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Entries in Doc Corner (112)


Doc Corner: Musical Chairs with Whitney, Elvis and Ryuichi Sakamoto

By Glenn Dunks

We’re playing a bit of catch up this week in the lead up to the hectic fall festival and award season. Nathaniel already looked at a bunch of recent indies and mainstream blockbusters. Now it’s my time to look at a trio of recent documentaries all about musicians: Whitney, The King, and Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda.

Why can’t we get a documentary about the one and only Whitney Houston that truly works? Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney follows on a year after Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal’s Whitney: Can I Be Me, an appalling film that Whitney easily supplants if only by default. Macdonald, an Academy Award-winner for One Day in September (a personal favourite, but he is probably best known as the director of The Last King of Scotland) brings a glossy sheen to Whitney that was missing in that earlier title, but it still falls short of giving Houston the treatment she deserves.

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Doc Corner: 'Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood'

Amy Winehouse died seven years ago today and several years removed from its Oscar win and box office success, Asif Kapadia’s Amy lingers in the public consciousness. A popular work of non-fiction due to its remarkable access to the story of a spiralling genius. For me, however, Amy remains a personal bug bear; an unethical and cruel work of documentary filmmaking that uses the words of its dead subject against her.

It was purely coincidental then that I thought about Amy while watching Matt Tyrnauer’s Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood. The two films definitely do not share the same world, but this revealing piece of Inside Hollywood muckraking does raise questions about ethics all its own. I admit I got a bit of a salacious thrill out of it, but that doesn’t stop me questioning whether I ought to have.

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Doc Corner: 'McQueen'

Of all the fashion designers who have been given the biographic documentary treatment in the last decade, perhaps none feel as appropriate for the cinema than the late Lee Alexander McQueen. There have been many designers whose work is in a way cinematic – including others from 2018 alone like Guo Pei (Yellow is Forbidden) and Vivienne Westwood (Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist), although the success of those films vary – McQueen the man is such a vividly big personality, even in his quiet and introspective moments, that a film about him is naturally going to boast a more broad appeal and intense fascination.

In McQueen we witness the boy who rose from working class roots in London’s East End buying fabrics with his government dole money to working on dozens of fashion lines a year for a variety of brands and world famous fashion houses.

Seen through personal tapes and footage from his increasingly elaborate and astonishingly striking runway shows, director Ian Bonhōte and co-director Peter Ettedgui assembles with beautiful clarity the essence of not just Lee’s work, but Lee’s humanity, too.

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Doc Corner: Kimberly Reed Returns with 'Dark Money'

by Glenn Dunks

Talk about a sharp turn. Director Kimberly Reed is best known for her 2008 feature Prodigal Sons, an autobiographical documentary about Reed’s journey as a transgender woman returning home to her small town high school reunion where she not only must confront the people who knew her as a football quarterback when living as a male, but also the strange story of her adopted brother’s newly discovered heritage to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth and his declining mental health. It was an astonishing film and one that The Film Experience loved and covered at the time.

In the time since, Reed brought her story to audiences once more in the opera As One (which I also covered in 2014) as well as produced Paul Goodman Changed My Life and last year’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson for Netflix. It was a great surprise to me then to discover Reed’s latest film – her first as director for a decade – was a swerve away from themes of identity, gender, sexuality and family, but was instead a piece of investigative political journalism imbued with the narrative thrust of a court-room thriller.

Dark Money examines the various threads that make up the confusing and alarming world of American election campaign financing...

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Doc Corner: The Dandy Glam of 'Love, Cecil'

by Glenn Dunks

Cecil Beaton was a dandy. He was an elegant fop, an aesthete, a bright young thing, a (mostly) homosexual. These are all words used to describe him in Love, Cecil, a charming bio-doc from director Lisa Immordino Vreeland. They are words not used in malice, but in reverence to a man whose singular attitudes flew in the face of what men were ‘supposed’ to be. Cecil Beaton had about him an air of posh aristocracy that belied his place in society, but which would ultimately allow him to become ingratiated into the inner-sanctum of Britain’s upper-class (including right up the Queen herself), the world of celebrity, and even the Academy as the Oscar-winning designer behind Gigi and My Fair Lady. He also just happens to be one of the great photographers of the 21st century

Love, Cecil is Vreeland’s most accomplished film to date...

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Doc Corner: 'Three Identical Strangers'

by Glenn Dunks

“Truth is stranger than fiction”, nudge, wink, geddit? It’s fairly common that that old chestnut of a phrase makes its way into writings about documentaries as more and more filmakers uncover strange but true stories that then make their way into cinemas and onto streaming services. Crazy! Amazing! Insane! Shook! Whatever. Sometimes it's justified (Hi Tickled!) and then there’s Three Identical Strangers. A film that would almost certainly be a farce if invented in the mind of a screenwriter. There’s no way such a story could play as straight drama. It’s just too nutty. It is crazy and amazing and insane and I was shook.

Three Identical Strangers starts the way somebody telling this story might. Have you heard of the one of three brothers, identical triplets, who were separated at birth? That's where we begin...

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