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last update 28.Sep.14
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Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Catherine Gund
prd Catherine Gund, Tanya Selvaratnam
with Elizabeth Streb, Laura Flanders, Fabio Tavares, Jaclyn Carlson, John Kasten, Daniel Rysak, Samantha Jakus, Cassandre Joseph, Leonardo Giron, Sarah Callan, Felix Hess, Deann Nelson Burton
london city hall release US 12.Sep.14
14/US 1h22
born to fly Intense and intriguing, this documentary traces an outrageously inventive, physical form of artistic experssion that combines dance, gymnastics and circus movement. From a desire to see a human being fly, Elizabeth Streb develops what she calls "extreme action". So even if the filmmaking is somewhat serious and straightforward, the performances are visceral and thrilling.

Streb started dancing at 17 but felt the artform was "facile and gentle". So she joined groundbreaking choreographers like Trisha Brown seeking new ways to move. Her primary obsession has always been to confront gravity with astonishingly acrobatic performances that use centrifugal force, counterweights and shifting perspectives to challenge dancers and audiences alike. Her work climaxes in a series of goosebump-inducing events in London just before the 2012 Olympics, as her crew performs in Trafalgar Square, leaps off the Millennium Bridge, walks down City Hall and traverses the wires of the London Eye.

This final segment provides a show-stopping conclusion to a documentary that otherwise feels loose and somewhat unstructured. Essentially, it traces Streb's work in parallel with her life story, revealing her as a fiercely focussed woman who refuses to remain in her comfort zone even at age 64. Her dancers are like family, and they talk about the thrill of performing her work; clearly they are just as powerfully moved as the audiences watching them.

Every element of the film brings out the deep yearning and exuberant energy of Streb and her team. Her desire to challenge physical boundaries extends to her creation of an action lab for children to explore how far they can push their bodies. And it's fascinating to see her admiration of Carlson's striking performance of Little Ease, a box-based piece that Streb originally created for herself. It's no coincidence that it's named after the medieval torture.

Through revealing interviews the film also explores the physical challenges, injuries and camaraderie between these staggeringly fit performers. "You can't be careful," Streb says of this full-impact style of dance. "You can't fly until you get beyond the barrier of self-protection." This is about force, velocity and risk, and the film beautifully captures this by showing both rehearsals and final pieces that are utterly mesmerising as they explore the range of soaring human physicality, revealing that the possibilities are far wider than we imagined. No wonder Streb and her team call themselves action heroes

PG themes, language
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Dick: The Documentary
dir Brian Fender
prd Brian Fender, Chiemi Karasawa
with Jeremiah, David, Martin, Richard, Hugh, Brett, Chad, Michael, Tim
release US 12.Sep.14
13/US 49m
Dinosaur 13 This short, simple documentary centres on the focal point of most men's identities: their penis. It's not a particularly original idea, and the approach is relatively basic: wry and honest but in bad need of some humour. But it's packed with telling comments about masculinity.

New York filmmaker Fender put an ad on Craigslist looking for men willing to expose themselves on film. Ranging from 27 to 73, they share feelings about their genitalia and how they've approached their sexuality since childhood. Each has a different story, with a variety of physical shapes and sizes shown on screen from the neck down. Along with childhood memories, they talk about their earliest sexual experiences and discoveries.

While the chatty participants talk openly and often with offhanded humour, the film itself never quite embraces the absurdity of its own premise. Fender's point is that it's ridiculous that society is so terrified of the penis, and yet his interest seems just as silly. On the other hand, it's important to see the strikingly different experiences these men have had. Straight or gay, confident or insecure, some were carefully taught the facts of life by their parents while others learned by experimenting with friends. Two men talk about being abused as a child, although neither feels damaged as a result.

None of this is hugely probing, as it were. Despite revealing their bodies, these guys keep their truly personal feelings hidden. Some mention things like Catholic guilt and societal pressures. But the Texan simply says, "I love being nekkid," revealing the flaw in Fender's methodology: these men are exhibitionists for whom the main issue is when their equipment doesn't work as it should, making them feel like a failure as a man. None of these men can even bear to think about losing it altogether.

At least the film is raising these kinds of issues. Other telling segments centre on masturbation (feelings of guilt even though every man does it), size issues (does size create feelings of inadequacy or does your attitude make you more/less impressive?), circumcision ("We're not living in the desert anymore with a shortage of water!") and the fact that as you get older you understand and accept your own body. And in the end, Fender's punchiest material centres on repression: wouldn't it be nice if we saw each other's skin more often? Because then we wouldn't be so scared of it.

18 themes, language, nudity
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I’m a Porn Star
dir-scr Charlie David
prd Philip Webb
with Brent Everett, Colby Jansen, Johnny Rapid, Rocco Reed, Bobby Clark, Duncan Black, Ryan R, Laurie Betito, Frank Spinelli, Steve Matthews, Mark Bessenger, Andrew Christian
reed release US 9.Sep.14,
UK Oct.14
13/US 1h21
I'm a Porn Star With chatty narration, quick-paced editing and repetitive imagery, this feels like a lively TV documentary. Except that it's packed with explicit sexual imagery. But as it drifts from person to topic without much connective tissue, it makes quite a few revealing observations about an industry we think we undersatnd.

The key question is, since almost everyone watches porn, why is it still considered taboo? Filmmaker David opens with a "brief oral history" of gay porn, from beefcake photos, stag films and 1951's Physique Pictorial magazine to the advent of 16mm stag movies, video in the 80s and the internet in the 90s. Porn is a $13 billion business, bigger than the music industry, and performing in it is now almost acceptable. From here, David uses a reality TV style to profile four gay porn stars.

Colby is an ex-Marine rugby player married to transsexual pornstar Gia Darling. He's unnerved when fans approach him in public, and he's earning an MBA so he can start a business when his on-screen career ends. Johnny is cocky and fiercely straight (he has a girlfriend and two kids) but does gay porn because he's good at it, even though he's more attracted to cars than men. He's also sure he'll make it as a mainstream actor. Rocco's fiancee is more threatened by straight than gay porn, but he aims to be monogamous even with this job. He's also a trained actor heavily into fitness and nutrition. And Brett is a wiry Canadian who loves his job and has the support of his parents. He's married to Steve and struggles with how work keeps them apart.

The film moves briskly, touching on several big topics, including why money is so much better in gay than straight porn, the issues surrounding safe-sex and how straight guys do gay porn believing the myth that no one will find out. Through all of this, the industry is portrayed as fiercely professional. "It's not a party on set," says director Ryan R. "It's work, and it's very mechanical." All of the performers agree that gay porn is much less pressurised than straight porn.

This helps tackle untrue perceptions that pornstars are sex-crazed, unfeeling and victimised. "It's a clean profession," says Johnny. "It helps me support my family." So the bigger question is why porn is still stigmatised in a sex-obsessed society. Men are now sex objects, as fans clamour for shirtless photos of their favourite young actors. Each of these men wonder when Victorian attitudes will end. After all, fresh-faced young men arrive in Hollywood every day hoping to become stars. And they need to pay the rent.

18 themes, language, strong sexuality
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Still the Enemy Within
dir Owen Gower
prd Owen Gower, Sinead Kirwan, Mark Lacey
with Norman Strike, Paul Symonds, Joe Henry, Steve Hamil, Mike Jackson, Jim Tierney, Betty Cook, Joyce Shepherd, Anne Scargill, Ron Stoate, Gary McFarlane, Howard Wilson
Still the Enemy Within
release UK 4.Oct.14
14/UK 1h52

See also:
Pride (2014)
Still the Enemy Within A straightforward documentary about a notable moment in history, this film explains everything with clarity but never quite tells the whole story of the 1984 British miners' strike. Its stated goal is to let the miners recount the events in their own words, but the lack of balancing context leaves it feeling incomplete.

Newly released documents have proven that, after being elected prime minister in 1979, Margaret Thatcher launched a carefully planned operation to eviscerate Britain's largest union: the mineworkers. After Thatcher announced plans to randomly close more than 70 coal mines, the union went on strike in March 1984. And as industrial action stretched out over a full year, Thatcher trained soldiers in police-state tactics to wage all-out war on the miners and their supporters. By early 1985, the miners were literally starving and freezing, since they could no longer afford to buy food or heating.

This story is recounted by miners, their wives and supporters, backed by extensive news clips, photographs and government propaganda reels, plus some black-and-white dramatisations. There's also plenty of footage of Thatcher and union leader Arthur Scargill shouting like true believers, but there are no interviews from anyone who takes view contrary to the miners, which somewhat undermines the film's account. While giving the the miners the chance to tell their own stories is admirable, opposing opinion would have strengthened their accounts while building resonant context.

The fact is that in 1983 Britain had 174 working mines. Today there are only six, and the UK has to import the coal it needs to generate power. The effects of mass unemployment in the 1980s are still felt. And the prism of history has made it clear that the way Thatcher brutally crushed the strike was merely another aspect of how ruthless corporations have used privatisation to take over Western society at the expense of the working class. Intriguingly, there's even footage of Scargill at the outset predicting just that.

Filmmaker Gower atells the story in a straightforward, unfussy way, focussing on both individual stories and the much bigger picture, although most of the analysis is given by the miners themselves. This is a striking depiction of how the destruction of job-for-life security has created an increasingly state-dependent class below the poverty line. So in some ways this also feels like a chilling exploration of the birth of the one percent.

15 themes, language, some violence
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