2018 Updates

2018 in Review: September

This month: Victor Hugo, the Camden Film Festival, Icarus Films, Adventure Time, two things about Nazis, and more.

Review: Crime + Punishment

“The idea that “getting tough” on crime works is a barbaric fiction; crime went down in New York because of economic improvement, gentrification, and lower levels of lead in the water (seriously, that one’s important, lead destroyed generations of lower-class brains). In Crime + Punishment we see the harm of supposedly “objective” policing standards, how the very nature of the system means they’ll be enacted through racist and classist lens. There has been an official ban on arrest quotas in the city since 2010, but officer testimony and undercover footage in the doc show the pressure cops face to meet certain numbers. No matter what’s officially stated, more arrests and summonses equal more revenue for the department. More arrests and summonses will be found in “high crime” areas, i.e. poorer areas, i.e. areas where black and Hispanic people live. That’s the dark metric of institutional racism, the rot underlying all attempts at reform that fail to acknowledge it.”

Adventure Time Finale Review

“Adventure Time maintained an ostensible status quo for Ooo throughout much of its run while consistently showing how drastically different it was from what the world had been, how different it would be in the distant future, and how the people living in its now were themselves changing “ever so slightly.” Impermanence is posited not as a reason to despair but as something beautiful for its own sake, and personal growth is made an expression of that greater universal evolution. Stories don’t really end; they just leave the characters at an appropriate stopping point. In the future Ooo, we see both remnants of now-gone characters and others who have continued to stick around. Nothing really ends, everything stays, but it’s always changing.”

Director Heather Lenz Spent 17 Years Making ‘Kusama: Infinity’

“One incident stands out to me. I pitched it to a woman who worked for a very powerful woman, and I thought she, the person I pitched, would be very into it. Instead she really questioned the fact that I was proposing to make a film about a non-American female. I didn’t see it like that. I just saw her as a compelling person who had a really unusual life, and who figured out against all odds how to pursue her dreams. But gatekeepers have ideas about what kind of films can get made, and they have ideas about what components are key to success. But sometimes they’re wrong and they miss it. They miss a gem right in front of them because they already have these ideas about what’s going to be popular and what isn’t. It’s hard.”

“I have a slight issue with the word ‘reconstruction’ or ‘reenactment’ or whatever. I’m not sure that you would describe Jackie or Molly’s Game or I, Tonya as reconstruction. As soon as you put real voices in the movie, does that make all of the drama a reenactment or reconstruction? It’s still based on a true story, like countless other movies. And we don’t describe them that way.”

How a Graphic Novel About 1930s Germany Feels Poignant and Prescient

“With its completion, Berlin fully joins the ranks of canonical graphic novels. It is timely not just in our current tumultuous era, but for as long as societal deprivations build until clashing ideologies come to a head. The characters in the book frequently speak as if their fight will definitively settle the direction of world history. The events of the ’30s were not a specific warning for us, but part of an ever-in-motion cycle of consequences. Berlin began publication in an era which was supposed to be the “end of history” and now wraps up in the midst of a forceful reminder that there is no such thing. The book does not end with an epilogue explaining what happens to the cast, but by simply bowing out at an appropriate spot. There are no endings, only pauses.”

“This year, the distribution company Icarus Films turns 40 years old. Over its lifespan, Icarus has been one of the champions of international documentary cinema in the US, bringing to theaters and home video countless films that may have otherwise gone completely overlooked. The company’s catalogue is filled with works whose experimental style, radical politics, or provenance in foreign countries would have had them written off as “noncommercial” by most other distributors. Before the internet opened up the accessibility of world cinema, Icarus was a vital outlet, and even deep into the online age it continues to spotlight great documentaries which may otherwise go overlooked.”

Review: Mandy

“But when the movie shifts gears into revenge mode, the transformation is striking. Cage gets to engage full-bore anguish and rage in a way we haven’t seen from him in more than a decade. He’s gained a reputation for “crazy” performances, which is how unobservant viewers process his unabashed emotionality, and this is one of his best recent showcases for that quality. He can’t save the film from an overall middling effect, but he ensures it’s watchable.”

“But Moore still can’t express consternation about Obama’s failure to help Flint without clarifying that he still loves the man. Why? He is the establishment the film has railed against. It’s but one example of Fahrenheit 11/9’s incoherence. Early on, the doc claims the 1990s rightward shift in America’s Overton window turned The New York Times from a left publication into an imperial mouthpiece, but when referencing miner strikes in the 1920s, he tut-tuts that the Times did back then what it’s always done by denigrating them (the latter view is correct, for the record). This kind of fusillade of invective with no consideration will do naught but scramble your brains if you go along with it too much. But then, Trump derangement has already neutered so many media figures, so why would Moore be any different?”

“Yours in Sisterhood is wholly sincere, but the title is tinged with some irony given the ideological frisson that emerges throughout. The concept of “sisterhood” is the one that most gets discussed, both in the letters and by the readers. Besides the wider advancement toward equality, feminism has also offered a community for many different people, often marginalized ones. Debate over how best to get these disparate elements to work in concert will continue for a long time. In making a work about the conversation itself, Lusztig makes us consider the wider flow of history. Who knows what a version of this film made 40 years from now would look like.”

“In large part this feeling persists because the doc takes the point of view of the children, with the camera hovering at their eye levels as they play or learn or work. They are not sheltered from the problems around them, but the nebulous quality of innocence still seems to soften the blow, at least. That protection also seems to be evaporating fast, though – faster than it should. Such is the case for one of the most prominent subjects, Sohrab. His father and brothers work in a metal shop, and he hopes schooling can lead him to something better. Yet he can’t bring himself to wholeheartedly believe an education will guarantee such a thing; he can only hope.”

“If The Other Side of the Wind is autobiographical, and They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead seeks to imitate it formally, then wouldn’t the optimal version of this biography really be… The Other Side of the Wind? Given that these two movies will be dropping on Netflix the same day, the choice seems obvious. That said, there is footage on display here that won’t be in the finished cut of the film, and on its own that and the making-of material are interesting, even with their lacking presentation. It makes for a passable supplement, if not a worthy complement to Welles’ last effort.”

“Movies like this are predicated on the idea that by understanding people like Ailes, a presumed liberal audience will better understand how to fight them. But this is combined with the documentary weakness of having to condense and simplify when covering a broad topic, meaning it can’t really do that. And since the film gives a lot of time to Glenn Beck to play the repentant former heel, it doesn’t look like media liberals will be any better at effectively countering Fox News figures going forward.”

Review: Where Hands Touch

“Now, of all the angles to take on this story, “romance between a biracial girl and a Hitler Youth boy” might seem like a staggeringly ill-conceived one, particularly given the times we live in. And you’d be… absolutely right. The film hedges in Lutz’s favor as much as possible. He believes what the Nazis say about the Jews, but he’s not racist-racist! After all, he’s curious about African-American culture, and falls in love with a black girl! He’s just a passionate nationalist! The Nazis are exploiting him and lying to him about what war is like! A lot of this, incidentally, reads like popular apologia used to absolve the greater German populace of culpability in the Holocaust and other sundry war crimes. Not that the movie is trying to exculpate Germans, but bad-faith revisionism and simple incompetence end up looking pretty much the same in the end.”

“The film adopts an omnipresent point of view. One shot may be from the side of the freeway, while the next will be perched from atop a hill for a big panorama, and then the next will be seen through a car dashboard. Some scenes are of milieus so static that they might well be still images, while others capture the dizzying swarm of activity within these spaces. The movie’s progression is purposeful, moving along the 110 from the mountains and then south over the course of its runtime, the day transitioning from morning to evening along the way. It’s like the travelogue of a roving spirit, able to observe people at work and pigeons at play with equal curiosity.”

“The Proposal is shot with many careful images, often still ones. Fitting into the wider theme of legal procedure in “The Barragán Archives,” she pays special attention to processes — how workers break into and then reseal the vault, for example. In spirit with Barragán’s work, she frames shots to let audiences take in and consider different spaces. When she spends time in Barragán’s house, searching for some spiritual kinship with him, the camera almost suggests that closeness. Her narration is frequent and often meditative, making it feel like a cinematic diary. The documentary doesn’t bring closure to her fight for Barragán’s archive, but it will work its way under a viewer’s skin and leave them with persistent ideas to consider.”

“Virtual reality offers intriguing possibilities for documentaries. Before the advent of workable VR, many saw cinema as the medium with the most potential to transport the audience. Now, you can strap on a headset and find yourself anywhere, whether it’s on an island halfway around the world or in someone else’s headspace.”

“Hugo produced most of his drawings while in exile from France. Though a member of the peerage and the National Assembly, he ran afoul of Napoleon III and had to flee the country in 1851. He and his family would eventually live on the island of Guernsey from 1855 to 1870. This was not the only period during which he drew, but it was his main creative outlet for this time, as his writing was mostly devoted to political treatises. It’s difficult to look at drawings from this period in his life and not imagine that his exile bore some influence over his style. The drafts are heavy on harsh contrasts between dark and light, as well as ambiguously unsettling imagery (like a shadowy figure hanging from a noose) and scribbly, angsty line work.”

A Grandmother’s Clutter Is Transformed into Intricate Dioramas in This Magical Realist Film

“The movie also has some more conventional documentary elements. The Bogaríns interviewed Annette intermittently over the last 10 years of her life, and use these scenes to help the audience to feel a personal connection to their survey of the house. One could picture a version of this film made in a more dispassionate mode, with the same aesthetic but no context as to whose life this was. In works like The Family Album, director Alan Berliner did something in a similar vein, cobbling histories from home videos and photo albums. The Bogaríns have a different angle, not drawing from primary documents but instead reworking and re-contextualizing them. The movie can feel haunting, with Annette’s presence felt deeply; the reenactments of the audio recordings become visitations. The things a human collects and uses can’t tell us everything about them, but 306 Hollywood allows its imagination to run wild.”

By Dan Schindel

Born and raised in Maryland and currently based in New York, Dan Schindel is an associate editor at Hyperallergic, freelance culture writer, and available for any copy-editing/proofreading needs you may have. This website was originally a blog called Days of Docs, and chronicled his attempt to watch and review a documentary every single day for a whole year. He was mostly successful at this, and now he knows everything. He puts this knowledge to use by writing about movies, TV, games, books, comics, art, and more.