Category Archives: documentary
The new documentary 78/52 dives deep into the technical aspects, meanings, anecdotes, and impact of Alfred Hitchcock’s notorious shower scene from his landmark 1960 film Psycho. (The film’s title refers to the 78 camera set ups and the 52 cuts in that scene.) Many industry luminaries lend their opinions and insights in the film, like Peter Bogdanovich, Elijah Wood, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny Elfman, Bret Easton Ellis, Mick Garris, Richard Stanley, and even Janet Leigh’s body double Marli Renfro.
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Almost as horrific as an actual movie about this man-made monster, Beware the Slenderman, the documentary about two teenaged girls who tried to kill another young girl and then blame it on a fictional boogeyman, is one of the scarier pieces of film I’ve seen recently. Meet me after the jump for my special 31 Days of Horror review of Beware the Slenderman!
Gaming culture’s gotten huge. It’s easy to miss, but the gaming industry makes more than either the movie or music industries. Hot Docs in Toronto plugs into the gaming world this year with two very different documentaries. Living the Game takes a revealing look at the world’s best competitive Street Fighter players, while Ukiyo-e Heroes is a subtler portrait of an unlikely collaboration, as an elderly master of Japanese woodblock carving teams up with a graphic designer to make classical Japanese prints of modern gaming characters.
Get a small group of people together with a common interest, it’s going to get competitive. Give it a little time, it’ll get political and weird, too. Christopher Guest’s Best In Show is the epitome of competitive subculture movies, barking up the tree of conformation dog shows. But if you thought dog shows were weird, you haven’t lived till you’ve seen a chicken pageant. While Best in Show is a mockumentary, Pecking Order is the real thing. Watching the chicken breeders of Christchurch, New Zealand strut, preen and scheme against one another is giddily surreal, enough to make you cluck and crow.
You know you’ve done it. You’re breezing through Twitter, and some outrageous post pisses you off. You retweet it with a snarky comment, probably signing off with a SMH or FFS. You’re still riled, so you repost it to Facebook. People start commenting, tempers flare. Friends are texting you. Meanwhile, you’re hopping off the bus and headed to a restaurant, checking in your location on Facebook, hardly thinking about the myriad crumbs you’ve left in your wake, info bits awash in the net’s digital ocean. “Digital exhaust” is what Prof. Ron Diebert calls it, the ephemera of our constant internet output waiting to be hoovered up and fed into patterns that reveal more than you could possibly imagine. It’s bad enough here, where we mostly fret about corporations assembling minutely accurate portraits of our likes and dislikes to sell us more stuff. In other places, the governments actively use Facebook and other internet media to mislead and pinpoint activists and critics, rounding them up and arresting them. In some countries, posting the wrong thing can get you killed.
I got the chance to catch Nicholas de Pencier’s documentary Black Code as part of TIFF’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, where he and Prof. Diebert engaged in a Q&A after the screening. The doc has been playing the festival circuit, and it’s well worth checking out, if you want to stress out about how piss-poor your digital security practices probably are. The film was released in 2016, and speaking about its concerns in a contemporary context, it was clear both men recognized how the intervening year has only made their film even more painfully relevant.
There’s nothing quite like a David Lynch movie. You know the second you find yourself immersed in one of his unsettling worlds, the strange blend of earnest innocence and churning malevolence vying against one another, light and dark and laughter and horror and violence but especially the eeriness. Nobody but nobody does eerie like David Lynch. Which makes David Lynch: The Art Life so fascinating, a movie about a movie-maker that takes up all the stuff he does other than movies.
Remember the Arab Spring? That democratic fluorescence that erupted in late 2010 in Tunisia and spread with massive demonstrations to Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq? It was a giddy, dangerous time when a predominantly youth movement rose up against autocratic regimes steeped in conservative Islamic ideology. Through riots and violent government crackdowns, people poured into the streets pressing for change. In Egypt, Bassem Youssef was one of the unlikely people at the forefront of the massive cultural shift. A heart surgeon turned satirical TV host, Youssef was dubbed the Egyptian Jon Stewart. Tickling Giants, the documentary from Sara Taksler, follows Youssef’s meteoric rise and lamentable fall, as a funny, principled man becomes an enemy of the state. As Donald Trump demonizes the media in America, Tickling Giants is even more resonant than when it debuted at festivals last year, revealing both the power of satire and its harsh limitations.
In October, 2014, a tourist visiting Yellowknife disappeared. Atsumi Yoshikubo seemed like a typical Japanese vacationer, visiting for the majestic creaking pines and the ethereal beauty of the northern lights. Five days after arriving, she walked out of town and into the woods, never to be seen again. Award-winning producer, writer and director Geoff Morrison’s The Missing Tourist delves into the mystery of Yoshikubo’s vanishing. With no signs of criminality, or much hard evidence at all, could Atsumi have traveled all that way just to slip silently out of the world?
Sometimes a talent is so oversized it’s like a bomb waiting to go off. One look at ballet’s enfant terrible Sergei Polunin and you can see the talent, his mesmerizing form crackling with electricity. You don’t need to know anything about ballet as Polunin launches his wiry frame impossibly high into the air to know that this kid’s got it. Dancer, the documentary from Steven Cantor (loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies) follows Polunin’s evolution, from child prodigy to hard partying success to burnt-out superstar. It’s an interesting if conventional portrait of an artist with tremendous gifts, lacking the tools to sustain a career.