Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
We come to literature or of certain books in strange ways, sometimes circuitous, often by chance but how we get ‘there’ is of less importance than the experience we have inside of the interior worlds that our favorite books evoke. I often pick up a book when I’ve read that a particular book or author has some sort of relationship to a favorite author of mine. Usually the relationship is only tangential and often what the writers have in common is less about stylistic similarities than the sort of common themes, concerns and tones that are explored. The name of W.G. Sebald always seems to pop up in reviews, essays or on lists of great writers. Though I have not read any of his transgressive, category-less books, I recently stumbled across a documentary film that maps out his work and discusses his artistic contributions to literature. Both fascinating as a biographical introduction and as a documentary film that explores Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn, Patience: After Sebald, has now intensified my interest in his highly praised books.
Patience: After Sebald
Physicist and author Briane Greene is a fine communicator. He explains mind bogglingly counter-intuitive new physics theories in PBS's four-part Nova program The Fabric of the Cosmoswith a sense of humor and economy of language that is in itself admirable. As a child, I enjoyed watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos on PBS with my family. Who could forget that great ambient Vangelis score and the spaceship of the imagination? Not to discount Cosmos - it's still well worth watching - but Brian Greene's four part series is delivered with shinier animations and has its own fine score by another European electronic artist: Ed Tomney. You can borrow the entire program on DVD from KPL or stream it directly online from PBS. Check it out!
The Fabric of the Cosmos
Today my morning coffee was served to me by a non-Native American wearing a headband with feathers. Some employees at this coffee shop even donned headdresses, while others
wore bandanas around their necks and western-style plaid shirts. I
can't say I was surprised, as culturally insensitive Halloween costumes
have grown inexplicably popular, or at least become much more visible due to the Internet, in the last few years. So popular that a group of students at Ohio University have created two campaigns raising awareness about the issue.
This incident was all the more poignant, and timely, because I
recently watched Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian,
a 2009 documentary that traces portrayals of Native Americans in
Hollywood films, from the silent era to the present, and explores
the ways those portrayals shape non-Natives' understanding of
Native culture and history. The film features interviews with
actors, directors, and American Indian activists, including Sacheen
Littlefeather, John Trudell, and Russell Means. Some of the films
discussed include One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dances WithWolves, Flags of Our Fathers, Smoke Signals, and The Fast Runner,
all of which are available at KPL.
This documentary is entertaining, informative, and breaks down common
assumptions and stereotypes. Those feather headdresses? They're worn for
ceremonial purposes, and only by American Indians of the Great Plains
The HBO film The Artist is Present chronicles the lead-up to Marina Abramovic's incredibly popular and well-documented retrospective at the MOMA in 2010. Since she emerged as a provocative performance artist in the 1970’s, Abramovic has blurred the distinction between life and art, using her body as both a literal canvas and a means to shock and move her audiences. One of the most interesting take away’s from this well put together film is how seemingly down to earth she appears compared to the intense character and controversial nature of her creative output. I also developed a much more nuanced understanding of her creative themes and intellectual motivations while not necessarily finding the entirety of her work to my liking. However, I dare even the most cynical of us to dismiss her recent (and probably most famous) work wherein which she sat in a chair for three months straight, everyday, simply staring at museum-goers during open hours. Highly emotional, the grueling performance situates the meaning of the work inside the personal responses and experiences of those who exist before her hypnotic gaze. If this sounds like your conceptual artist’s cup of tea, give it a shot.
The Artist is present
Fans of cinema will want to look over Sight & Sound’s most recent poll of 250 of the Greatest Films ever made. Compiled once a decade since 1962, this list is a great primer for anyone interested in watching the most talked and written about works, including silent films, movies from Hollywood’s golden era, contemporary art house flicks and foreign language masterpieces from the 1950’s and 60’s. Comedies, Drama, Westerns, Noir, Romance—it’s all there. Here are the top ten:
- Citizen Kane
- Tokyo Story
- La regle du jeu
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- The Searchers
- Man with a Movie Camera
- Passion of Joan of Arc
- 8 1/2
Passion of Joan of Arc
The New York City art world in post-war America was dominated by the rise of Abstract Expressionist painting. Led by iconic painters like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, abstract painting and its theoretical exponents tended to be an exclusive man’s club. However, there were several female painters who emerged during the late fifties and early sixties who are now recognized for their creative talents and artistic output. One of these pioneering figures was Joan Mitchell, a painter whose gestural works often hang upon the same museum walls today as her better known male counterparts. This documentary weaves together a strong and personal portrait of her life as a midcentury painter working through her romantic relationships and the frustrating battles with the gender politics of the art world. She spent much of her life in France, finding inspiration from nature and the physical universe.
Of course BMX is totally rad. It always has been
and always will be. Somehow, my early ‘80s Mongoose is still with me after all
these years and I still feel as cool as ever when I tool around the
neighborhood with my kids. Mat Hoffman went far beyond the concrete blocks and
plywood of my own pre-teen years in search of big air. Another in ESPN's 30 for 30 series, The Birth of Big Airdocuments
why Mat Hoffman is legendary in the world of BMX. He and his
friends and family constructed their own massive halfpipes in an unrelenting quest
to fly higher. Why? Who knows? But there is something uniquely human in the way
people will work really hard, even putting themselves in mortal danger, to
achieve their dreams. Plus it’s super fun to watch people do big jumps on BMX
bikes. Next time I ride around the block I’ll probably do some bunny hops.
The Birth of Big Air
ESPN Films' Catching Hell is the captivating tale of Steve Bartman and how he became a city-wide pariah and scapegoat. Who is Steve Bartman you ask? Award-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Darkside) first introduces the viewer to former Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, a man who knows a little something about having an entire city’s rage and anger directed at him and his family. During the 1986 World Series, Buckner infamously allowed a ground ball to dribble through his legs, allowing the New York Mets a Game 6 victory that would subsequently propel them on toward a Game 7 victory, thus denying the long suffering Red Sox fans a championship. Buckner was universally blamed by the Boston fans and media while the poor play of his fellow teammates went unacknowledged. In Buckner, the fans had their scapegoat and target to vent their frustration toward.
Bartman, like Buckner would also find himself at the center of a bizarre twist of fate during the 2003 National League Championship Series between the equally futile Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins. Five outs away from a place in the World Series, Bartman’s actions would forever link him inextricably to Chicago Cubs history. Gibney’s well directed documentary asks us why we scapegoat some while not others and to what extent do we take our love of sports too far.
The Fab 5 is a smart and nuanced documentary that will appeal to University of Michigan basketball fans that followed the meteoric rise of these five young men from highly touted high school blue chippers to college basketball icons. From the initial recruiting process of the Michigan coaching staff to the off-court legal problems faced by one of its star players, the film successfully weaves together the known and unknown while thoughtfully providing background regarding the experiences of these teenagers who were thrust under the media’s microscope from the beginning. The film does a nice job of discussing the high stakes world of collegiate basketball, the pressure to succeed and the high’s and low’s of the Fab 5’s on-court success and disappointment.
The Fab 5
The documentaryJazz on a Summer’s Day (National Film Registry selection) is a one of a kind film that brings to life in lively Technicolor, the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, featuring live performances by musical legends like Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, and Thelonious Monk. Pieced together by art director and still photographer Bert Stern, the expressionistic film is mostly absent of dialogue or narration. However, the visual energy and kinetic tone of the film captures much more than just the great music of the day by extending its images beyond the stage to capture the colorful fashion and style of the late fifties (delight in the myriad of cool sunglasses and hipster chic), not to mention costal scenes shot of yacht races and summertime Newport life.
Jazz on a summer's day