Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
Friendship as a documentary subject is a rare thing and with this affecting and poignant account of the long-term bond between Pulitzer Prize-winning author/actor Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark, viewers may feel as though they are listening in on a personal conversation between two old mates. Fused by both affinity and family, these two friends, entangled within the complicated web of history, not to mention their very different views on life and living, join together to work on an University project regarding their correspondence and ephemera that may result in a book deal. Full of tenderness, humor and sadness, these two old compatriots open up and bare their lifetime of memories, laments and affection for one another before the camera’s eye, offering up fascinating insights about both the limits of male closeness and its lasting durability.
Shepard & Dark
As rabid a film watcher as I am, time restrictions will forever thwart my capacity to plow through KPL’s stellar movie collection but here is an abbreviated list of some of my favorite films from KPL’s collection, watched over the past year. While we add new releases each week, don’t forget about the diversified depth of our collection. We can’t purchase every movie that is requested or inquired about but we can work toward the goal of having most titles for most of our patrons, most of the time.
Upstream Color: With the exception of the increasingly abstract, fragmented and non-linear narratives of Terrence Malick, there have been few notable American films over the past decade or so that have attempted to remake the kind of Eurocentric, anti-classical/realist/romantic films of the 1960’s and 70’s (think: Godard, Bresson, Tarr, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Warhol, Antonioni). With Upstream Color, a sort of Hiroshima Mon Amour for our contemporary times, one hopes that young filmmakers will continue to take the value of abstraction seriously, reimagining it in new and thoughtful ways.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: A film that came out (pun intended) way ahead of its time. It’s kind of an absurdist musical that is in-your-face bonkers, but bonkers in the most vital, transgressive and beautifully rebellious way. A postmodern Hair.
Young Adult: Charlize Theron gives a great performance as an unraveled mess of a person that attempts to transition from a life of boredom and narcissism toward a more complete, self-aware state where the adjective ‘young’ can finally wither away.
Sullivan’s Travels: I checked this film out because the great American director Preston Sturges’ name kept popping up in literature on director/writer Wes Anderson (a favorite of mine). This well-written and acted screwball comedy hits the mark and lives up to its acclaim as one of the 1940’s best films.
My Dinner with Andre: A film like few others--this conventions-busting mixture of fiction and nonfiction, storytelling and improvised riffing will either bore you into slumber or thrill you with its originality. We almost forget, due to the strong writing, that the great French autuer Louis Malle was its director.
Insignificance: I’m still not sure I ‘get’ this peculiar film but it was certainly compelling, the way in which a film can unfold as both an irritant and a puzzling enigma.
Hiroshima Mon Amour: Before I saw this Alain Resnais masterpiece about memory, love and loss, I considered Harold and Maude my favorite film. Now it’s number two.
12 Angry Men: Watch this fictional, court room drama and then the documentary The Central Park Five. The very notion of facts, evidence, justice and human objectivity are brilliantly rendered as a hollow collection of outdated concepts with tragic application.
Hunger: Not to be mistaken with Steve McQueen’s first film about the imprisonment of IRA soldiers of the same name but rather the nimble and haunting adaptation of the classic, existential novella by Danish writer Knut Hamsun.
Summer with Monika: Arguably, my favorite film of Bergman’s but nowhere near his best. That distinction belongs to his magnum opus Scenes from a Marriage, a film that should only be approached by the single and the happily married couple.
Rules of the Game: My goal for movie watching this year was to view a handful of those classics considered important to the historical development of the art form according to the Sight and Sound Magazine’s list of 250 Greatest Films; a list created every ten years by an esteemed cadre of critics. Renoir’s masterpiece (rated at No. 4) is there for a reason and its influence can be seen in almost every film made since 1939 that skewers the vacuity of the rich and clueless.
La Jetee/Sans Soleil: Made by maverick film essayist Chris Marker, these two films are quite distinct from one another in both content and style. Both represent the best in avant-garde, envelope-pushing cinema that emerged parallel with the various manifestations of the European New Wave movement.
Picnic at Hanging Rock: This 70’s cult classic by Peter Weir still holds up as a truly original film that tackles the subject of loss, regret and repressed longing, all of which are tied to a mystery that leaves an Australian women’s school in shock and confusion.
Other notable films: L’ Avventura, Stroszek, Bringing Up Baby, Amarcord, The Killing, Neighboring Sounds, Damnation, The Lives of Others, Magnificent Ambersons, Harvey, Pat and Mike, The Third Man, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Searchers, Elevator to the Gallows, As I Lay Dying, Cleo from 5 to 7, Frances Ha, The Silence, Winter Light, Cries and Whispers, Blast of Silence, Through a Glass Darkly, Argo, Shallow Grave, Band of Outsiders, Fanny and Alexander, Mud, Harry and Tonto, Chasing Ice, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
The new documentary film Room 237 may have only limited appeal but if you love Stanley Kubrick’s movies (Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket, The Killing, 2000: A Space Odyssey), especially his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining, then this is a must-see film. Structured as an introduction to the many provocative theories about The Shining and its meaning, viewers hear (but never shown) several die-hard fans meticulously outline what they think the film is about and what Kubrick was attempting to express. Those interested in Kubrick’s controversial version (Stephen King hated it) conspiracy theories will love the film and the way it depicts both the intellectual limits of critical semiotics and deconstruction as well as the depth of passion and obsession invested in such a project. Was it really a deeply coded criticism of the genocide of the American Indian or could it have been a winking apology for Kubrick’s participation in the faking of the moon landing and c’mon, what’s up with those cans of Calumet baking soda? If anything, the film proves that art and an artist’s intentions can be interpreted in a number of ways, often resulting with comical conclusions but it also serves as a celebration of theory as an intellectual exercise in deepening our capacity to think more dynamically and critically about the power of messaging and the coding of media.
A groundbreaking documentary when first released in 1968, this Albert and David Maysles (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter) production follows the emotional up’s and down’s of a group of door-to-door salesman who are charged with the peddling of a gold embossed version of the Good Book. Each of these real life Willy Loman’s has a nickname (The Rabbit, The Gipper, The Bull) which adds an element of fictive artifice, but what the Maysles brothers are really after, is to paint a psychological portrait of the inner turmoil these men feel as they grind their way through each pitch, expressing frustration (at both each other and their customers), skepticism toward the future of their profession and in some cases, a celebratory belief in the power of their vocation. Funny, heartbreaking and myth-busting, Salesman is an American classic of cinema verite.
The great movie directors have always shown an interest in exploring the subject of growing up and the themes of adolescent awakening, rites of passage and the sometimes complex depiction of individuals straddling both adulthood and childhood. As many different kinds of filmmakers as there are, so to have these kinds of movies been varied, both in terms of genre, point of view and style. Childhood it would appear from some of the beloved films that have been inspired by the subject, is messy, complicated and rendered as a darn right miserable experience.
Youth’s opposite condition, the aging process and growing old has also been explored with both tenderness and horror. Sometimes depicted with gritty realism, other times with romantic sentimentality, many of these films examine the way that the elderly either flourish by growing open to new and different ideas about what it means to live or in some cases, investigate the many difficulties that the elderly are confronted with. Here is a brief list of some of the great films that tackle the subject of both youth and the elderly with intelligence, artfulness and humanity.
Harry and Tonto
Harold and Maude
Away from Her
On Golden Pond
The Up Series
The Straight Story
Murmur of the Heart
My Life as a Dog
Mon Oncle Antoine
Stand by Me
Kid with a Bike
Spirit of the Beehive
The Ice Storm
Harry and Tonto
The Loving Story is just that, a documentary tale of two people bound by an uncompromising commitment to one another, fighting against injustice and hatred. Marriage equality isn’t only a contemporary legal issue that’s being struggled over in state and federal courts today but one that goes back many years and in this particularly precedent-setting case, begins in 1958, when two Virginians married in Washington D.C., neither aware of a Virginia law that criminalized interracial marriages. Our loving couple, Mildred and Richard Loving were subsequently arrested and charged with a crime. Wanting to continue to live in Virginia, the couple decided to fight this legal bigotry by challenging their convictions as well as the the very law that was designed to oppress Virginian blacks and codify social and economic segregation. Supported by two brash and youthful attorneys, the Loving’s fought their way to the United States Supreme Court and won in 1967. This is their remarkable story.
The Loving Story
The recently released documentary film Chasing Ice is the story of one of the world’s most renowned photojournalists tackling the subject of global warming by documenting the retreat and loss of glacial ice in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Montana due to climate change. This documentary, full of breathtaking images of both sublime beauty and environmental degradation introduces us to the passionate photographer James Balog, who with his team of scientists, techies, climbing experts and field guides set out to document the physical evidence of global warming by setting up cameras in multiple locations to film a particular landscape in order to archive the changes. The dramatic effects of global warming are clearly evident as Balog returns to each site several times a year to make sure the cameras are functioning properly and to review the effects upon the glaciers. The film highlights the emotional up’s and down’s and natural obstacles to such an endeavor but what really is the most striking feature of the film is the awe-inspiring magnificence of the arctic landscapes.
One’s take away from writer/director Sarah Polley’s brilliant, semi-autobiographical Stories We Tell may be that the film is about family dynamics and the complex secrets they often keep hidden. But what the film is really about is the way in which our lives are like stories, often interpreted and consumed differently by various actors involved within the circle of a particular narrative. The 'truth' about Sarah's origins becomes increasingly unstable as memories (some of which may be unreliable) of the past highlight the relativistic and nuanced nature of individual perspectives and experiences. Everyone's take on Sarah's mother is bit different, which is to say, she struggled to conform to any singular mold or characterization. The film works very much like Tim O’brien’s masterful fictional memoir The Things They Carried, a novel set in the Vietnam War but a book concerned primarily with the importance of storytelling as a way of understanding splintered, de-centered realities. It’s a wonderful film and one of the best of the year.
Stories We Tell
56 Up is the eighth and latest installment in the British documentary Up series. Began in 1964 and airing every seven years, audiences have followed a select group of seven year old children from 1964 to now with the expressed intent to examine British class structure and its power to determine one’s life. We the viewers are allowed access to the personal up’s and down’s of a participant’s life story, including a quick summation of their life as it was and as it is now. The interviews probe the typical subject matter such as married life, employment, children, health and various laments, grievances and successes. Viewers won’t be mesmerized by anything unconventional, extraordinary or surprising. Most of the children have grown up to live relatively banal, middle class lives even as they’ve likely felt a certain pressure as living subjects within an entertainment/sociological experiment.
Legendary White Stallions. If you like looking as talented gorgeous horses then give this DVD a perusal. This is a DVD about the legendary Lipizzaners. It talks about their training and their breeding and shows them in action and in the country side. Some of these quotes will give you a feel for the DVD. The Director of the Spanish Riding School says “Classic Horse riding is pure Beauty and Harmony” The Rider is the artist and the Horse is the medium” Now, while I agree with his statement and love seeing these horses, I thought that he, the Director of the Spanish Riding School looked like Prince Charles. Ok, back to serious, this is an informative and also beautiful DVD of the Lipizzaners. They are the horses of legends. Another quote “It’s Teamwork, it is as if there was a gossamer thread between the riders and the horses mind.” This is a visually powerful and educational DVD of a legendary horse. It is a wondrous photography of the Lipizzaners. Check it out, give it a watch and be enthralled and educated.
Legendary White Stallions