There is really no other name in the industry of hairdressing that anyone from London, England to Boise, Idaho could recognize. And, with that sort of fame – which is difficult to attain for someone in any medium – it seems long overdue that a documentary, entitled Vidal Sassoon: How One Man Changed the World With a Pair of Scissors, about this man’s cultural impact should be released.

Just like Sassoon himself, the film takes an original approach to chronicling the life of a (hair)style icon in that, rather than evincing the tone of a biopic-type documentary in the vein of The September Issue (detailing the quest of Anna Wintour to complete the most important issue of Vogues calendar year) – creating distance between the film’s subject and its viewer - Vidal Sassoon receives a form of active and candid involvement from the haircutting guru that is unparalleled in most other recent documentaries. A man as passionate about haircutting as he is about life and the Chelsea Football Club, Sassoon reveals more about his personal nature in the span of an hour and thirty minutes than most people reveal in years of therapy.

Covering primarily the decade of the sixties, when you couldn’t walk down Bond Street without seeing one of Sassoon’s signature five-point haircuts, the film’s highlights include a discourse between Sassoon and fellow sixties legend Mary Quant (innovator of the mini-skirt) and Sassoon’s account of his time working on Mia Farrow‘s hair for Rosemary’s Baby.

Hailing from modest beginnings, Sassoon was coerced into apprenticing for a hairdresser by his mother, who was forced to place both him and his brother in an orphanage for seven years because of how abjectly poor she was. Additionally, Sassoon suffered the discrimination that went with being Jewish in a staunchly Protestant country in the 1930s. Sassoon's dealings with struggle, however, seemed only to fortify his zeal for success.

As the documentary also highlights, Sassoon is a man extremely devoted to his personal life--perhaps even more than he is to his empire. Four children and three former wives (he is now married to his fourth wife, Rhonda) to speak of make that much apparent. The death of one of his daughters, Catya Sassoon, from a drug-related heart attack at the age of 33 also took an emotional toll on Sassoon. But it undoubtedly served as one of the many events in his life that have put his career in perspective. As the undisputed pioneer of the hairdressing industry, Sassoon's self-effacing groundedness exhibits what a truly unique public figure he is.

In Martin Scorsese‘s latest documentary, Public SpeakingFran Lebowitz contends that she knows everything. After watching her in the film, one is liable to believe she is completely correct in making such a presumably arrogant statement. The documentary features clips of Lebowitz’s extensive and recurring tour of different colleges and institutions throughout the United States, but, more importantly, explores the rapid deterioration of intelligence in modern society.

One of many additional fixtures to enter the orbit of Andy Warhol’s 1970s agenda, Lebowitz secured a job as a writer for Interview Magazine when it first started. Referencing the story of her first meeting with Warhol at the “new” Factory on 33 Union Square West, Lebowitz recounts that there was a sign outside of the door requesting guests to announce who they were before entering. Using the quintessential Lebowitz wit, she announced herself as Valerie Solanas (the woman who shot Andy Warhol in 1968). As the 1970s progressed, Lebowitz battled her desire to simply waste time when she published a collection of essays called Metropolitan Life (featuring titles like “Children: Pro or Con?” and “Success Without College”) in 1978. The only subsequent prose Lebowitz has released are Social Studies in 1981 and Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas in 1995.

Since what some deem her golden era (the 70s and early 80s), Lebowitz has focused largely on TV appearances, writing a novel twenty plus years in the making called Exterior Signs of Wealth, and, naturally, public speaking. Her satirical view of the world around her has only augmented as the media has become the sole source of news, entertainment, and overall cultural value. Incidentally, Lebowitz blames Andy Warhol for creating the innate societal “ambition” to be famous. In Public Speaking, she states that Warhol jokingly coined the term "superstar" to encourage the grandiose behavior of Factory regulars like Candy Darling and Ultra Violet. It was, she notes, one of numerous inside jokes that should have stayed inside.

Much has been said about Herzog the man over Herzog the director. He's just too damned interesting not to notice whenever he opts to make a documentary. Ever since Grizzly Man came out in 2005, the notoriously deadpan filmmaker has developed a devoted American audience that seems to relish watching him interact with his documentary subjects as opposed to the actual documentary subject itself.

For most people who have been forced to take an Art History 101 class, the Chauvet Cave is the first thing you learn about. Its intricate paintings of animals of every variety--created nearly 30,000 years ago--almost puts modern artists to shame. Herzog's methods for making history "fun" are not all that divergent from how he usually goes about documentary filmmaking. That is to say, he hones in on one or two interviewees and subtly belittles them, greatly contributing to the humor value of the movie (e.g. a juggler turned archaeologist that Herzog has a playful rapport with). Seeing Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D also helps give it a greater entertainment value. Add a pinch of ganja to your popcorn and you're in for the most entertaining movie of the year.

As for the person responsible for drawing the legendary artwork in the cave, scientists and archaeologists have pinpointed two very specific characteristics: The man was six feet tall and had a crooked pinkie. If only this primordial man could now how obsessed future generations would become with finding out his identity. He might not have been as  comfortable leaving traces of himself behind.

Herzog's interest in filming the inside of the cave sprung from reading an article in The New Yorker called "Letter From Southern France: First Impressions." The article, written by Judith Thurman (one of the executive producers of the film), discusses how eerily advanced the drawings in the cave are. How the concept of perspective and movement--artistic principles that were not reintroduced until centuries later--are finely tuned and expertly conceived throughout the walls of the cave.

As the film draws to a languorous finale, Herzog, as is his way, catches us completely off guard with the closing scene: A biosphere of albino alligators populating the area surrounding the Chauvet Cave. Paired with Herzog's narration, this unexpected bookend to the story will leave you feeling both gawky and ennobled.

There is a belief that is perpetuated in American society, even though we practice the exact opposite: To cultivate a love of things--material possessions--is to lead a life of emptiness. In L'amour Fou, the documentary that catalogues the enduring business and romantic partnership between Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, this belief is shattered by the concept that each possession tells a story, and is just as important to a life and a relationship as a person.

The meeting between Pierre and Yves took place, somewhat poetically, at the funeral of Christian Dior in 1957. Yves was only 21 years old when he took over the legendary couturier's line. As the lead designer under Dior before his death, Yves was trained to one day take over the house of Dior, but preparing for it versus actually doing it were two very different actions. To have that much pressure at such a young age only increased the sense of solemnity Yves already bore.

And yet, the prolific designer was able to pioneer a new era of fashion, one in which haute couture was nurtured and revitalized. In 1960, after Yves won a lawsuit against Dior for breach of contract, the designer felt the only thing to do was to start his own business with Pierre. This constant closeness to one another, rather than incite petty arguments or spotlight personality clashes, only served to heighten the love they felt for one another. It also gave Pierre a unique insight into Yves' depression. In the film, he notes, "I only saw Yves happy twice a year: After he put out a collection."

It was only when the couple got away from Paris that Yves seemed somewhat at peace. The duo owned houses in both Normandy and Morocco (a locale that would inspire Yves often throughout the 1970s). Even so, the unspoken demand for Yves to constantly surpass expectations took its toll, and he turned to the numerous illicit drugs available in that ambiguous decade called the 70s. The dependency became such a problem that Pierre moved out of their Paris apartment and separated from the love of his life in 1976.

While director Pierre Thoretton's method of slow pans and detailed shots is effective for revealing the genuine attachment and sentimentality Pierre has for his shared possessions with Yves, there are moments in the film when the emotion comes off as forced--like the viewer is being cued by certain contrivances. While this is generally how a movie, especially a documentary, is supposed to work, L'amour Fou fails in being subtle about that fact.

Thoretton, however, finds as perfect an ending as he can get from such a melancholy union by concluding the film with an epic Christie's auction in New York City. After it is over, Pierre finally appears to achieve some sort of catharsis by parting with the items (then again, who wouldn't feel catharsis from getting that kind of financial sum?).

For anyone who thought that the United States never had Third World characteristics, Celine Dahnier's Blank City proves that Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1970s and early 1980s closely rivaled the apocalyptic conditions of Ethiopian living. However, born out of this generally fetid and unseemly lifestyle came the desire of Lower East Side denizens to create films using the most minimal methods possible. The directors, actors, and musicians that make up the documentary aptly called Blank City (due to the movie Blank Generation and the overall clean slate provided by an abandoned area of town) survived through a period of time when just getting by was considered an unattainable feat. Such notables as Amos Poe, Lydia Lunch, Debbie Harry, James Nares, Patti Astor, John Lurie, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Kern, Beth and Scott B, Vivienne Dick, and Steve Buscemi were able to turn poverty into profit as their careers progressed, but in the beginning, it was all about the art.

A strong basis for an artist community was formed in the ramshackle buildings that the city of New York did not have money to renovate or repair. The city's bankruptcy was ignored even by then president Gerald Ford (made extremely evident in a New York Daily News headline, printed in October 1975, that read "Ford to CITY: Drop Dead"), leaving L.E.S. ragamuffins with the pick of any vacant building they desired.

Soon, a coexistence between the mediums of film, music, and art were melding into a single cauldron of inventiveness and ingenuity. The availability of Super 8 cameras (often borrowed or stolen) gave the residents of the Lower East Side a YouTube-esque power in that, suddenly, film was democratized--available to anyone who had the inclination to make one.

From this knack for functioning amid chaos and destruction, a number of unprecedented films were released, films that were shockingly candid and reflective of an era when everyone felt as though this year could be their last--drug addiction, AIDS, and poverty all being chief contributors to this feeling. Eric Mitchell's The Way It Is, Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, Beth B and Scott B's Vortex, and Nick Zedd's They Eat Scum were all indicative of the nihilistic, yet somehow hedonistic, lifestyle that New York had adopted.

And then, as quickly as the No Wave movement had descended upon the Lower East Side, it was gone. With Reagan and the mid-80s came gentrification and wealth, leaving no place for those who had previously embraced the independent spirit that goes hand in hand with being broke. In Nick Zedd's 1986 short, Police State, the horror of being kicked out of an apartment building to make way for those who could afford to pay an obscenely overpriced rent fee marked the demise of the Lower East Side as these seminal artists had known it.

While many of the L.E.S. filmmakers were able to achieve commercial success (Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan being the most overt example), that period from 1975 to about 1983 was an inimitable blip. And while we can try to liken it to the tools that are available today (video cameras on iPhones, iMovie, and the whole fucking iLife gamut), what is missing from the current age is the struggle to survive, to create something out of a fierce need to actually exhibit a meaningful message to the world.

There is a rare breed of person that will devote his life entirely to his career. This passion/obsession for a single field has been present in every truly great genius: Van Gogh, Warhol, Dickinson, et. al. All of these eccentric icons shirked marriage, family, and "community involvement" so they could devote themselves to their respective art forms. Bill Cunningham's place amid this particular type of artist is firmly proven in Richard Press' documentary, Bill Cunningham New York.

Bill Cunningham's beginnings in the world of fashion photography first took place in the late 1960s, the height of ostentation and innovation in New York hippiedom. Cunningham would spend his weekends in Central Park and SoHo, documenting the sartorial revolution that was happening in addition to the social one. From that moment on, Cunningham's only concern in life was clothing and its associated trends. Difficult though it may be--considering how elusive Cunningham is--Bill Cunningham New York delves into the core of Bill as a person who has hidden so well behind his camera for all of these decades, and touches on some of the reasons why this might be.

Cunningham's intense focus on seeking out the next fashion zeitgeist has, by Press' visual account, prevented him from addressing his lack of a personal life. Those who know him--even some of his oldest friends, like photographer/former Warhol muse Editta Sherman--can only glean the most cursory of information. At the time of the documentary's filming, Cunningham was still living in one of the few artists' studios left in Carnegie Hall, where his entire apartment was lined with file cabinets containing archived negatives of every photograph he had ever taken. If that isn't taking your work home with you, I don't know what is.

And yet, without Cunningham's unwavering allegiance to his profession, the history of fashion in New York and as a whole would have some severely gaping holes in it. Cunningham's photography has covered the gamut of social environments--from the street to the high society gala--making his viewpoint the most unbiased one in fashion.

The film's third act features Cunningham being honored by the French Ministry of Culture during Paris Fashion Week. Cunningham's modesty shines through not just during his acceptance speech, but also at the party itself as he takes pictures of others, never one to miss out on an opportunity to spot the next remarkable ensemble.

While Bill Cunningham New York may not depict the most welcoming vision of what it is like to let work consume you, it does paint Bill Cunningham as a generally content person who somehow sees the positive light in everything and manages to let unpleasant realities roll off his back (mainly being evicted from Carnegie Hall). It also reveals that it is possible to become a prevalent force in New York without being a total asshole--even though Cunningham is correct in noting that staying honest and good-natured in New York is "like Don Quixote fighting windmills." Appropriately, as the film's credits roll, The Velvet Underground's "I'll Be Your Mirror" plays. No other song could be more relevant to what Cunningham has done for our culture.

February 12, 1981 at 11:45. I think that's supposed to be the metaphorical and literal time when Joaquin Phoenix jumped off a cliff. With an opening clip from a home movie, the introduction to the dubious mockumentary I'm Still Here is almost dramatic enough to be in a legitimate documentary. Though the film is not serpentine in the sense that we don't know what the Affleck/Phoenix alliance is trying to say overall (being famous fucking sucks when it's forced on you and will drive you mad), but it is convoluted in terms of the manner in which the message is conveyed (pretending to be a loon for a year to prove a point).

In any case, after our brief glimpse into Phoenix's childhood, we see him roaming around in what appears to be the shrubbery near Mulholland Drive (or some othe creepy part of L.A. with shrubs--and there are quite a few) with his back turned to the camera and his hooded sweatshirt covering his head while he delivers the following soliloquy:

"I'm just fuckin like stuck in this ridiculous like self-imposed fuckin prison of characterization, you know, and it happened to me young. It's like the chicken or the egg. I don't know what came first: Whether they said, um, that I was emotional and intense and complicated or whether I...or whether I was truly complicated and intense and then they responded to it. I don't want to play the character of Joaquin anymore. I want to be whatever I am."

There is definitely a bit of the real Joaquin somewhere amid those solemn words, but it becomes difficult to take his plight seriously (not that we're supposed to) when the next shot Casey Affleck cuts to is of Joaquin prodding at a bird with a broom as his voiceover rants about acting, "You're just a fuckin' puppet. You're this dumb fuckin' doll that wears what someone else tells you to wear, stands where someone tells you to stand, says what somebody else tells you to say. That's not expression. That's not creativity." As far as setting up how Phoenix will spiral out of control, it's pretty goddamn well-crafted by co-writers Affleck and, yes, Phoenix.

It is perhaps because Affleck and Phoenix wrote the script together that there is an elevated perception of how a celebrity breaks down. It's not gradually and then suddenly in a The Sun Also Rises fashion, it's fucking zero to psycho in .3 seconds. While this is amusing to watch during the first forty-five minutes, the hilarity starts to dissipate as the film nears the almost two-hour mark. But they do save one of the best moments for last when Joaquin's assistant Antony takes a shit on his face while he's sleeping out of retaliation for how Joaquin's been treating him.

Another memorable moment toward the end of the film is how Joaquin managed to keep a straight face as Diddy listened to some of the tracks he'd composed, like "Complifuckincation." That performance alone may make him the worthiest actor ever to receive an Academy Award. The parody of a "trainwreck star" reaches its most heightened proportions when Joaquin does a bump of cocaine in his car after Diddy tells him that they can't work together.

After risking his career to pull such an intricate hoax (Phoenix was the undisputed laughing stock of L.A. County, so much so that Ben Stiller and Natalie Portman did a send-up of his new look at The Academy Awards), one has to ask if making the movie was worth the involved process. Eh, maybe. A mockumentary about Lindsay Lohan might have provided a more acute PSA. Additionally, the comedic tone of the film is contradicted when it ends on a note that suggests suicide, failure, and Hollywood's innate ability to drive a person fucking crazy. So maybe there is a little less "mock" to this mockumentary than meets the eye.

It's been over twenty years since the footage of esteemed/adored/regarded graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was filmed by Tamra Davis, a "friend" of Basquiat's while he was in his L.A. phase. That footage is now a documentary called Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. You may detect a hint of derisiveness in my tone when I refer to Davis as Basquiat's friend, but it's only because I find it a hair exploitive that she would turn the footage into a movie in the wake of directing 2002's Crossroads (that's right, the one starring Britney "Hot Mess" Spears). Since then, Davis has directed television episodes only. And while I would like to have faith in the assumption that she created the project out of appreciation for the mind of a genius, a part of me can't resist thinking there's an ulterior motive. Though in Davis' defense, the Basquiat crowd is definitely a niche audience, but that doesn't mean the film won't work to the benefit of restoring her credibility.

The film opens with an eerily prophetic poem from Langston Hughes, called "The Genius Child." The poem reads as follows:

This is a song for the genius child. Sing it softly, for the song is wild. Sing it softly as ever you can - Lest the song get out of hand.

Nobody loves a genius child.

Can you love an eagle, Tame or wild? Can you love an eagle, Wild or tame? Can you love a monster Of frightening name?

Nobody loves a genius child.

Kill him - and let his soul run wild.

The utter accuracy of this poem is astonishing. It is as though Langston Hughes crafted the words expressly with Basquiat in mind. From there, the film proceeds to inform us of the gloom and metaphorical alluvion that took place in the New York of the late 70s and early 80s. Because of how cheap it was to live in the East Village at that time, artists were actually able to be artists without having to have the motherfucking scourge known as a day job. Basquiat, already a native of Brooklyn, didn't have too much difficulty making the transition to downtown New York, where he essentially lived as a vagabond tagging the walls of SoHo with the moniker of Samo (an abbreviation for Same Old Shit). This notoriety would allow Basquiat to parlay his name recognition into a loosely autobiographical film called Downtown 81, following Basquiat through the sullied streets of downtown in search of someone who will buy one of his paintings.

Gradually, the downtown scene came to consist of several key players, such as Keith Haring, Debbie Harry, Thurston Moore, Fab Five Freddy (a frequent cohort of Basquiat's), Madonna (who naturally had a brief sexual dalliance with Basquiat around 1982, referred to in several of his paintings), the already firmly established Julian Schnabel, and, eventually, Jean-Michel Basquiat. These well-known faces of the Lower East Side became known as "The Downtown 500" (though I find it hard to grasp that there could be five hundred famous people within such a small radius).

In spite of Basquiat's immense strife at the start of his career, it didn't take long for people to start asking questions about who the elusive Samo was and where they could get more of his unique take on graffiti art. Diego Cortez, the first supportive curator of Basquiat's work, was more than willing to help the young prodigy move forward in his career, noting of the 1980s New York art scene, "I was tired of white people, white walls, and white wine."

Once Cortez started promoting Basquiat's art, it took about less than a second for the 20 year old to explode. Soon after, curator Annina Nosei was offering the young artist a basement studio on 100 Prince Street (currently the building where Prada offshoot Miu Miu has taken up residence). At last, Basquiat was given the space and the freedom to create limitlessly.

However, as many critics and fans have speculated, becoming famous at such a young age and continuing to ascend into the limelight at such a rapid pace forced Basquiat to fall even harder. In 1986, Basquiat had a joint exhibition with mentor/friend Andy Warhol. Rather than being praised as one might have expected, the show was unanimously panned, seen by outsiders as a way for Warhol to cash in on a trend and a way for Basquiat to gain acclaim from the largely white-dominated art world.

Another speculative reason within the documentary for Basquiat's insistence on turning to heroin for comfort and validation was the lack of such predilections from the tastemakers of art and the curators of major museums like the MoMA, still largely dominated by a crusty, oldish white demographic. In an early TV appearance, the interviewer talking to Basquiat makes the mistake of telling him that his work is "primal." Basquiat retorts, "You mean like an ape?" It is unquestionable that Basquiat was constantly under pressure to prove himself as a representative for the "black community." And while the "white people are assholes" bandwagon is already pretty fucking full, in this case, the sentiment rings true.

What Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child seems to be saying is that all geniuses are subconsciously doomed to spiral out of control, too sensitive and too lonely to exist in the same world with the rest of us, merely grateful admirers of the work.

Before the currently lauded--though paled in comparison to this documentary's subject--music producers of recent decades (Timbaland, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, William Orbit, Stephen Street, Mirwais Ahmadzai, Feadz, Brian Eno, Dr. Dre, et. al.), there was the unworldly genius of Phil Spector. And he is an incontestable genius. This is one instance where music is not subjective. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector is simultaneously intimate and impersonal. It does not rehash the events of Phil Spector's life, so much as it interweaves footage from his trial for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson with sound bites and video footage of the music he produced, along with filmmaker Vikram Jayanti's (who loses just a shred of artistic integrity by having directed another music documentary called Britney Spears Saved My Life) interviews with Spector while he was on trial the first time in 2007.

Phil Spector's openness and ability to discuss some of his greatest collaborations (The Ronettes, John Lennon, The Beatles, The Righteous Brothers, and The Crystals) stem from the mindset of facing a possible conviction and sentencing. He is unafraid to malign, among others, Tony Bennett (the person he regards most as overrated it would seem), Paul McCartney (when discussing how Spector felt about McCartney re-releasing the Let It Be album without Phil Spector's production and arrangements, he said, "He has me mixed up with somebody who gives a shit"), and Yoko Ono (on producing her music, he asserts, "I had to pass on that").

The reason the film can be both agony and ecstasy for viewers is because of just how bluntly it portrays the bleak and lonely existence of being a genius. And while Spector may claim that loneliness is a state of mind, you can either choose to be lonely or not, I imagine he is someone who has been misunderstood from the very beginning. Case in point being his first hit song, "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by The Teddy Bears. The song is automatically interpreted as the lament of unrequited love, though it is actually, Spector confirms, about his father. That is in fact the epitaph on his father's grave, who committed suicide when Spector was ten years old.

Regardless of Spector's inner turmoil, he has always been able to turn his pain into solid pop gold, as he did with The Righteous Brothers' classic "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (immortalized in cheesy goodness by Top Gun). "Imagine" and "God," two of his finest John Lennon songs, are also indicative of a very despairing, yet hopeful person. That tinge of hope would ultimately be obliterated in the decade that followed John Lennon's murder. Additionally, the death of his son, Phil Spector Jr., in 1991 didn't fortify his faith in spirituality. He notes that it merely reiterated to him that there is no god, but there must be a devil.

The purpose of this documentary is not to create a bias about the guilt of Phil Spector in the murder of Lana Clarkson (although I have difficulty believing that someone with such a tremulous, unsteady hand could aim a gun that well), but to give an honest portrait of a man who has lost everything in spite of giving so much to the world of music, and, resultantly, to the world as a whole.

Promulgated as the world's first street art disaster movie, Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop informs you of just how easily an underground phenomenon can be sugar-coated for the masses craving chocolate covered raisins as opposed to just raisins (it's an analogy, work with me here).

Initially, Thierry Guetta a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash sets out on a whimsical crusade to document the surge of street art/graffiti in various parts of Europe and Los Angeles. But as the digressive personality of Guetta seeps into the content of the footage, he starts to become aware that perhaps he might have been in over his head in making the declaration to several well-known street artists, including Shepard Fairey, the mind behind "Andre the Giant has a posse," that he was making a documentary chronicling the explosion of the graffiti movement. Enter Banksy, the answer to the recent void in British vicissitude in the absence of Blur, who stepped in after watching the rough cut of what Guetta had planned to release as a film.

Banksy, concealed throughout the film by a hooded sweatshirt or a Cops-esque scramble around his face, confirms that Exit Through the Gift Shop is not Gone With the Wind, but there's probably a moral to be found somewhere in it. What that moral turns out to be is: People will consume whatever you're selling, as long as it is packaged correctly. Mr. Brainwash had the resources, the word of mouth, and the support of one of the most revered artists of the moment. His art is more processed and unoriginal than Andy Warhol's, and yet, people are drawn to the combination of its superficiality and its popularity. One such art collector in the movie owned artwork from any artist ever deemed "major," at one point showing a drawing from Keith Haring who she admits, "I don't even like." Bitch, then why do you own one of his paintings? Because someone told you that it was worth something and that you were supposed to like it.

Mr. Brainwash's unbelievable propulsion into art world renown resulted in the ultimate measure of success, being commissioned by pop culture beacon Madonna to create the cover art for her greatest hits album Celebration. Not only that, but it allowed for a two-month exhibition of "Life is beautiful," where inhabitants of L.A. were lured by a cover story from LA Weekly called "Mr. Brainwash Bombs L.A.," but, as one patron of the arts put it, "It's one of those things where I'm not sure why I'm here, I just know I'm excited." That seems to be the fundamental sentiment at the core of the film. Half the time, people don't take action of their own willingness, they take action because of suggestion, because of propagandist coercion.

More often than not, you've found yourself in a YouTube circle jerk, where you see one video then another and then another; sometimes you stay on topic, but you typically get to something that stops the momentum and end up getting back to whatever you were doing. When You're Strange, The Doors documentary by Tom DiCillo, took me on a similar ride. Here I am thinking I'm gonna get something ground-breaking and new, yet I finish this film not knowing why I got to where I was. Originally, DiCillo slated himself as the narrator, but after initials complaints about his monotone voice (something I too share), he opted to get Johnny Depp to take over that responsibility. I'm sure in some circles, men don't compliment other men on their voice, but Johnny Depp could speak all day and I'd listen. His timing was on point, and he kept me engaged throughout the entire film. That is, until I started questioning exactly what I was watching. I realize there's no requirement to conduct interviews for documentaries, but when the people it's about are still alive, why not? Albeit, the film (as is much Doors-inspired creations) was chiefly geared around Jim Morrison, but still I would have really enjoyed hearing from his bandmates. Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger are all still alive, yet none of them had a present-day interview conducted.

When You're Strange: The Doors Documentary

It was an hour and a half of Doors footage. Some of it was very rare, and awesome to be able to see, but random video footage a documentary does not make. There really wasn't much of a direction I took from it in general; the crux of the documentary was about Morrison's shenanigans. Who cares? We (the general Doors "public") all know Morrison did drugs, drank himself stupid, and fucked random sluts, so what was the film trying to show me? It showed me that the general public (not the general Doors "public") will always only get to understand Jim. Ray, John, and Robby did a hell of a lot more than play instruments, but When You're Strange makes it seem like they were merely clowns in Jim's circus.

I really wanted to hear from the other bandmates, but I'd even settle for fans that went to The Doors shows back in the day. Someone had to be sober, right? Maybe sober is a stretch...someone has to have some drunken / stoned memories, no? Before it's too late for their to be "survivors" of The Doors shows, everyone needs to hear from them. I know they are out there. I can smell 'em.

If you're a Doors fan, go check out the film. Everyone else, save your money (assuming you've even heard of the documentary).

Chevron's spill has killed thousands already.
There’s a rumble in the jungle, folks.  It’s a David and Goliath battle, and it’s the subject of Joe Berlinger’s excellent new documentary Crude: The Real Price of Oil.  If you’ve ever been a little angry knowing you’re getting screwed at the pump, while oil companies boast record profits, year after year, this movie will let you see what it really means to get screwed by Big Oil.  If you don’t know enough to even be pissed off about it all, just google, ‘Record Profits.’  You don’t even have to type in the word ‘Oil,’ because the first hits go directly to stories about the oil industry’s big profit bonanza.  In May of 2009, Chevron’s annual report boasted record profits for the fourth consecutive year, with ‘profits of $18.7 billion’, just as crude oil prices climbed to their highest levels in 26 years.  But don’t let me bore you with all the numbers, people.  There’s a story in this movie that’s much more fascinating than Chevron’s amazing ability to screw us all at the pump.  Crude is more about Chevron’s costly efforts to screw people out of their basic human rights, in the most criminal way possible.  If a Documentary is not your idea of an action packed summer flick, keep in mind that Crude offers a treacherous villain, a large number of innocent victims, mass disease, and even murder.

Guess who owns Texaco?  Chevron!!

 But here’s the kicker: This story isn’t make-believe.  How’s that for a twist?  Granted, there are subtitles, and the pace is a little slow at times, but I challenge you action fans out there to find a fictional villain as scary as the real ones on display in this film. Just imagine a landmark court battle between Chevron and the indigenous people of Ecuador, fought over oil drenched jungle soil, where thousands of people and animals have died, thanks to what’s been referred to as the ‘Amazonian Chernobyl.’  Think big and dirty.  Big as in a spill roughly the size of Rhode Island, and dirty as in ten times worse than the Exxon Valdez disaster.  That’s what this fight is all about.  Fighting in the green corner, coming in at a significant size, and financial disadvantage is our lovable underdog, Pablo Fajardo.  Fajardo is an Ecuadorian lawyer living in a two-room shack, still battling on behalf of the disadvantaged people of his country, even after thirteen years without a ruling from the courts.  During those first few years, Pablo's brother was murdered when the bad guys hired to kill Pablo got all mixed up, and tortured the wrong guy to death.  Hmm... I wonder who might want Pablo dead?  Fighting against Mr. Fajardo, in the dark and slimy corner, is Chevron, with their endless scare tactics, resources, and spin campaigns, hiding behind their army of lawyers. 

Pablo Fajardo talks into the cameras.

It’s pretty disturbing to watch all the well-paid Chevron representatives speak on behalf of the company in this movie.  These people don’t bat an eye.  Even when they’re exposed to the laundry list of human rights violations their company is responsible for, even when the evidence is completely obvious, these people still find a way to put the money where their mouthes should be.  What’s maybe the most disturbing thing about Crude though, is the fact that Berlinger worked on this film for three years, and there’s still been no verdict in the case, thanks in large part to the company’s efforts to stall proceedings at every turn.  Tack those last three years on to the thirteen that Pablo and his friends have been fighting against Chevron, and you’ve got a total of sixteen years.  Which begs the question: How many angry, dying, indigenous Ecuadorians does it take to prove that Chevron should clean up the enormous toxic mess they made?  How many skin rashes, cancer cases, stomach infections, and dead relatives do these people have to suffer through to get a little justice?  Well, watch the movie, decide for yourself, and get back to me.  I’ll be stringing together every red cent I’ve got so I can afford another gallon of gas, but rest assured, I won’t be buying that shit from Chevron.

Posted
AuthorDoug McBride
CategoriesDocumentary

Rock Prophecies Poster If you love music, if you've ever been passionate about something, or if you ever just wished you could be a fly on the wall, Rock Prophecies (presented by the Samsung Memoir™) will connect with you.  I caught an advance screening of the documentary at a Capitol Records release party and left both inspired and enthralled.  But don't just take my word for it.  Directed by John Chester, the film has garnered audience awards at festivals in Maui, Dallas, and Nashville already this year.  The film will screen at Hollywood's ArcLight Cinemas between August 7th and August 13th, before hitting more stops on the 2009 festival circuit.

Robert's Shot of Led Zep in Honolulu in 69'

What powers the film throughout are the photographs and amazing life experiences of Mr. Robert M. Knight.  Robert was at the Capitol Records screening I attended, and after fielding questions from the crowd, then getting mobbed by admirers, he was kind enough to let me talk with him for a few minutes.  On screen, in person, and during our subsequent taped interview, Robert's compelling photos and stories seem to have a way of creating a captive audience time and time again.  As a rock photographer for the better part of five decades, the guy has collected a few good stories, to say the least.  But there's an amazing amount of discretion and integrity on his part, with regard to the stories he won't tell, and the photos he won't sell.  He's captured some of the earliest and most iconic images of the Rolling StonesJimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin, right up to current artists such as Green DaySick Puppies and Tyler Dow Bryant.  As a result, the film is filled with amazing images, and the kind of stories you might actually wish were your own.  But these aren't kiss and tell type stories.  On the contrary, there's no real gossip in the movie.  It becomes clear early on in the film, that the relationships he's built and kept with the musicians in his life depend upon a well developed trust.

Rolling Stones from the start

That doesn't mean that the stories and photos on offer aren't the stuff of dreams though.  Nowhere is that made more obvious than on the big screen, where Chester and co.help Robert's images take flight in mysterious ways.  If you ever wished you could watch Jimi Hendrix play live, or just hang out with Led Zeppelin, before the rest of the world knew who they were, you might want to see this movie.   The filmmakers do a great job of allowing the viewer to actually travel through the photographer's images in the film.  As for how that part works, well, you'll just have to see the film to know what I'm talking about.  The quality of the images, the mesmerizing movement through them, and the cinematography all combine to create a multilayered visual effect that is technically impressive.  But it's Robert's life long love for the music, and his genuine excitement about the artists he photographs, that really provides the emotional uplift for the viewer.  If it's been a while since you've seen a movie that inspires, this might be just the ticket for you, as it's worth the price of admission and then some.

Robert's wife Maryane took this great shot of her husband and Slash

After watching Grey Gardens, it's safe to rank Hollywood as the runner up for the place where dreams go to die. The real champion of this title is the estate of Edith Bouvier-Beale and her daughter Edie Bouvier-Beale, strategically sequestered in the Hamptons, in the only area isolated enough to contain the psychological fumes emanating from what is known as Grey Gardens. Now, just to avoid confusion, this film is not to be mistaken with the more recent butchering starring Drew Barrymore as Little Edie and Jessica Lange as Big Edie. The original documentary, which, for some reason, just had to be turned into a narrative version with the abovementioned street cred seeking actresses, is a stark tale of the two women who are best known as Jackie Kennedy's kooky, uncleanly aunt and cousin.

A glance at the most neurotic mother-daughter relationship of all time

Little Edie (an epithet that is hardly fitting considering she is fifty-seven in the film) credits herself as the sole caretaker of her elderly mother, Big Edie, a woman whose real pleasure in life is singing. Little Edie's passion, on the other hand, is dancing, though of course, to Big Edie's dismay, she likes to pepper her act with a bit of garbled singing as well. These dreams of entertainment success are kept alive at Grey Gardens, where Big and Little Edie feed off one another's neuroses, neither one willing to accept that their aspirations are almost as unattainable as a date with Rock Hudson during his prime.

One of the many moments of drudgery in the Bouvier-Beales' lives

One of the few outsiders the Bouvier-Beales coverse with is their handyman, Jerry, who pops in frequently to fix things that are probably irreparable considering the unfathomable squalor of the estate (grossly illustrated by a scene in which Little Edie joyfully feeds the raccoons that run freely in and out of the house).

Behind the scenes of the documentary

 Other than that, the interactions of the Bouvier-Beales are few and far between, restricted to two unnamed guests who appear for a celebration of Big Edie's birthday. This particular scene of the film is another solemn depiction of how detached from real life the mother and daughter pair has become. Filling their days with essentially nothing, Big Edie generally sits in her bed looking at the scant memorabilia from her failed singing career while Little Edie tans out on the deck (an exercise that never seems to change the pigments of her skin).

Solitude redefined

Grey Gardens, though at times difficult to watch because of its bleakness,  is one of those rare documentaries in which the filmmakers do not blatantly try to thread together some kind of motif or grand statement about life through the actions of their subject. Directors Ellen Hovde and Albert Maysles simply let the Bouvier-Beales exist, a decision that allows an incisive glance at the ennui of both wealth and aging, the latter category a considerable part of why the Edies have been forgotten by the outside world.

This is the best documentary I have ever seen. Anvil is the real life Spinal Tap, the ones that never made it.  You are rooting for these 50 year old rockers from beginning to end. I am a Metalhead and I hadn't heard of them until this film. If you like Metal - go out buy their albums - they deserve the money.

Lips and Robb love each other...when they aren't at each other's throats

Now back to the movie review. The story follows the remaining two original members,  Steve 'Lips' Kudlow and Robb Reiner, as they set out on a European tour based off of what some crazy European fan set up. Europe is the stronghold of metal so they should be loved over there right? Some shows are packed while many others are not. They miss trains, have to sleep in their tiny camper, everything that could go wrong does, and you just feel for these guys. There is an incident towards the end in Prague, where they don't get paid for a full set, and during one gig five people show up and one dude just headbangs from his chair.

After that month long debacle, they return home to Canada in search of the right people to produce their 13th album. They get the producer and the cash but no label wants them, so they sell it themselves like true metalheads. Then in the third act they get a call to play a show in Tokyo for hundreds of screaming fans, which makes you leave the theater feeling Anvil might actually make it yet on their own terms.

In a long line of band documentaries, Anvil, stands out because they weren't on top of the world. It's better then Some Kind of Monster because Metallica didn't need to come back from bass player Jason Newstead's departure; they have millions or dollars. Kudlow has to work as a school cafeteria distributor, so the sense of urgency and perseverance is there through out the film. It's funny, sad, inspiring, awesome, and brutal all rolled into one.

Lips and Robb still got it after all these years

The reason they are still struggling isn't because of their sound, it's because they never had the right people in their corner with them; they have had only the love and support of their families and fans. In the beginning, they have famous metal players singing their praises, which left me was upset at those artists for not helping Anvil out by bringing them on tour, although they claim to love the band.

Kudlow and Reiner are the two best characters a documentary maker could ask for. They are also the nicest people to ever come out of Canada who deserve fame and fortune. Even if you don't like Metal, go see this film. You can't hate these guys - they can teach us all a lot about being humble. It's a great story about humanity and being true to the ideals you grew up with.

Two metal horns way up for this one. Find it when it rolls into your town or wait for the DVD.