2008 12 25
Theater of War in theater

Posted by in: Documentaries

The Brecht documentary I mentioned a while back is now playing at the Film Forum. If you happen to be in NYC, you should check it out. More information below the fold:
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2008 04 28
Theater of War

Posted by in: Documentaries

Some friends of ours have a film in the Tribeca Film Festival this year, so we caught the premiere of the show last night. (I find the cost of a regular movie ticket too much, so I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever made it to the Tribeca Film Festival.) It’s a wonderful documentary called Theater of War about . . . a bunch of things. It’s about Bertolt Brecht and his life, and in particular about a play of his called Mother Courage, and in part about a particular staging of Mother Courage in New York City in 2006 featuring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline and others. As the documentary follows the production of Mother Courage it reflects more broadly on war, and explores the relevance of Marxism to Brecht’s play and his work in general.

So: a very ambitious film. And you might reasonably think from this description that a project like this would collapse under its own weight. But they really do manage to pull it off. I was lucky enough to see this film twice before last night in various stages as it was being edited. I’ve seen lots of papers and books in draft before, but I’ve never seen a movie in draft form, so it’s been really interesting seeing it come from a rough longer version without a score and with some choppy transitions to a finished product in the theater.

Therefore, by the powers invested in me as the Scallywag-in-Chief of this blog, I endorse this documentary.

Super neat bonus fun: After the documentary, I got to ride in the director’s limo to some club for a private film festival party for which I was, as usual, under-dressed, though that didn’t stop me from ordering not just one, but two (!) beers from the open bar and scarfing as much free food as I possibly could. So, pretty much an ordinary evening for me, with the small difference that most evenings instead of going out I usually read blogs and then play with my snot pot.

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2007 12 30
Recently watched

Posted by in: Documentaries, Movies

The Golden Compass

I don’t see why the critics were falling all over themselves to pan this movie. I think Steve was much closer to the mark. It was fun! I’ve read the books, but I don’t think it was right to complain (as I saw some complain) that the movie compressed the book to the point of incomprehensibility.


A documentary about wheelchair rugby, as it is also known. The film follows the rivalry between the Canadian and American wheelchair rugby teams, pausing from time to time to explore the personalities and circumstances of some of the players, as well as the coach of the Canadian team. Well done.

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?

A documentary about a woman living in a trailer who buys a painting for a few dollars at a yard sale. She becomes convinced the painting is a Jackson Pollack, and then becomes increasingly irritated with the snooty art snobs who think it isn’t. The film is a funny look at the characters involved in this little drama, the class tension between them, and the scientific and artistic dispute about the authenticity of the painting. Not bad at all.

The Man With the Movie Camera

An experimental 1929 silent film by Russian director Dziga Vertov. I watched this twice, the second time with the commentary on, and was astounded at how much I had missed the first time. I don’t know much about film, especially early avant garde Russian film, so I’ll just say that as far as I could tell Vertov was sort of saying, “Hey, look at this new medium! It does things that no other medium could. Could you do this with any other medium? Of course not! Could you do this? No, no, no.”

The Namesake

The Namesake, based on a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, follows a Bengali family from India to New York City, and in particular the son in the family, Gogol. It’s a beautiful film. My second home growing up was my best friend’s English-Bengali-Gujarati household. So by the authority invested in me by all that experience I say: This movie nails it. It utterly nails the subtleties and ambiguities and difficulties of assimilation and intergenerational conflict in the Indo-North American experience. Slow paced, and perhaps dragging a bit towards the end, but with a gentle sense of humour, real affection and emotion. Recommended.

Trailer Park Boys (All Seven Seasons)

Fucking awesome low budget Canadian tv mocumentary about a couple of guys hanging out in a trailer park in Nova Scotia. Watch it. Watch it now and join the cult of TPBs. You have to give it a chance – the first season is a bit rough. But once you’re hooked, you’re hooked hard. Many thanks to Alif Sikkin for inducting me into the cult. The first five seasons are available on Netflix, but sadly I have no idea how one might go about watching the last two seasons.

The Lives of Others

Very moving story set in East Germany towards the end of the Cold War. If you haven’t seen it I really don’t know what you’re waiting for.


I was very excited to see this film after all the hype it got when it first came out. Not only was it said to have lots and lots of lovin’, but the acting was supposed to be great – how could you go wrong with that? I ordered it from Netflix, and then cooked an elaborate meal for Yoon, hoping for a little after-movie romance. Shortbus was wretched. The actors all seemed to speak with that sort of micro-pause that stupid people and bad actors use in between the wrong words when they’re trying to express themselves. The plot, such as it was, was idiotic. Every character deserved to die. The first scene in particular made me squirm for embarrassment on the part of everyone involved. About 30 minutes into the movie I suffered a wrenching attack of diarrhea – so much for my elaborate meal – and I spent the rest of the movie shuttling back and forth between the living room and the can. As I sat on the can, miserable and shuddering, goosebumps covering my legs, I reflected that at least I wasn’t watching Shortbus. Now you’re probably thinking, “Oh Chris, you saw it in unfavourable conditions, and so you’re surely being unfair to Shortbus.” But the sad truth is that I’m probably being hard on the diarrhea since I associate it with Shortbus. We did finish it, just to confirm that it was awful all the way through. But I would rather spend an evening slamming my cock in a heavy door than sit through that movie again. Not recommended.

How to Draw a Bunny

Documentary about Ray Johnson, an American artist. Wonderful. Music is by Max Roach – the last project he worked on before his death. If you’re at all interested in contemporary art you should see this film.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

Steve Coogan’s 1994 chat show parody. Uneven, but a few really good laughs in there.

Howls of outrage (15)

2007 11 25
Recently watched: The Devil Came on Horseback

In 2004, ex-Marine Brian Steidle signed up for a stint as an African Union observer in the Darfur region of Sudan, where he ended up a first hand witness to the genocide there. When he left, he took with him a large number of photographs of victims of atrocities and a sense of enormous frustration at his inability to do anything more than document the devastation. A Nicholas Kristoff column about his work and his pictures catapulted him into national prominence, getting him into meetings with Condi Rice, Congressional hearings, and onto a host of television programs. Later, he returned to Chad to work on further documenting the plight of villagers displaced by the brutal campaign against them in Darfur. Back in the United States again, he toured the country trying to raise awareness of the issue.

The Devil Came on Horseback follows Steidle through all this, and it does a superb, if extremely upsetting, job of documenting the genocide. But in spite of Steidle’s relentless emphasis on what to do about Darfur, the documentary seems to me much weaker on larger questions about how outsiders can play a constructive role in Sudan. Steidle appears to have little doubt that a military intervention there to prevent further attacks is a moral imperative, at one point remarking that if his camera lens had been a scope he might have destroyed a jeep of fleeing soldiers and allowed terrorized villagers to return to their village. This is, I think, a very human and understandable response to the sort of brutality Steidle witnessed. But I am not convinced it is the wisest. I have no idea what to do about Darfur, just hard questions for anyone pushing military intervention as a solution there.

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2004 04 29
The Sorrow and the Pity

Posted by in: Documentaries, History

In the last week, I finally got around to watching The Sorrow and the Pity, the great documentary about the occupation of France during WWII. It really was an extraordinary documentary, and one that I thought lived up to the very high praise it has accumulated over the years. For more, read Josh Marshall on the subject.

(And for anyone I promised to see it with: don’t worry – I want to see it again.)

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