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Entries in Doc Corner (76)

Tuesday
Oct102017

Doc Corner: 'The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson'

by Glenn Dunks

It is sadly just a matter of fact that women of colour rarely get documentaries made about them without tragedy informing their very existence. “Death” is even right there at the start of the title for David France’s new film about one such pioneering person. And indeed, the mystery surrounding Marsha P. Johnson’s death is what acts as the central spine of his The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson as one activist, Victoria Cruz, sets about solving the mystery of the death of another activist 25 years ago.

But like the literal meaning behind the title of France’s last film, the Oscar-nominated masterwork How to Survive a Plague, this new film is also about “life” and surviving and ultimately acts as a testament to Johnson’s tenacity and pure force-of-nature attitude in the face of adversity – a tired cliché of a phrase that is nonetheless truly warranted here...

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Tuesday
Oct032017

Doc Corner: Laura Poitras' Risky Business

By Glenn Dunks

There is a knack to watching Laura Poitras’ latest film, Risk, her first as a director since winning the Academy Award for Citizenfour. And it’s not being abreast of the life and controversies of its on-screen subject, Julian Assange. Although that certainly helps to a point, his journey felt to be of little consequence to me in regards to how I ultimately felt about the movie. The film is messy and often perplexing, no better personified by an utterly surreal and bizarre sequence with Lady Gaga that is not kind to either of its participants.

Rather, the key to Risk’s success is to not view the film as about Assange at all, but rather  Poitras herself. Sure, the WikiLeaks co-founder is front and centre in the film, and documenting him was the modus operandi, but as a documentary subject he’s often far less interesting than the people that orbit him. I am not unaware that I am cutting Poitras an awful lot of slack here...

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Tuesday
Sep262017

Doc Corner: 'Gaga: Five Foot Two' Does the Lady a Disservice

by Glenn Dunks

Lady Gaga can be a great musician, it’s true. But the new documentary about her, Gaga: Five Foot Two, would make anybody unfamiliar with her question why. The film follows a year with the singer as she records her latest album, Joanne (admission: I’m not a fan), and prepares for the big stage of the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Yet something about this film lingers as ever so slightly off.

Part of the problem with Chris Moukarbel’s film is that it’s never quite verite. The camera is never just a fly on the wall to Gaga’s world, but instead a witness to events that lack authenticity...

 

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Tuesday
Sep192017

Doc Corner: Tribeca's Big Winner, 'Bobbi Jene'

by Glenn Dunks

Who is worthy of a documentary about themselves is a question that comes up a lot when watching and occasionally writing about documentaries. A long life doesn’t necessarily make you any worthier of one, just as youth doesn’t imply unworthiness. Of course, who is a worthy subject is ultimately in the eye of the beholder so to speak and it is the film itself is what should be judged.

I am sure there was a reason that director Elvira Lind chose to follow Bobbi Jene Smith for a documentary. Beyond ‘she’s a great dancer’, of course...

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Tuesday
Sep122017

Doc Corner: Emmy Awards Go to Meryl Streep, Ava DuVernay, and Somebody Close to an EGOT

Like sand through the hourglass, the Emmys gave out far too many trophies. I actually forgot that the television Academy’s ‘you’re not famous enough’ ceremony was on last weekend – because who wants to see RuPaul win an Emmy? Hello, anybody? Good call, Emmy! – and so my planned pre-Emmy focus on some of the documentary/non-fiction titles proved poorly timed. However, I thought we might look through the winners of the unfairly forgotten ceremony since at least in these categories, the voters are often forced to choose new winners every year. Meanwhile, the televised telecast could be a repeat and, truly, would anybody actually notice?

O.J.: Made in America, Meryl Streep, and which winner is just a Tony away from en EGOT after the jump.

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Tuesday
Sep052017

Doc Corner: 'House of Z'

Fashion documentaries have been going downhill ever since Unzipped. Douglas Keeve’s 1995 portrait of Isaac Mizrahi, a box office smash and critical hit, remains the pinnacle of what so many since have attempted. Like Madonna: Truth or Dare, from which it took much inspiration, that riotously funny glimpse into Mizrahi’s world full of design, famous friends, creativity and wickedly self-depreciating neurosis was a perfect storm of sorts between personality, fashion and celebrity that a film about this sort of person ought to be.  

Every year brings us several of these sorts of documentaries. Like the majority of them, Sandy Chronopoulos’ debut feature, House of Z, is easily digestible and barely raises a sweat; a work of celebrity portraiture that fans won’t regret watching, but which offers little beyond what is promised on the tin. Taking the same narrative hook as Unzipped of a talented young designer’s comeback from the precipice of total failure, House of Z is an act of personality redemption for a man whose career nearly fell apart because of his outlandishness and brattish behaviour. This makes it a humble film in many ways, one that deliberately chooses to show its subject as one appreciative of his position.

That also means that it is a humourless one, too; sapped of the fun and the outrageousness and the glamour that should be natural.I can only imagine how fun this film may have been half a decade ago.

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