Archive for the ‘Documentary’ Category

Free Solo – **(*)

Posted: March 20, 2019 in 2018, Documentary, USA, XX1/2

A few hours ago on National Geographic: the 2019 Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo.  The dazzling account of a climber trying to conquer the El Capitan rock in Yosemite without ropes is still playing in some theaters and there you have it on tv already. Netflix has started a weird trend.

The Oscar buzz and the trailer make you want to see this movie. The reviews are stellar as well. El Capitan is a magnificent rock to look at. Climbing it with ropes is already crazy. So, this challenge looks like something you don’t want to miss.

The actual climb is filmed really well. The makers used drones and camera’s with ultra zoom lenses. Some footage is shot by guys hanging on ropes nearby the ‘easiest’ parts. Even on a small screen, the views looking down into the valley are not for those suffering from fear of heights. It must look even more vertiginous on a big screen, but it works at home too. The editing is top-notch. They must have had hours of footage and made a great action sequence of it all.

However, this is only about 20 minutes of the documentary and it’s at the end. Before that you have an hour of typical American documentary making with a lot of blablabla and (at times meaningless) interviews of people concerned (Alex Honnold himself, his climbing buddies, the film crew, his mom, his girlfriend, other free climbers…). At one point his girlfriend stresses that she still doesn’t understand why he wants to do this: risk his life to pursue an idea/dream/obsession. In fact, almost everyone wonders why he wants to do it. Yet, nobody gives an answer. And definitely not the documentary makers. So why even bother trying to find out?

The most interesting parts are where he prepares the climb and explains where the tricky sections are. If you make a documentary about a free climber, focus on the free climbing not on his personal life. At least not if you can’t give answers as to why someone is so foolish/stubborn/suicidal to attempt such a challenge.

It’s good that they mention how many of his predecessors have died in this extreme ‘sport’. Yet at the end, the ‘hero’ of the story encourages young people to do even more extreme things. Hm. Hero is in between brackets, because there is nothing heroic about climbing a rock without gear. More than often you hear about these extreme sports fanatics who always look for the next thrill and then die while pursuing it.

It makes you wonder if they would have shown the documentary if he had fallen to his death.

A few years ago, a Flemish tv personality, who takes on challenges, climbed El Capitan with some professionals. He was a climber virgin, but prepared well. Now that was an exciting tv program! It’s below the trailer, but has no subtitles. Somehow that was more intriguing. Free Solo is worth the watch, but only the last part is really fascinating.

www.imdb.com/title/tt7775622

 

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After watching Leaving Neverland, it felt like a good moment to also watch This Is It. 

Michael Jackson has been in the news again for the entire past week. And he’s on the radio again. Radio hosts first say: ‘Can we still listen to MJ’s music?’ and then they play one of his tracks. It’s hypocrite and bizarre.

The reason for all this media attention is the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, in which two former child-friends of Michael Jackson accuse him of having abused them sexually for several years when they were young.

If you’re reading this, you know what the documentary is about. You may or may not have seen it. It’s a controversial documentary.  It’s long (four hours) and it only focuses on the stories told by two victims and their family members. It’s very tedious in the beginning (the victims and their family start telling how they met Michael Jackson – yawn), then it becomes disgusting (when graphic details are told about the sexual acts), but it becomes more intriguing in the second part when they focus on the trials of 1993 and 2003 and explain why they always denied the accusations.

It’s not a well made documentary. They just filmed several people and let each of them do a monologue. These are not interviews! It doesn’t feel scripted, but whatever they are telling isn’t really challenged. Then they add all kinds of visuals to make the story come alive and feel truthful. That’s well researched, but it feels like the people being interviewed explain certain images rather than the images adding something more to what is being said. Plus, the makers decided to just focus on these two people and didn’t include any interviews with other victims or with other child-friends who spent the night at Michael Jackson’s estate.

There is no doubt that Michael Jackson must have behaved inappropriately as an adult in the presence of certain young children. But this is something we already know for such a long time. It doesn’t matter if he was acquitted twice. Whether there was sexual activity or not, the fact that he publicly defended having young boys sleep in his bed is already proof that something is off. 

So, the big question is why this documentary was made. It sure doesn’t feel like this documentary will bring closure for the victims. All of the people involved will get damaged even more. There are still lots of people out there who think the victims are lying. Almost everyone must find the mothers terrible parents. For the family members of Michael Jackson, especially his kids, this must be devastating.

It’s not a balanced documentary. You need to go online and look for reactions of all kinds of people involved. It’s very one sided. It’s also pretty annoying that we can’t hear from the two kids that took Michael Jackson to court. We learn about them, but we don’t hear what they have to say. A much better documentary would have been to have people watch this documentary and then interview them about their thoughts. That’s a better angle.

Then This Is It. 

Sure, Thriller was thé album of the eighties and is still a great listen. Bad was okay. But Dangerous sucked and the other two albums were just, obsolete. Michael Jackson’s musical legacy isn’t as legendary as most fans would want you to believe. He had some great songs, but it’s not like his whole repertoire was amazing.

Yet, somehow, this pop star is more beloved than, say, Madonna. Which doesn’t make sense. He’s been wacko Jacko since the late eighties and hasn’t released any memorable single after Man In The Mirror. He’s been on trial for child abuse several times. He’s been modifying his body so often that he looks an alien. Yet, people still wanted to see him perform when he decided to put on 50 shows in London in 2009.

That got cancelled when he passed away. But the production costs of the show were so high that they made a movie with the footage that they had from rehearsals. It’s not a show. Nor is it a behind the scenes feature. It’s boring. The show looked like a visually stunning thing. But it was never performed, so we’ll never know. You need to be a fan of his music and his performances to enjoy this musical documentary. It you’re not: skip it.

 

 

When it comes to documentaries that expose almost extinct cultures, this one needs a recommendation.

Sure, it’s a bit voyeuristic and sure, it’s all planned and maybe even scripted, but this episode of a French tv series that explores the ‘unknown world’ is fascinating. It has a very positive vibe, the mutual interest of the members of the tribe and the French visitors is genuine and it’s shot really well. We never get to see the camera and sound man. Nor do we know how big the crew is. But they do a great job. The use of drones is extraordinary. The aerial views are fascinating. But the close-ups as well. The tribes people are very photogenic and not camera-shy at all. We don’t get to see the translator either, so it really feels like the conversations happened in a very easy and simple way.

Not even halfway through this documentary you have lots of empathy for the main characters. There’s the documentary maker who is the reserved, observant, relaxing leader. There’s the uncomfortable celebrity who is confused and scared, but very respectful and curious about this different culture. He’s a comedian, famous in France, unknown elsewhere. Apparently his experience was much harder than what we get to see. But it’s easy to imagine his discomfort. We have two members of the tribe who steal the show. A short guy who is very clever and interested, intrigued in learning about our culture. And a tall guy who looks like an androgen diva, but is extremely confident.

By the end of the documentary, you get as emotional as these four people who need to say goodbye. It’s easy to condemn these documentaries. But this really feels like it’s done with respect. A hundred years from now all these culture will be gone. So they need to be documented. Even if it means they get introduced to our culture. They aren’t naive and stupid. This is probably not the only tv team they’ve encountered. Maybe they over-exaggerate showing their traditional ways of life. Maybe it’s real. That doesn’t matter.

When you visit Swaziland, the guys and girls who come and perform a ‘traditional’ show all arrive on their motorbikes with jeans and change into native clothes. That’s how it is in 2018. But this is a really good episode and it makes you want to watch all the other episodes of the show.

And the soundtrack is great with songs by Belgian artists like Balthazar, Oscar And The Wolf and Girls In Hawaii. A bit bizarre to hear them in this exotic landscape, but still cool.

IT’s online on youtube. Check it out if you understand French.

Just having watched Wien is ‘t Hof Van Commerce, a self-made chronological mockumentary of a locally famous West-Flemish hiphop band, it made me want to re-watch this  (10 year old!) music documentary of another famous Flemish band. From Ghent and an international phenomenon: SOULWAX!

Back in the late 2000s these guys toured the world with a great concept: they gave a live performance of their remixed songs, invited dj’s and bands they liked to come along and then ended the evening as their dj alter ego: TWO MANY DJ’s.

Both Soulwax and Two Many Dj’s toured again this summer. With success. But ten years ago, they were pretty much the coolest band in the world.

Watching this documentary again, brought back memories. It’s a great musical document. The sounds these guys produce are still da bomb! The dvd comes with a cd as well and there’s a live performance as an extra feature. But you really want to see the one hour trip through club culture feature. It’s also available on dailymotion (see below).

The editing is hectic, but doesn’t bore at all. It’s a one hour trip, which is just enough. It’s fast-paced and loud. It’s very divers in its images. Live performances in dark stroboscoped clubs are mixed with images of places around the world. It’s visually as entertaining as sound-wise. It has a few tranquil moments with interviews of people who tour with the band. So, you do get to learn about the band and the two main members (two brothers called Stephen and David Dewaele). And you get to learn about live on the road. A lot is self-glorification, but if you’re the coolest band on the planet, it’s okay. The decadent lifestyle isn’t so shocking really. Especially because most of the performers seem so level-headed. It’s the crowd that goes crazy. And the crowd does go berserk. Which is of course again a feat of the director/editor. Just show a lot of people having a good time and you create the illusion that everyone is having a good time. With or without drugs. With or without booze. With or without clothes.

It’s a fun watch. If you haven’t seen it yet: do!

www.imdb.com/title/tt1224448

There’s no imdb page for this music documentary that got a theatrical release in Flemish cinemas. Which makes sense. Apart from the fans of this band, there isn’t really any other audience out there to recommend it to. It’s available on dvd now and it has English subtitles. But why? Why would anyone, who doesn’t know this band and doesn’t understand West-Flemish, want to watch it? The editing is kind of fun, but not spectacular and quite repetitive. So the only thing you’re left with is the humor. And it’s funny. But again, it’s only funny if you know the band and if you understand the most difficult of all dialects in the Dutch language.

I do. Hey, I know the lyrics of some of their early songs by heart. They are still hilarious, twenty years later. But this mockumentary just doesn’t deliver. The DJ of the band is also the director. His editing feels a bit like visual scratching. It’s fun. But compared to Part Of The Weekend Never Dies (the documentary of Soulwax’ international breakthrough) it all feels so unprofessional. Which isn’t necessarily bad. But to be honest, with the right tools, anybody can make a similar career overview. It’s chronological and there is a lot of focus on the early years, with clips of their first interviews, first performances and so on. It’s a bit nostalgic and it’s a great souvenir for the band members and their fans. But as a documentary is a bit boring.

Reviews rave about the mockumentary style and yes, the funniest parts are the fake interviews with other local artists (who are buddies of the band in real life). The part where Gabriel Rios pretends not to know them and then sees a clip by an Asian pop band who sampled one of their songs (quite bizarre) and he suddenly recognizes the song… it’s only funny if you know the song, if you know Gabriel Rios and if you get the humor. The whole documentary should have been like that.

So, in short: disappointing.

Luckily there’s the video of the live concert they gave earlier this year as an extra and it looks like a great best of gig.

 

30 years of New Beat. Especially in Belgium, this is a bit of a celebration. From 1985 to 1995 the country (well, Flanders and Brussels) were at the centre of the global music scene because they released successful vinyl tracks that sounded like nothing else before and became such a hype that pop music took over and killed it. However, this ‘new beat’ became a foundation of anything else that was produced in the club scene afterwards.

It’s a fun documentary if you’re interested in the topic. It actually starts with a short (but correct) introduction of Belgium, a fabricated buffer state in between England, the Netherlands, Germany and France. It talks about the yearly fairs, the barrel organs, the invention of bakelite by Belgo-American Leo Baekeland that was used to make vinyl, the opening of dance clubs along the highways, the import of international sounds by the port of Antwerp, the dj’s from the seventies, the popularity of disco and the counter-reaction of punk. And hup we are  in the eighties, where Belgian dj’s and producers start playing aggressive, dark dance music with an edge. They spin the records at a different speed and add all kinds of sounds to the music. It’s music made by producers and not by musicians! It’s Kraftwerk and Jean Michel Jarre, but with a rebel attitude. And that’s how we got to NEW BEAT.

It’s a good documentary, but the ‘sound of Belgium’ just focuses on new beat really. It doesn’t say anything about the indie rock scene or the mishmash of cultures we put together in the music is made in Belgium. There are influences from France, England, the US and Africa…. the entire world. That mix is what makes the sound of Belgium. So, this documentary has a wrong title. It’s also a bit patriotic/nationalistic. But that suits the scene well. Maybe the new beat was the only thing that united the Flemish and the French-Speaking Belgians! You hear both languages throughout the documentary. However, there’s no mention of other influencers from other countries. They even forget to mention that Baekeland was really an American from Belgian descent. Dance music really didn’t originate in Belgium either. The UK and Germany were as influential. And let’s not forget Chicago and New YOrk! And there’s an unnecessary diss to Depeche Mode by Sven Van Hees.

So, fun to watch, but pretty superficial. Give it a shot though.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2966298

The whole movie is available on this site:

https://boilerroom.tv/recording/sound-belgium

Dream Boat – (*)

Posted: January 27, 2018 in 1/2, 2017, Documentary, Germany, LGBT themed

Every year, the Brussels gay event La Demence organizes a cruise on the Mediterranean for their party clubbers clientele. It’s an international affair with guys form all over the world cruising during a cruise.

This documentary was shot on that cruise, but there is no mention of La Demence at all. Which is a good thing. It’s not really making the viewer want to book a cabin for next year’s journey.

This is a terrible documentary.

It sounds interesting though. A cruise full of muscle queens enjoying a themed party every night. All kinds of question arise: what does the crew think about this gay exclusive cruise? How do these clubbers get their drugs on board? How busy are the dark rooms? How many men actually go off the ship during the day and visit the ports of call? What’s been done to encourage safe sex? Where are all these guests coming from ?

Yet, the director seems to only focus on the last question. He’s following a camp Indian guy, a confused Polish stud, a confident Palestinian guy, a disabled Frenchman, an hiv positive German sucker… some of the most boring gay characters ever to have made it onto a screen. Their stories may be of interest in another kind of documentary, but if you make a documentary on a party cruise, make it a party cruise documentary!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6627466