Five Recent Documentaries

George Carlin’s American Dream

Judd Apatow’s two-part documentary on the iconic comedian is both serious and wickedly entertaining. His work still hits all the hot button issues we’re facing today: global warming, abortion, book banning, viruses, and more. A must see!

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres

A fascinating look at the life and career of the legendary rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres. His in-depth interviews during the early years of Rolling Stone magazine (when it mattered) with legends like Jim Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and others are must-reads for anyone interested in rock and soul music or a career in journalism. Read Michael A. Gonzales’ excellent article linked here…https://www.soulhead.com/…/new-documentary-explores…/

Men at Lunch

An interesting documentary about one of the most iconic photographs ever made. The film explores the origin, the meaning, and the impact the photo has had over its long history. Eleven men perched high up on a steel girder taking a lunch break while working on the construction of a building today we know as 30 Rockefeller Center. Who was the photographer? Who are the construction workers? These are some of the questions asked and remain unknown. Except for two men, none have been identified. Many claims have been made but only two have been verified. That said the photograph says a lot about the history of New York City, its immigrants who worked the dangerous jobs, and the American dream.

78/52

A detailed, informative analysis and tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, “Psycho.” The documentary’s focus is on the “shower scene” and its influence on future films and filmmakers. Though detailed at times, it’s accessible to all, funny at times, and always fascinating. Talking heads in Peter Bogdanovich, Stephen Rebello, Bret Easton Ellis, Marli Renfro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, and others.

Lenny Bruce Without Tears

In the 1950s, there was Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, George Burns and then there was Lenny Bruce. Though much of his material has lost some of its shock value and is dated due to changing pop values, Lenny Bruce remains a brilliant social critic, storyteller and legend. The film itself has a cinema verite style feel to it.

All are available on streaming services including HBO MAX and Kanopy.

New Mae West Documentary on PBS

On June 16th, American Masters premieres MAE WEST: DIRTY BLONDE, a new documentary on her life and times. Check local listing for the exact time. Check out this link for more details.

 

Hal (2018)

Hal

The studio is the enemy of the artist! – Norman Jewsion talking to Hal Ashby

When they talk about the great filmmakers of the 1970s, names like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet, and Brian DePalma are always mentioned. Yet, none of these artists made as many great or important films within the decade as Hal Ashby (arguably Robert Altman did as many). Ashby’s 70s work included The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound forby’s Glory, Coming Home, and Being There.  All these works were made within that one decade. No other filmmaker of the period had as many excellent films within a ten year period.

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Hal Ashby was a rebel with a cause. His work was filled with social commentary on racism, The Vietnam War, the ruling class, the military and more.  He loved film and filmmaking more than anything else in life. He fought the fight to keep his work untouched by the corporate bad guys. In Amy Scott’S 2018 documentary, “Hal,” reflects the director’s roguish, anarchic and independent artistic nature. Ashby’s first claim to fame was as a film editor mostly working with director and good friend Norman Jewison on films like The Cincinnati Kid, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians are Coming, In the Heat of the Night, for which he won an Oscar, and The Thomas Crown Affair. But what Ashby wanted to do most was direct and he got his opportunity with The Landord, a film far ahead of its time. Sadly, Ashby’s run of excellent work did not extend into the 1980s. Plagued by rumors of cocaine use and fighting with studio heads both his artistic and personal health suffered.  Ashby died of cancer in 1988 he was only 59 years old.

Love, Gilda

Like many comics before her, and after, Gilda Radner was looking for love. Born in Detroit to a middle-class family, her father whom she loved dearly died when she was fourteen. Chubby as a child, the film states her mother, a beautiful looking woman, forced Gilda to take diet pills and repeatedly stressed the importance of being thin. Gilda, feeling unattractive found out she was funny and discovered people liked funny people. Continue reading

Elvis The Searcher (2018)

EvlsitThe new HBO documentary, Elvis The Searcher, sets itself apart from so many other takes we have seen on the man. True, it is was authorized by the Presley estate, Priscilla Presley is one of the producers, and they do tread lightly on his “legal” drug use, and there is no mention of other women. That all said, the film takes a mostly honest look, a discourse, at Presley’s life and his place in the history of popular culture. Since his sad final years, his death and his afterlife, Elvis has become something of a laughing stock,  known more for being a fat, pathetic, over the hill, jumpsuit wearing laughing point than the pop culture subversive artist he was. The documentary attempts to correct this by putting Elvis, his talent, his revolutionary influence back in its proper perspective. It’s also, intentionally or not, a look at the sad failure of the American Dream. Continue reading

Gimme Shelter From The Storm: Altamont and The End of The Woodstock Generation

“I was born in a crossfire hurricane…”  – The Rolling Stones.

Gimme

For the first time since 1966, The Rolling Stones were touring America. It was 1969, and the venues were large palaces like Madison Square Garden. It was a month-long tour that began in early November and cumulated one month later. The Stones were on fire. Jagger is in top form strutting on stage like a rooster let loose in a hen house. The music is raw, and the audience primed. The MSG concerts would be preserved with the best cuts eventually finding their way on vinyl in 1970 as Get Your Ya Ya’s Out. The Stones agreed to end their tour with a free concert in California, a sort of west coast version of Woodstock. Continue reading

By Sidney Lumet (2016) Nancy Buirski

by_sidney_lumetAlong with Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Brian DePalma, Arthur Penn, Francis Ford Coppola, John Frankenhiemer and Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet was one of the filmmakers from the period roughly beginning in the late 1950’s through the late 1970’s that shaped and formed my love of cinema. With the imminent demise of the studio system, that period was a significant turning point in American film. Overblown, over budgeted Hollywood productions and television would help end the Hollywood Studios stranglehold. A new order was on the horizon as were a new legion of filmmakers and Sidney Lumet was right in the mix. Continue reading

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child (2010)

ab11b4bfa6668b57123079b6e62192e8_largeWhen Jimi Hendrix arrived back in the states from England, he along with his new backup musicians, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, came back as rock stars. In Britain, The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded a series of singles including, Hey Joe and Purple Haze. In 1967, the Experience came to America and really hit it big at the Monterey Pop Festival with Hendrix famously setting his guitar on fire. After the festival, the band went on tour with  the headlining teen pop group, The Monkees, which Hendrix nicknamed, the Plastic Beatles. It was an odd pairing to say the least. The crowds were mostly fans of The Monkees, young teenybopper girls and their mothers. The site of the psychedelic rock threesome with their wild clothes, permed hair and hard rock music must have shocked the mothers in the audience out of this house dresses. They must of thought the group ranked to the left of obscene.    Continue reading

Tab Hunter Confidential (2015) Jeffrey Schwarz

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Tab Hunter Confidential is an insightful and personal look at a man who despite the Hollywood system managed to find a path to inner peace and happiness. His honestly and sense of self come clearly through. The film is also an excellent look at the Hollywood system’s inner workings into the making of a star and the secrets that are buried. We learn how he was groomed for stardom as the clean cut, boy next door type. His face appeared on the cover of hundreds and hundreds of fan magazines. He dated beautiful starlets including Natalie Wood. He appeared in hit films and recorded number one charting records. Yet, Tab Hunter was not real. Continue reading

BIll Cummingham New York (2010) Richard Press

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Photographer Bill Cunningham admits he is no artist. He is neither a commercial photographer like Bert Stern nor a documentarian such as Dorothea Lange. But what he does, he does well. Cunningham is a well-known photographer in the world of fashion but don’t pin that label him either. That’s not what he does. He emphatically says so himself. He says this though he has worked for Vogue, the original Details and currently works for The New York Times. Continue reading