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documentary

Blitzed! – Ashley & Donald (2020)

London 1980’ies. Some Bowie fans want a place where they can express themselves and they find a club for Tuesday evening dance nights. “The Blitz” soon becomes a little scene, a bit of a queer and proto-gothic club.

Even though the documentary presents The Blitz as if was the primal soup of gender fluidity and the 1980’ies sound of music, similar things were -of course- happening in other places as well, also in the UK.

The Blitz was more the birthplace for the wave of pop music with Visage, Boy George and Spandau Ballet, while other similar scenes stayed more underground.

The documentary consists of interviews and old footage and makes it clear that a lot of things that we see today, were already there a few centuries ago. Also obvious is the enduring (and still present) of David Bowie and punk music. The Blitz started to lean towards more electronic music such as Kraftwerk.

Derek – Julien / Rose (2008)

A documentary about artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942-1994), written and narrated by Tilda Swinton and directed by the artist Isaac Julien and Bernard Rose.

You get snippets of old interviews with Jarman and newly recorded scenes in which Swinton thinks back of her time with Jarman and about how the film world developped.

At an early age Jarman discovered that he was attracted to men. Initially he did not think much of it, but others did. Later he rolled into the emerging gay scene and again later also the punk scene (and beyond, there is even a snippet of Genesis P-Orridge), various protest movements and of course the movie underground where he met Kenneth Anger and the like.

During the documentary you get a picture of a director who found himself periphery of the movie world with fairly successful films, but also productions that remained underground.

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song – Geller & Goldfine (2021)

This documentary is mostly about a song, but of course it had to also be a documentary about Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) who wrote it.

Cohen was a Canadian Jew who was fond of his heritage. He was a poet who, by the time he was 30, also started to put his poems to music. Soon discovered, his star rose rapidly. Yet he remained -as he said himself- in the margins of popular music.

As a musician Cohan was of course a singer/songwriter with slow, often minimalist and melancholic music. Most characteristic are the lyrics, and Cohen’s deep, warm voice. The documentary has video images of Cohen’s entire career as if he had a cameraman in his surroundings for the entire time. We get a peek into his private life, there are old interviews, people in his surroundings were interviewed as well.

And so we get to the famous song “Hallelujah” with which Cohen had struggled for seven years. By the time he was quite the name in the music business. He had released his material on the big, American label Columbia. “Hallelujah” was part of an album that Columbia thought was not good enough to release though. The song initially did not made it to the big audience, but Cohen did play it at live shows. The song was very religious / spiritual, but since he had so many different verses and kept coming up with new ones, at shows Cohen would sing a much more ‘secular’ version, sometimes even ‘naughty’.

Then John Cale sang the song. He made a mix between the ‘spiritual’ and ‘naughty’ lyrics. His version became better known than that of Cohen. Again later Jeff Buckley made the fame of the song rise to the stars. Especially his untimely death seems to have helped making it a cult-song. When it was used in the popular movie “Shrek”, the whole world appeared to be in love with the song. Cohen himself went in retreat in a Zen monastery and was off grid for several years. After that he made his comeback, he did shows world wide in spite of his rising age. “Halleluja” was a permanent part of his repertoire.

Besides the story of Cohen, you get the story of the song. Several sing/songwriters have been interviewed. Which version did they first hear? When and how did they adopt the song, etc. It has been covered countless times in many different forms ever since.

Geller & Goldfine made a nice documentary in which you get to know Cohen and learn how his song made an impact on the world.

Moonage Daydream – Brett Morgen (2022)

Late 2015, early 2016 there was a David Bowie exhibition in Groningen. My girlfriend was curious so we got tickets. Before we got to the date we made a reservation for, Bowie passed away (on 10 January 2016). You can imagine that it was impossible to get tickets for the exhibition after.

I do not remember all that much of the exhibition. I mostly remember images of shows, but Bowie was much more than just a musician. He painted, made experimental movies, played in plays and movies and what not. “Moonage Daydream” is a quite kaleidoscopic affair. It is unclear to me what elements were made by Bowie himself, but the images are experimental, weird and sometimes dark as well.

Focusing mostly on the 1970’ies and 80’ies we see a man compulsively trying things new. He purposely moved around the globe (from the UK, to the USA, to West Berlin) to see if that would affect his personality and thus his art. Also we see Bowie playing with sexuality and gender. When he you think how big an artist Bowie was and how many living rooms he entered with his androgynous and transgender look, it is extra weird that such things still are ‘issues’ today.

But, music, film, we see him painting, there is a lot of old footage, snippets from interviews, etc. Do not expect an informative and chronological summery of Bowie’s life. Some questions are left open and I -for one- waited in vein for the moment that Bowie appeared in Twin Peaks. He seems to have quite a few things in common with David Lynch, so it is not strange that the two knew each other.

Not your everyday artist, at least, not for the whole for his career. Still very successful. Neither did he -like many others- crush below the weight of success. Perhaps he so strongly wanted to keep developing that success or not were of no matter.

A beautiful and colorful documentary about one of the more interesting pop artist of recent times.

David Lynch: The Art Life – Rick Barnes (2016)

IMDb.com

Currently there is an exhibition about Lynch’s art in Maastricht, Netherlands. For the occasion a few of his films have been ‘restored’ and shown in a few cinemas throughout the country. This documentary about the man is also shown on the big screen, so we combined the documentary and the exhibition.

“The Art Life” is a combination between interviews (we only see Lynch talking in some corner of his studio behind a 1950’ies microphone), old and recent material (video and photo) and snippets of his artwork. These last have often been manipulated in ‘a Lynchean manner’.

The interviews are both very personal and very distant. Lynch tells about his relationship with his parents and his adolescent years, but he only mentions in passing that he divorced his first wife.
The period dealt with is Lynch’s youth up until “Eraserhead”, so nothing about transcendental meditation or coffee.

Lynch is open about his dark side and how he pursuit his dreams, how he became able to work his art and how he rolled into the film business. All I can is: what a guy.

A little word to close off. “The Art Life” is, like the exhibition, about Lynch the artist. His film making career is only mentioned in passing.

So, young Lynch, old Lynch with his youngest daughter, Lynch in his industrial studio working, Lynch smoking and talking and a lot of his art worked into a beautiful documentary. Like his own work, you will not get ‘all the answers’, but “The Art Life” is certainly a great documentary about a great guy.

Amy * Asif Kapadia (2015)

IMdB.comI do not listen to popmusic a lot, that is to say, music played on ‘regular radio stations’. One time in the gym I saw and heard “Rehab” and I actually enjoyed the soul-like music and old-time musicians in the video. On looking a bit futher, it proved that “Back To Black” is an enjoyable album. Winehouse’s star rose and it soon became obvious that this would not be a long life. Watching the documentary, it becomes obvious that there were many, many more people like me who discovered Winehouse with “Rehab” and “Back To Black” and that is when the problems became serious.

“Amy” is not a great documentary to me, but on the other hand, it shows very well how things came to be. The documentary is a compilation of (private) video recordings and interviews with different people either older interviews or interviews done by the director. We see Winehouse as a kid, how she roled into recorded music, how she started to make money, live on her own, start with alcohol, run into her husband-to-be and started to use drugs and then when things were already quite out of hand, the media jumped on her full force. The pressure to make a second album after “Frank”, the success it had and how (media) pressure grew bigger and bigger up until the time that Winehouse stopped caring and then ran downhill with the speed of light.

What is done well is that the lyrics are displayed when (a part of) a song is played, showing the enormousity of the personality of these lyrics. Also some lyrics get a bit of context from interviews.

There is not as much music in “Amy” as I expected. Much of the music was new to me. Of course Winehouse’s life was not all glorious, but the ‘high times’ seem to be a bit underrated, while the ‘hard times’ get much more attention.

“Amy” shows the troubled life of a young musician squashed by her success. A story of which there are many alike. I hope that the (so called) fans watch this documentary and realise their own part in the events, the same as the media and some other people around Winehouse who could have (should have) seen a person rather than a star.

Dharmaga Tongjoguro Kan Kkadalgun * Yong-Kyun Bae (1989)

When I mention the international title for this film, you might have heard of it: “Why has Bodhi-Dharma left for the East?”. It is a quite well-known film in which three people in a small monastry are followed over a period of time. There is an old monk, an orphan that the monk raises as a monk and a young man who left society to seek enlightenment. The film does not have a story or a plot and seems to jump locations (other monasteries) and time (flashbacks?), but what you get is 137 minutes of extremely slow and very minimalistic filming portraying the daily life of nowadays Zen monks. The nice thing about this project is that no Westerner seems to have been involved, so it is most likely authentistic.

Bully * Lee Hirsch (2011)

On holidays in the US we set camp near the small town of Rhinebeck (NY). This small town appeared to have a two-room theatre and longing for a descent sit we decided to see a film. Expecting a comedy (we only saw the poster) we picked “Bully”. Now, this is not a comedy! Actually, it is more of a tear-jerking documentary. We see a few youngsters who suffer from bullying at school. Some seemed to have grown used to it, others have taken things into their own hands or even their own lives. The makers of this documentary have interviewed parents and people from schools, followed victims, even in moments they actually are victim and look back at the lives of the youngsters who are no longer here to tell us how they came to their decision. The documentary is not particularly well-executed or interesting, but something that should be shown on schools and to people working with children.

One Hundred Years Of Evil * Erik Eger & Magnus Oliv (2010)

This ‘mockumentary’ is the result of an investigation of a Norwegian researcher who thinks that Hitler did not commit suicide, but survived. Skule is een crime investigator who developed lie-detecting software based on the use of facial muscles. Analising interviews with SS-soldiers he concludes that they lie about the suicide of Hitler and he sets off to find the man. While the documentary starts somewhat seriously, it is much less so lateron. Hitler escaped from the bunker, was apprehended with a whole range of lookalikes, but eventually set free. Remaining in the USA he became an influential figure with wild plans, but under a different name. The investigators try to track him down, are twarted, but eventually uncover the truth. Or did they?
This fake documentary is amusing and in some ways nicely done. The old Hitler is montaged into footage with McCarthy and other known video material. A funny watch if you want something light.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson * Alex Gibney (2008)

It is not entirely a coincidense, but when I rented this documentary I was not aware that the man from the title is the author of “Fear And Loating In Las Vegas” of which I recently reviewed the film, a great film that was made when Thompson (1937-2005) himself was still alive. In this documentary we get to learn a man that was quite much like his character in Gilliam´s film in real life. Always under influence of alcohol and drugs, a journalist that wrote the weirdest descriptions about the most common events, often a drug-influenced mix between real events and fantasy. Reporting several election-campaigns, sport events and writing descriptions of the decay of the American dream, Thompson became a cult-figure during his life-time. The documentary shows footage of the good man, readings of his writings by Johnny Depp (who apparently became a friend of his during the filming of Terry Gilliam´s film) interviews with both his wives, his friends, employers and the producer of the film. The result is a colourfull and highly entertaining portrait of a man I know close to nothing about, but I can tell you: if you liked “Fear And Loating In Las Vegas”, you will definately want to see this documentary.