Oscar History

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Entries in documentaries (342)


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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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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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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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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