can be partly explained by the limitations imposed on Scorsese and his cameramen (an impressive crew led by Michael Chapman), by filming in an environment with a live audience.  A couple of studio shot numbers featuring The Staples and Emmylou Harris are filmed in Scorsese’s best manner, with much swooning, elaborate camera movement.  One of these, THE WEIGHT, is as exciting as anything Scorsese has ever committed to film.  Also beautifully done is the finale leading into the closing credits.  The camera, on a crane, pans along the musicians and their instruments pulling back luxuriously to a breathtaking high angle, long shot as THE BAND performs the film’s theme. 

A key element in films of this kind is the interviews.  In THE LAST WALTZ, they are a singularly uninteresting collection of recollections and musings.  Amazing, but it seems this particular array of entertainers has nothing much of note to say.  This is perhaps because the interview segments are often nothing more than brief snippets.  This may be the byproduct of the filmmakers’ desire to keep the film moving at a steady clip.  Why bog down a music documentary in chatter?

Most critics consider the film to be a masterpiece and the NEW YORKER  proclaimed it “The most beautiful Rock film ever made”.  Again, loving this music helps one to love the film, but why would Scorsese lend time and talent to including the egregious Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his sophomoric spoken poem, LOUD PRAYER?

February 27, 2010 Posted by | documentary, film directors, Martin Scorsese, Rock music, THE BAND | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Janks Morton’s MEN TO BOYS (2009)

Filmmaker Janks Morton begins his new film MEN TO BOYS with a single question: Can a woman teach a boy to be a man?  As he encounters people of color, male and female, his voice on the soundtrack serves as a melancholy echo of similar questions posed in the past.  But this is a film about hope.  Never has so much artistic integrity gone into finding the solution to a major problem facing the black community.  Inspired by Lamarr Darnell Shields book 101 THINGS EVERY BOY OF COLOR SHOULD KNOW, the film is the second in a series that began with WHAT BLACK MEN THINK (2007).  This new film is as politically brave and stylistically mature as the first.  Both of these characteristics are evident in the haunting “March Of Cries” segment, featuring young African-American boys marching down a school hallway as if in a funeral procession, accompanied by captions such as “69.7 % out of wedlock birth rate”. 

It can get you into trouble just bringing up some of the trials facing young men of color, but Morton and his team at IYAGO Entertainment Group face the issues head on.  The main problem according to the filmmakers is the disconnect between black men and the sons they help bring into the world.  The aforementioned birth rate and a divorce rate higher than the national average, have a large percentage of black children growing up without a father, and the situation is especially damaging for male children.  The possible reasons for these statistics were explored in WHAT BLACK MEN THINK.  The focus this time is on the solution.  But the conclusion is clear: every boy needs a father.  The film as well as a lecture series featuring Morton and Shields aim at getting black men involved in the lives of their sons.  Any man, whatever his race, will be moved to hold his sons a little closer after what Morton, Shields and the men appearing in this film have to say. 

MEN TO BOYS is less reliant on celebrity interviews than WHAT BLACK MEN THINK, but the notables here have some poignant stories to tell.  The most memorable is from Congressmen Elijah Cummings, who touches us with a Christmas recollection about his father and the neccessity of simply being there for one’s family. 

There are three interview techniques used in the film: Man on the street interviews are shot from low angles.  The young black men are bundled up against the cold-a striking visual metaphor.  The low angles make the speaker’s statements resonate with great power.  In another technique Morton photographs ordinary men against a neutral background addressing male youths, as they look directly into the camera.  The interviews of notable personalities are shot in the men’s homes and offices.

This new film has me looking forward to a third installment in the series.  Janks Morton releases one film every two years, and it is always worth the wait.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | documentary, film directors, independent film, Janks Morton, Lamarr Darnell Shields | , , , , , | 1 Comment

WHOSE WAR?@indieflix.com

There are those who consider all wars to be folly.  The U.S. led invasion of Iraq is one of the most despised military actions of all time and is regarded by many as the ultimate folly.  Filmmakers Demetrios Papigans and Donald Evan Farmer brought together three noted anti-war activists to dissect the motives and consequences of “Mr. Bush’s war”.  The result is the 2006 production WHOSE WAR?, featuring actor Mike Farrell, director Keith Gordon and musician and “satirist” Jello Biafra.  A definite problem with the film is that excerpts from the latter’s concert in California are interspersed throughout the film.  Referring to Mr. Biafra as a “satirist” is using the word so loosely that it drops to the floor like a teen-aged boy’s hip-hop trousers.  That aside, the three men offer some thought-provoking opinions that keep the viewer interested for most of the films 59 minute running time. 

Stylistically, the film is similar to another political documentary WINDOW ON A WORLD (2009), consisting mostly of skillful cross cutting between interviews.  Unlike WINDOW, there is no news footage to bring home the points made by those interviewed.  An interesting choice-not good or bad-just interesting.  Both films are available at indieflix.com.

   

Keith Gordon (A MIDNIGHT CLEAR) and Farrell (TV’s MASH) have well established bon fides in the area of anti-war activism.  I know less about Jello Biafra, except that he was the lead singer of the punk band THE DEAD KENNEDYS.  He seems to be the angriest of the three-railing against the entire “system” that he feels runs America- the corporations, etc…  Gordon and Farrell are examples of pure erudition.  Though early on Gordon does posit the absurd notion that Bush may have invaded Iraq for the oil. 

The belief that Bush used the tragedy of 9/11 as an excuse to trample on civil liberties is presented.  Gordon brings up the patriot act as an example.  But President Bush’s big move, according to all three men, was shifting the blame for 9/11 to Iraq.  After this clumsy (but effective) bit of slight of hand, Bush was able to crush dissent at home and was given the excuse to invade Iraq.  Or so say those gathered for this film. 

As is so often the case with low-budget movies shot on digital video, there is a slight technical problem.  The sound for Mr. Biafra’s concert footage is often so low that I had to turn up the audio during these segments.  This caused me to jump on at least one occasion, when there was an abrupt cut to Keith Gordon’s interview and its much louder audio.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

January 24, 2010 Posted by | Demetrios Papigans, documentary, Donald Evan Farmer, film directors, independent film, indieflix, Jello Biafra, Keith Gordon, Mike Farrell | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ERROL MORRIS DVD COLLECTION

In his recent films, documentarian Errol Morris utilizes the frenetic editing techniques so often assimilated into the work of today’s MTV inspired producers.  This is one of the main reasons earlier Morris works such as GATES  OF HEAVEN (1978) and VERNON, FLORIDA (1982) can seem to the uninitiated like fossilized remnants of a retired film school professor’s ancient memories.  The approach used in these films, particularly lengthy interviews without cutaways or changes in camera angles, can try the patience of many in our modern ADHD world.  However, viewed in the proper state of mind, these techniques can be mined for great rewards.  When we realize what the director is getting at and tune into the true personas of the interview subjects, the talking heads become mesmerizing.  Over and over again in his early films, Morris uses these long interviews to allow those appearing on camera to reveal exactly what it is that makes them tick.  In the process, they often introduce us to profound truths about love and loneliness. 

With GATES OF HEAVEN, Morris gives us the story of two pet cemetaries: One is forced to close because of financial difficulties, while the other is chosen as the relocation site for the former’s animal departed.  At once macabre, touching and funny, the people in charge of these memorial parks are humanized in a way not possible if the editor’s scissors had been used more often. 

VERNON, FLORIDA introduces us to the denizens of small town southern America, and a wonderful but often strange place it can be.  These people are very laid back and so is the visual and editing style of the filmmaker.  One is struck by the ease with which Morris tells these tales, but actually it is the people themselves who enthrall us.  Even so, there are times when Morris’ committment to his mission goes a little too far.  In GATES OF HEAVEN, an interview segment featuring an elderly woman seated outside her mobile home, goes on for more than four minutes without a cut.  But more often than not the results of these long takes prove a revelation and not a bore. 

In time, with films such as THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988), Errol Morris would abandon the slow and methodical.  This film, a true life crime story that helped free an innocent man from prison, has been called a documentary film noir.  It is often cinematically breath taking and owes much of its power to a stirring Philip Glass score.  The earlier films discussed here shunned music completely and are almost minimalist works.  But they lack none of the power of Morris’ later films and stand as masterpieces of the documentary form.

January 10, 2010 Posted by | documentary, Errol Morris, film directors | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WHAT BLACK MEN THINK (2007) @ INDIEFLIX

What do black men think?  What do they really think?  With wit and journalistic skill, as well as a cinematic sensibility rare among documentary filmmakers, Janks Morton explores the possibilities presented by this question in WHAT BLACK MEN THINK (2007) available at indieflix.  The film is an examination of the issues facing the black community with a kino eye view of the African-American male experience.  While Morton does not let white racists and the damage they’ve done off the hook, he places a great amount of focus on the “Great Society” and the “War On Poverty” of the 1960’s.  Morton believes that the liberal policies of the Lyndon Johnson administration led to a dissolution of the black family (most prominently displayed in a skyrocketing illegitimacy rate), which in turn has had a devastating impact on black society as a whole.  To illustrate his point, Morton interviews a wide variety of black political and journalistic personalities.  Here Morton engages not only the liberal establishment figures appearing so often in the media, but more conservative commentators such as Jesse Lee Peterson, Shelby Steele and Armstrong Williams.  This alone sets the film apart from many other dissertations.

 

While pundits such as Peterson decry the “blame the white man” approach taken by leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Morton resists the temptation to identify completely with one side or the other.  White and black liberals come in for their licks as mentioned, but white mainstream society is under scrutiny for our appetite for some of the more negative media interpretations of black culture, such as gangsta rap and Tyler Perry drag comedies.  Indeed, the penchant of black entertainers to mock black womanhood is one of Morton’s main targets.  Perry and Martin Lawrence among others are brilliantly trashed in a segment in which young black men, one by one, hold up women’s wigs and derisively name the actors most associated with African-American gender bending.  For not only do such interpretations affect the views of the white society in which blacks must live, they also have a profound effect on black attitudes as well. 

Of course, Morton also debunks many myths about black men, including the crazy belief that there are more black men in prison than in college.  This is done in a very cinematic way by innovative staging and editing of man (and woman) on the street interviews illustrating the great chasm between popular belief and actuality.  Many, if not all of these myths, are propagated by the media loose in our land, (black and white), and find popular support among both the right and left.

There are a lot of wrongs that must be righted and more is to be discussed as the director suggests a sequel is in the works.  With Janks Morton at the helm, it is bound to be a riveting ride.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

December 11, 2009 Posted by | documentary, independent film, indieflix | , , , , , | 1 Comment