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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 23.Mar.22
Boulevard! A Hollywood Story
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jeffrey Schwarz
prd John Boccardo, Jeffrey Schwarz
with Gloria Swanson, Richard Stapley, Dickson Hughes, Jeffrey Schwarz, Robert Osborne,, Cari Beauchamp, David Del Valle, Brooke Anderson, Stephen Michael Shearer, Alan Eichler, Laurie Franks, Elizabeth Wyler
release UK Mar.22 flare
A true story that echoes a classic movie, this documentary delves into the archives of screen icon Gloria Swanson. Ace filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz lays out the events with a snappy pace that's hugely entertaining, especially since the tale is so packed with surprising twists and turns. Not only is the film a fabulous account of unknown Hollywood history, but it ripples with deeper themes that make it surprisingly resonant.
After the success of the film Sunset Boulevard in 1950, screen legend Swanson is feeling sidelined by the studios in her early 50s, so she decides to turn the film into a stages musical, hiring charming young writing partners Richard Stapley and Dickson Hughes. They spend three joyous months in Palm Springs writing the music and script, then travel to New York to find backing on Broadway. With them all living together, Swanson begins to fall for Stapley, even though she knows he's in a relationship with Hughes. Which creates tensions that threaten the project.
This bittersweet narrative unfolds with energy and style, thoroughly infused with Swanson's outsized persona. It's a rare complex portrait of her life both in and outside the limelight. Stapley speaks about how sweet she was, even as she became more like her alter-ego character Norma Desmond, an obsessive who gets what she wants. The way their friendship unravels is recounted with bracing honesty, leading to what Stapley calls "the bad times". And their story continues, shifting in unexpected directions even as Andrew Lloyd Webber stages his own musical version of the movie.
Schwarz assembles the story using extensive first-hand archival recordings along with present-day interviews. There are also plenty of superb clips, stills and witty animated sequences, and the camera also follows Schwarz through his investigation of what really happened. There are also a range of wonderful demo tapes of the musical itself. Along the way, the film becomes a clever biopic about Swanson, Hughes and especially Stapley, also tracing his subsequent life as married tough-guy actor Richard Wyler.
Peppered with riotous anecdotes, the film gets under the skin of Hollywood mythologies about fame and creativity, following these three people as they take very different trajectories. And even more powerful is the exploration of repressed sexuality on a variety of fronts in an era when these things simply were not spoken of. So even as it contextualises the larger story by revealing the truth, the arc of Stapley and Hughes' relationship gives the documentary an involving emotional kick.
The Real Charlie Chaplin
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Peter Middleton, James Spinney
scr Oliver Kindeberg, Peter Middleton, James Spinney
prd Ben Limberg, John Battsek, Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Jo Jo Ellison voices Pearl Mackie, Charlie Chaplin, Lita Grey Chaplin, Geraldine Chaplin, Jane Chaplin, Michael Chaplin, Eugene Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill
with Jeff Rawle, Paul Ryan, Anne Rosenfeld, Dominic Marsh
release US 19.Nov.21,
21/UK Film4 1h54
While overlong and assembled in an indulgent style, this documentary is a fascinating exploration of the life and career of the iconic actor-filmmaker. Packed with terrific film clips and a superb range of firsthand audio interviews, the approach is both intimate and a bit guarded. It's also complex enough to balance Chaplin's timeless triumphs with his scandals and difficulties, crafting an entertaining portrait of the man and Hollywood itself.
Born in 1889 London and raised in poverty, Chaplin had a natural ability to make people laugh. Touring in America at age 19, he vowed not to return home poor. Within eight years, he was the most famous man on earth, directing and starring in hits made by his own studio. When talkies arrived, he continued to make silent classics like City Lights and Modern Times, finally speaking on-screen in 1940's The Great Dictator, a prescient pastiche that put him in the sites of the FBI, which launched a smear campaign that destroyed his career.
Of course, Chaplin had other scandals, including four marriages to teenaged women, reports of infidelity and a reputation for cruel perfectionism. With Mackie's twinkly narration, documentarians Middleton and Spinney cover these things while never quite getting under Chaplin's skin. But the film is packed with terrific archival observations from those who knew him, including costars, ex-wife Lita and four of his children. These provide a remarkable sense that even those who were closest to Chaplin never felt like they properly knew him.
The film traces his career with a flurry of fantastic photos, home movies and scenes from most of his films. This creates a superb narrative, exploring Chaplin himself through his work. A key sequence looks at his agonisingly long production schedules, shooting hundreds of takes to get something right, which he did. And there's also a strong segment exploring the parallels between him and Adolf Hitler, who was four days younger than Chaplin and looked eerily similar to Chaplin's iconic tramp.
While guiding the viewer through Chaplin's 88 years, this is also a knowing look at the first century of cinema, with an added blast of US history in the post-war persecution of anyone who even vaguely seemed to sympathise with communism. Through today's cancel-culture perspective, this seems frighteningly current, and it echoes the situations of other stars and filmmakers whose careers have been derailed by personal scandals, whether real or exaggerated. Even after this film exposes some of Chaplin's darkest flaws, his personal life remains a mystery. But his genius is undisputed.
The Tinder Swindler
Review by Rich Cline |
Starting from the idea that finding love by using a dating app is the new normal, this documentary recounts a story that feels like an urban legend. With its snappy pace and shocking details, the film plays as a heartfelt romance that spirals into a harrowing thriller. Writer-director Felicity Morris assembles women's firsthand accounts into a narrative that takes jaw-dropping twists. And where it goes is properly unnerving.
A Norwegian in London, Cecilie always dreamed of finding her prince charming, and had been using Tinder for seven years when she matched with Simon, the handsome son of a billionaire with a global party lifestyle. After meeting for coffee, she's whisked into his jet-set lifestyle, attracted to his vulnerability. But at the same time, Simon also matches with Pernilla in Stockholm, and they become friends. Then after a murder attempt, Simon asks for Cecilie's financial assistance. And she has no idea that she's actually funding a similar long con he's running on Pernilla.
In addition to sharply well-staged interview sequences, the film uses news footage, snapshots, camera videos and clever re-enactments. Pictures of Cecilie and Simon together are cute, and their romance feels genuine. So it's understandable that she would do anything for him when an emergency arises. Pernilla isn't in love with him, but as a good friend feels like she needs to help when he calls to ask for help. Later when their story is published, hundreds of women come forward with similar accounts. And it takes another of his victims, Ayleen, to catch him with a daring plan.
The articulate Cecilie recounts the story with an engaging spark, openly expressing how she felt at each step. This draws us into the nightmare of learning that the man she loves is actually a known criminal, and he has left her with crushing debts. Swedish journalists Natalie, Kristoffer and Erlend comb through Cecilie's evidence and follow the clues, connecting to Pernilla and uncovering a shockingly far-reaching conspiracy. And everyone involved shows real courage as they work to bring Simon down.
Often feeling like a cautionary fable about the worst possible thing that could happen to you online, this film evolves into an inspiring adventure about a group of people who make it their mission to find and stop Simon as he darts around the world. Each person in the story becomes a fully rounded character in their own right, including Simon himself. And the film's final half hour is like a mini-thriller all its own, winding tensely to a conclusion that's far more honest than a narrative movie would dare to be.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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