Daniel Garber talks with Scotty Bowers and Matt Tyrnauer about Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, documentary, Hollywood, LGBT, Movies, Scandal, Secrets, Sex, Sex Trade by CulturalMining.com on December 29, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Photos by Jeff Harris

It’s the early 1950s. Scotty Bowers is a former Marine working as a gas jockey on Hollywood blvd. who stumbles on an untapped market: sex with the stars. They wanted young men and they were willing to pay for it: 20 bucks a pop. Soon he was turning tricks, invited into the mansions of the biggest stars in Hollywood: Spencer Tracy, Catherine Hepburn, Charles Laughton, George Cukor, Lana Turner, Cary Grant. But Scotty was also discreet, and kept Hollywood’s secrets safe from the gossip rags… until the stars were long gone. Then he wrote it down in a tell-all book.

Scottty and the Secret History of Hollywood is a new feature documentary which had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by noted documentary filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer, and starring Scotty Bowers it probes Scotty’s history, tells his secrets, and brings it up-to-date in present day LA.

I spoke with Matt Tyrnauer and the legendary Scotty Bowers at TIFF17.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood will open in April.

 

Made for the Big Screen. Films reviewed: Suburbicon, Human Flow, Faces Places

Posted in 1950s, Anthropology, Art, Clash of Cultures, Crime, documentary, France, Migrants, Refugees, Rural, Suburbs, War by CulturalMining.com on October 27, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Do you find it hard to keep up with all these Fall Film Festivals? Here’s some coming in November whose names are nearly self-explanatory: EstDocs shows documentaries from Estonia – This year is Estonia’s 100th anniversary since it first declared itself a republic. ReelAsian is one of Toronto’s biggest festivals, showing features from East and South Asia and their diasporas. And guess what Black Star shows? It’s a curated series of classics at TIFF featuring black movie stars: Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones, Sidney Poitier in In The Heat of the Night, and Denzel Washington in Malcolm X.

This week I’m looking at some movies — a thriller and two art documentaries – with strong visual elements that deserve to be seen on the big screen. These films are about migrating across continents, driving across France… or just staying put in the suburbs,

Suburbicon

Dir: George Clooney

It’s the late 50s in a cookie-cutter suburb. Nicky (Noah Jupe) is a twelve year old boy who lives with his mom and dad in a middleclass, white, Episcopalian home. His father, Mr Gardner (Matt Damon) works at a middle management office job, while his mom (Julianne Moore) stays at home. She uses a wheelchair to get around since she was almost killed in a car accident a year earlier. Her sister (also played by Juliane Moore) helps out around the house. Life is bland, suburban and normal.

Then two big things happen.

First, a middle class black family moves into the house behind theirs. This makes Nicky happy because they have a son his age– someone he can play baseball with. His all-white neighbours, though, didn’t like it one bit, and try to intimidate them into moving away. The second thing is a home invasion by a pair of lowlife criminals. They tie up the family to chairs at the dinner table and knock them out with ether. And when Nicky wakes up, his mom is dead and the killers are gone. Stranger still, his aunt quickly moves in to take her place and dyes her hair to look exactly like his real mom. What’s going on?

Then things get worse. White violence scalates against their new black neighbours escalates. A detective visits Gardner at his office investigating his wife’s murder. He’s suspicious. So is an insurance investigator. Then the killers themselves show up again making new demands. What do they want from him? When Nicky catches his Dad and his fake-mom in a compromising position on the pingpong table he realizes something is very wrong.

Suburbicon is a zany — but violent – mystery/thriller that looks at the dark side of a 1950s suburb, as seen through the eyes of a little boy. It also deals with segregation, but that’s really just a subplot — an attempt to give it relevance. It’s written by Joel and Ethan Coen, with the usual over-the-top violence and absurdist comedy, but it doesn’t feel like a Coen Brothers movie. This is George Clooney’s work. Aesthetically, it’s amazing, with incredible art direction that brings to life a stylized version of suburban America.

It’s a fun story, but that’s all it is — entertaining fluff.

Human Flow

Dir: Ai Weiwei

Millions of people around the world are housed temporarily in makeshift shelters. These refugees flee their homes or villages in fear for their lives. Many more are migrating across borders looking for a place to call home, now that war or famine or poverty has made their previous homes uninhabitable. This human flow, these crowds of people risk their lives qs they walk through deserts, through fields and cities, crossing oceans in leaky boats, as they search for sanctuary.

This movie follows refugees and migrants around the world: Rohingya in Bangladesh, Syrians walking through Europe, central Americans climbing those walls at the US/Mexican border. It takes us to Gaza, Kenya, Afghanistan, Turkey and Hungary, looking at how these people fare in unwelcoming environs.

Human Flow is huge, epic in scope and very long for a documentary – almost 2 ½ hours. It takes you to different locations without any narrative or order, punctuated with poetic quotes and info scrolling across the screen. There are some exciting parts — like the rescue of migrants in boats on the Mediterranean – but much of the film has a constant “flow”, just drifting to scene after scene. Ai Weiwei is primarily an artist so the filming is gorgeous and grandiose. It uses drone shots looking down from way, way up in the air where refugee camps look like tiny white pills arranged in neat rows. Then it zooms down, until you gradually see what looks like ants and then finally, real people with faces. Human Flow is visually stunning and informative.

I just wish it were an hour shorter.

Faces Places (Visages Villages)

Wri/Dir: Agnes Varda and JR

Agnes Varda is the Belgian-born artist and filmmaker who rose to fame in the French New Wave. JR is a contemporary artist known for his postering. He plasters his work — giant-sized, black and white paper photos – onto outdoor walls. Together they travel across France taking pictures of ordinary people they meet on their way: a coal miners daughter, a waitress, a farmer, and a woman who raises goats. They also pay homage to important figures from Agnes’s past: a man who modeled for her on the beach, the grave of photographer Cartier-Bressson, and Jean-Luc Godard’s home.

They make strange pair. Agnes is short, with a pageboy haircut, her white hair partly dyed with a red halo around the fringe. She’s 88. JR is tall and lanky. He won’t reveal his real name and keeps his face disguised with a fedora and dark glasses. He’s 33. They travel in JR’s little truck that has the image of a camera lens on the side. It functions as a photobooth that prints out the huge paper photos he take. And Agnes films it all, recording the process and people’s honest reactions to JRs art. The posters might wash off of walls by the next high tide , but they will remain longer on film.

Faces Places is a delightful personal documentary about art and photography, both still and in motion.  It shows us the transience of people and images.

Human Flow is now playing, and Suburbicon and Faces, Places open today in Toronto; check your local listings. 

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

Secrets. Films reviewed: Two Men in Manhattan, Army of Shadows, Rumble: Indians Rock the World

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, African-Americans, documentary, Drama, France, Indigenous, Manhattan, Music, WWII by CulturalMining.com on July 28, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Is there anything you wouldn’t tell your partner, best friend or parents? This week I’m looking at movies about secrets: two classic French thrillers by Jean-Pierre Melville, and a new Canadian documentary. There’s French resistance fighters with secret identities, a journalist in Manhattan chasing a secret story, and the secret, indigenous roots of rock and roll.

Two Men in Manhattan (1959)

Wri/Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville

It’s the late 1950s. Moreau (Jean Pierre Melville) is a reporter for AFP (Agence France-Presse), based in Manhattan, who receives a strange assignment. A top diplomat at the United Nations didn’t show up at the General Assembly… he has completely disappeared. The missing man is a French diplomat, and a war hero with a sterling reputation. Moreau has to track him down and find out what’s going on.

So Moreau turns to a freelance photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset) for help. Delmas is a notorious alcoholic and a womanizer, but one who knows what’s going on behind the scenes in downtown manhattan. Moreau has to drag him out of bed with his latest pickup to get him to come along.

Turns out Grasset was the right one to turn to – he knows how to find the diplomat by who he’s been scene with late at night. But while Moreau is a respected journalist, Grasset will do anything for a buck. Their search takes them to a series of meeting with exotic women: a jazz singer in her recording studio, an actress backstage at intermission, a stripper in her change room and a sex worker in her boudoir. And, unbeknownst to them, they’re being followed by a mysterious woman in a car. Will they find the diplomat, and if they do will the story be suppressed or sold to the highest bidder?

This is neat noirish movie with a moral dilemma on the ethics of journalism. It’s also the only time Melville appears in one of his own movies.

Army of Shadows (1969)

Wri/Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville (Based on the novel by)

It’s 1942 in Vichy France. Most of France is occupied by Germany, but for most people life hasn’t changed. But not for Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) a middle-class engineer. He is arrested by gendarmes, not by Nazis,  and sent to a relocation camp, built by the French to hold prisoners of war from Germany. Now it’s the other way around.

The camp holds a ragtag assortment of Russians, Poles, Jews, Algerians, Communists, as well as random Frenchmen arrested for no known reason. He has plans to escape with a young communist but is suddenly sent to the Gestapo headquarters for interrogation. After a daring escape, he joins a Resistance cell in Marseille consisting of tight knit group of men and one woman:

There’s handsome Jean Francois (Jean Pierre Cassel) who is in awe of his older brother, a philosopher. Mathilde (Simone Signoret) is a tactical genius, inventing fantastical ways to break into enemy headquarters without being noticed (Signoret convincingly switches from French to German). Other members are known only by their code names: La Masque, Le Bison, Felix. Together they smuggle allied forces to safety in England, relay messages sent by radio, and keep one another out of the hands of the enemy. Army of Shadows is a realistic thriller, based on a novel by a member of the French resistance( as was the director himself – in fact Melville was his nom de guerre)

It’s full of dark episodes and plot twists, that doesn’t portray the French, including the Resistance, in the best light. It’s full of secrets and lies, and the cold-blooded executions of their own comrades and closest friends who may have divulged secrets.

The movie bombed when it was first released – perhaps it was still too close to the events it portrayed, or maybe its politics didn’t jibe with Paris in 1969 – but decades later, after it was finally released on North America, it was a critical success. It is now considered a masterpiece.  Ventura, Cassel, and especially Signoret are all fantastic.

A must-see.

Rumble: The Indians who Rocked the World

Dir: Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana

When people talk about rock and roll they’re sure to mention its influences: jazz, blues, folk and country. It uses tunes from Europe, rhythms from West Africa but with words and feelings that are purely American. But what about aboriginal North Americans – First Nations, Metis and Native Americans? This documentary looks at both the musicological influences and the genetics of the musicians themselves – the drummers, guitarists and singers most people took for white, black or hispanic.

Link Wray pioneered the use of guitar feedback (his hit Rumble was a huge influence on bands from Led Zeppelin to the Who). He was Shawnee. Robbie Robertson, founding member of The Band, is Mohawk and learnt his music on the Six Nations reserve. Early blues great Charley Patton was Choctaw, and singer Mildred Bailey was Couer d’Alene.

The film covers territory from centuries past to present-day struggles, like activist and folk singer Buffy Ste Marie who performed at Standing Rock. And many of the black musicians who still perform at the New Orleans Mardi Gras dressed in “tribal” costume are descended from indigenous ancestors.

Music styles covered in the movie range from heavy metal to pop rock, country to folk, and soul to R&B. The musicians point out the singing styles, the drums from their childhoods.

Rumble is a really great music doc.

Rumble opens today in Toronto at the Hot Docs cinema; check your local listings. Two Men in Manhattan and Army of Shadows are part of the Jean Pierre Melville retrospective, Army of Shadows: The Cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville, which continues through August. Go to tiff.net for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Black History. Films reviewed: A United Kingdom, I Am Not Your Negro

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Africa, African-Americans, Apartheid, documentary, Drama, France, Gay, Racism, Romance, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on February 24, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s Black History Month, so I’m looking at some historical movies that fit the profile. There’s a British drama about forbidden love and a united kingdom, and a French documentary about a writer’s look at African Americans in the divided United States.

A UNITED KINGDOMA United Kingdom

Dir: Amma Asante

It’s London in the 1950s. Ruth (Rosamund Pike) is an attractive, professional woman who lives with her parents. One night she meets a handsome student from Oxford at a dance. After a few dates he reveals he’s a prince, destined to become the king of a far off country called Bechuanaland. They fall in love, decide to marry, and move there… it’s like a fairy tale. But they face one problem. Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is black, and Ruth is white. This doesn’t A UNITED KINGDOMmatter much to them, but it does to the people around them.

Ruth’s parents are dead set against it, and as a mixed race couple they face abuse and even violence from strangers on the streets of London. In Bechuanaland, a British protectorate in Southern Africa, Seretse also faces trouble. He’s going against tradition by not choosing a wife from his own tribe. His uncle, the current Regent, objects strongly. And then there’s Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport), a highly-placed diplomat in the foreign service. He’s condescending, snotty, racist and sexist – he A UNITED KINGDOMassumes Ruth works in a typing pool (because she’s a woman) when she’s actually an underwriter at Lloyds of London. And he has ulterior motives.

Bechuanaland (now Botswana) is a British protectorate completely surrounded by Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa and South-West Africa (Namibia). Since 1948, South Africa has been under apartheid rules which make it illegal for whites and blacks to marry. For the king of Bechuanaland to openly flout these racist laws might undermine South A UNITED KINGDOMAfrica’s legitimacy. South Africa is a commonwealth member and the region is a huge source of mineral wealth for multinationals. Under current laws, Seretse and Ruth are not legally permitted to share a drink in a restaurant… in the land he’s supposed to rule!

Politics is strange. Seretse is forced into exile, while Ruth – and their new baby – remain in Africa. Can Ruth and Seretse win the trust of their countrymen? Can they win the sympathy of the British public? Can they bring justice and prosperity to a remote arid country? And can love hold a separated family together?

A United Kingdom is a historical drama, with equal helpings of romance and British parliamentary politics. It’s based on a true story I knew nothing about. Although it ends abruptly, it has a surprisingly fascinating story. I liked this movie.

3ea9d0fe-c6c6-4980-9ef1-727cc28d7b96I Am Not Your Negro

Dir: Raoul Peck (Written by James Baldwin)

James Baldwin was an African American writer, the author of Notes of a Native Son, and novels like Giovanni’s Room. Born in Harlem he took part in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. But because of the racism and potential violence he faced in America he left for Paris where he spent most of his life. He joined the expat community there, including Nina Simone and Josephine Baker. He wanted to be known not as a black writer,  not as a gay writer, but 6bbac4d9-bdd8-4d22-aae4-fa76fe7ab6a0as a writer.

This film follows Baldwin’s writings on three important figures in the struggle for civil rights: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.,

They represented, respectively, the NAACP, Black Muslims, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. All three were spied on and harassed by the FBI and labeled “dangerous”, and all three were assassinated before the age of 40.

Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Baldwin looks back at their stories and his encounters with them, but also sets himself apart. He’s not a Muslim, not a Christian, not a member of the NAACP or the Black Panther Party.

The title, I Am Not Your Negro, is Baldwin’s central point. The story of the Negro in America, he says, is the story of America, and it’s not a pretty story. It’s a history of violence and racism.There is no difference between the North and South, Baldwin says, just the way you castrate us. He covers slavery, lynching, segregation, and incarceration. And the film neatly connects the slaying of Medgar Evers by a white supremacist with current racist murders, like the deaths of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin

4357c413-cb69-4edf-841e-9d3ce1e5660b Samuel L Jackson’s narration of Baldwin’s prophetic words alternates with Baldwin’s own voice: on the Dick Cavett show and at the Cambridge Debates. Baldwin – and director Peck — tells his story with a barrage of Hollywood images. From the pink-scrubbed face of a dancing Doris Day, to John Wayne’s 7f8cc584-e699-49bc-ba66-791cb899b7f5confidence in killing native Americans. Baldwin recalls his childhood shock at a John Wayne Western when he realized he’s not the “cowboy”, he’s the “Indian”.

I Am Not Your Negro is about the fear and violence faced by African Americans. It’s a terrific documentary, a cinematic essay told through the masterful use of period still images. These are not the photos and clips you’re used to but jaw-dropping, newfound pictures. There’s lush nighttime footage and a fantastic juxtapositions of words and images. (The film reminds me of the work Adam Curtis.) It’s nominated for an Oscar for best documentary.

A United Kingdom and I Am Not Your Negro both start today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening this weekend: if you’re a cat person, there’s Kedi, about the street cats of Istanbul; or if you’re a zombie or a zombie-lover, there’s the wonderful horror movie The Girl with all the Gifts (read the review here).

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Fast cars and fast food. Films reviewed: xXx: Return of Xander Cage, The Founder

Posted in 1950s, Action, Biopic, Conspiracy Theory, Food, Morality, Movies, Sports by CulturalMining.com on January 20, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Things are happening so fast south of the border you have to read Twitter to keep up. One day Chelsea Manning is heading for freedom. Another day Donald Trump is heading for the White House. So this week I’m looking at two movies about things that are fast. There’s a biopic about fast food, and an action movie about fast cars, fast planes and fast motorcycles.

15585154_696458033845759_3594431449720292242_oxXx: Return of Xander Cage

Dir: DJ Caruso

Americas bigwigs are meeting in a highrise and they are very worried. A top secret device known as Pandora’s Box has fallen into enemy hands. It looks like a VHS tape, but it has the power to turn satelites into Weapons of Mass Destruction, plunging to earth on their targets in a blaze of fire. But their meeting is broken up by a surprise attack by ghost agents: powerful paramilitary figures that are totally off the grid. So the head bigwig (Toni Collette) hires the legendary Xander 14940238_661940813964148_2127771514128546450_oCage (Vin Diesel) – the Triple X agent — to track down the bad guys and bring Pandora’s Box back home.

The problem is, how do you tell the good guys from the bad guys? Xander is offered a team of Sgt Nick Furys, but rejects them. Instead he gathers a team of misfits. There’s Adele, a green-haired Aussie sniper, and a car crash 14889751_661940543964175_1685622379480816316_omaniac, amond others. Xander Cage himself is an expert in extreme sports involving skis, skateboards and parkour. He’s also popular with the ladies. He regularly sleeps wth six models simultaneously. Why or how the movie doesn’t explain. The opposing team includes martial arts greats (Donny Yen and Tony Jaa — from Hong Kong and Thailand respectively) and the beautiful Serena (Indian model Deepika Padukone). The big showdown is supposed to take place at an open-air rave in a remote island (supposedly in the in the Philippines but without any Filipinos). But should they be 14902898_661941123964117_8062871875001764536_ofighting one another? Or going against the source of the trouble – the military/industrial bigwigs who started it all?

Triple X, Return of Xander Cage is an action movie, but not a thriller. It has an international cast, and a weird obsession with the 1990s, complete with 90s 14917252_661941140630782_7672771277120637968_orave culture, clothing, tattoos, even a guest appearance by Ice Cube.

There are a few funny lines, but most of the dialogue is painfully bad, filled with fake profundity. Lines like: Patriotism is dead; now there are only rebels and tyrants. (What does that mean?) Great chase scenes, including motorcycles on skis racing through a tubular wave on a beach; OK fights, though they skimped on the martial arts; plus lots of explosions, shootouts, car crashes and falling from great heights. Lots of violence but surprisingly less blood than I see shaving in the morning. (And I have a beard.) Which makes the violence seem comic book or comical. Watch this silly movie if you’re into extreme sport/action movies and just want to kill some time. It’s not a great movie by any measure, but it’s an enjoyable distraction.

TF_D01_TR_00075.ARWThe Founder

Dir: John Lee Hancock

It’s mid-twentieth century in middle America. Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is an unsuccessful travelling salesman. His mind is full of get-rich-quick schemes, but they always seem to fail. Still, he relentlessly plies the highways with samples of merchandise and the endless sales patter he carefully rehearses in motel rooms. Right TF_D22_DM_06302015-8012.cr2now it’s steel milkshake machines that he sells to drive-in burger joints popping up nationwide. They are places where leather jacketed toughs and girls in bobby sox gather to smoke cigarettes and listen to the juke box. Terrible service, cold food, long waits.

TF_D27_DM_07082015-9955.cr2But when he takes a telephone order from San Bernardino, California, his ears perk up. A restaurant there wants six of them. Six milkshake machines? Surely there must be some mistake. He drives out to investigate. And there he finds McDonalds. They sell burgers, fries, milkshakes. The lines are long but speedy, the food is delicious, and the service is perfect. No carhops, juke boxes or cigarettes here.

So he meets up with the owners, Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carrol Lynch and Nick Offerman). It’s their baby, they say. They planned the menu, the logo, the golden arches. They designed the logistics, they built THE FOUNDERthe ketchup and mustard squirters, they arranged the grills for maximum efficiency. And they’re making money hand over fist. Ray Crok sees his future – and limitless wealth — in franchising these restaurants across the country. The problem is, the McDonalds don’t want to expand. They want to keep it local and under their supervision. But Ray convinces them he’ll stay true to their wishes and TF_D14_DM_06182015-5178.cr2bring them lots of money. But who will ultimately be in charge: the McDonald brothers or the McDonalds corporation?

The Founder is a fascinating look at the history of that well-known brand. It looks at Kroc’s home life, affairs and business deals. I’m not a fan of Mchael Keaton, but he is fantastic in this movie; his portrayal as the ambitious (but unlikeable) Ray Crok is skilfully nuanced and complex. You sympathize with him, since he’s the main character in the movie, but you recoil from how he treats the honest and forthright McDonald brothers. This biopic is not a softball version, it’s a hard-hitting look at the dark side of a successful businessman.

The Founder and xXx Return of Xander Cage both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Fassbinder’s Women. Films reviewed: The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lola, Veronika Voss

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, Drama, Germany, Movies, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 18, 2016

explore_152id_002_originalHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The postwar renaissance of Germany’s once great cinema almost didn’t happen. It wasn’t until the 1970s that German movies came into their own. And Rainer Werner Fassbinder — along with Herzog, Wenders, Schlöndorf and von Trotta — was key to this Neue Kino. Born near Munich at the end of WWII, Fassbinder lived his entire life in Bavaria. Between 1966 and 1982, he created a phenomenal 42 feature films, along with countless stage plays and the epic TV miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz. Between these projects he led a wild personal life filled with sex, drugs and political controversy. Married twice, he also had at least two long-term male lovers, while consuming huge quantities of cocaine.

Throughout, he attempted to document Germany’s fass_24colcultural history, as the country arose from devastating defeat to become the economic juggernaut it is today. And in many of these films Germany is a woman. His female character try to survive economically, even though outsiders — men – control all the power and money. These women must weave their way through the psychologically damaging malaise underlying Germany’s economic boom. Fassbinder filters these portrayals through his view of Hollywood, especially the so-called women’s pictures of the 1940s and 50s. He idolizes directors like Douglas Sirk and Joseph L Mankiewicz and wants to be their modern, German equivalent, giving his films melodramatic titles like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and [The Longing of] Veronika Voss.

A retrospective of his work, Imitations of Life: The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, presented by the Goethe Institute and TIFF Cinematheque, is on now through the end of the year. I’m looking at three of his “women’s pictures”, great movies from the end of his career, known as his BRD (Bundesrepublik) Trilogy. Though made in the late 1970s – early 80s, they all take place in the 1940s-50s.

There’s a woman married to money, another to the silver screen, and a third to a man she never sees.

204_image-1The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) (Die Ehe der Maria Braun)

It’s Germany just after WWII. Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla) is in a fix. She was married beneath a portrait of Adolph Hitler, as American bombs fell all around her. Three weeks of love, and one night of marital bliss… then husband Hermann was sent back to the Russian front. Now with her husband presumed dead she has to feed herself. But she refuses to call herself a widow. She parades the streets each day with a cardboard sign asking “Where is my husband Hermann Braun?”

Her city is a mess of rubble, rubbish and holes in walls. Well-fed GIs are the only ones with money, while locals subsist on turnips and porridge. Maria is forced to take a job at the Moonlight Bar, a beer hall for US soldiers.

There she meets an African-American GI and falls in love. Their relationship progresses from dancing, to picnics, to English lessons, to sex. But they are interrupted in flagrante delecto by Hermann, back from the war. He beats her up and she, in turn, slams a glass bottle… not at her husband’s head, but at her lover’s, killing him instantly. Hermann takes the fall and goes to jail, while Maria vows to achieve financial success for both of them. The film chronicles her quick rise to power at a French nylon stocking conglomerate. She sleeps with the CEO — just like with the GI — but her heart remains true to her husband. But can he be trusted?

This is a great, though cynical, look at postwar Germany, as seen by the ambitious, but manipulated, Maria Braun. (Not a spoiler, but it does have an explosive ending!) This fantastic and surprising film was Fassbinders first international hit — it played in NY City for over a year.

206_image-1Lola (1981) 

It’s 1957. The leading citizens of small-town Bavaria are planning a new development: Lindenhof. It will make them all filthy rich. Protesters picket daily on the street and their plans are clearly fraudulent, but, with the government, business and police all on the take, nothing can go wrong.

In walks the new building inspector, Mr von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl). He says he wants to usher in a new city in tune with the German Economic Miracle. He’s both modern and old-fashioned – modern at work, old fashioned at home. He owns a Ming vase and loves children, East Prussians and Frisian tea. And he is a stickler who carefully reads every blueprint, invoice and form. He is “incorruptible”.

When he falls under the influence of a leftist poseur, he vows to confront the “birds of prey” behind this venture. Head vulture? The nouveau riche developer Schukert (Mario Adorf). He’s the local Donald Trump. He’s married to an older woman, but spends most of his time with his mistress Lola (Barbara Sukowa). Lola is a fiery film_203w_brd_originalcabaret performer and sex worker at the town brothel. She decides to seduce von Bohm in order to guarantee economic success for herself and her daughter. But who will triumph – the hero von Bohm, or all of the corrupt conspirators?

Lola is a deeply cynical film… but with an oddly happy ending. It decries the corruption, on both the left and the right, and the ordinary people crushed by the wheels of progress. But then the film shrugs its shoulders at the unavoidable results of modernity.

Lola is another great film, a dark satire, lit with phenomenally intense day-glo colours whose pink, aqua and acid green will sear your eyeballs.

veronikavossVeronica Voss (1981) (Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss)

It’s the 1950s in Munich. Veronika Voss (Rosel Zech) is a faded movie actress who once starred in films at UFA, the mammoth German movie studio. She still sits in theatres, staring at herself on the screen. One rainy evening, she runs into a man named Robert Krohl (Hilmar Thate). He gallantly offers her his umbrella, and walks her to the streetcar. Robert is a sports writer, gruff and burly, who knows nothing about movie stars. He happily lives with his lover, Henriette, and secretly writes poetry in his spare time.

But when she asks him for a drink, he is captivated by her larger-than-life personality. She poses and preens, acts impulsively, switching in seconds from elation, depression to agony. Movies, she says, are all about shadow and light, and she demands the waiter adjust the light to make her look better. Robert is smitten. He traces her steps to a neurological clinic, a spotless white office run by a Frau Doktor Katz (Annemarie Düringer). She’s a pretty but severe doctor who offers Veronika friendship (and morphine!) in exchange for complete domination of her life. Can Robert rescue Veronika from the lesbian doctor’s clutches before she is forever lost? Or is she already lost to drugs, and just a flickering image of the star she once was?

Veronika Voss is fantastic melodrama in the style of 30s films and 40s noir with an incredibly shiny, shadowy, black-and-white look.

Fassbinder died of a drug overdose at age 36, not long after this film’s release.

Imitations of Life: The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder is playing at TIFF until late December. Go to tiff.net for details. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Nazi trials. Films reviewed: Denial, The People vs Fritz Bauer

Posted in 1950s, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Movies, Nazi, Trial, UK by CulturalMining.com on October 7, 2016

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The Nuremberg trials were held by the Allies immediately after WWII. They publically exposed, tried, and punished the leaders of Nazi Germany for their war crimes and crimes against humanity. But relatively few were actually put on trial. And old ideologies live on. This week I’m looking at two historical dramas about lesser-known cases. There’s a German attorney in the 1950s stymied in his attempt to prosecute war criminals; and an American holocaust historian, sued for libel by a man who denies it ever took place.

DENIALDenial

Dir: Mick Jackson

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a university professor at a Georgia university. She specializes in Holocaust studies, the history of genocide under Nazi Germany. She has a special interest in holocaust deniers, writers from the extreme right who claim the holocaust never happened, any deaths were incidental, and there were no gas chambers. She says she won’t debate ahistorical demagogues but she does provide ample academic data verifying her work. So she is surprised one day when a strange man appears, uninvited, in her classroom, shouting accusations at her, all recorded with a video camera. It’s David Irving (Timothy Spall), a DENIALUK author and a great fan of Hitler and Naziism. She has mentioned him in one of her books on Holocaust deniers.

Not long after, she receives a legal notice: David Irving is suing her for libel. Her book, he says, has damaged his credibility as a historian. If she settles out of court he will appear to be justified. But if she loses the case it could serve as a triumph for neo-nazis and white supremacists across Europe. So, in an odd judicial quirk,  it’s up to her to prove (before a disinterested judge) that the holocaust took place.

With the help of well-known barristers and solicitors (played, respectively, by a cold Tom Wilkinson and a sly Andrew Scott) she pleads her case in court. DENIALWho will win the case?

Denial is principally a courtroom drama. Rachel Weiss is believable, with an excellent New York accent (she is British), but she is stifled by the role. Because her lawyers tell her not to testify, so she can’t speak in court. Instead, she spends much of the movie making gestures and sighs of anger, shock or frustration. Timothy Spall has more latitude. He plays a lawyer defending himself. Irving comes across as a self-important but wormy man who, deep down, just wants respect and love. He gets neither. So, while this is an exciting topic,  the movie itself comes across as plodding and a bit dull.

fritz_webthumb2_f7b15d1f-9b46-4fcc-a888-c18f2d668345_smThe People vs Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)

Wri/Dir: Lars Kraume

It’s the late 1950s in cold war West Germany. Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaußner: Goodbye Lenin, The White Ribbon) is a State Attorney General in Frankfurt. The country is economically booming but politically moribund. It still holds many laws enacted under Nazi rule, and the civil service is riddled with former party members. Bauer takes it upon himself to expose war criminals and bring them to trial. But he is stymied at every turn.

Before WWII, at age 30, he had been the youngest judge ever, but was jailed by the Nazis when they took power. He tpvfb_still1_lgsurvived the war in Denmark and Sweden, and later came back to Germany to continue his work. But he has few allies there. He has three strikes against him: Jewish ancestry, Socialist politics, and he is secretly gay, still illegal in Germany at the time.

Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld: Phoenix, Barbara) is a young prosecutor fresh out of law school with a young wife and a conservative family. He’s handsome, idealistic and devoted to the cause, with secrets of his own. And like many younger Germans, he feels alienated from his own country. He finds harsh laws punishing consensual sex to be cruel and outdated. Unlike most of his office, he finds Bauer an inspiration, a reason to strive for a tpvfb_still2_lgnew, progressive and democratic Germany.

Bauer receives a letter from a German in Argentina who says Adolph Eichmann is still alive, living nearby in plain sight. Eichmann is the notorious Nazi leader responsible for transporting millions to death camps. Bauer contacts Interpol and the German government, but they brush him off: We don’t pursue political crimes. Bauer’s one wish is to try war criminals like Eichmann under German Law, and within German courtrooms.

Can Bauer and Angermann shake up the establishment, reform its laws, and bring war criminals to justice? Or will tpvfb_still3_lgthe network of Nazis still in power stop them from their goals?

The People vs Fritz Bauer is a really interesting biopic and drama about a fascinating character. It has intrigue, suspense, and a few surprise twists. Klaußner plays Bauer as a hotheaded idealistic loner fighting the establishment, like Bill Murray playing Barney Frank. And Angermann is great as his conflicted devotee (with a secret lover). The movie is based on records released many years after these events. And it’s a great follow-up to 2014’s Labyrinth of Lies, another German movie that picks up where this one ends.

Denial opens today; check you local listings. The People vs Fritz Bauer starts in Toronto on Oct 21. Also opening today is The Stairs, a great documentary about Toronto’s Regent Park.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Making sense of things. Films reviewed: Little Men, Indignation PLUS Lo and Behold

Posted in 1950s, Brooklyn, College, Coming of Age, documentary, Drama, Kids, Romance, War by CulturalMining.com on August 5, 2016

Lo and BeholdHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In Lo and Behold, Werner Herzog’s excellent new documentary about the internet, a scientist explains the first internet connection between two computers. The message was supposed to be “log on” to start the transmission, but it was cut off after the first two letters, LO. As in the biblical Lo and Behold. The mysteries of life.

This week I’m talking about two dramas, about young men trying to make sense of life’s mysteries. There’s two friends in Brooklyn trying to understand their parents; and a young man in Ohio trying to understand the meaning of life.

12513502_761314487302803_7976637993320204498_oLittle Men

Dir: Ira Sachs

Jake and Tony are best friends. They met on the day Jake moved with his parents from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and immediately hit it off. Jake (Theo Taplitz) is a sensitive quiet boy who is bullied at school. Jake expresses himself through the art and comics he draws. Tony (Michael Barbieri) is his exact opposite. Outspoken, Brooklyn born and bred. He’s good at sports and always loyal to his friends. Jake is a shy introvert, while Tony is bursting out all over.

They meet because Tony’s mother, (Paulina Garcia), is a dressmaker with 13331003_828730807227837_8992169820379428690_na small boutique. It’s on the ground floor of the apartment Jake’s family is moving into. They inherited it when Jake’s grandfather died, and Brian – Jake’s dad — (Greg Kinnear) inherited it.

Finally, Jake has a friend, someone to hang with. Tony shows him around the hood, lets him meet his buddies, they even take an acting class together. Tony excels there – he’s a natural. The two boys even have a plan: that they both get accepted to the NY High School of Performing Arts. Tony would pursue his acting, of course, and Jake could do his drawing.

So we’ve got two 12-year-old kids, best friends, everything’s going great, until… the grown- ups ruin everything. Jake’s grandpa was a kindly old man, who took a Chilean refuge (Tony’s mom) 12485861_761657650601820_3424484959118845572_ounder his wing and kept her rent low. But Brian, Jake’s dad, has no such attachment or obligations to their tenant. They just want to make money. So the disagreement becomes a spat, which becomes a feud, which becomes a lawsuit. It’s spiraling out of control, and the parents aren’t letting their sons – who have nothing to do with it — see each other anymore. Jake and Tonty decide to fight back. But can they change their parents’ minds?

Little Men is not a remake of the Parent Trap; it’s not a kids’ movie at all.  It feels more like an adult’s  bittersweet memories of childhood. That said, it’s a great coming of age drama about two best friends torn apart by a family disagreement. The parents are well played, but it’s the acting of the kids that really shines, especially newcomer Michael Barbieri as Tony.

150619_IND_College_Webhall_00360.CR2Indignation

Dir: James Schamus (Based on the novel by Phillip Roth)

It’s 1951, in Newark, N.J. Marcus (Logan Lerman) works in his father’s butcher shop plucking chickens. He’s in High School, captain of the baseball team, with straight A’s. Which is very important. Because America is at war in Korea, and all his friends are being drafted, sent to fight, and shipped back home in a coffin. Only Marcus might avoid the war if he gets into university — students are Sarah Gadon stars in INDIGNATIONexempt. Marcus isn’t concerned. But his Dad (Danny Burstein) is sick with worry that his only son will die. He develops a compulsion, and follows him around at night to make sure he’s safe. Marcus’s mom (Linda Emond) meanwhile is going bonkers over her husband’s obsessive behaviour. For Marcus, the only solution is to go somewhere far, far away.

He ends up a scholarship student at a college in small town Winesburg, Ohio. It’s a chance to shed his background, expectations, stereotypes – that of the insular Jewish community of 150625_Hospital_Escargot_00071.CR2Newark, New Jersey — by cultivating his intellect at a free and open mid-western campus. He can stay true to his ideals and beliefs: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, non-conformity, and freedom from religion – he’s an atheist. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done.

He arrives to find he’s placed in a dorm with the only other Jewish kids on campus not in a fraternity.

And the University head, Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) is a cold-war Sarah Gadon & Logan Lerman star in INDIGNATION - in theaters Augustconservative, a churchgoer and nosy as hell. And seems to take particular interest in Marcus, forcing him – to his great distress — to defend all his personal beliefs and philosphies.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The awesome Olivia Hutton (Toronto actress Sarah Gadon) seems to notice Marcus. Olivia is everything he dreams of – smart, beautiful, and independent with the manners of sophisticated society. Their first date is awkward but it’s what happens next when they park the car that’s important. She gives him a ind_0707_000471468363878blow job… and it blows his mind. This is 1951, and he can’t understand what happened. “Nice” girls aren’t supposed to be sexual. Why did she do what she did? And what does it mean?

Marcus is in love, but everyone else – his roommates, the Dean, his parents, and Olivia’s secret vullnerability – threaten to destroy their relationship. Can Marcus stay true to his beliefs in oppressive, 1950s America?

Indignation is another great drama. It’s moving and fascinating, with an unexpected twist at the end. It’s literary in form – full of long debates and discussions – alternating with intimate scenes of suppressed sexuality.

James Schamus is a first-time director but he’s no newbie. He’s an old hand at scriptwriting and producing movies. He was Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s writer and producer for many years, including movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain to name just a few. He’s treading new waters here, but he does it quite well.

Lo and Behold, Little Men and Indignation open today in Toronto: check your local listings. 

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Life and Death. Movies reviewed: Oddball, I Saw the Light

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, Adventure, Animals, Australia, C&W, Cultural Mining, Drama, Environmentalism, Kids, Movies, Music, US by CulturalMining.com on April 9, 2016

CinefrancoHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s spring film festival season in Toronto right now. There’s Cinefranco Special Quebec showing French language movies for free. Next week is the 29th annual Images festival,  with galleries and movie theatres both images.jpgpresenting art on film. And Hot Docs, Toronto’s documentary festival is on later this month. But right now, starting today, is TIFF Kids, with movies from all over the 580ad56c1332d2d14ea2d62d12e141e1world for kids age 3-13, including many free screenings.

This week I’m looking at movies about life and death. There’s a real-life drama about a dog trying to keep some animals alive, and a biopic about a country and western singer trying to drink himself to death.

g5yk0j_oddball_02_o3_8961200_1456928702Oddball

Dir: Stuart McDonald

Emily (Sarah Snook) is a conservationist from a small town in Australia. It’s a tourist village filled with locals dressed in historical outfits. Emily lives with her young daughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) and her boyfriend, Bradley (Alan Tudyk) a tourism exec from New York. Her job? To keep alive a tiny flock of fairy penguins. These adorable little birds return each year to nest on a rocky island just offshore. It’s a wildlife preserve. But the penguins are threatened by an invasive, European species – foxes – that is knocking down their numbers. For theNxG8zv_oddball_06_o3_8961424_1456928765 island to remain a sanctuary, free of development, it has to have at least ten little penguins.

So they set up a watchman with a tranquilizer gun to stop the foxes, and build special boxes for the penguins to nest in. But still the numbers decrease. What can they do to save them?

ElyP3W_oddball_05_o3_8961362_1456928748Enter Olivia’s Grandpa (Shane Jacobson) and his dog Oddball. Swampy is a husky, bearded chicken farmer, given to frank talk and wild schemes. Oddball is a furry white dog who keeps the foxes out of Swampy’s chicken coops. Olivia adores her grandpa and his dog. Emily does too, but finds them a bit if a nuisance. Bradley can’t stand the dog. When Oddball runs rampant through the town, all hell breaks loose. He messes up an important event and upsets the apple cart. Literally. The town bigwigs are furious and banish Oddball to the farm 8qg9Jr_oddball_03_o3_8961241_1456928717forever.

But when Swampy notices how kind Oddball is to a penguin he saves, he and Olivia hatch a secret plan: Oddball becomes the official Penguin Guard on the rocky island. But they mustn’t let the bad guys who want to develop the island into a tourist trap – know what they’re doing. Can they save the penguins, outsmart the townfolk and preserve the sanctuary?

This is a cute movie based on a true story. It’s full of fair dinkum Aussie culture. And it avoids most of the pitfalls of kids movies: it’s not too violent or scary, no talking dogs, no princesses, nothing supernatural, and no commercial tie-ups. The only thing this movie is selling is conservationism.

db527156-7641-4c3b-8acf-64302690018bI Saw the Light

Wri/Dir: Marc Abraham

It’s 1944, in Andalusia, Alabama. Hank and Audrey are young musicians madly in love. Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) is pretty as a picture with her doe eyes and auburn hair. Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) is skinny and tall with jug ears. They’re getting married on the sly, with no wedding, no preacher, no guests. They hope to be famous someday, but for now they still live with Hank’s single mom, Lillie (Cherry Jones). She’s a classic stage mother chauffeuring her son to shows for 10 years now. 4fbd6615-aef7-49f6-a24a-2e1f61302ab4 Her Hank can do no wrong, but that Audrey – she could be trouble.

Hank and his band — guitar, bass, fiddle and steel — perform their hillbilly tunes on local radio each morning and at a bar at night. Some people like the sad songs he writes, but it doesn’t stop the hecklers and fighters from making his life miserable. One man nearly breaks his back in an unprovoked barroom brawl. So Hank shows up drunk as a skunk at most gigs. Alcohol eases his pain. His mom keeps him happily inebriated dropping bottles of hooch into his coat pockets, and Audrey doesn’t like it one bit. She thinks they’d be famous by now if he weren’t such a lush. And when he drops her from his radio show – her screechy voice is unpopular — things get dicey between them.

1S5B3346.JPGThough he’s a prolific songwriter, churning out hits by the dozen, he wants to be known as a performer. His ultimate goal? To join the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

I Saw the Light follows Hank Williams’ quick rise to fame, cut short by a heart attack at age 29. Based on a tell-all biography, the movie concentrates on his problems at home and his troubles at work. So we get to see his fights with his wife, his extramarital affairs, his alcoholism, his back pain and his 79f73698-fa5a-44b4-854a-e084b4315d1daddiction to painkillers. At work we’re privy to the back room deals of the country music industry, with his agent/manager Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford) as our guide and sometime narrator. The question is — why? His agent is boring. And his home life is depressing. It’s all very sordid and sad with hardly any good moments to relieve his relentless funk. I’m not saying the movie’s boring, just not fun to watch. We can ogle Hank’s hard times from afar, but we never get to see into his heart or share his passion.

The one redeeming factor is Hank Williams’ music. Something about his songs — both the sad tunes and the upbeat ones – always brings a tear to my eye.

I Saw the Light opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Oddball is the opening night movie for TIFF Kids. Go to tiff.net for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker German Kral about his new film Our Last Tango

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Argentina, Cultural Mining, Dance, documentary, Romance by CulturalMining.com on December 25, 2015

Director German Kral

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves met as teenagers in a Buenos Aires dance hall. They became dance partners and tangoed together through thick and thin in a famously rocky relationship. But it ended in 1997 after almost 50 years p6a6_IMG5252together when they danced their Last Tango.

Our Last Tango is also the name of a new documentary that looks at the famous couple through the years, as they turned their dancing from recreation to performance. Through new interviews it documents their history using dance recreations. The film was created by award-winning director German Krall, and produced by Pena director Wim Wenders. The film played at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens in Toronto on Christmas Day.

I spoke with German in Buenos Aires by telephone from Toronto.

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