Oscar History

The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

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Entries in Review (49)


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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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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Review: BlacKkKlansman

by Murtada Elfadl

There’s a loaded line that Spike Lee has to navigate with BlacKkKlansman. The line is between entertaining the audience while being faithful to the crazy but true story of Ron Stallworth and making a credible and incendiary link between the bigotry and systematic oppression that has always existed and our current wretched circumstances in this country. For the most part he is successful.

The stranger than fiction story from the 1970s is about a rookie cop Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) in Colorado Springs, who pretended  to be white on a lark and called the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He was so believable as a racist white man on the phone, that he convinced his superiors to let him lead a broader investigation to infiltrate the Klan. He was helped by his Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who “played” him when meeting with the Klan...

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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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