Before Christmas I spent a lot of time viewing the documentary entries for the Film Critics' Circle Awards. Winners will be announced at the Awards night in February and you can click on the link here if you are interested in the details. For $20 (buy your own drinks, light supper provided) it's a great night out with the occasional incandescent speech that lights up the night. Rolf De Heer's angry words uttered on the day that the buffoon Tony Abbott had told Aboriginals living in communities to give it up and head for the city was one highlight. Aaron Pedersen's acceptance for Best Actor for Mystery Road was another. But I digress...
The Other Side, Roberto Minervini's portrait of some of the denizens of the back blocks of Louisiana, in this case a town called West Monroe, is as remarkable as advised. Rod Bishop has already reported on on this piece of cinema verite, a film which burrows into the lives of a community in a way that mostly just saddens at the thought that within a nation built on enlightenment and education some among its population have descended into such base squalor and vulgarity. We had an interesting discussion about the first hour long section of the film centering on the drug maker and dealer Mark and his girl friend Lisa. The filming was so intimate that it can only have been created with the willing participation of the two and you have to wonder how much they became 'actors' re-creating their own story. The end credits are presented in a way that makes this curiosity linger. It has a 'cast' list with 'Mark' and 'Lisa' both having their names listed underneath as Mark Kelley and Lisa Allen. I had a trawl around the net and came across Godfrey Cheshire's quite lengthy review on rogerebert.com which compares the film with a couple of movies, Trash (1970) and Heat (1972) made by Paul Morrissey under the aegis of Andy Warhol, back in the seventies.
Not far away in Alabama, one man, Rick Hall, supported by his local musician friends, has worked all his life to make music in a tiny music studio in a town with a population of 8000. As is usual in the music business he had his share of betrayals by the bigger guys that set him back but as he looks back over a 60 year career he can advise that all the greats of rock and roll and blues have made their way to his place of work, the FAME Music Studio in the small town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Some, including a modest Mick Jagger and an egomaniacal Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Cliff and Alicia Keys help tell Hall's story of his lifetime enterprise. Hundreds of millions of copies of dozens of hit records began their life in Rick's recording studio. Rick's personal life is covered as well in a very touching fashion. Brilliant exposition. It took me close to five years since the film was made to catchup. Never mind, the task has been completed and I feel a lot better, and a lot more informed, than I used to be.
Basically made for cable TV and largely ignored since it was first shown in early in 2016, this doco suddenly developed a new poignancy when its chief participants, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, died suddenly within 24 hours of each other. Since then it has had another screening on the local Showcase cable channel. It's sort of touching to see Debbie seeming to be more sprightly than the overweight and somewhat shambling Carrie. The latter's addictions seem now to be reduced down to a single act of being permanently attached to a large plastic cup of Coca-Cola. Debbie does two concerts to adoring fans, most of whom seem to be about her age. Carrie accompanies her to the venues in Connecticut and to Las Vegas, which she denotes as her last ever. It finishes with a near doddering Debbie accepting a Screen Actor's Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Throughout the bonds of mother and daughter are remarkably visible and the insight into showbiz lives is constantly droll. There is some info you might not have been aware of either - Debbie's second marriage to a shyster turned out as bad for her as her first; the sight of a dying Eddie Fisher being comforted by Carrie is revelatory; queues still form for Princess Leia autographs at Star Wars conventions and people happily pay $70 a pop for a signature or photo.
A Netflix original doco and more power to the corporate giants for this fearless exposition of America's transition from slavery to mass incarceration as the method of maintaining white control over America's black and more latterly Latino population. Almost excruciating in its forensics, the examination of the history, politics and economics of the exploitation of the black man, the film assembles a cast of academics who take us step by step through the ways by which that control has been maintained. Inevitably a serious major villain in the story is D W Griffith's inflammatory Birth of a Nation (USA, 1915) which on its own revived the near dead KKK and invented the image of the burning cross. Brilliant, hard hitting talking heads with not a moment wasted. The ability of doco makers to assemble archival footage in these days of digital availability of the contents of archives and libraries is one of the great features of modern documentary film-making and is on display to maximum effect in this film, a superb exposition of the shit that has rained down on America as it fails, often hardly trying, to address its great problem of race.