Jonas Mekas, the godfather of American “underground” cinema, shot literally miles of impromptu film on a tiny, touch-and-go Bolex camera before assembling his first “diary film” and screening it before an audience of friends and fellow indie artists in 1969. At that point the home-movie ethos was somewhat less than groundbreaking, but a glance at what Mekas’s contemporaries were working on or releasing at the time—Kenneth Anger was ensconced in off-and-on production for Lucifer Rising, Stan Brakhage was toiling on the 8mm Songs cycle, and Paul Morrissey had just morphed the Warhol aesthetic into the zeitgeist-preaching Flesh—suggests just how perpendicular his project stood in relation to the remainder of the bicoastal art-house scene. Mekas, as a distributor and critic in the ‘60s, had praised and promoted films both archetypically absurd (Anger’s Scorpio Rising) and angularly as well as legally shocking (Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures); perhaps this is why the program notes prepared for the first showing of Diaries, Notes and Sketches, also known as Walden contained an uncharacteristically humble and ambivalent letter from the director of the evening’s presentation. “You are going to see maybe two, maybe three, maybe four reels, from the total of six,” it read. “It will depend on your patience, on your interest.”
Tchoupitoulas (2012) Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross, William Zanders, Bryan Zanders, Kentrell Zandrs, Documentary
Bill and Turner Ross’s Tchoupitoulas begins with wistful narration from its young protagonist, an impoverished African-American boy with a distinctly Southern drawl detailing a dream he’s recently had: “I don’t really have dreams,” he says, “but last night I did. It was actually a close-up of my future—like a flashback, except a flashing future. I was dreaming I seen me in the NFL, and I was playing for the New York Giants.” Right away, the similarities between this doc-fiction hybrid and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild are evident, which makes sense considering both films are products of Court 13, a so-called “independent filmmaking army” made up of a group of ex-New Yorkers who moved to New Orleans in hopes of fostering a grassroots film community. But thanks to its decidedly less sensationalistic point of view, Tchoupitoulas proves the perfect antidote to the twee affectations of Zeitlin’s feature.
When Idaho Legislator Curtis Bowers wrote a “letter to the editor” about the drastic changes in America’s culture, it became the feature story on the evening news, people protested at the Capitol, and for weeks the local newspapers were filled with responses. He realized then… he’d hit on something. Ask almost anyone and you’ll hear, “Communism is dead! The Berlin Wall came down.” Thought the word communism isn’t used anymore, this film will show the ideas behind it are alive and well. Join Bowers for a fascinating look at the people and groups that have successfully targeted America’s morality and freedom in their effort to grind America down. It’s a well documented AGENDA.
Gay Sex in the 70s (2005) Joseph F. Lovett, Robert Alvarez, Alvin Baltrop, Barton Benes, Documentary
Thirteen men and one woman look back at gay life and sex in Manhattan and Fire Island – from Stonewall (June, 1969) to the first reporting on AIDS (June, 1981). They describe the rapid move from repression to celebration, from the removal of shame to joy, the on-going search for “someone,” the freedom before AIDS, the friendships, and brotherhood. They take us through cruising and sex in public places, the drug scene, the bars and the baths, the birth of entertainment and dance clubs, and starry nights on Fire Island. Photographs, home movies, newsreels, and film clips illustrate the story. A few contemporary “what did the 70’s mean?” man-in-the-street takes end the documentary.
Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh (1993) Eric Walton, John Page, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Documentary
Ladakh, or Little Tibet, is a wildly beautiful desert land high in the western Himalayas. It is a place of few resources and an extreme climate. Yet, for more than a thousand years, it has been home to a thriving culture. Traditions of frugality and co-operation, coupled with an intimate and location-specific knowledge of the environment, enabled the Ladakhis not only to survive, but to prosper. Then came development. Now in Leh, the capital, one finds pollution and divisiveness, inflation and unemployment, intolerance and greed. Centuries of ecological balance and social harmony are under threat from modernisation. The breakdown of Ladakh’s culture and environment forces us to re-examine what we really mean by progress – not only in the developing parts of the world, but in the industrialized world as well. The story of Ladakh teaches us about the root causes of environmental, social and psychological problems, and provides valuable guidelines for our own future.
BELFAST, MAINE is a film about ordinary experience in a beautiful old New England port city. It is a portrait of daily life with particular emphasis on the work and the cultural life of the community. Among the activities shown in the film are the work of lobstermen, tug-boat operators, factory workers, shop owners, city counselors, doctors, judges, policemen, teachers, social workers, nurses and ministers. Cultural activities include choir rehearsal, dance class, music lessons and theatre production.
Return to Beethoven Street: Sam Fuller in Germany (2016) Robert Fischer, Christa Lang, Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, Eric P. Caspar, Documentary
Another reason for getting this wonderful release is Robert Fischer’s superlative, eye-opening, 110-minute Return to Beethoven Street: Sam Fuller in Germany, which does a fine job of unpacking Fuller’s best and in some ways most neglected European film.
In 1962 Hitchcock and Truffaut locked themselves away in Hollywood for a week to excavate the secrets behind the mise-en-scène in cinema. Based on the original recordings of this meeting-used to produce the mythical book Hitchcock/Truffaut-this film illustrates the greatest cinema lesson of all time and plummets us into the world of the creator of Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo. Hitchcock’s incredibly modern art is elucidated and explained by today’s leading filmmakers: Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader.
American Masters: A Conversation with Gregory Peck (1999) Barbara Kopple, Gregory Peck, Cecilia Peck, Veronique Peck, Documentary, Biography
In 1999, Gregory Peck (1916-2003) visits the Barter Theatre, Abingdon, VA, where he had acted in 1940 and where this evening he tells stories and answers questions about his career. Interspersed are clips from Peck’s films and from interviews recorded over the years and vérité contemporary footage of visiting with his daughter Cecilia before and after the birth of her son, receiving the National Medal of Arts, chatting with Lauren Bacall and with Martin Scorsese, and dining with Jacques Chirac, always with his wife of forty-four years, Veronique Passani, beside him. Throughout, Peck is informal, candid, and wry.
After Flamenco (1995) and Tango (1998) – nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, in 2005 Carlos Saura completes his trilogy on modern urban song with Fados. After over two years of research into the subject, Carlos Saura takes an enormous step forward in his approximation to music. If, in his earlier musicals, Iberia, Flamenco, Tango…, he based his work on dancing, in Fados he makes a special effort with the plot and image to reflect the birth of a suburban, dockland music which is in itself a synthesis of all of the music born towards the end of the 19th century.