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Entries in Doc Corner (118)

Tuesday
Oct092018

Doc Corner: 'Studio 54'

By Glenn Dunks

The most famous nightclub of the 20th century ran for only 33 months, but has gifted us with decades worth of memories. Studio 54, inarguably the pinnacle of 1970s disco decadence was a home for reckless hedonistic abandon and affected sexual liberation all under the appropriately throbbing beat of Donna Summer, Sylvester and Thelma Houston. A celebrity haunt and a genuine phenomenon with girls in fur coats and boys in short shorts and Cadillacs circling the block, it was the place to be even if you couldn't get in.

Studio 54 has played a good sized role in movies, too, so it’s surprising that it’s taken this long to get a comprehensive documentary about it. There have been movies like 54 (recommended in Director’s Cut format and nothing else) and others like Summer of Sam set against Studio’s influential disco beat. And, of course, any documentary about the 1970s, especially as it relates to celebrity or queer life, will inevitably take a limousine detour down W 54th Street in Manhattan. Is Matt Tyrnauer’s film worth the 40-year wait? For the most part, yes; although it can’t but feel like there is still much more that was left on the dancefloor...

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Tuesday
Oct022018

Doc Corner: '306 Hollywood'

By Glenn Dunks

Hollywood 306 is the debut documentary from the sister-and-brother directing team of Elan Bogarin and Jonathan Bogarin. It’s a special film about a very un-special person. The film is not grand, but one rooted in the experience of a woman, the Bogarins’ grandmother, whose very unremarkable life in some funny way makes her entirely remarkable. It’s a film that is both intimate and large in generosity and heart, filled with delicate whimsy. That might sound like the type of movie that can be sickly sweet but the movie is visually interesting and evocative in its narrative choices.

Following the death of their grandmother Annette Ontell at the age of 93, Elan and Jonathan decided to perform a sort of ceremonial “archaeological excavation” on her home at 306 Hollywood, New Jersey. While initially laughed at by their delightfully profane mother who wants to empty the house and sell it, she agrees to give them one year...

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Tuesday
Sep252018

Doc Corner: 'Bad Reputation' and 'Matangi / Maya / M.I.A.'

By Glenn Dunks

Biographical documentaries about dead musicians often fall into two camps: the reverential and the tragic. Films that focus too much on the latter like Amy or Whitney  pale in comparison to something like Liz Garbus’ What Happened Miss Simone?, a film that knew that to understand your subject's tragedy you first have to understand the many facets of the artist in question.

This week, however, we get two biographical documentaries about important and influential musicians who are still (thankfully) very much with us, but which nonetheless tell their subjects’ stories in wildly different ways. Bad Reputation is clearly the more traditional of the pair, a fairly standard bio-doc that charts the life and career of Joan Jett, while Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. is more a work of artistic Jenga that roams and rummages through its subject’s life with the anarchistic spirit of her music.

What strikes me as interesting about both films is how Joan Jett and Mathangi [sic] “Maya” Arulpragasam (aka M.I.A.) directly instruct the narrative of ‘their’ films...

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Tuesday
Sep112018

Doc Corner: Susanne Bartsch and Antonio Lopez Take the Center Stage

By Glenn Dunks

Almost as ubiquitous as biographies of famous musicians (several of those coming in the next month) are documentaries about party icons of queer history. We’ve already had the exploits of The Fabulous Allan Carr and Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood in 2018 s, and now we can add two more titles: Susanne Bartsch: On Top and Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco.

Mother of the club kids, the nicknamed “Queen of the Night” and party planner extraordinaire, Susanne Bartsch is probably best known for her role in putting together the Love Ball in 1989. The AIDS fundraiser with people like Madonna in attendance (no doubt a formative moment in the creation of her single “Vogue”) was iconic in ways that likely gets forgotten about without films like this one to thrust it in their face and remind them. Footage from the ball is pivotal to On Top to contextualize her notoriety as more than just a famous-for-being-famous type of social queen, the likes of which flourished in the time after Warhol in New York City...

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Tuesday
Sep042018

Doc Corner: Robert Greene's 'Bisbee '17'

by Glenn Dunks

Staged realities are at the heart of Robert Greene’s films. Whether it be the wrestlers of Fake It So Real, the performative comeback of Actress or the uncanny fiction of Kate Plays Christine, his films have always blurred lines between what is real and what is… less real. Maybe.

Bisbee ’17, opening tomorrow in NYC, marks multi-hyphenate Greene’s most accessible feature to date, perhaps not coincidentally because the divide between the two realities he builds are at their most clearly defined. But even if the structure allows an audience more familiar comfort, it’s still a haven for the sort of hazy distortion that Greene does so well and which can make viewers feel off-balance, unsure about whether what they’re watching is completely real or some version of it.

The setting for Bisbee ’17 is the town of Bisbee, Arizona. A town in the shadow of the copper mining boom in the early stretches of last century; once one of the most prosperous towns in America, it now stands as a remnant of a long-since gone American ideal. It's a minor tourist destination, and the keeper of a tragic secret past that is about to get to get torn open like a scab from a 100 year-old wound that never healed...

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Tuesday
Aug282018

Doc Corner: 'Hot to Trot'

Returning from an impromptu break in order to move to a new city, start a new job, and move into a new place without internet. We're definitely hoping to be back on the weekly schedule looking at documentaries as we head into awards season. I'm exhausted already! - Glenn Dunks

The strangest thoughts can go through your head as a movie plays in front of you. As I was watching Gail Freedman’s affectionately-made Hot to Trot about competitive same-sex ballroom dancing, I began to think about the evolution of documentary and the representation of gay stories in it. There isn’t anything in the film that really justifies such lofty thoughts, but I couldn’t help wondering what audiences 20 years ago would have made of it and how simple stories are done a disservice by expectations placed on non-fiction moviemaking...

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