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Entries in documentaries (207)

Wednesday
Apr132016

HBO’s LGBT History: Larry Kramer in Love and Anger (2015)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at the recent doc Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures which works as a nice primer on the famed photographer and, as is par for the course for films on gay icons from a certain era, as a portrait of a man working tirelessly to make the most of his ever winnowing time: Mapplethorpe died at age 42 of AIDS complications. We’re not going too far afield this week, as we’re focusing on a documentary on “America’s angriest AIDS activist” in Jean Carlomusto’s Larry Kramer in Love and Anger.

Kramer should be familiar to you. We’ve previously encountered him and talked about his righteous anger when we talked about The Normal Heart, and by that point he had already made HBO appearances in The Out List, Vito, and Outrage. That enough should be a reminder that there’s no way of talking about American gay rights activism of the last three decades without talking about Larry Kramer. Carlomusto’s film expediently moves through Kramer’s biography; from his time at Columbia Pictures, to Women in Love and Faggots, through the Gay Men’s Health Crisis group and The Normal Heart to ACT UP and his latest health scares and marriage...

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Tuesday
Apr122016

Doc Corner: IMAX in the Age of VOD

Glenn here. Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week we take a look at IMAX and question why such a documentary-friendly medium hasn't taken advantage of the marketplace.

A funny thing happened in the arthouse cinemas across my home country of Australia this weekend: Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark was re-released into theatres. It had been a hit in 2002, but it’s still odd to see a 14-year-old Russian art film pop up around the nation for no other reason than, I suspect, to throw some (very elegant and aristocratic) shade at the recently-released Victoria.

I bring this up because I recently visited my local IMAX. The proper IMAX with screens that stands as tall as multi-storey buildings, and not whatever fauxMAX imitations have popped up across American multiplexes. [more...]

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Wednesday
Apr062016

HBO’s LGBT History: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (2016)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we talked about race in HBO’s LGBT properties while briefly discussing Dee Rees’s Bessie. If there’s one thing media in general (but gay media in particular) needs to work on is intersectionality: ay attempt, for example, at framing the gay rights movement as “the new civil rights” movement not only suggests the plight of black people in America has been “won” but it refuses to understand how they intersect in sometimes very troubling ways. This week we're jumping on HBO's most recent release, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, which aired just this past Monday and which I got to see last week in the big screen. Not only is the doc wonderful, featuring candid interviews with those who knew (and posed for!) him, but it dovetails nicely with these issues of sex and race that we keep discussing.

The film borrows its subtitle from the famous words Jesse Helms used during a congressional hearing about Mapplethorpe's "pornographic" pictures: "Look at the pictures!" he implored, arguing that one couldn't deny the fact that they were not art. Cannily, this HBO documentary lets us admire plenty of Mapplethorpe's pictures—I didn’t count but the doc is exhaustive, showing us hundreds of photographs, scanned and offered up to us for close inspection. 

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Tuesday
Apr052016

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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Tuesday
Mar292016

Doc Corner: Nora Ephron and Mike Nichols Get Posthumous Tributes on HBO

Glenn here. Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week we’re looking at two biographical HBO documentaries about cinema legends.

Despite a resume that reads as limited, Nora Ephron's reputation over film and pop culture general looms large. Directed by her son, journalist Jacob Bernstein, there is likely little this new biographic documentary Everything is Copy that won’t be familiar to fans of the witty essayist/author/screenwriter/director’s work – not least of all when featuring old clips of Ephron narrating her own books directly the camera. But thankfully Bernstein’s film isn’t simply a rehash of his mother’s life, rather he occasionally finds minor nooks and crannies of her life that she herself hadn’t written about at length. Helped by words from her sisters and friends, an image of Ephron is formed that while no doubt glowing allows for us to learn even more about her than her famously candid words previously allowed.

Beyond all of that, first and foremost, Everything is Copy is an entertainment. A breezy and bright glimpse of a woman whose wit was matched by her scathing honesty and who left behind many works of cultural significance that are worth parsing over. 

New York movies, Nora's death, and a conversation with Mike Nichols after the jump...

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Wednesday
Mar232016

HBO’s LGBT History: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia (2014)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at Andrew Rannells’s Elijah (Girls). Ogling his latest sexcapade with Corey Stoll, who plays a famous actor on the show, we talked about the way the Broadway actor has made himself an essential part of Lena Dunham’s show, giving the vapid narcissism of his character the necessary depth to avoid falling into cliché. This week, we revisit a 2014 HBO documentary about the dangerous anti-gay vigilante groups that have recently proliferated in Russia. The title comes directly from one gay man featured in the film. A victim of a raid on an LGBT gathering that left him blind in one eye, he puts it all too bluntly:

“Hunting season is open…and we are the hunted.”

Released the same year as the Sochi Olympics—which in themselves brought closer scrutiny to what many around the world saw as a state-sanctioned anti-gay stance—Hunted: The War Against Gays In Russia paints a portrait of the homophobic culture that has spurred civilian vigilante groups to actively “hunt” gay men. Groups like Parents of Russia boycott and disrupt pro-gay propaganda (like film festivals and demonstrations), which the government has all but made illegal. [More...]

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Tuesday
Mar222016

Doc Corner: SXSW x3

Glenn here and welcome back to Doc Corner. Each Tuesday we're bringing reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week we’re looking at films that screened at the just-ended SXSW about musical icon Gary Numan, self-helper Tony Robbins, and mature-age trans women.

Gary Numan: Android in La La Land

You know I hate to ask
But are 'friends' electric?
Only mine's broke down
And now I've no-one to love

Like many artists of Numan’s vintage who were experimenting with electronic music, there was a queerness to him, an otherness that the made him a symbol to hordes of young audiences who had never seen or heard anything like him before. He was a musician whose dark and complex lyrics were perfectly paired with the aloof roboticism of his performance – an android dreaming of the electric beeps and boops of a Moog synthesizer. But for a performer who made much of his early fame and success off of the obscure oddness of his lyrics and imagery, this documentary by Steve Read and Rob Alexander is awfully straight.

I can only wish that Read and Alexander had taken some of that electro-punk attitude as inspiration for while Gary Numan: Android in La La Land will be an enjoyable sit for fans of the 58-year-old British singer famous for songs like “Cars” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” (like myself), but as cinema it lacks something propulsive. This brand of musical comeback doc is certainly popular – recent examples like Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets and I Am Thor were mostly more successful thanks to meatier narrative hooks – and the two directors are wise to focus in on some of the more unique elements of Numan’s life such as his long-standing marriage to a fan and his anxious worry about an impending comeback record while on a family vacation. Still, Android in La La Land works best with it fuses Numan’s abstract lyrics and music with strange beautiful images rather than the musician-moves-to-LA narrative that forms its core. The musical sequences are as vibrant as you would expect, but the power of the songs and his genius doesn’t shine through any clearer than if simply listening to them.

Two more after the jump...

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