Movies - Documentaries postsSaturday March 28, 2015
The Eyes of Robert Durst
Too much has already been written about Andrew Jarecki’s “The Jinx,” the HBO documentary about Robert Durst, the scion of a New York real estate empire suspected of killing his first wife in New York after she went missing in January 1982; suspected of killing his friend and confidante in LA in December 2004; and charged with killing and dismemembering his neighbor in Galveston, TX in October 2001—for which Texas super lawyer Dick DeGuerin got him off (more or less) on a charge of (believe it or not) self-defense. Jarecki’s doc has led to Durst being arrested again, since, at the end, muttering to himself without knowing his microphone is still on, he seems to confess to the crimes. “Killed them all, of course,” he says, while lambasting himself for a poor performance before Jarecki’s cameras.
Among the many articles, I’m sure, are pieces on the ethics of dramatizations in documentaries, the ethics of Jarecki and company confronting Durst with incriminating handwriting evidence rather than going to the police, and the whole “did he/didn’t he” puzzle of it all. (Although I’m sure not many folks are falling on the “didn’t he” side by the end.)
What no one’s brought up? How much Durst’s eyes, with their creepy, overlarge pupils, look like the eyes of the villainnesses in the 1973 exploitation flick, “Invasion of the Bee Girls.” That’s why I’m here, I guess. You’re welcome.
B. Durst (top); Bee Girl (bottom).
Trailer: The Salinger Documentary
This seems interesting but so far none of it is exactly news. I knew Salinger quit publishing in 1965, I knew he'd been in World War II and suffered a nervous breakdown, I knew The Catcher in the Rye had a huge affect on generations of kids, including me. I also have my own theories about why Salinger stopped publishing. But I'll still be there opening weekend. September.
What's Up with the IMDb Rating of the WikiLeaks Documentary 'We Steal Secrets'?
I never rate movies on Netflix or IMDb or anywhere else. I think it's pointless—it's just a number—but more importantly I don't want to give away that shit for free. Instead I write about it in detail and give it away for free here. Which has the advantage of being here.
But last week on IMDb I rated Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.” Why? This is why. It’s a screenshot of the doc’s IMDb page from last week. What’s wrong with this picture?
The doc has a 4.3 rating. How bad is 4.3 in the IMDb universe? “Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance” has a 4.4 rating.
Is “We Steal Secrets” that bad? Not nearly. In my movie-reviewing days at The Seattle Times, I would’ve given it four out of four stars. I keep recommending to people. I recommend it to you now. Here's my review.
So why the low rating? I assume WikiLeaks' supporters are voting early and often against the doc without having seen it. The doc has the temerity to take a nuanced approach to Julian Assange. It suggests that what began with a demand for openness has become a closed society. It tells a tragic tale. The IMDb rating may be part of that tragic tale. What better way to suppress information than to imply it's no good?
A few days ago, out of the blue, I received this odd tweet:
I checked out the links above but couldn't get past the defensiveness. One of the first complaints: “The premiere of 'We Steal Secrets' is opportunistically timed” — I.e., near the Bradley Manning trial. Right. Because distribution companies usually try to open their films unopportunistically. They never take advantage of, say, the holidays or summer vacation.
This line is worse: “The film portrays Manning’s alleged acts as failure of character rather than a triumph of conscience.” Not my read at all. If the doc has sympathy for any of its three main players—Manning, Assange, and Adrian Lamo—it's for Manning. From my review last week:
But it wasn’t until Pvt. Bradley Manning, a nice, fucked-up kid from Oklahoma, who was stationed in Iraq and wondered what to do about the confidential—and to him, immoral—information he had access to, that we all knew Assange’s name.
If WikiLeaks has serious complaints about Alex Gibney's doc, then it needs to focus on them. But focus has never been WikiLeaks' strong suit. They've always been about TMI.
This was the IMDb page of “We Steal Secrets” this morning:
Don't believe the negative hype.
The Original Gangster Squad
This weekend, as “Gangster Squad” was opening to poor reviews and poorer box office, I watched a documentary called “Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film.” I'd never heard of it but there it was on Netflix. For, like, free. Narrated by Alec Baldwin. You worry you're going to wind up with some AMC Biography crap but this thing was decent.
It is what it says it is. Its focus is on the 1930s Warner Bros. gangsters: Robinson and Cagney in the 1930s, then Bogart's work from the 1940s. It includes Martin Scorsese as talking head and some of his films. But it never mentions “The Godfather,” at least not so as I remembered, and pretty much ignores the 1950s on. It ends more or less with Cody Jarett. Top of the world, ma.
But the best part of the doc for me was the first 20 minutes when we got clips from silent gangster movies. Not just “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” (1913), which Scorsese talked up in “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American movies,” but a 1906 silent film called “The Black Hand.” Any “Godfather” fan immediately perks up. “The Black Hand” at the time of Vito Corleone's battle with the Black Hand? Sign me up.
Turns out it's one of about a half-dozen silents with “black hand” in the title. We don't get the others. But we do get these:
Some of “Regeneration” was apparently filmed in Five Points, only 50 years removed from when Martin Scorses would set it in “Gangs of New York.” He watched it as preparation.
There's also a great, short appreciation for Lon Chaney, the man of a thousand faces, who projects powerful ones here. It makes me want to see more of his work.
Why did gangster movies prosper with talkies? Some say it was the sounds, such as machine guns, but you could get those in war movies, too. Others mention the patois, the accents, from the various neighborhoods in New York. Wise guy, see? There's Prohibition, during which most of us became criminals and criminals became powerful, and the Great Depression, when many Americans realized what a scam it all was, and a man making his rise by any means necessary, and in the face of the real criminals, the Wall Street types, was a comforting 90-minute wish-fulfillment fantasy for many Americans.
Plus the movie stars who showed up: Cagney, Bogart, Edward G. Robinson:
By the way, and appropos of nothing, doesn't this actor in “Musketeers of Pig Alley” remind you of Mark Strong?
History written with lightning has simply become history. The backgrounds alone in these early silents, filmed in various locations in New York in the 1910s, make them worth watching.
Idiot of the Day: Dinesh D’Souza
“I want to thank the Academy for not nominating our film. By ignoring ’2016,’ the top-performing box-office hit of 2012, and pretending that films like ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ and ‘This Is Not a Film’ are more deserving of an Oscar, our friends in Hollywood have removed any doubt average Americans may have had that liberal political ideology, not excellence, is the true standard of what receives awards.”
-- Dinesh D’Souza, writer and director, with John Sullivan, of the documentary “2016: Obama's America.”
A few pointers, Dinesh:
- The Academy isn't about box office. Since 2000, how many No. 1 box-office hits have been nominated best picture? Three: “Return of the King” in 2003, “Avatar” in 2009, and “Toy Story 3” in 2010. How many won? One. “Return of the King.” This is true in the documentary-feature category as well. The No. 1 doc last year? Justin Bieber's concert film. Not nominated. In 2010? “Oceans.” Nada. In 2009 it was “Earth,” and in 2008 “Religulous.” Bupkis. The last No. 1 box-office doc to get nom'ed was Michael Moore's “Sicko” in 2007 but it lost the award to Alex Gibney's “Taxi to the Dark Side.” Which barely made any money at the box office.
- The Academy has never really been about excellence, either. Or to put another way: Excellence is in the eye of the beholder. In this list from Sasha Stone on the best pictures chosen by the Academy's and the New York Film Critics Circle, there aren't many years, when the two bodies disagree, when I wouldn't rather watch the NYFCC's choice. Those films are more excellent to me. Which doesn't mean that members of the Academy don't strive for excellence. It's just that other things get in the way.
- But if you're looking for a way to quantify quality, or excellence, then the Rotten Tomatoes site isn't a bad place to go. And the top critics there gave “Searching for Sugar Man” a 97% rating, and “This is Not a Film” a 100% rating. Your film? 14%. “The film flutters to the ground like so much GOP convention confetti,” writes critic Roger Moore of McClatchy-Tribune News Service; “all assertions, few facts and little substance other than the conspiratorial right wing talking points that are D'Souza's bread and butter.”
- Which is pretty much the consenus of your film. It sucks. The fact that you seem to have expected a nomination, and have attributed the lack of to liberal Hollywood bias, indicates how far gone you are. It's like expecting a documentary about 9/11 truthers to be short-listed for an Oscar.
Here are the 15 docs that did make the Academy's short list:
- “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” Never Sorry LLC
- “Bully,” The Bully Project LLC
- “Chasing Ice,” Exposure
- “Detropia,” Loki Films
- “Ethel,” Moxie Firecracker Films
- “5 Broken Cameras,” Guy DVD Films
- “The Gatekeepers,” Les Films du Poisson, Dror Moreh Productions, Cinephil
- “The House I Live In,” Charlotte Street Films, LLC
- “How to Survive a Plague,” How to Survive a Plague LLC
- “The Imposter,” Imposter Pictures Ltd.
- “The Invisible War,” Chain Camera Pictures
- “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” Jigsaw Productions in association with Wider Film Projects and Below the Radar Films
- “Searching for Sugar Man,” Red Box Films
- “This Is Not a Film,” Wide Management
- “The Waiting Room,” Open’hood, Inc.