FILM REVIEW: FINDING VIVIAN MAIER – DISCOVERING BEAUTY IN THE MOST BIZARRE PLACES

Vivian Maier

This Academy Award nominated 2013 documentary contains an element of ‘what might have been’.

Vivian Maier was an amateur photographer who worked as a nanny & housekeeper. Prior to her death in 2009, nobody had ever seen her work. However, John Maloof (who co-directed the film with Charles Siskel) discovered some of her photographs at an auction and after Maier’s death, uncovered her life through interviews with people who knew her. Maloof subsequently scanned the images and put them on the Internet, where as you might have guessed, the images went viral.

Critical acclaim and interest in Maier’s work quickly followed, and since then, Maier’s photographs have been exhibited in North America, Europe, and Asia, while her life and work have been the subject of books and documentary films.

Maier was an eccentric spinster and a very private person, who took photographs obsessively. The photographs are striking and reveal a gift for capturing moments of emotional and intellectual weight. The documentary recounts Maloof’s efforts to find out as much as possible about the reclusive Maier.

It also examines our own attitudes towards art and artists. When you consider someone like Van Gogh who was unrecognised during his lifetime, at least Van Gogh was an artist intent on being successful, whereas Maier seemingly had no interest in exhibiting her work. Was this evidence of mental illness? Can the artistic impulse only be satisfied by public exposure, acceptance and recognition? Is it at all possible, to make art for yourself and yourself alone?

These are important questions which the film barely addresses – there is an inherent conclusion that because the work is so good, it deserves to be seen, whatever the actual wishes of the artist are/were. If taken out of the context of Maier’s daily life (as a nanny/housekeeper), would the work have lost its resonance and power? Who knows?

When Maier was an unknown, her work had no ‘value’ but once the public recognition came into the picture, so to speak, a value is then attached to the work. But should not the ‘value’ of the work be intrinsic, independent of how ‘popular’ it was? Having learnt a little about who Vivian Maier was through this film, it is fair to argue that given a choice, she probably would not have wanted the whole wide world looking at her work or even finding out who she is/was. Which leaves the viewer with mixed feelings by the time the movie concludes. You decide.

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MOVIE REVIEW: WHEN THE ROOSTER CROWS – FOCUSING ON SOUTH EAST ASIAN INDIE FILM AND FILM-MAKERS

whentheroostercrows

I was invited by my buddy Michael Lim (Singapore Film Society) to a screening of Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso’s When the Rooster Crows, a documentary on diversity and richness of Southeast Asian Cinema. The documentary highlights four indie film-makers viz. Brillante Mendoza (Philippines); Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand); Eric Khoo (Singapore); and Garin Nugroho (Indonesia).

Ostensibly, I was supposed to contribute to a post-screening panel discussion with Lombroso and Michelle Goh (who acted in Eric’s Mee Pok Man and still looks fresher than the first time I met her 20 years ago!) but really had nothing much relevant to say, except that Eric was a buddy of mine too.

Since I got to watch the movie free of charge, I thought it’d only be fair to share a little review. Conceptually, I loved the way that Lombroso approached the movie not merely as a standard documentary but as a film in its own right. Thus, there was a narrative running through its 88 minutes (that’s a very Eric Khoo number, by the way) that not only featured the subject film-makers and their films but also the context of their muse (their countries of origin).

The manner in which one segment segued into the next seamlessly added to this overall effect and emphasised Lombroso’s observation that even though the four countries highlighted are often differentiated from one other, there were many similarities as well. In particular, in the obstacles that each independent film scene faced in their own countries – whether it be social or political. What was evident was that each scene, as represented by each film-maker, dug deep into the human soul – the belief, the creativity and the fighting spirit – in order to produce works of film art that resonated beyond their respective shores.

One of the obvious takeaways was that each film scene needed to support one another so that South East Asian indie film could be developed and nurtured. Thus, perhaps a more vibrant regional film scene – one that cross-pollinated across boundaries would be a solution to the usual gripes about lack of local support.

For me personally, there was an allegory to be drawn with the music scene here – that we needed to reach out to the music scenes regionally and not be too myopic about confining the building of a fan base to the hard ground that is Singapore. Definitely something to chew on.

More information about the Singapore Film Society may be obtained from its official website.

IS SEDUCED AND ABANDONED AN EXPOSE ON THE FILM INDUSTRY OR AN ELABORATE IN-JOKE? YOU DECIDE.

Seduced-poster

Directed by James Toback.
Starring Alec Baldwin.

The premise of Seduced and Abandoned is simple enough. Director James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin try to sell a film concept at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, and basically make a documentary about the experience.

Along the way they interview influential directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski & Bernardo Bertolucci to get their takes on Cannes and the movie industry as a whole. The duo also talk to actors Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and James Caan.

Continue reading “IS SEDUCED AND ABANDONED AN EXPOSE ON THE FILM INDUSTRY OR AN ELABORATE IN-JOKE? YOU DECIDE.”

DAVE GROHL PROVES HIS HEART & SOUL ARE IN THE RIGHT PLACE WITH SONIC HIGHWAYS

DaveGrohl

It’s easy to get a lil cynical about Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters‘ marketing their upcoming new album Sonic Highways by way of a eight-part documentary series on HBO. But the cynicism will evaporate when one watches the first episode as Grohl and co record in Chicago and proceeds to pay tribute to the Chicago musicians who made a difference – from Buddy Guy to Cheap Trick to Steve Albini to Naked Raygun. This is done with a love, respect and fervour that demonstrates once again that Grohl has his heart and soul in the right place – he’s one of us…

Check out the complex yet visceral opening track from Sonic Highways, “Something From Nothing”….

DAVID BOWIE IS

DavidBowieisUSPressRelease1JPGcrop_159

Regular PoP visitors will be aware of the fact that I am a huge Bowie fan and was greatly disappointed when I missed the David Bowie Is exhibitions organized by the Victoria & Albert Museum, when I was in London last year with TypeWriter.

So imagine my delight when I learned of a documentary about the exhibition that not only highlighted its various exhibits but also included various experts chiming in with personal experiences and opinions on the influence of Bowie on modern pop culture.

At the same time, it felt me with grave regret at missing the exhibition and hoping for a chance to get a crack at it one day in the future. But in the meantime, this documentary is a splendid way to whet the appetite. In any case, the documentary is essential for all Bowie fans and any serious scholar of art and pop culture.

Tickets are now available for online purchase at over 80 cinemas across the U.S. The film is scheduled to screen on one day, Tuesday, September 23, 2014, with additional cinemas being added to the list on a regular basis. Simultaneously, the V&A exhibition in London will be opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (MCA) on that same Tuesday as well.

SPRINGSTEEN & I [DVD REVIEW]

The true measure of a rock star is the kind of fans he or she has. Springsteen & I is a documentary with a difference – it was made for Springsteen fans by Springsteen fans! By the end of the documentary, you will be convinced about the depth of love and passion that Springsteen fans hold for their icon. Judging from the diversity in age and nationality, it’s clear that Springsteen’s appeal covers a broad range of fans. This special connection is what makes this documentary unique. Also worth checking out – numerous previously unseen archive footage of performances from throughout Springsteen’s career. The DVD bonus features include performances from 2012’s Hard Rock Calling (including two songs with Paul McCartney) and fan homemade video submissions.

THE ROLLING STONES: CROSSFIRE HURRICANE [DVD REVIEW]

Considering the number of iconic films that The Rolling Stones have been associated with – Gimme Shelter, Sympathy for the DevilPerformance and Cocksucker Blues, it was simply not enough for director Brett Morgen to come up with a by-the-numbers 50th anniversary retrospective. Which, to his immense credit, he didn’t!

Fact is, Crossfire Hurricane manages to provide a kaleidoscopic perspective of events that made the Stones the living rock n’ roll legends that they are. One very crucial decision made was not to shoot the Stones as they currently are – so they only provide the relevant voiceover but visually, the viewer is never distracted from the story by how the Stones look like in 2013 (basically, old).

In this manner, Crossfire Hurricane is able to be interesting to new and old fans alike. It never comes across as a nostalgic exercise but a critical study of key events of the Stones’ career that intersected with the milestones of rock n’ roll. Thus, this documentary film is essential for longtime fans as well as rock scholars.

HISTORY OF THE EAGLES: THE STORY OF AN AMERICAN BAND [DVD REVIEW]

There can be no doubt about The Eagles‘ place in rock history. Biggest selling album of the 20th century, inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, a comeback album that sold in excess of 5 million in these troubled times for the music industry and a best-selling live show that continues to run and run.

Not to mention, a sideshow of controversy that has dogged the band despite the absolute highs. The high profile suit by former member Don Felder against The Eagles and the publication of Felder’s ‘tell-all’ book, Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974 – 2001) has tarnished somewhat the reputations of Don Henley and Glenn Frey (the co-leaders of the band) but that has not stopped the musical juggernaut from continuing to pull in the big bucks.

This documentary – as you might imagined – tells the story from Henley and Frey’s perspective. Both men are rather dismissive about Felder in the interviews and Frey evens gets in some descriptive expletives for good measure. The fact that the duo come across smug and self-righteous leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

The first DVD recounts the band’s rise to fame and implosion in 1980 with rare footage and incisive comments from the key players. The second DVD recounts the band’s even more impressive comeback beginning the Hell Freezes Over tour in 1990.

Of the two DVDs, the first one is the most exciting as one gets to witness the making of iconic songs (“Take It Easy”, “One of These Nights”) and albums (Hotel California) and how Henley and Frey went from backing Linda Ronstadt to having the best-selling album of the 20th Century – Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). The second DVD, well, is simply too sanctimonious at times with the unwelcome sight of Henley and Frey justifying their arrogance – rather unwatchable at times. Overall, the excellent first DVD is worth the price of admission though.

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WHO KILLED (OR SAVED) THE MUSIC INDUSTRY? KICKSTARTER FOR DOCUMENTARY [NEWS]

(Secret Service PR Press Release)

That’s the big question that industry insiders, fans and musicians have debated endlessly over the last several years. It’s also the title of a new documentary from musicians Adam Russell (Story of the Year, D.R.U.G.S.) and Ryan Phillips (Story of the Year, Greek Fire) who recently started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of the film, which will explore the evolution of the music business over the last decade with interviews from musicians, producers, managers, record labels and more.

Continue reading “WHO KILLED (OR SAVED) THE MUSIC INDUSTRY? KICKSTARTER FOR DOCUMENTARY [NEWS]”

PINK FLOYD: THE STORY OF WISH YOU WERE HERE

SHINE ON!

As a card-carrying Floyd geek, there’s precious little that I don’t know about the band after years of reading books and viewing documentaries. But I always welcome new documentaries that share further insight into the rock phenomenon that was Pink Floyd. On this occassion, the focus is on the 1975 album, Wish You Were Here, which just might be my favourite one of the lot – and that’s really saying something!

Continue reading “PINK FLOYD: THE STORY OF WISH YOU WERE HERE”

QUEEN

Days of Our Lives DVD (Eagle Vision)

This “Definitive Documentary of the World’s Greatest Rock Band” was first aired last year on BBC TV Two in two parts. Now commercially available in DVD, the documentary is well worth repeated viewings especially if you are a Queen fan, which I wager would be quite a lot of you out there.

As a fan myself, it is easy to be caught in the thrill of Queen’s early years as they released one exciting album after another – A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, News of the World, Jazz and The Game – racking out numerous worldwide chart hit singles in the process. Some contemporary insight is provided by guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor and previously unseen footage is also brought to bear in order to flesh the incredible success that Queen obviously was (and still is)

The latter half of the documentary comes to a sad conclusion naturally with the untimely death of singer Freddie Mercury 20 years ago in 1991. It is difficult not to be choked by emotion if like me, you loved Mercury for his incredible talent, showmanship and charisma. The interviews can get almost unbearably personal as May and Taylor share their last memories of Mercury on video.

At the end there is a sense that even in this day and age, Queen’s legacy remains strong and May/Taylor have done a good job to ensure that the music of Queen will never be forgotten. Essential for all Queen fans.

 

GOD BLESS OZZY OSBOURNE

Mention the name “Ozzy Osbourne” and chances are the notorious legend of the rock star biting off the head of a bat thrown on stage in 1982 will rear its ugly head (sorry). Pretty much the reputation of Osbourne is built on being the original singer of Black Sabbath and being the ultimate rock madman (primarily in the 80s, after being sacked by Sabbath).

This documentary attempts to present Osbourne in all his contradictory glory. The satanic figure who kneels in silent prayer before a gig, the drug-addled alcoholic who has been clean and sober for the last five years, the heavy metal pioneer who’s favourite band is The Beatles and so on.

Opening in the present, the documentary follows Osbourne on tour at various locations around the world – his rituals, his preparations and his process. Then, we are presented with a history lesson as Osbourne and various relevant interviewees – Black Sabbath members, his wife Sharon, his five children and even Paul McCartney (!) – share insights into the life and times of Osbourne.

Of course, much screen time is given over to accounts of Osbourne’s crazed antics that even outgross Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, no slouch in the rabble rousing stakes himself! Osbourne’s self destructive habits continue even as he is reinvented as reality star in the Osbournes, which unfortunately only cements his reputation as the aging rock star drunk.

However, there is a happy ending to the narrative as Osbourne reveals that he managed to pull his life from the abyss of alcoholism and drug addiction due to the example of his youngest son, Jack. A touching resolution to this cautionary tale of rock n roll excess. Ozzy and metal fans in general will no doubt enjoy the intriguing insights into Osbourne’s life.

View the movie trailer below

Buy God Bless Ozzy Osbourne from Amazon

METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER

What started out as a straightforward documentary about the making of a new Metallica album turned into quite something else. Yes, there is still an album – St. Anger – that is made but the journey there is a little different from your typical “making of” documentary. Basically, life happens, as first longtime bassist Jason Newsted leaves the band and then lead singer James Hetfield checks into rehab for alcohol abuse, leaving Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett to figure out the future of the band, together with Phil Towle, a “performance-enhancing” coach hired by Metallica’s management.

Well, there are two ways of looking at this documentary. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably appreciate the behind the scenes, intimate moments revealing the relationships between the band members. If you’re not a fan then you might be irritated by these millionaires acting out, dwelling on their “rich man rock star” problems which seem to have no bearing on normal life.

Truth be told, you can include me in the latter category. Metallica is probably the biggest metal band on the planet then (and now) and to witness their petty power-plays and juvenile games is a little much to swallow. That said, as a music lover, I appreciate their sincere efforts in resisting self-caricature and self-parody, as they strive to remain relevant as music makers.

The piece de resistance? Watching Dave (Megadeth) Mustaine whining about how hurt he still is about being kicked out of Metallica all those years ago. Hello? Hasn’t his own band sold in excess of 25 million records? What does he have to complain about? Honestly, I don’t whether to laugh of cry, all a bunch of crybabies severely out of touch with reality.

So there you go. Fans of Metallica and metalheads should definitely watch this but if not, stay away…you have been warned.

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U2

U2 360° At The Rose Bowl (Universal)

I hate U2! Thirty years after I first heard I Will Follow, the Irish quartet continue to amaze – now only with their magnificient music – but also in their dogged commitment to their craft and to their fans. How do they do it? This astonishing record of U2’s 25 October 2009 gig at the Rose Bowl prove that Bono, Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton are still on top of the game. Besides the band, the star of the show is the incredible structure that functions as the stage. In the 2nd DVD, you can watch (slack-jawed, I’d wager) the documentary on how U2 and their team put 360° together, and your admiration for the whole operation will only grow.

The 1st DVD features the concert proper and it is a glorious affair as U2 performs old and new material including favorites like Beautiful Day, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, The Unforgettable Fire, Vertigo, Magnificient, With or Without You… you know the drill. For me personally, the best moment was when, during Walk On, Bono brought out U2’s considerable influence to bear in favour of the detained Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, encouraging fans to wear masks of Aung San Suu Kyi. Now, how many mega-selling bands can pull off such political activism within the context of a rock concert? Truly astonishing.

If you’re a U2 fan (which I’m sure most of you are), you’ll thoroughly enjoy this live DVD.

Click here to win a Deluxe Edition of U2 360°! Closing date – 11 July 2010. Hurry!

DIRE STRAITS

ALCHEMY: DIRE STRAITS LIVE (Universal)

One of the biggest bands of the 80s gets the reissue treatment with the release of the Alchemy DVD and CDs chronicling Dire Straits concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, London on 23rd July 1983, almost twenty-seven years ago! Captured just before the release of the band’s biggest selling album – Brothers in Arms – and comprising Mark Knopfler (vocals & guitars), John Illsley (bass), Alan Clark (keyboard), Hal Lindes (guitar), Terry Williams (drums), this is Dire Straits in fine fettle playing material largely from the Making Movies and Love Over Gold LPs.

Whilst the video is nothing much to look at, to be honest, the audio is truly excellent as the band delivers such classics as Romeo & Juliet, Private Investigations, Tunnel of Love, Telegraph Road and of course, Sultans to Swing, impeccably to an enthusiastic audience. As always with Dire Straits, it’s the guitar skills of leader Knopfler that is the highlight and he does not disappoint, I’m glad to report.

Also included in this reissue DVD are bonus TV performances of Tunnel of Love and Sultans of Swing as well as a interesting BBC Arean documentary on the band. The Arena doc is very insightful, capturing the band after two grueling years of recording and touring and sets the stage for the personnel changes that the band goes through in the years to come. Fans of the 80s will not want to miss this.

Click here and stand a chance to win a Deluxe Edition of Alchemy. Closing date is 11 July 2010. Hurry!

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2006)

I must warn you that if you are easily upset and offended, then DO NOT watch this troubling documentary concerning sexual abuse and pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church. The documentary initially focuses on one priest, Father Oliver O’Grady, who agreed to be interviewed by journalist/filmmaker Amy Berg. However, as the story unfolds it becomes evident that the incidences of the sexual abuse and the perpetrators are being covered up and protected by the higher echelons of the Catholic Church!

O’Grady, now residing in his native Ireland and receiving a healthy pension from the Church, recounts his offenses in a genial, sometime flippant manner which belie the severe nature of his acts. It is estimated that he abused more than a hundred children, with his youngest victim being a 9 month old baby. Like I said, disgusting!

As monstrous as O’Grady is – and believe me, he is – he is merely symptomatic of a hideous conspiracy permeating the entire Catholic Church in harboring these sexual offenders in the name of self-interest, abandoning and exposing the children to the lusts and desires of these sick individuals.

Quite often, it is tough to watch the victims (and their families) relive the horrendous chapters which have scarred their lives forever. The Catholic Church has failed in living up to their responsibilities to the children in its care, it is so incomprehensible (and reprehensible) that the lives of the victims were so callously treated.

Filmmaker Berg has certainly succeeded in raising the ire of anyone who watches Deliver Us From Evil. However, the film ends rather pathetically as two of the victims are turned away by the Vatican (maybe that was the point being made by Berg). The frightening thing is that despite the obvious evidence, this abuse may be allowed to continue in Catholic churches as Catholic leaders are unwilling to expose the Church to a legal accounting. Truly disturbing.

Buy at Amazon