Oscar History

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Entries in Barbara Kopple (3)


Doc Corner: DOC NYC Wrap Up

By Glenn Dunks

The massive DOC NYC festival wrapped up in New York City last week, having showcased over 250 films and events. We have already looked at a documentary about a David Lynch classic as well as a series of films about the cities around us. We conclude with a wrap-up diving into some of the human portraits that will hopefully be making their way to cinemas, festivals and VOD over the next year.

Barbara Kopple won an Academy Award for her first two films. That those two documentaries, Harlan County USA and American Dream were made 14 years apart becomes an even more impressive statistic when you consider just how prolific she has become since the late 1990s, often averaging two projects a year. This year is no different as she follows This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous with A Murder in Mansfield. YouTube stars and true crime - Kopple certainly knows how to pick zeitgeist themes...

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Doc Corner: 'Miss Sharon Jones!' 

Glenn here. Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand.

Barbara Kopple is an old-fashioned filmmaker who is free of flash. Whether she is documenting the lives of everyday people or celebrities, she has a knack for zeroing in on subjects whose lives demand closer inspection. We saw this in Shut Up & Sing about the Dixie Chicks and her Oscar-winning debut masterpiece Harlan County, USA, even in A Conversation with Gregory Peck, which we looked at recently. And we see it again in her latest film, Miss Sharon Jones! What could have been a simple tribute doc becomes something much more poignant by pointing her camera at a subject who’s trademark energy and spirit has been pointedly struck down my destructive cancer and its ramifications on those around her.

The early parts of Kopple’s film are actually a lot like its subject: hectic. A rough start that shows signs of a filmmaker at uncharacteristic odds with how to tell her story. In these early passages we get our only instances of awkward narration, out-of-place talking head testimonial that never appear again, and an all-too brief history lesson that isn’t thorough enough to add anything of any real consequence. The editing is skittish, bouncing around the story, cutting off performances, and taking unnecessary diversions. Was Jones not allowing herself to be truly seen on camera? Who knows, but it thankfully doesn’t last when at the 30-minute mark Kopple’s camera remains fixed on Jones as she performs “The Eye is On the Sparrow” in a gospel church. It doesn’t cut, it doesn’t flinch, it just lets Jones’ miraculous voice and performance physicality take over. The film is never the same. [more...]

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Doc Corner: A Conversation with Gregory Peck on His 100th Birthday

Glenn here. Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week we’re looking at a documentary about Gregory Peck for what would have been his centennial birthday.

“It takes ten pictures to make a star”, says the subject of A Conversation with Gregory Peck quoting Carole Lombard. It’s a statement worth reiterating today for any number of reasons, not least of all because there are few actors these days who epitomise the word ‘star’ better than Peck. It happens several times throughout this 1999 documentary where people refer to the Oscar-winning actor as a shining example of humanity and a beacon for what people ought to strive for. He was, and still is, a star.

This career overview and remembrance by Barbara Kopple offers Peck the same sort of dignity and respect that the director has afforded all of her subjects throughout her career including striking coal miners, meatpackers, and the Dixie Chicks. Much like Becoming Mike Nichols, which we looked at last week, A Conversation with Gregory Peck centers around a collection of talks the actor gave to audiences across America in Boston, Buffalo, Virginia and more. Peck would sit on stage and offer stories and anecdotes while dutifully answering audience questions and requests for autographs (he’s even more of a consummate professional to do entire Q&As without a moderator – those are tough). They act as a comforting storytelling device, the grandfather in the armchair telling stories of how he met his second wife, a journalist, after she ditched an interview with Albert Schweitzer to meet him for lunch in Paris, how he gave up thoughts of a career as a priest, and how the climactic gag of Roman Holiday’s mouth of truth scene was improvised.

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