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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Dec.21
The Beatles: Get Back
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Peter Jackson
prd Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, Olivia Harrison, Clare Olssen, Peter Jackson
with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, George Martin, Yoko Ono, Linda Eastman, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Glyn Johns, Mal Evans, Peter Sellers
release US/UK 25.Nov.21
21/UK Apple Corps 7h48
Using film and audio footage that's been locked away for 50 years, Peter Jackson crafts a staggering documentary about the most influential rock band ever. Essentially a vastly extended version of Michael Lindsay-Hogg's 1970 doc Let It Be, it's packed with witty interaction and plenty of drama, plus a great quantity of music. Since this is presented without flourishes, the three-part film is a treasure trove for historians and fans.
In January 1969, the Beatles gather on a TV soundstage to write 14 songs in three weeks before a live-broadcast concert, their first public performance in more than three years. Their camaraderie is strong, but tension rises as they struggle to find focus. Then George quits the band, only returning when they ditch the concert and instead start recording in their new studio. Needing a keyboardist, their friend Billy Preston joins the band, giving a lift to both the Beatles and their music. And they of course find an unforgettable venue for their final live performance.
Divided into three epic-length parts, the film covers events from the first rehearsal session to the band's now-iconic performance on the roof of their Savile Row office. All of this is beautifully shot with multiple cameras and hidden microphones, capturing the loose dynamic between the bandmates as they compose several classic songs together and revisit their older work. They also have some fun with other people's music. It's a striking look at studio recording sessions and the need to let off steam before you can hope to get it right.
Impressively, Jackson provides text labels for everyone on-screen and each song snippet. And the project's expansive length allows him to include meandering conversations and jam sessions that offer nuanced insight into the band and its individual members. What's most striking is how hilarious they are together, riffing off of each other with jokes and shared references. The long-rumoured antagonism between them is proven to be an urban myth. But there are also some remarkable moments as they begin to realise that the Beatles will come to an end.
It's fascinating to watch these legends as normal creative guys working together. Each has a determination to avoid anything obvious in their music. They also speak extensively about their views about their careers and the business. But of course the main attraction here is watching them collaborate to create some of their most indelible music, both composing the songs and recording them. And seeing them working together offers a new perspective on just about everything we think about the Beatles.
Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time
Review by Rich Cline |
Springing from the time-scrambled narrative of Kurt Vonnegut's iconic novel Slaughterhouse-Five, this intimate documentary explores one of the few great American authors whose novels are all still in print. The film uses a fantastic range of archival material to explore Vonnegut's life through the prism of his long friendship with filmmaker Robert Weide. It's a remarkable tribute to a great writer, while also detailing his complex creative process.
Weide was 23 when he approached Vonnegut in 1982 about making a documentary. Soon he was filming interviews and public appearances, tracing Vonnegut's happy childhood from Great Depression poverty to his determination to be a funny writer. His close relationship with his sister Alice infuses his work. And then there's his experience as a prisoner of war in Dresden during WWII, which so powerfully informs his masterwork Slaughterhouse-Five. Writing that book (and others) was a huge chore for him, and it changed his life even as it had a massive impact around the world.
Editing this together with a warm sense of humour, Weide makes continual references to the novels while piecing together the details of Vonnegut's life. And there are wonderful sequences along the way, such as accompanying Vonnegut to his 40th high school reunion. In interviews, he describes his life in the same witty, disarmingly self-deprecating style as his writing. And the film unflinchingly documents more difficult events, such as leaving his wife and seven kids for a more glamorous life.
This is a priceless collection of footage of the author both in lively conversation with Weide and entertaining crowds, plus unusually pristine home movies. Vonnegut describes the power of a great teacher who opens the minds of their students. Yes, for many teens this came in the form of an introduction to Vonnegut, who says his books are jokes about very serious things. They're so readable that critics underrated them, ignoring that they were also profound. These kinds of comments will delight fans, who will also enjoy discussions about his fictional doppelganger Kilgore Trout.
For Vonnegut's readers, his repeated phrase "so it goes" is a gift, a survival mechanism that reminds us that life is a seemingly out-of-sequence journey rather than direct route to a clear destination. Weide weaves this idea throughout the film, tackling highs and lows with clear-eyed honesty. Vonnegut's novels are about ordinary people who behave decently in extraordinary circumstances. Their lives become entangled in meaningful ways. Indeed, as Vonnegut and Weide become family to each other, this documentary becomes unusually involving, and moving too.
Review by Rich Cline |
This important documentary reveals an under-reported element of queer history with energy and attitude. Refreshingly assembled with an inventive mix of archival footage, new interviews and witty animation, it's an honest account of activists in 1980s London who had a huge impact in the fight for human rights. These are fierce women who campaigned for freedom against aggression both from society and from others in the lesbian community.
Starting with the Greenham Common Peace Camp in 1981, a group of lesbian feminist activists decided they could no longer remain silent about everyday discrimination and violent prejudice. Moving into squats in Brixton, they began staging demonstrations. As one says, "We delighted in being nasty." Their protests grew in intensity and numbers, sparking a new subculture celebrating sexuality. They also faced opposition from all sides, including lesbians and feminists who felt they were going about things in the wrong way. But these rebels refused to let anyone tell them how they could live their lives.
With a snappy pace, the filmmakers include extensive archival footage and photos alongside hilariously snarky dramatic re-creations. This is a companied by simple but eye-catching animation, plus a roaring song score and honest present-day interviews with people who were on the ground at the time. All of this combines to create a vivid picture of their experience, including parties and performance art, as well as notorious pranks like abseiling into the House of Lords or chaining themselves to a BBC News desk to protest Thatcher's homophobic Section 28.
In its brisk running time, the film encompasses a wide range of issues these women faced down with sheer determination. After setting up their own club night and magazine so they could celebrate their sexuality with a combination of art and S&M, they were targeted by multiple groups who had other ideas of that they should wear, what they should read, who they should be sleeping with and how. So of course they developed a powerful camaraderie that persists three decades later.
The most powerful section of the film comes at the end, as these women reminisce about what they went through and what it means for today's young people, who are able to live happily outside the mainstream, and even sometimes to be openly accepted for what used to be considered transgressive. Of course, none of this would be the case if these rebels hadn't had the courage to stand up against conformity and celebrate people with perspectives outside the accepted norms.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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