Glenn here. Each Tuesday bringing you reviews of documentaries from theatres, festivals and on demand.
One of the many benefits of doing this weekly column is not just talking about the sort of documentaries that we may be discussing throughout award season, but also being able to highlight those that deserve haven’t a hope that nonetheless deserve the attention. Such is the case with Jenni Olsen’s The Royal Road, an essay film that trades in experimental and avant-garde traditions as a means to explore deeply personal topics.
Using dry yet curiously hypnotic narration, Olsen swerves between discussing Californian history, a long-distance relationship with a woman named Juliet, classic Hollywood movies, and the effects of nostalgia (the latter of which even features a voice cameo by Tony Kuschner). Her film a progression of beautifully captured California vistas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, filmed on 16mm by cinematographer Sophia Constantinou whose perfectly composed 4:3 ratio images recall the works of James Benning and offer a striking visual component that elevates the film to the status of true art. By using real film and embracing all of the dots and speckles that come with it, Constantinou’s work adopts the history of the worlds she is filming while also embracing Olson’s edict that nostalgia can be good.