documentary

The Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia * Julien Nitzberg (2009)

I do not know if this is a coincidence, but this documentary is about the family of Jesco White about whom in the same year the magnificent film “White Lightnin’” was made. That film is relatively successfull (I think) and since the documentary was produced by Johhny Knoxville and some other “Jackass”s, I figured that it would be hyped at least a bit more. In fact, I had to get this documentary from abroad because I was unable to find it in my country. In the Netherlands we had this film “Flodder” (from Dick Maas) about a lowlife family living in an expensive villa-residential (1986) and more recently some tv-series (that I never saw) about a familie called “Tokkie”. Since then a(nti)-social people and families are called “Tokkies”. Well, the Whites seem to be the American counterparts. In a hip documentary we follow a year in the lives of the wild and wonderfull life of the West-Virginia White family. Interviews with law-and-order officials from the area where the larger part of the Whites live, but of course most is about the family members themselves. The documentary opens with short introductions to most of the Whites with a family tree to see the relations to eachother. All Whites, whether young or old, look (and sound!) awfull. The suggestion immediately rises that this is due to their excessive life with drink, drugs and violence and as the film continues, this will prove to be very true. What we are presented with is completely asocial behavior. A family with no working members, but with plenty of cash, subtely explained how profit is made with selling all kinds of pills. Members talk openly about their murders and other violent outbreaks, of of them is in jail for shooting his mother’s boyfriend. The result is grimly humorous. Funny, when they are not actually your neighbours. Jesco is the most famous White with his tapdancing, the tragedy of which is explained by his musicians. Jesco seems to not be the only dancer of the family though. Drama unfolds with the mother of the family dying at the age of 84 and the birth of a baby that is taken from the mother by the authorities. The documentary is well-made, because inspite of obviously portraying the low-of-the-low (like with a heavy drinking/drugs scene before one member goes to rehab), during the course of the film, the Whites really become ’empatisable’. Add to this a lot of music and the documentary gets an eerie, good atmosphere. Grins, chuckles and laughs in abundance, drama and surprise, “The Wild And Wonderfull Whites Of West-Virginia” is a wild and wonderfull documentary about a colourfull family.

Exit Through The Gift Shop * Banksy (2010)

“Exit Through The Gift Shop” is a documentary about a maker of a documentary that he never wanted to make. Thierry Guetta is a person obsessed with filming and through a cousin of his, he stumbles upon the underground world of street art. Street art is mere graffiti taken a step further. Using different techniques streets artist go way beyond merely spraying tags or images against walls. With silkscreen, paint, posters and later anything that came to their minds, street artists started to enlighten the streets with critical and sometimes thought-provoking images. Since polluting public space is of course not legal (no matter it is just rubbish or regarded as art by some), the emerging street art scene is an underground movement. Guetta got some of the most famous artists to allow him to film them while they were working. He keeps saying that he wants to make a documentary about street art, but he never really wanted anything more than just recording what he saw. When eventually the most famous and most elusive street artist Banksy more or less forces Guetta to become a street artist himself, hyping himself in LA as Mr. Brainwash, Banksy took up the task of going through the thousands and thousands of tapes and create the documentary himself. Some people think that the whole Guetta story is a hoax set up by Banksy. “Exit Through The Gift Shop” starts as an interesting view into “the biggest subversive subculture since punk”, but later shifts towards the exploitation of street art in the normal art scene and Guetta creating his own hype. It is thus a critical documentary which is a nice watch.

Brothers Of The Head * Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe (2005)

A pair of Siamese twins who have been protectively kept in a nomansland called “The Head” by their father, are “plucked out of obscurity” by a music promoter. Zak takes the twins to another protective environment where he tries to turn the twins into a punk freakshow. The plan succeeds and as “The Bang Bang” the twins and their band start to tour the UK. Not unsurprisingly the story rolls into one of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll towards an inevitable end of two adolescents sharing their digesting system and liver.
“Brothers Of The Head” is a (fake) documentary with interviews and flashbacks and makes a very nice film about a twins that develop different personalities, problems with relationships and a lot of music.

Tarnation * Jonathan Caouette (2003)

In the local Mediamarkt I ran into a box with “Aaltra“, “Calvaire” and “Tarnation”. Three cult-films for 6 euros! “Calvaire” is great, “Aaltra” very amusing and “Tarnation” is a strange experiment of a young director. His first full-length is an extremely personal autobiography (though told in the “he” form) about his troubled youth. Caouette’s mother (to whom this film is an ode) was mentally wrecked by an accident and many shock-therapies after that. She was in and out mental hospitals for the rest of her life. Caouette spent time in many foster families, was abused and in the end put under the care of his grandparents who were even crazier than his mother. As an outlet Caouette started to run around with filmcameras from an early age. His epileptic montage suggests that he used much of that old material in his documentary. Experimentating to the extremes of filmographic possibilities, the film goes well together with “Calvaire” (the last part) or perhaps even comparisons with Gaspar Noë are not completely strange. The film is definately interesting and weird. Some of the biographic parts take a bit too long, but overall this film is definately worth watching.

Häxan * Benjamin Christensen (1922)

Funny, this DVD release is reviewed in the Heidnisches Jahrbuch 2010 and a few weeks later a friend got it for my birthday. It is a silent documentary from 1922 Sweden with nice classical music to cheer things up. It seems to have been a series, at least, there are ‘to be continued’s. The first chapter is text and some images, from the second part on there are scenes played by actors. The camera-work, especially the brownish colours are great and Christensen managed to bring great contrasts in his visuals. Unfortunately somewhere around 3/4 my player started to protest, first it hung and continued and eventually it just crashed, so I have not been able to see the whole of “Häxan”. Also there is a 1968 version on the disc as well (the “witchcraft through the ages” of the new DVD cover I guess), I suppose this is one of the narrated versions that you sometimes hear about. Unfortunately I could not play that part of the DVD at all… This is all too bad, because the disc is not easy to get. Hopefully my player will calm down so I can have another try or perhaps I can try to use another player… What I saw was very amusing for sure.

L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot * Serge Bromberg & Ruxandra Medrea (2010)

Henri-Georges Clouzot was a top director in the 1970’ies. His successfull film gave him unlimited financial means for a project he called “l’Enfer” or “Inferno”. These means he did not use for grand trips, massive stages or tons of figurants, but for filmographic experimentations. Clouzot wanted to make a film about a man who thinks that his wife (Romy Schneider) cheats on him, having weird visions and eventually going berzerk. The film was never finished due to several reasons (the main player stepping out of the project, but mostly Clouzot’s heart-attack) and recently a great many (but not all) of the reels have been discovered. The two directors of this documentary tried to rebuild the film and the filming of it with that footage, interviews and old and recent images. Clouzot had his crew create reel after reel with the strangest experiments with colours, lenses, costumes and sound. The idea was that real-life would be short in black and white, but Marcel’s visions in insane colours and disturbed images and sounds. The result could have been interesting, but like I said, the project was never finished. This documentary gives footage from the experimental tapes that would never have been used anyway and relatively large parts of what was to be the film. Interesting.

Chaostage * Tarek Ehlail (2009)

The original title seems like a wordplay, but it is actually a German word meaning “chaos days”. The international title is “Warriors Of Chaos”. “Chaostage” is Ehlail’s debut. A name like Tarek Ehlail does not immediately sound like someone who would make a documentary (or mockumentary?) about the early German punkmovement. But he did! The film is constructed of interviews with overaged punkers who were present in the early days, old footage of the events and newly filmed material to serve as a film (being flashbacks). The entire film I had the idea that is was all made up. None of the “legendary” bandnames rang bells and the music sounded more like the modern “punkrock” than the early punk of The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Looking around the world wide web, the “Chaostage” are really a known phenomenon (see here for German and here for a shorter English Wikipedia article), a band like Toxoplasma really existed and reading about these “Chaostage” brings flashes of the film. So contrary to what I thought just after seeing the film, it may actually be based on real events. On to the film then. “Chaostage” is a film with a punk attitude. There is little structure or conformity. It jumps from interviews to animations, to old film footage to newly filmed material to make some sort of story. The punks are displayed as mindless and violent youth with as only interests drinking, destruction, sex and music. We peek into the life of punks that remained punks, how they look back on their past and we also get a little insight in the counter movement which had similar music, but very different ideas (at some points; drinking, destruction and music are also their focus): the skinheads. The film is quite violent at times, it praises the violence of the old days and the mindless ‘dancing’ is displayed with rapid montage. There is weird sex and other hobbies of the main characters (in the past and present), a lot of vomit and a lot of punk (and some oi) music. A very enjoyable film indeed, but not giving much esteem for the punk movement.

When You’re Strange * Tom DiCillo (2009)

Weird, I expected that when there was finally a film about The Doors, it would be relatively big news. Fact is that a month ago it played in only two cities and now only in a handfull. Fortunately my hometown is one of them. DiCillo gathered an impressive amount of original footage from which he compiled a biography of The Doors. Narrated by Johhny Depp and with almost 100% original film images, the story of The Doors is told with highs and lows and put in the perspective of the period in which they lived. Songs get an extra dimension when you know how and why they came about. The Doors were only in existence for 54 months and just as in these months, most attention of “When You’re Strange” goes to singer Jim Morrison. The film is a very nice overview with a lot of music and nice-to-know facts, capturing the atmosphere around the band.

Er Shi Si Cheng Ji * Zhang Ke Jia (2008)

“24 City” is a highly acclaimed Chinese documentary/film about a wargear factory that has to make room for luxery appartements. Interviewing employers and family, a picture is drawn of a gigantic factory that first moved from one far end of China to another, going downwards when less wars resulted in a drop of demand for products and in the end the factory has to go because the city it helped to grow still needs to become bigger. The interviews are alternated with beautiful images of workers. “24 City” gives a nice insight in a part of Chinese history, but to me it is too much of a documentary.

De Fem Benspænd * Jørgen Leth + Lars von Trier (2003)

The Five ObstructionsIf you are looking for some experimental filmmaking, this might be something for you. In 1967 Jørgen Leth made the experimental film “Det Perfekte Menneske” (“The Perfect Human”). Leth was the teacher of Lars von Trier and however they came to this experiment (a bet or something, this does not become clear), Von Trier has Leth remake his film, but with “Five Obstructions”. Obviously Von Trier tries to see if he can get Leth to leave his usual system of making films. There are some pretty bizare demands and Leth does his utmost to make a short film with them to the liking of Von Trier. What you get in this film is discussions between Von Trier and Leth, making offs, the films themselves and of course the original film. I did not like the talks between Von Trier en Leth much, but the films that Leth came with are mostly quite nice to watch. In style they varry from cut-up images to animation.