Category Archives: Film Reviews
Two documentaries, screening at the New York Jewish FF are must-see viewing. Both have as their subject the recording of photographic evidence of the Shoah, the Holocaust (the mass murder of Jewish people under the German Nazi regime during the period 1941–45). Considering the rise of white supremacist hate groups encouraged by the former U.S. president, these films provide an important record. Since World War II though the Holocaust has been much written about and over the decades has been the subject of movies, films, articles and plays, the Nazi atrocities in concentration camps throughout Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy and other countries, increasingly have been called into question by global Holocaust deniers.
The Lost Film of Nuremberg chronicles how veterans of the OSS War Crimes Unit, brothers Bud and Stuart Schulberg (Hollywood filmmakers under the command of OSS film chief John Ford) endured obstacles and setbacks on their mission to track down and collect film evidence of Nazi war crimes to be used at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Their work was vital if done assiduously, for it would be used to judge the war crimes of high ranking Nazi officials like Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hermann Wilhelm Göring, Albert Speer, Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg and others, and punish them if found guilty.
The Schulberg’s collection of Nazi films was used with testimony, documentation and the filmed proceedings of the Nuremberg trials to create Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today. Thus, The Lost Film of Nuremberg shows the discoveries and angst the Schulbergs went through to create the superb pro-democracy film Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today. It was released in 1948 throughout Germany, but it was never seen in the United States until a decade ago. Indeed, for over sixty years it had been “lost.”
Director/writer Christoph Klotz adapts daughter Sandra Schulberg’s monoaph, Filmmakers for the Prosecution to make The Lost Film of Nuremberg a stirring and exciting revelation about a chaotic period of time after WW II. Klotz includes tidbits from Schulberg’s perspective in letters to his wife. This material is provided by daughter Sandra. What makes the film more intriguing is the inclusion of Sandra’s perspective of her father and this commission which she only discovered after her mom died and she was cleaning out their home.
Klotz uses flashback liberally with narration by Sarah-Jane Sauvegrain to tie in the past and the present. Thus, we see clips of the youthful brothers examining Nazi film they’ve received. We hear/see Stuart’s letters to his wife detailing the journey to Germany and his impressions the to find films that the Nazis themselves produced. Stuart (the youngest member of the OSS Team) and brother Bud learned early on that the film they were making must be a compilation of actual films recording the words and deeds of the defendants. Thus, the incriminating films would be used to convict them.
Sandra learns salient details why her Dad’s “lost Nuremberg film,” edited and finalized in 1948 was created. It was to be shown in Germany and Europe for educational purposes. The intent was for the de-Nazification of the attitudes and mores of citizens after the war. It was also to show the difference between Allied Justice leveled against those committing crimes against humanity and Nazi Justice which was no justice if you were not a member of the Third Reich. Sandra’s eyes were opened to another side of her father’s vital work, for surely though it didn’t receive public release, other filmmakers knew of it and the archival Nazi films used to make it. These provided the linchpin around which subsequent films about the Holocaust would be made.
Klotz adds rare, never-before-seen footage, and reveals why the film was never released in the United States. Also, he includes Sandra’s reflections about what her father must have felt upon seeing the horrors of the camps as a young man. Klotz includes commentary of the older, retired Bud Schulberg giving a lecture about the subject of the film and why the Nazis made incriminating films of disturbing and horrific images. However, other films and Nazi evidence, buildings and documents were destroyed. The Nazis intended to escape justice, which many did, leaving Germany for the US, South America and other safe havens.
In The Lost Film of Nuremberg, Klotz relates the story of how German film director Lennie Riefenstahl was arrested and became a witness for the prosecution. Her propaganda film Triumph of the Will was created for Hitler’s use. The film identified various Nazi officials at Hitler rallies and it also evidenced Hitler’s plans. Another helpful individual was Hitler’s personal photographer Heinrich Hoffman, who had 12,000 negatives they used, after he was picked up, arrested and questioned.
As a result of the film evidence, the 19 out of 22 high ranking members of the Third Reich at Nuremberg were found guilty. Only three were acquitted. The other19 were either executed (Göring committed suicide) or received life or lesser sentences for committing crimes against humanity.
The Lost Film of Nuremberg is screening at 1 pm and 7 pm on 13 January at Lincoln Center, the Walter Reade Theater. Q & As with the director and producer Sandra Schulberg are also on that date. For tickets go to https://www.filmlinc.org/films/the-lost-film-of-nuremberg/
From Where They Stood is French documentarian Christophe Cognet’s unadorned and acute investigation of rare secret photos taken by prisoners in various concentration camps at great risk to their lives. They did this in the hope of documenting the atrocities they witnessed from spring 1943 to the fall of 1944. Examining the negatives carefully with a magnifying glass, Cognet visits the camps where the prisoners took the film and then either buried it to dig it up later or sent it out in a package. Some negatives came with a description that was revealed after the liberation of the prisoners who then wrote down the information. Other photos are of portraits of prisoners with no explanation or names sitting against the barracks. Others are of crematoria.
Many of the photos elucidate and confirm life and atrocities in various camps: Dachau, Buchenwald, Mittelbau-Dora, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz-Birkenau. With a translator, Cognet visits the camps and adjusts the photo negatives so that the viewer can see how the photo depicts what the location looked like. Verified are crematories, burn pits where bodies were disintegrated as much as possible. Interestingly, the bone fragments are present to this day, leaving a record of the great crimes of murder. The bone fragments to the surface after a heavy rainfall.
Unlike The Lost Film of Nuremberg, there is no music or narration or attempt to thread the places together. We hear just the silence of footsteps crunching against the walkways and the sound of birds chirping in the background. The simplicity is haunting and one realizes one is viewing a graveyard where many innocents suffered because they were considered enemies of the Third Reich.
Cognet also includes negatives which document Sonderkommandos (usually Jewish prisoners who pulled out the naked bodies from the gas chambers and piled them on carts taking them to the crematories) stand in front of a massive pile of bodies to dispose of and burn. Additionally, women who had been used for experiments (referred to as rabbits) also pose for the camera showing the areas of their body where they’ve been experimented on. Reference is made to one experiment: a gash is made and gas gangrene is encouraged by injecting a bacillus into the site. The wound is left untreated to see the progress of the gangrene.
Because Cognet uses straight cinema verite style, the effect of the prisoners’ photographs of the past paralleled with the locations of those places in the camps in the present is stark and shocking. The posting of the enlarged negatives at the location allows the viewer to see what the prisoner saw, to stand in his or her shoes. Indeed, it leaves one numb to consider the risk these individuals, took to sneak out the film to document what was going on so the world would know. For this film Cognet’s minimalism to just see what is in the photograph is remarkable.
From Where They Stood is screening virtually from 14-19 January. For tickets go to https://www.filmlinc.org/films/from-where-they-stood/
The Lost Film of Nuremberg is screening at 1 pm and 7 pm on 13 January at Lincoln Center, the Walter Reade Theater. Q & As with the director and producer Sandra Schulberg are also on that date. For tickets go to https://www.filmlinc.org/films/the-lost-film-of-nuremberg/
Sin La Habana, the award winning narrative feature, exceptionally written and directed by Kaveh Nabatian, who also wrote the original music, is a beautifully layered film that completely engages from the opening shot to the uncertain ending. Sin La Habana is enjoying its New York premiere as the Centerpiece film at the New York Jewish Film Festival 2022. The NYJFF 2022 is being presented live and virtually from January 12-25, 2022. For tickets and scheduling see the last paragraph of this review.
The haunting, profound, poetic cinematography by Juan Pablo Ramirez, and the acutely thoughtful editing by Sophie Leblond intrigues us to the story arc of a Cuban ballet dancer and his lawyer girlfriend who loathe La Habana, Cuba. The city of Havana (in Spanish Habana) holds little promise for them, amidst the broken down buildings, squalid impoverished settings and lack of progress evidenced from Fidel Castro’s dictatorship and the decades long U.S. embargo. Leo and Sara envision a better life for themselves elsewhere, but their first world destination country in a time of global immigration restrictions leaves their only route of escape to be marriage to foreigners.
Leonardo (the excellent ballet dancer/actor Yonah Acosta Gonzalez) is the best dancer in the company where he performs, but he can’t catc,h a break for the star role as Romeo because of his “lack of humility,” says the director of the company whom he accuses of racism, and who fires him after he curses the director out. His girlfriend Sara, who is a daughter of Orisha (both Leo and Sara are practitioners of the West African religion of Babalawo which in Cuba resembles Santeria or Vodun) is as ambitious as Leo. Their high expectations and confidence in themselves lead them away from La Habana to achieve material success and new identities, though it will mean leaving their cultural heritage back in La Habana. Their decision is filled with risks, isolation and heartbreak; but with each other, they believe new possibilities are at their fingertips with their talents and skills.
We note that throughout Sin La Habana, Leo always prays and keeps in touch with his faith, practicing it as best he can through his memory when he lives in Canada, “without the influences of La Habana,” the music of the ceremonies, the rituals and the divination which at the beginning of the film he relies upon for guidance. Through flashbacks of Leo’s religious practice in La Habana, Nabatian reveals the importance of Leo’s faith every time he endures a setback on the journey to his dreams. To maintain the connection to hope, he has endowed an object of his goals, a beautiful, crystal clear, large marble as a symbol of affirmation that his dreams will come true.
Inspired and persuaded by Sara, Leo works their plan to leave La Habana by sparking the interest of Nasim (the Iranian Canadian Aki Yaghoubi) during his Salsa dance classes for tourists at a Parador (house in La Habana set up for the tourist trade). Leo looks for wisdom from his previous divination sessions with the Babalawo priests and strikes out for a relationship with Nasim, whom he keeps in touch with after she returns to Montreal, Canada.
Though Leo is not particularly interested in Sara’s plan to continue the seduction and marriage to Nasim, he communicates to Nasim even writing down the words Sara tells him that will touch Nasim’s heart. Sara’s words do encourage Nasim. She pays for Leo’s way to Montreal and his expenses until he can find a job with a ballet company. They live together in a house of Nasim’s friend which she has agreed to stay in and watch over while her friend is away. Eventually, Leo discovers Nasim’s backstory; she, too, is an artist; however, he remains unaware of her secret plan for her life.
As Leo and Nasim become closer, he tries to maintain his connection with Sara and his religion but it is difficult and Nasim is opposed to him practicing it, though she says it’s because he can’t mess anything up in the house of her friend. While Sara waits for him to earn enough money to send for her, she fears he will disappear in Montreal into a new life with his new girlfriend Nasim. Leo’s fortune changes and he experiences a setback after he bombs out of dance auditions, first with a ballet company, then with a maverick, new wave dance company. At a club with Nasim, he meets a fellow Cuban who hooks him up with a job and a plan to bring over Sara by marrying her off.
At this point complications arise and the risk that both Sara and Leo take intensifies. Leo meets up with Nasim’s parents and runs into racist attitudes from Nasim’s father who is disappointed that his daughter didn’t stay with her X husband who she divorced because he abused her. Nasim seeks another life away from the strict upbringing of her parents and the types of potential husbands that she would meet at the synagogue. Not only is Leo exciting, he is the epitome of the opposite of her former husband; her rebellion pleases her and she intends to make that rebellion permanent, unbeknownst to Leo, her parents and her siblings.
Meanwhile, Sara, marries Julio (Leo’s friend) and goes to Montreal. Leo and Sara see each other. Upset by Leo’s long time away from the house, Nasim turns detective and discovers Leo’s mail exchanges to Sara. Through Nasim’s expert detective work she discovers Sara is in Montreal. Meanwhile, Leo has lost his symbolic dream token, his pure marble which signifies that perhaps he has subverted his culture, his dream and the individual he wishes to be via his faith. All three stand on a precipice with no way forward except to plunge into uncertainty stoked by each other who they eventually must confront.
Nabatian’s screenplay realized through Ramirez’s cinematic ingenuity and Le Blond’s editing of close-ups, blurred montages of color, black and white shots of Leo dancing solo, contrasted with closeups of each of the characters provide an ethereal connection with this cultural world we are not familiar with. The director’s vision is fascinating, beautiful and surreal, as he reflects the minds of the individuals, especially Leo’s struggles at defining himself in place and time. The director also gradually reveals the plots of each of the individuals separate and apart from each other. Highlighting their perspectives and relationship to each other, the result is always surprising along the arc of each of the character’s developments.
The music throughout is lyrical, the rituals of Babalawo are rhythmic and the dance scenes are engaging. All of these musical and ritualistic scenes contrasted with the classical ballet add to the haunting portraits of Sara, Leo and Nasim who pursue their own journeys. We empathize with the paths Leo and Sara have chosen as they try to settle far from La Habana, carried by their hopes and memories. Likewise, the scene where Nasim is at her sister’ son’s Briss is revelatory; we empathize with Nasim’s plight as she must deal with her father’s viewpoint of her divorce and present partner, Leo. The characters’ journeys are wonderfully manifested by the performances, the cinematic compositions of each frame, the editing, music, overall design, all with a nod to Nabatian’s direction.
Nabatian’s artistry coupled with the talented crafting by Ramirez and Leblond and the actors’ heart-felt performances create a memorable film deserving of it awards. It is being shown in person at the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th St.) at Lincoln Center, Monday, January 17, 4:00pm. This is definitely a must see. For tickets and scheduling to the New York Jewish Film Festival go to their website at: https://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/new-york-jewish-film-festival/
One of the most important films in the DOC NYC Festival 2021 (November 10-18) (https://www.docnyc.net/2021-festival/) is F@ck This Job. Thematically, the film concerns the press and media speaking truth to power in totalitarian countries which censor the facts so that the ruling regimes can maintain control while they grift their countries of billions of dollars. Journalists must decide if they should allow themselves to be silenced. They must decide whether or not to fight to represent the truth to the nations’ citizens, thereby risking their careers and lives. In the end one asks is it worth it to be a hero no one recognizes or cares about? But sometimes people do care and sometimes, one can make an incredible difference, though that was not their initial intention. F@ck This Job is both an inspiration and a cautionary tale for journalists everywhere, especially in countries touting themselves as democracies.
Director Vera Krichevskaya chronicles Russia from Medvedev’s presidency to Putin’s changing the Russian constitution (2018) to maintain power until 2036, something he swore he would never do. Simultaneously, the director reveals in tandem the parallel story of Natasha Sindeeva, a former music radio producer who looks to upgrade to a media manager and owner of a TV station, after she marries the rich banker Sasha who bankrolls her.
As the film opens in 2008, Krichevskaya, who has direct access to Natasha and Sasha as a friend and also a participant in their TV venture, intercuts the beautiful opulent wedding of Natasha and Sasha and the happiness of Medvedev’s election for Russians in what was then a thriving nation. All is bright pink and as rosy as Natasha’s pink Porsche, that zips happily around the streets of Moscow. In its brilliance, as the film melds two stories we understand the near cinema verité unveiling of an incredible history of a decade of events in Russia. One story mirrors the Russian citizens’ initial belief in a bright future with Medvedev. It is a vision which turns to dust as Russians realize that Putin is holding the reins of power from the shadows and is increasing his repression against journalists, Ukrainians, opposition leaders, protestors and anyone who stands against his grifting and accumulation of power and wealth at the expense of Russia’s prosperity.
Likewise, Natasha’s bright beginnings founding her TV station, the independent TVRain (Dozhd) media outlet hits a turning point. Her vision to create independent, light, glamorous media, since she had come from such an elegant universe as a music producer becomes swamped. Ironically, she labels the TV station the Optimistic Channel to signify Russia’s bright, rosy future and to forecast her skyrocketing success. But her notions upend when serendipitously, “Optimistic Channel” Dozhd TV, becomes the foremost truth-telling station in all of Russia, and a danger to Putin and his underlings at the United Russia Party.
In her yearning to “be different” and current and “independent,” Natasha goes “against the grain.” She hires opposition reporters, minorities and LGBTQ journalists who are unique and fearsome. As a result, the audience loves the Optimistic Channel because they are not “afraid” of the truth. The station has many followers. Their “in the moment reporters” do “live feeds” of devastation, i.e. of the Ukraine war, of clashes of protestors and the police, of upheavals that reveal in real time Putin’s decline in popularity. No state media channel or any media channel for that matter covers such events which global news then picks up. The bright rosy future of Russia is indeed in the toilet. The oppressors then turn against Dozhd TV to make it impossible for them to cover their stories on the air or to criticize Putin’s regime via interviews with Alexander Navalny, Putin’s chief opposition leader that Russians support.
Natasha’s life’s work becomes her daily obsession for success as the only place where Russians can go to experience political and sexual freedom as an independent news station beyond Putin’s control. For example, during this unprecedented decade of modern Russian history of Putin’s growing oppression, Dozhd covers the war in the Ukraine, Navalny’s anti-corruption investigations, and Putin’s and the Russian state’s increasing lies and propaganda to smash Navalny’s gaining popularity.
Events move to the point where Dozhd itself becomes the daily news as they broadcast being evicted and shut down. Their lives are in jeopardy, their financial ruin eminent, all in front of a watching public. Natasha, her staff and the station are evicted and move from place to place trying to find somewhere to broadcast from. This happens a number of times. They flee with their equipment. At one point they continue streaming the news from Sasha’s apartment. Then finally, when all else fails and they have no place to physically call Dozhd home, they take the videos of their live feeds and put them on YouTube. By this point in time, Natasha who was wealthy has lost much of everything and Sasha is moving for a divorce.
Vera Krichevskaya’s video clips of what happens during the frenetic times of wheel and woe, evictions, financial losses, being taken off the air, are intercut with Putin’s proclamations that he is censoring no one and is not jeopardizing Dozhd TV. The director’s editing and footage are superb, as is her paralleling the life of Natasha with Russia throughout the decade. Both the populace and Natasha have had their eyes opened and one encourages the other. If not for the Russian people’s need for the truth, there would be no Dozhd TV. Also, the US and EU nations would not know what is happening inside Russia.
Significantly, the director reveals how Natasha evolves as a human being to understand what is important, what is heroic and what is vital. Fighting on the frontlines of the war between Global Truth and Russia’s Repressive Propaganda and malign influence, Natasha and her team put journalists who would be lazy, cowed, narcissistic and selfish to shame. Dozhd’s team risked their lives, lost money and love relationships in pursuing a greater purpose, resistance to Putin’s lies and propaganda. Would all journalists do the same and not be hacks for their editors.
When nothing is left, one knows the value of what is priceless, something which totalitarian governments and their leaders greatly fear and will kill to prevent its coming to the light. The documented truth. Getting the truth out is paramount in a culture where the state media produces only lies to fuel the wealth and power of the totalitarian, autocratic Russian regime under Putin. The same goes for other such regimes around the world. Krichevskaya’s film sounds the alarm loudly and clearly. For the press to be vital, it must be willing to put itself in jeopardy to get to the truth. If the media only exists for itself, it is useless, especially to a citizenry that intends to remain free.
VIMEO LINK: https://vimeo.com/590692770
The award winning F@ck This Job is a must-see film. For tickets and times go to the DOCNYC website. https://www.docnyc.net/program/?alpha=abc The Q and A with producers, director and subjects will be this Friday, November 12 at 7:15 pm Cinépolis Chelsea in NYC.
Fans of the inimitable Wes Anderson’s droll wit and pixie capriciousness will enjoy The French Dispatch, though it diverges from his other films. Truly, this amazing work spins off Craven’s usual stylistic nuances into the realm of the cinematic magazine. Anderson directed and wrote the screenplay with story help from Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola.
Importantly, The French Dispatch pays homage to the magazine he riffs, The New Yorker and the renowned writers from the past (James Baldwin) receive more than a nod. Chock full of references, Craven employs his choice mediums (animated car chase, cartoons, cut out color sets, dead on camera framing) and adds the magazine format. This extraordinary film which engrosses, ridicules, satirizes, mourns, praises, and twits writers past and present screens at the 2021 NYFF until 10 October.
Wryly narrated by Anjelica Huston, the film opens by defining “The French Dispatch” as an eponymous expatriate journal published on behalf of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun. Ironically, Anderson has named the journal’s place of publication as the fictional 20th century French city, Ennui-sur-Blasé. (Ennui=the city, Blasé=the river) Roughly, Ennui-sur-Blasé translates as boredom of the worldly-wise apathetic, a superb irony.
Thus, “The French Dispatch” attempts to make middle-America’s readers acculturated cosmopolitans. By way of explaining the periodical’s cleverness, Anderson’s film brings to life a collection of stories from the final print issue. Indeed, this lively anthology serves as an encomium to the death of its editor-in-chief, the big “gun” Arthur Howitzer, Jr (Bill Murray). Thematically, while highlighting the time in France (1950s-1970s) Craven weaves dark ironies that reference the current times.
Using waggish and epigrammatic descriptions, the narrator presents the quirky, peculiar press corps, writers of the wildly over the top stories activated by Anderson. After the director introduces us to the meticulous Howitzer Jr. and others (look for the writer diagramming sentences on a blackboard) we meet cyclist Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson). Craven uses opportunities for humor through double entendre, with names that have nuanced meanings. For example, “Sazerac” is a beloved bourbon or rye cocktail of New Orleanians.
As Sazerac cycles us via a travelogue through Ennui-sur-Blasé, with shots from the past (black and white) and future (color) we note its dinginess (terraced rat dwellings) poverty, underworld pimps and prostitutes and other charms. In other words, the city reeks of humanity which remains forever unchanging. Of course, “The French Dispatch” reports on stories that identify the weirdest and most comically contradictory of the denizens of humanity.
First, Huston introduces a story, assisted with a lecture at a symposium given by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) cultural reporter of the “The French Dispatch” arts section. Berensen relates an amazing tale. One of the foremost contributors to modern art remains hitherto for unknown: psychotic criminal artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro). On the brink of suicide, Moses finds his answer to life and love via his sadistic prison guard lover Léa Seydoux
With the unpredictable guard as his muse, Moses immortalizes her in abstracts he paints on the concrete walls of the prison. Like Banksy, Moses prevents his greedy, exploitive art dealer (Adrien Brody) from easily trafficking his art by painting his frescoes on a building making them unremovable. During an investors’ showing in the prison, the prisoners riot to muscle in on Moses’ elite visitors and hold them hostage. Moses’s violent nature, which put him in prison serves him well. With brute force Moses destroys the rioters stopping their attack of the dealer and wealthy purchaser Upshur Clampette (Lois Smith). With his investors saved, Moses receives parole. He has provided his unique contribution to the Clampette Museum, representing abstract fine art at its incredibly ironic, violent best.
Next in the collection, the story of student revolutionaries of 1968 compels its reporter Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) to have an “objective” affair with star revolutionary Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet). Helping to straighten out his befuddled theories and justifications to revise his “manifesto,” Krementz as the “older woman,” influences Zeffrielli. Eventually, he succumbs to his nemesis, the beautiful counterrevolutionary Juliette (Lyna Khoudri) and they stay together until tragedy strikes. Nevertheless, the created manifesto lives on as does Krementz’ reportage, though the revolution, the revolutionaries and their Utopian ideals fade from memory into a fever dream of unreality.
Finally, Huston sets up the story of the dinner with a police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric) and his personal chef Lieutenant Nescafier (Steven Park). Gourmand writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) intends to report on the delectable cuisine of the famous Nescafier. However, complications arise when the commissioner, a veritable Jacques Clouseau, has the tables turned on him and criminals kidnap his son. Finally, locating the son, Chef Nescafier prepares a snack which poisons all but the son, the chef and the chauffeur (Ed Norton). The ensuing car chase (a humorous Craven animation) ends with a crash and the son rejoins his father.
At this juncture Howitzer Jr. chides Wright for not describing Nescafier’s cuisine. Wright avers. And thus occurs an incredible moment that alludes to the writing of James Baldwin. Succinctly, Wright describes that he cut out the chef’s words because as an expatriate, the chef, another expatriate made him sad. When Wright repeats Nescafier’s words that he cut, Howitzer Jr. notes with passion that the comment must not be excluded. He insists the Chef’s extraordinary, philosophical observation about the poison in the dish is the only valuable part of the Wright’s work.
Profoundly, in the flash of a moment, we understand why Howitzer Jr. left for this strange outpost in Ennui-sur-Blasé. Fulfilling his goals, he configured a magazine with a global readership that published the profound, the unique, the revelatory. And it included those bits and pieces of life whose revelations edified and informed with a keen, accurate eye. Amazingly, in a brief span of a few moments, Anderson says it all about writing, writers and their editors, finding the elusive and bringing it to our consciousness. Of course, this question Anderson asks silently with The French Dispatch. What happens when censorship, and an absence of prescience, wisdom and freedom runs the presses, as they do currently in the U.S.?
The French Dispatch bears seeing a few times to catch its luxuriant richness. Not only does Anderson employ fanciful images in contradictions journalistically, the resonance of language and word choice is satiric, sardonic and powerful. So is the mosh of well-thought out cinematography and scenic design. For tickets and times at the 2021 New York Film Festival website. https://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2021/films/the-french-dispatch/
How do you feel about your physical body? Are you slim, gorgeous, buff, married to a hot man or woman? Or do you fear getting on the scale or if you’re a guy, looking in the mirror because you haven’t been able to work out for two weeks and you know that the flab is growing in leaps and bounds around your middle? Do you have an inner voice that screams don’t eat another piece of pizza or have that cronut? Or do you annihilate that voice and go unconscious eating everything in the fridge after being “careful” and eating only salad and a small piece of fish for your entire food calories daily for one week, though you go to bed hungry?
The Body Fights Back written and directed by Marian Vosumets shadows five individuals from diverse backgrounds that represent all of us at one point or another in our lives as we confront issues of weight, appearance guilt, body shaming, appearance perfection and the subterranean condemnation that the media lays on men and women through the marketing industry, the fashion industry and most predominately the weight loss industry. And this includes you, too, icon of “superior weight loss,” Weight Watchers.
If that is a mouthful about what Vosumets tackles in her documentary, it is because she highlights all of the problems the culture presents for everyone as they attempt to find happiness in getting to the next day. Meanwhile, they must navigate through the dangerous rocks, the images of perfection that are everywhere and that brainwash and bamboozle everyone to internalize self-condemnation because their appearance just “doesn’t have what it takes to get anywhere.”
Vosumets interviews Mojo, a feisty, adorable, overweight black woman, Rory Brown a buff-looking white male, Hannah Webb, a thin, quiet-speaking, young white woman, Imogen Fox, a thin, out-spoken, confident gay white woman, Tenisha Pascal, a confident, bubbly overweight black woman and Michaela Gingel an outgoing, overweight white woman. Each of these individuals is a courageous star who has confronted and battled body shaming, self-ridicule and unhappiness with their appearance identify which was beaten into them by the diet industry and culture at large. Mind you, diets don’t work. Indeed, as one researcher in the film points out, 85% of the individuals who diet again and again go back to their former weight and many gain even more weight. Of course, the diet culture keeps that statistic under wraps.
Recording her subjects’ prescient and brilliantly honest presence and commentary, the documentarian gets at what the diet culture and all of its octopus tentacles (the fashion industry, marketing industry, media in all its forms, health industry) do to destroy the souls of millions of individuals, predominately in the U.K., U.S. and Australia by making them feel inferior and deserving of condemnation, unless they look perfect. Appearance is everything to the diet culture octopus. Unless one fits the image in the billboards, magazines, media, people are the equivalent of worms to be outcast from community and companionship. Importantly, they are not deserving of love, most importantly self-love. Thus, they HAVE to go on a diet to look better. Their lives, which are boiled down to appearance only, and never includes their treasured souls, depend on dieting to look good. If they don’t diet, they face the outer darkness.
If this sounds like hyperbole, it is. Diet culture and all of its psychotic means to make billions of dollars a year exploiting fear of fat, will stop at nothing to twist the minds and hearts of everyone. Let’s face it, women, if you’re not a BMI 18-20, you’re a pig. The sacrosanct thin people who fit this weight category are most probably in some form of eating disorder or addicted to pills, cocaine, smoking, crack, heroin, etc. Celebrities have revealed their disorders and addictions to stay thin: anorexia, bulimia, binging and purging, cocaine addiction, speed addiction, crack, heroin and more.
Hannah Webb truthfully discusses how doctors missed her eating disorder because they, too, had fallen for the lie that healthy people are always thin people. She weighed within a normal range of BMI, which is not an accurate indicator of health; other factors must be taken into consideration. Thus, Hannah lived a lie which made her miserable until she confronted it. In poignant discussions with her mother captured by Vosumets, she discusses battling her issues with eating, for example, a croissant and constant fears of gaining weight. With her disorder she was on the verge of life and death. Yet, she was able to come out of it with the help of her family and therapy.
Hannah is the opposite side of the same coin as Mojo, Michaela, Tenisha and Imogen, all of whom had or have issues about weight. Imogen also battled a disability and discusses that when she was heavier, the hospital staff were very insulting and annihilating about getting her a gown to fit (get her a man’s gown which is bigger) and other obnoxious calumny in front of her face, almost as if they enjoyed and felt sanctified in their sadism.
But this is par for the course. Overweight in the culture is anathema and grounds for banishment from normal society. It deserves vilification, ridicule, jokes and shaming. How unhealthy these fatties are!!! Of course, this emerges from colonialism, white male paternalism (women must be quiet, thin, beautiful and sexually available 24/7 and perfect until they can be thrown away for another model) and capitalism-make that money even if you have to step over the bodies of those you kill in the process.
The diet culture, thus, reinforces the most nihilistic of values at the expense of truth and health. Vosumets has researchers and scientists comment that one could be thin and on the verge of death; overweight is not correlated to healthiness. Indeed, based upon appearance, Hannah and Imogen who are at the epitome of thin (according to the diet culture and Octopus standards) are perfect and sanctified. Ironically, they are not; one battled for her life just to eat certain foods without fear and the other is disabled. Thus, the diet culture lies. It is its own profitable myth. (diets don’t work) And this is one of the key points in Vosumets’ wonderful documentary. What is healthy should include physical, mental, emotional, psychic well being. We are, after all, not only a body; we have a soul and spirit. And indeed, the body disintegrates. However, what are we doing about the interior of our lives? No wonder with eating obsessions individuals are miserable, regardless of how thin and buff they appear.
Vosumets cleverly includes Rory Brown to show that he, too, is a slave to conformity. For men the idea that you have to be buff and gorgeous is what life is all about. Yet, he confides that as he goes to the gym, he is depressed. As he looks in the mirror, he is glad he looks “great,” but he can’t carry a mirror around with him every second of the day. He’s worked on his exterior, but his interior is miserable. Like Mojo, Hannah, Michaela, Tenisha and Imogen they have all been enslaved to the octopus (the diet culture and its attendant industries) who siphons off their emotional well being and eventually their physical well being. Sadly, the brainwashing of not being able to measure up to perfection has been internalized. Each discusses how daily, they’ve lived with judgment, self-condemnation, self-loathing and fear.
Vosumets’ editing is thematic and she builds in an arc employing the commentary of her stars to chronicle the beginning of the problem, usually with parents and upbringing. The stories then evolve so that we understand how the subjects began to realize what they were up against in themselves from rebellion, to acceptance, to self-love. Interspersed with these interviews of Mojo, Hannah, Rory, Tenisha and Imogen she interviews researchers, doctors, therapists, journalists who have written on the subject or who counsel individuals with eating disorders. They identify first hand from the testimony of their clients the noxious attitudes of the diet culture octopus. And they explain how once internalized early on, the attitudes and voices become the self-destroying tormentors within the souls of those who wrangle with emotional issues at the heart of body image problems and eating disorders.
One of the most enlightening and uplifting final segments in the film is the sequence with Rebecca Young’s Anti-Diet Riot Club and the Cat Walk. With the Cat Walk, men and women, some disabled, many of all shapes and sizes and colors and races go on a Cat Walk wearing whatever they like to proudly present who they are. They are not their bodies only but their beings who ask that they be recognized holistically. It is truly a celebratory experience to see them receive the applause from an appreciative audience of onlookers. Vosumets also examines the Anti-Diet Riot Club as a force for change. Weight and rejection of bodies has been a political and economic and health issue, it seems, since colonialism rose and is finally setting into a sea of oblivion, eventualy.
Researchers make important points that must be considered. Eating disorder issues arise when there are tremendous gaps between the rich and the poor. For example fast foods are mostly found in lower socioeconomic areas (food deserts) where there aren’t markets like Whole Foods. Thus the unhealthier food is offered to encourage the lower classes to fit the inferior body image that the more wealthy class can look down on in addition to shaming them with regard to health. Mojo poses interesting questions about why around dinner time there are so many McDonald’s commercials and fast food commercials but few commercials about organic foods and no commercials about Whole Foods. Also, the point is made that fast foods are easy and convenient to feed families when single parents are working two jobs. Families who are wealthier can have home cooked meals that take longer to prepare.
Things are changing. For some not fast enough because the younger generations are suffering from the abuses of the older paternalistic, Colonialistic, white supremacist generations whose fascist images of perfection have been used to exploit people and make them feel inferior for profit. However, Vosumets ends on an uplifting note. Change is coming and the backlash will be present as old myths and money die hard. But change must come because too many have lived lives of quiet desperation internalizing the lies of the criminal profiteers who have sold their souls to enslave others for money. The young are aware and they are throwing off the lies and myths so the generations after them can live and breathe with the freedom and joy of self-love.
The Body Fights Back is a must-see film especially if you have ever felt to go on a diet to lose weight or you looked in the mirror and were not overjoyed at the image that stared back at you. It is streaming on all platforms. For more information and to stream CLICK HERE.
Obsessive love stinks. When women or men are attacked by Cupid, they may move on a scale from fools to killers. Love is potent stuff. But what happens if you have a gene to be “lucky in cards and unlucky in love?” Love Type D written and directed by Sasha Collington is a crowd pleaser that removes you from reality which is a necessity, but it also disavows the serious topics it touches upon with a too light tone. A missed opportunity for this comedic, ironic film.
The premise is high concept; it is easy to understand how the pitch for this film worked. However, in its execution, the plot has dead spots, ups and downs, moving from laugh riot (infrequently) to gentle gruntles to “yeah, ho hum.” If only it mined the gold in the themes it touches upon! The group ensemble scenes work well as do some of the implausible farcical moments. The background music “mostly lighthearted” not so much.
Frankie Browne (Maeve Dermody) winsome, twenty-something in love with Thomas Lacey (Oliver Farnsworth) waits for him at a lovely London restaurant for their romantic dinner. Surprised by 11-year-old Harry Potteresque Wilbur (Rory Stroud) Thomas’ brother, she wilts at the message Wilbur gives her. To avoid a scene, Thomas has sent the pipsqueak to break up with Frankie forever in a humiliating, abrupt, “let her down hard so she can’t come back to bug me” way. The devastated Frankie attempts to discover why Thomas has dumped her to no avail.
To make matters worse, Wilbur who is involved with his friend in a research competition takes advantage of her neediness. He eventually reveals (Frankie pries it out of him) that she most probably has a “loser love gene.” Her love relationships starting with tweenhood have ended worse than badly; she reflects about her past loves. Collington fills in her heartbreaks with two flashbacks. Look for Natacha Basset playing the young Frankie.
As many women are wont to do, Frankie judges her past eleven breakups through the eyes of her failed relationship with Thomas. She must have an inherent fault as a “love loser,” a liability in her DNA, says scientist Dr. Elsa Blomgren (a scary Tovah Feldshuh). She is a Type D (the dumped on type). As commercials do subliminally, the ones made by Epigenica featuring Dr. Elsa promote guilt and pile on condemnatory negativity, converting watchers to losers in every aspect of their lives, particularly in love. Affirmed again and again as a loser, Frankie watches the sales pitches and becomes convinced that via Type D, she irrevocably has been and will be dumped in love relationships. It’s terribly depressing, and an imperative to purchase a $500.00 test to see if genetically she is destined to be dumped eternally.
In human beings’ worst moments, including suicidal moments, the misery of humiliation, the thought of being a loser, and feeling that things will never change have persuaded more than a few to end it. The film flirts with this notion of love’s impossibility and nihilism in the human heart and mind. And it flirts with the gene theory of irrevocable inherent inferiority (rather fascist, master race stuff) as a subliminal, noxious message. However, this message is converted mildly to farce and keeps that terror at bay with light humor.
There is a missed opportunity here. The farce could have been broader and more extreme. That Frankie so willingly accepts this “scientific” designation is alarming. And somehow, the signals are muddied as we laugh. If the humor was darker, more sardonic, the film’s themes would have been strengthened. But that involves adding a character with a critical, observer’s eye and that character of reason is absent in the midst of those who are either “perfect” or “inferior.” (a main problem with the plot and themes of the film)
Frankie, with the help of Wilbur, eventually goes through a journey of twists and turns, some of which are hackneyed, others surprising. First, after getting tested for the gene and finding she is irrevocably a loser, she collaborates with her work colleagues in a love loser cult of “woe is me.” Some of these ensemble moments are beautifully paced and LOL funny.
However, in her attempt to still reconcile with Thomas, who has picked a lovely winner for his girlfriend (an astronaut, fit, brilliant, to be envied) she eventually works with Wilbur to find a solution to the “love loser” problem. Wilbur and his friend have discovered if the losers dump their first love to reverse the “curse” of being dumped and do this with all those who dumped them, then the gene will somehow switch off. It is at this point that the plot goes into the stratosphere and not necessarily in a good way. However, for all those who have “lost” in love, been defamed, humiliated, reduced to worms and slugs, the idea to “dump the dumper” is appealing, if not vengeful and psychically/emotionally unregenerative and narcissistic.
Frankie is such a loser that she is “stuck” on trying to get Thomas to love her. She uses every deception with the help of Wilbur (hypnosis to name one) to get close enough to “dump” him. However, Cupid’s arrow is so deep, she’s a hopeless case. Her obsession is so ridiculous, that he is forced to take out a restraining order against her. By this point older, seasoned women will throw up their hands in exasperation, while younger women will be rooting for her, indignant at the cruel and heartless Thomas. Meanwhile, Frankie’s work colleagues have been successful at going back and reversing the tables with former boyfriends/girlfriends by dumping them.
In a Deus Ex Machina (the miraculous intervention) solution, Wilbur and his friend develop a liquid “Love Potion Number 9” made of pheromones at “elephant strength,” (that’s how much of a turn-off Frankie has made herself to Thomas) to use on Thomas to get close enough to dump him and trigger a reversal of the gene. The scene at the nightclub where Frankie croaks out a song which the power of the potion converts so that she has the voice and allure of Katy Perry (all the men including Thomas are entranced) is hysterical.
The conclusion ties up neatly with a protagonist who walks into the camera speaking her wisdom philosophically. But the depth of what she has learned is surface and the danger of what she and others have missed in all of the machinations of cultural definitions of success and failure, genetic engineering for “success,” and mastering ourselves so that we love ourselves “for who we are,” remain unsatisfactory. But, since it’s all in good fun, it doesn’t really matter what we consume, does it?
Love Type D screened at the Charlotte Film Festival, Manchester International Film Festival, RiverRun International Film Festival and Washington DC Independent Film Festival where it won awards. Look for it screening online 9th July.
The Lost Leonardo directed by Andreas Koefoed and written by Duska Zagorac, Mark Monroe, Andreas Dalsgaard, Christian Kirk Muff and Andreas Koefoed. The film is a fascinating documentary that delves into the nail biting discovery of the painting Salvator Mundi (a portrait of Jesus) that was ill-used, in ragged condition and an obscurity for decades or centuries depending upon what you believe. It was sold for a mere $1,175 in 2005 by New Orleans auctioneers who didn’t really pay much attention to provenance or the possibility of its potential greatness. However, purchasers who hunt for sleepers (undiscovered renowned works) thought it might have value. They wanted it to be restored with the intention of reselling it. How lovely if it slipped under the radar of the New Orleans merchants who were not schooled in high Renaissance art. Finders keepers and all that!
Thus begins the journey of a painting that remains a mystery to this day and has been examined, pawed over and quibbled about by some of the most prestigious art galleries, museums and their curators in the world. Like a well-heeled detective, Andreas Koefoed cobbles together the video clips of individuals who pondered over, investigated and worked on the Salvator Mundi. He also interviews art critics, museum curators, experts, scholars, art historians, investigative journalists, the Founder of the FBI Art Crime Team and shady art dealer businessmen who profit off of billionaires who purchase such costly works privately or at auction. These wealthy could care less if the provenance is in question as long as the perception remains that it is authentic. They do this in order to bury their money in the painting purchase which hides a record of their wealth from the pernicious eyes of tax collectors.
The adventure Koefoed embarks on is thrilling, and he unspools the clues like a master mystery writer. The chase of whether this work is truly the “lost Leonardo” keeps one enthralled. However, there is no conclusive finality and uncertainty reigns with every word his subjects use to speak about the painting.
Perhaps conceived with hope initial buyers Alexander Parrish, sleeper hunter, and his friend Robert Simon (an old masters paintings expert) fantasized about what the Mundi was and who painted it. They acted on their conceptualizations, and to satisfy the curiosity of their wallets, they brought the Mundi to top art restorer Dianne Modestini who had partnered with a spot-on expert recently deceased, from whom she had learned. With his assistance, over the years, she had gained expertise and knowledge restoring fine paintings.
As Modestini worked on the Salvator Mundi, she nearly fainted examining the mouth of the figure in the painting. The Salvator Mundi‘s similarities around the right side of the upper lip resembled that of the Mona Lisa. The more she worked, the more she concluded that only one individual could paint in this way: Leonardo da Vinci. As time progressed, the Salvator Mundi in verbal shorthand is referred to by ironist art critics as the male Mona Lisa.
Only eight known paintings are globally attributed to the Renaissance master who was “forward thinking” by about 500 years; among his papers are drawings of space ships and underwater submersibles. He was a scientist, painter, mathematician, inventor and all-around genius. However, that this is a “da Vinci” turning up at auction, like a ghost from the backwaters around New Orleans, remains as implausible and incredulous to some global art experts as unicorns are to empiricists. And these scholars are prepared to deny the work’s authenticity as are those experts who are prepared to defend it to the death as a Leonardo. Belief and faith in the power of money trumps any concern about whether it is a fake that a highly skilled genius painter tossed off and was happy to get some money for.
The problem with any work of fine art, is to establish the provenance and period when it was painted based upon the artist’s technique, any underpainting, the chemicals used to mix the paint as well as the chemical composition of the pigments. Art restorer Dianne Modestini affirms on pain of death that the Salvator Mundi, which sold in 2017 for a record-setting $450 million, is the “lost Leonardo” based upon her understanding of the demonstrated technique and brush strokes.
On the other hand, art critic Jerry Salz who is knowledgeable about the corruption embracing high art sales, auction houses and art galleries who benefit from them is the receptacle of a vast skepticism about the Mundi. Saltz’s demonstrated wisdom is not to be underestimated. Indeed, the art industry has been taken over like other arts industries, for example theater, by the philistines. When money is concerned, auction houses and dealers allow the presence of fakes to take a backseat to money, power and the perception of authenticity, backed by lucid, clairvoyant analyses and explanations.
If you can get away with billionaires offering you hefty sums for works they believe to be authentic, but may not be, who is hurt? If the billionaires are squirreling away their treasures for the purpose of tax evasion in Freeports (tax free airport storage, above the law of all countries) no one will see these fakes anyway and the benefiting institution and billionaire are content. By the time they may have to sell them at a loss, most probably they’ve made twice as much in their corrupt enterprises in the interim. These rich guys are good for art; they are easier than the overhead of collecting subscriber donations and the hard work of charitable fund raising galas to run galleries and museums sometimes at a loss.
An additional factor to consider as to why the allure of wealthy anonymous buyers is so great for the art industry is that running public museums and private art galleries, one must pay exorbitant insurance costs and for security to prevent the little people from thieving works off the walls and reselling it to rich clients who can only display them privately. Better that the art dealers, auction houses and galleries contract with these billionaires who risk purchasing fakes which will most likely be kept in locked rooms in their mansions, Freeports, villas or one of their 15 million-dollar condos neatly situated in favored cities around the world.
The only ones concerned about fakes are the renowned public museums with a rich history of standing by their experts’ knowledge, respected institutions like the Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the British Museum. They do not take kindly to displaying fakes or works that are questionable alongside their incredible proven treasures. And perhaps millionaires who don’t have the money to burn on fakes might be concerned. Other than that, billionaires have entered the art world and they are a sure thing for art dealers and auction houses.
In this amazingly instructive film about the upper classes and the corruption of geopolitical wealth, the filmmaker and writers launch off into three thematic threads emphasizing the concept at work which is the “game.” Sectioning off three segments to keep our understanding regular, he amasses a tremendous amount of research in video interviews, archived photos of works and voice overs. These are structured as the “Art Game,” the “Money Game” and the “World Game.”
It is in this discussion of how art is a game, we begin to understand the shadowy dark money world that fuels fakes and authentic pieces alike. Clearly, the filmmaker reveals that one doesn’t engage in this game naively or without experience and circumspection or you will be taken and regret it. How well can you play the game? How well can you game the auction houses and art dealers? How thoroughly can you game yourself?
If you (like the Russian oligarch who purchased the Salvator Mundi from a French Freeport owner are stuffing away your potential fake in Freeport storage units, then art is a safe, untraceable transaction far from Interpol or Vladimir Putin. As an investment it is unrecorded in any bank unless it’s the safely corrupt Cyprus Bank which deals with foreign transactions from corrupt leaders, and practices money laundering.
Such art has no significance to oligarchs, least of all the meaning of “the savior of the world” Salvator Mundi, which may be a joke to the oligarch or afterward MBS who purchased it anonymously as revealed by the FBI art crime bureau. If you truly care about seeing the Mona Lisa or a work of Rembrandt, then the corruption of viewing a fake is monstrous. The reason why the public purchases memberships in museums and donates millions is because they believe what they view is the “real deal.” The fiasco with the sales of the Salvator Mundi and its dubious authentication based on faith has exposed the art industry’s realm of “alternative realities” and the grand con possibilities. Is it or isn’t it a fake? Only the “little people” are self-righteously outraged if what they look at are fakes hanging in the walls of prestigious museums.
Auction houses and galleries and museums have bridged the reality gap into the alternate Donald Trump/Vlad Putin universe (my intimations, not the filmmakers though it is an important theme for our time). These dealers, auction houses and their buyers justify the authenticity or value of the works they sell because they can, especially if the industry trafficks in bullshit. The honest critic or expert is unwanted then, no matter their weight in gold. These themes Andreas Koefoed raises in this profound documentary which is a sweet siren’s warning. And it gives the average museum goer the fodder to ruminate and feel rage at how art has become an untrustworthy commodity, not a historical, cultural legacy.
But billionaires don’t mind the cache that goes with owning various works, for example, MBS who was anonymous until the great reveal by the FBI. Why would the murderer of WaPo reporter Jamal Kashoggi be interested in a painting that means “the savoir of the world?” The thought of his repentance at his villainous acts of killing family and the “traitorous” reporter is laughable.
On the other hand the notoriety of buying it because he could, was alluring. Owning the painting was a way to gain acceptance and prestige. This was so much so that he enticed the curators of the Louvre that he would loan the Salvator Mundi to them as representative of the “Lost Leonardo,” the male Mona Lisa with its provenance and authenticity in doubt. They were interested, until they heard his conditions. They must hang his purchase with the clouds of fakedom wafting off it—next to the Mona Lisa. The publicity alone would be tremendous. In 2011, the UK’s National Gallery displayed the male Mona Lisa with all its warts of uncertainty so that crowds could show up and imagine it was real. For the Louvre to hang the “Male Mona Lisa” next to the “Mona Lisa” would be a validation of it, sort of like riding the Mona Lisa‘s coattails into veracity, truth and art reality.
The Louvre refused. They were not willing to display a potential fake next to their acquisition whose provenance they were certain of. And MBS, annoyed that his offer was spurned, didn’t take them up on allowing them to display the Mundi in a separate room, explaining its restoration and questionable provenance. Of course the film does not go into the irony of a MBS with all his murders on his head, owning the portrait of Christ as the “savior of the world.” It doesn’t have to. The irony is stunning as is MBS’s arrogant longing.
With the exception of museums who display art so that the public can enjoy it, this whole industry is a philistine’s game (the money lenders and buyers who trade). They could care less if David Bowie (no offense meant to this fabulous artist whom I adore) smeared some of his dung on a canvas and signed it and sold it to the highest bidder. Such was the case with Pablo Picasso who became so disgusted with the “trade” aspect of art in the hands of philistines, he used to draw on napkins at restaurants and depending upon whether he liked the wait staff or not, signed the napkin and gave it to them. In some instances, he drew it, signed it and then destroyed it as they hungrily watched. For the artist commercialization of their work is loathsome and welcome, but only if they reap the rewards in their lifetimes, which usually does not happen. However, what can be done if the vultures pick their bones clean after they’re dead and gone? No wonder Banksy rigged the shredding of his “Girl With the Baloon” after the gavel hit in an auction that garnered a record price for his work.
The Lost Leonardo presents a vital perspective of the “art industrial complex” as it were. Who decides what is great art, even if it is potentially fake and not all the experts can agree on its authenticity? The fact that it’s MBS who purchased it for (after a circuitous route of sales from $1175, to $87 million, then $127 + million) $450 million does nothing to establish its credibility. And after the National Gallery exhibited it to great celebration as a da Vinci in 2011, they mired themselves in the smut of gaming when the FBI revealed that MBS purchased it for a price which means it’s now unsaleable and unpresentable if he persists in riding on the coattails of other Leonardo paintings which he could afford, but which should not be sold to him. This is especially so after it has been proven that he ordered Kashoggi to be brutally murdered, an M.O. of his despite his vapid denials.
However, like many billionaires who remain anonymous he worked through an agent. Would the auction house have sold this work to him if they knew he was purchasing it? They know how to play the game. And as a result, they have smeared themselves and the art world with BS which is what the Dutch filmmaker subtly infers in The Lost Leonardo.
This is a film to see, if not for a good look at the painting which is mostly a restoration and therefore, is more Dianne Modestini’s effort than da Vinci’s. It finished screening at Tribeca Film Festival. Look for this beautifully edited and scripted documentary streaming on various channels or perhaps at your favorite Indie theater after its release on 13 of August. Don’t miss this Sony Pictures Classic if you love art and are interested in learning more about the specious and scurrilous art traffickers which unfortunately find dueling interests with renowned museums who cannot afford works of art, after the traffickers bid the works to obscene heights.
What does it take for women to achieve parity with men economically and socially? For the International Women’s Soccer Team (4X World Cup winners) to reach equity with the men’s team which never won a gold cup since 1930? Thus far, parity remains elusive. As a result, US Women’s Soccer are litigating their employer the US Soccer Federation for equal pay. The thrilling documentary LFG in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival explores their efforts.
Structurally, documentary filmmakers Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine intercut the women’s magnificent athletic feats with the drama of litigation. With unprecedented access to these world class women athletes, LFG showcases how the team survives the obstacles the US Soccer Federation puts before them. Acutely, filmmakers reveal the physical, emotional and psychic demands team members face. Also, filmmakers showcase the team’s courage and resiliency in risking their jobs to create long-lasting social change with the biggest fight for women’s rights since Title IX.
With timely determination, three months before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the players filed their class-action, gender discrimination lawsuit. Interestingly, the class-action approach often takes years. And the women don’t have years. By the film’s conclusion the team hired a new litigator. As filmmakers chronicle events in real time, the action and suspense sweep up the viewer and elicit their support and empathy for the women..
Passionately, with expressive interviews and video footage, Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine, unspool a vital, must-see film. The directors follow the team throughout 2019 into 2020. Indeed, with charm and cogent arguments, key players raise awareness of the financial inequities between the men’s and women’s US Soccer teams. Disparities don’t only include financial remuneration. Players discuss differences in the way their employer poorly accommodates them (travel, hotels, medical resources) despite their successes and fan support. Because the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) paid members of the USWNT less than their male counterparts for the same work, they discriminated. And this pay disparity violates the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
With facts and figures solidifying their arguments, filmmakers illustrate the symbolism and importance of the USWNT’s lawsuit. This is especially so in a time when misogyny, a conservative political tactic (“feminazis displace men”) holds sway as a right-wing, “cancel culture” message. Initially, the women asked for $67 million, while USSF asked for the suit to be dismissed.
Undergirding the team’s worthiness, the Fines emphasize that USWNT remains the most successful in all of international women’s soccer. They won four Women’s World Cup titles (1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019). Additionally, they won four Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012). For the coup de gras, they took home eight CONCACAF Gold Cups.
Yet, the men’s teams reap the rewards and perks despite their dismal record and fans’ lack of interest.. FIFA awarded a total of $400 million in prize money for the participants of the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia, including $38 million to champion France. It awarded $30 million for the 24 nations at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, including $4 million for the USWNT after winning the tournament. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money for the next competition in two year’s time. Still, the pay would be grossly under the amounts offered the men’s teams.
As filmmakers indicate, fans overwhelmingly support the women’s team’s lawsuit globally. To publicize both sides of the case, the Fines reveal how the US Soccer Federation’s flimsy arguments nevertheless cloud the issues of parity.
Ironically, USSF does this using gender to argue its side. For example, they claim that women, not as strong as men, lack men’s skills. Thus, women don’t put forth a man’s effort and shouldn’t have equal pay. According to the USSF women’s inferior bodies inherently establish inequality. Thus, women deserve less money.
Additionally, District Court Judge Klausner created a Catch-22, then ruled against the USWST. Because the women accepted the union negotiated pay structure, the judge argued they made more money than the men. Speciously, the argument suggests a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach. In order to play, the women had to accept the USSF’s unequal pay structure. Unfairly, women could take it or leave it. Then the judge ruled that the women received more money then the men and dismissed the case.
However, the women made more money because they won more and received bonuses. Maliciously, the USSF argued that they paid the USWNT more per game than the USMNT. Meanwhile, to do that the USWST performed at a far superior level throughout the past few years. Ironically, the USSF arguments belied the “inferiority” of women’s bodies. Indeed, the women vastly outperformed their male counterparts to begin to achieve monetary equity. Importantly, the men’s team’s base pay exceeds the women’s base pay which tops around $50,000. Thus, the USSF arguments circumvented the truth of unequal pay and the District Court bought it. Why should women have to vastly outperform men working with repeated excellence for equal pay, while men just get by on gender privilege?
Substantively, the filmmakers’ interviews and clips of the women working out, doing a second job to afford bills and supplying commentary provide the grist for this wonderful film. Unsurprisingly, Megan Rapinoe, stands out as a natural leader. Indeed, she and her team, warriors to the last, step up to their wins with ferocity. Also, filmmakers reveal the frustration and depression that follows the court decision currently on appeal. Rapinoe on the field and off spearhea ds the bravery each woman manifests in this obstacle-filled situation. Additionally, teammates Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Samantha Mewis, Christen Press and Jessica McDonald prove why they win on and off the field.
In leading the fight for equal pay, these women represent women globally. And global fans back them. During the process the head of the USSF, Carlos Cordeiro, stepped down and Cindy Parlow Cone VP took his place. No matter, the team moves on, doing TV interviews and garnering even more support for their cause. Taking huge risks, they champion women’s demands for equal rights, equal pay, equal representation. In their celebration of these individual winners and our US International Women’s Soccer Team, filmmakers rally to the cry “LFG.” “Let’s F*cking Go.”
To see this frustrating, amazing and inspiring film, check into HBOMAX ON JUNE 24 where it is streaming.
The inherent charm of Lennon (Sylvia Mix) the protagonist in Poser, in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is that she embodies what average talents reflect, the yearning to go past fandom, the need to be a part of something larger than herself; to be somebody, to belong. And if that means reporting on artists, to receive a smidgen of their glory, it is enough. On the other hand obsessions take root in stoking the need to crawl into the celebrity’s skin. This is especially so if one lacks the ability, confidence or ambition to work very hard to achieve what artists of all stripes have: talent and/or the work ethic to achieve the skill to stumble into talent and originality.
Such is the stuff that Poser is made of. Written by Noah Dixon and directed by Dixon and Ori Segev, Poser explores and provides a cross section of the soul of an individual who circles burgeoning artists. Oftentimes, like Lennon Gates (a coolly deep and therefore opaque Sylvia Mix) they are seekers and searchers who have not yet defined themselves but who yearn to ride the coattails of the celebrated and connected artist. And one way to achieve any connection with the talented is to report on them and therefore convince oneself of the illusion of being a part, yet remaining so apart, they never honestly connect because they are posing as celebrity, but are only a wannabe.
Emotionally a cypher, Lennon Gates, a dishwasher and hotel worker by day and music groupie by night, insinuates herself into the art and music scene in Columbus, Ohio. Persistent in first digitally recording via her phone then transferring the recordings to tapes, she collects experiences and teaches herself to interview for her own podcast in a DIY fashion. Her subjects are the musicians and artists who are beginning to “make their bones,” in the business.
As she meets these singers and bands who identify their own music with hysterical abandon as they take themselves seriously, Lennon does too. She keenly watches and provides an audience and the publicity, however, smallish it is. She, too, is “making her bones,” as a quasi reporter who is not quite a hanger on, though Dixon satirizes reporters who never are the talent, but who ride the coattails of celebrities so some of the glam rubs off.
Being in the right place at the right time after hanging on and around the Columbus, Ohio’s underground music scene, Lennon has a breakthrough. She endears herself to the charismatic, energetic and fun-loving Bobbi Kitten (the real Bobbi Kitten) and becomes a member of Kitten’s crew for partying and enjoying their youth and drugs. That Lennon perceives her relationship with the talented Kitten means she has arrived is reflected in a turning point which is symbolic and foreshadows the abrupt ending.
For company Gates keeps a goldfish. The irony is superb, for the “pet” requires nothing deeply emotional from her caretaker except a shake of food and clean water. Apparently, even those simple tasks are too onerous for Lennon. When we see her flush the goldfish down the toilet bowl to join the sewage of Columbus, this signals her transformation to come. She plays guitar and sings for Kitten who encourages her. Influenced by her relationship with Kitten and her posse, Lennon attempts to come into her own, except she has little to recommend herself. However, riding Kitten’s magnanimous, compelling and sterling coattails, Lennon believes her own delusion that she, too, can be a singer, performer and entertainer like Kitten.
Noah Dixon’s intriguing script and the spot-on cast, especially Kitten and the superb Mix and other performers who city natives will recognize provide a thrilling and compelling expose of the dangers of fandom, the need to be worshiped and admired, and the absolute consummation of music and art in the souls of entertainers, performers and wannabes of the burgeoning next generation that is happening. Segev’s and Dixon’s direction is anointed. The music from the Columbus “scene” to the ancillary moodiness and suspense riffs that overtake the warmth of the various groups also is spot-on and memorable.
From music to editing, to cinematography and acting, Poser delivers from beginning to ending. For a first time out, every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed. Poser is one to see. It’s screening at Tribeca Film Festival until 23rd of June. Click HERE for details.
‘TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation’ Telluride Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival Review
Truman Capote and Tennessee William were friends over the forty year period they wrote, teased/ridiculed each other, basked in each other’s humor and love and grew envious, only to meet for dinner one last time before Williams died of a barbiturate overdose and Capote followed him, dying of alcohol complications 18 months later. Tennessee, the 13-year elder, met Truman when he was 16-years-old. He was charmed and delighted by his wit and personality and Truman believed Tennessee to be a genius. From then on they became fast intellectual friends whose relationship provides a fountain of lyricism, wisdom and exquisite writing for the curious.
This beautifully rendered poetic account of these two giants of American literature by Lisa Immordino Vreeland is a haunting, must-see, cinematic in memoriam. What makes her film doubly enjoyable is the superb and spot-on voice-over narration by Zachary Quinto (as Tennessee Williams) and Jim Parsons (as Truman Capote). Without their appreciation of these individuals, the realism that they brought to Capote’s and William’s voices and intentions would not have been as acute.
Vreeland selects choice quotes from the writers’ letters, telegrams, articles, TV interviews (David Frost and Dick C avett) and illustrative snippets from the original films of their work (A Streetcar Named Desire-1951, Baby Doll-1956, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-1958, Suddenly Last Summer-1959, The Fugitive Kind-1960, Sweet Bird of Youth-1962, The Night of the Iguana-1964, The Glass Menagerie-1987, Breakfast at Tiffany’s-1961, In Cold Blood-1967, The Grass Harp-1995). The last three films in the list are from Capote’s works.
The filmmaker astutely supplements these clips with many archived photos (a rare one of Laurette Taylor in the original production of The Glass Menagerie). These also include historical, personal photos from Capote’s and Williams’ youth through the aging process. Thus, we see photos of their parents, relatives, studio portraits, friends and imagistic reflective moments. Also presented are their visits to Ischia and video clips of Rome and elsewhere with intriguing voice-overs by Quinto and Parsons.
Vreeland wisely moves in chronological order starting with their beginning successes, after she introduces both individuals in their separate David Frost interviews. David Frost and Dick Cavett remind us of their insightful, sensitive attention as listeners. Their winsome charm elicits the trust of their interviewees who allow them to go to places which at times are uncomfortable. Just seeing these clips as a remembrance of how in-depth interviews were conducted is a historical record. It was something the seeing public was used to (not duplicated anywhere on mainstream TV today).
Success for Williams began in 1945 with A Glass Menagerie (one of the most performed plays on the planet). With Capote his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms was published to acclaim in 1948. Vreeland carefully organizes her subjects with refreshing candor. She often backtracks according to Capote’s and Williams’ responses to the searching questions by David Frost and Dick Cavett. The hosts ask them about friendship, love, self-identification, sexuality, parents, upbringing and more. Then Vreeland extrapolates and illustrates with voice-over quotes and snippets of their work. She ties all together with narrative and bridge photography of scenery or stills that relate to their lives (where they lived, traveled, partied).
As a result of this varied structure, she remains flexible in her use of archived photos, videos and films and Williams and Capote’s thoughtful comments that Parsons and Quinto narrate. This is a kaleidoscope that elucidates brilliantly; it is a fascinating intimate capture of both men as writers, celebrities and individuals.
Heightening the exceptional and seamless account are the voice-over quotes spoken by Parsons (Capote) Quinto (Williams). Their inflections, accents, the expressed emotion, pacing and silences immeasurably resonate to meld with the carry-over shots. The visuals and the audio with smooth synchronicity are stunning because of the matched cinematography; it’s like words and music that cohere and inform one another.
The film is a tone poem. What Vreeland and her creative team deliver is breathtaking. Importantly, because it is so well crafted, the personal information we learn becomes a delightful exercise in the study of who these mysterious writers were and still are, for their impact on our culture and global culture continues. Certainly, these artists have achieved a timeless immutability in their work. Vreeland’s respect for these artists helps us appreciate them and their relationship all the more. Whatever the weather between them, it is clear that they influenced and impacted each other’s work.
Foremost, Williams and Capote considered themselves artists, then writers and celebrities. Brutally honest in the interviews with Frost, they also reveal their playful mischievous natures. They express their reactions to their homosexuality growing up and afterward when they had to reside in worlds of pretense which sheltered them. Both were rejected by parents. Williams mentions that he and his father didn’t get along; his father didn’t like him very much the more he stayed home and got to know him. Capote’s mother remarried. She took him to a doctor because of his homosexuality and asked that he be given shots. Capote interpreted this to mean she thought him a monster.
Their honesty about whether they “like” themselves, if they think friendship is more important than love, whether they had affairs and a discussion of their thoughts as writers and how writing is paramount to who they are remain telling. Both battled depression with drugs and alcohol. Dr. Feel Good was their man for escape as it was for many celebrities at that time. Their responses to Frost’s questions, “Are you happy?” are both wise and intensely human. Williams’ discussion about the subjects in his plays (lobotomy, mental illness, cannibalism, rape) are philosophical and realistic.
Capote discusses how his work and effort on In Cold Blood took so much out of him, he was never the same again. He did witness Perry’s death which must have given him PTSD. The research and interviews of the murderers so impacted him, he asked his great friend Nell (Harper Lee) to join him to keep him company as well as have her help him solicit interviews with the otherwise aloof townspeople. He says that in a way, he died working on In Cold Blood; the metaphoric comment is just the tip of the iceberg in what Capote wanted to achieve and achieved in creating a new genre: narrative non-fiction.
Truman ad William admitted that, like all authors, their work has elements of auto-biography and is personal. Additionally, they affirmed their compulsion to write and create worlds of their own inhabited by characters they liked to spend time with. Williams pointed out the loneliness of writing. Though acknowledging it, Capote didn’t mind that as much.. Vreeland makes clear that their writing and the characters in their works occupied them with surprising turns of behavior. Capote likened writing to artistry that can reach a form of grace. Without mentioning the G-o-d word, he implied that there is a divinity or extraordinary place that great writing touches making it human and identifiable.
This certainly is a must-see film for anyone who is a writer or anyone who aspires to be a writer. They will be affirmed and encouraged by what these two icons share.
From editing to cinematography, from direction of Parsons and Quinto and the selection of all the quotes, video clips and archived material, all kudos to Vreeland. Her amazing work should be shown to literature and drama classes in colleges and high schools who investigate and read Williams and Capote. The film flies by, never snagging in dead spots, a feat in itself.
TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation opens JUNE 18 in New York at Film Forum. It opens in Los Angeles at The Nuart and Laemmle Playhouse & Town Center 5. The film also is available in virtual cinemas nationwide through KinoMarquee.com