Archive for the ‘Documentary’ Category

Tell Me Who I Am – *

Posted: November 4, 2019 in 2019, Documentary, UK, X

There’s this wave of documentaries that are terrible to watch and they all work on the same principle. The ‘documentary’ makers first interview a few characters and then look for images that support the stories that are told in the interview. It’s a terrible way of making documentaries.

In this one, a pair of identical twins get interviewed about two extraordinary events in their lives. The first one is quite impressive: one of them loses his entire memory after waking up from a terrible motorcycle accident and has to rely on his twin brother to fill him in about his life as he’s the only one he trusts. The second event is more of a moral issue. The twin brother has not told him the entire truth and has filtered out all the bad memories for decades. Even when evidence of a bad event in the past surfaces, the twin brother is still not willing to talk about it. Out of self protection as well.

So, this is a great base for an interesting article in a psychology/philosophy magazine. Is the twin brother helping his amnesiac brother by only giving him the good memories? Or should he be as honest as possible even though it may cause disarray? Lots of questions arise. And one of them is very obvious: why do these two brothers, who have been struggling with this issue for years (if not decades), finally want to discuss it in the presence of a camera team? Why?

This is not a good documentary. Not sure why people recommend it. There’s nothing audiovisual about this story at all.

www.imdb.com/title/tt10915286

Three young adults learn at the age of 19 that they are triplets. They all were born on the same day, all look alike and were all adopted.

This happened in the early eighties and at the time, the triplets were popular guests on all kinds of talk shows, telling their story of finally being reunited.

But soon questions arose: why were they separated?

There are plenty stories of twins being separated at birth (check out the Dutch movie De Tweeling (Twin Sisters), but this one feels utterly unjust as it was all planned and part of a science project. A vile, unethical, but intriguing study, of which the results have never been published.

This documentary tries to unravel some of the mystery around this story. And does it really well. It’s a great example of how you can make a documentary, following the script rules of good cinema. The editing is really well done and the whole build up is great, with some surprises as well. And all that with just some interviews, some vintage footage and some re-enacted scenes.

www.imdb.com/title/tt7664504

Before riding the charts as a solo artist with Everybody, Madonna was playing drums and the guitar in The Breakfast Club, an unassuming New York band from the late seventies.

When word was out that a movie was going to be released about that period of time, Madonna clearly voiced her concerns as only she can tell what happened. But, Madonna shouldn’t worry. This isn’t a fictionalized biopic like Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman. No, this is documentary that alternates between interviews (with former band members and people who knew Madonna at the time) and scenes played by lookalikes that visualize the stories. Moreover, the people being interviewed have little bad to say about Madonna and the lookalike does an amazing job looking like her.

It’s a good music documentary. Also for those who aren’t a fan of Madame X as her current alter ego is named. Yes, she comes across as over ambitious and hard working. But she doesn’t come across as the cold hearted bitch that is her reputation. In fact, real footage show how she tanked the members of the band during her speech when she was inaugurated at the music hall of fame.

The two founding brothers of the band, Dan and Ed Killroy are quite open and frank about their relationship with Madonna. The former was her boyfriend while she stayed at their place (a former synagogue turned into squat house). But the most interesting guy being interviewed is Gary Burke. It’s endearing to see how, ever since he met her, he was fascinated by her. The unrequited love must have tormented him for his entire life. Then there’s Norris Burroughs, who looks like he could still have a shot with Madonna right now. He’s her age and looks very good. So, Madonna, if you’re reading this: get in touch with the guy! Drop the young boys. Get back to your early years. 😉

The audio tapes between Madonna and Dan are annoying and uninteresting. Stephen Bray wasn’t contacted for the movie (who ended up being the drummer of Madonna’s second, short-lived band, Emmy, that she formed with Gary when she quite The Breakfast Club because they didn’t want to have her sing all the songs. That’s a huge miss, because he ended up producing lots of songs with Madonna and ended up being the drummer of the Breakfast Club years after Madonna quit. So, it could have been much more interesting. Nevertheless, a fun watch.

www.imdb.com/title/tt5321814/

Passing by Leukerbad on the bus, I mention the remarkable stay of James Baldwin in this charming little town along the Rhone in Switzerland. Most of the time, the bus is very silent as if they’ve never heard of the man before.

Sure, he wasn’t Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, but he was nevertheless important as an African American activist. He was ‘just’ a writer and a homosexual on top of that.

This documentary is based on a book he never finished, in which he reflects on the legacy of the aforementioned leaders and the lesser known Medgar Evers. It’s a good documentary, because they use a lot of footage (especially pictures) from that era and it’s narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, who reads from the unfinished novel in the most surprising and fascinating way. Not sure if there are awards for narrators, but he deserves one.

You do need to have some background of the civil rights movement in the United States though. This isn’t a explanatory documentary about that fight. Nor will you learn much about Baldwin himself. You’ll want to learn more about him after this documentary and maybe that’s the point of this production. It’s interesting how the things he wrote about in the fifties are still relevant sixty years later.

www.imdb.com/title/tt5804038/

 

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

 

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.