Friday, June 12, 2009

Some delays....

There will be a few day delay on the marathon as some things are hindering my ability to update as regularly. I will have everything back on track with my previous schedule by the time Salesman is to be posted. Sorry to the two people that might be following this marathon, I wanted to make sure I did the films justice and not rush through these reviews.

I may be adding another 5 or 6 doc's that I feel I have missed out on and are important to a study on the genre of documentary film.

Keep checking back, updates will be posted soon.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"That's our trailer, right there! " LOST IN LA MANCHA DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

Lost In La Mancha-2002- Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe


Lost in La Mancha
follows Terry Gilliam during the trials of attaining his dream of adapting Don Quixote for the screen. The entire production seems failed from the start, but they forge ahead and find themselves at their wits end after all that could go wrong does.

After watching Hearts of Darkness, Lost in La Mancha seems so incredibly tame. It's interesting to me as a fan of Gilliam and as a fan of the filmmaking process, but should that be enough to make it a compelling film? Must you have these preconceived feelings towards Gilliam to be able to enjoy the film? I don't think that you should. Anyone could watch Hearts of Darkness and get something out of it, but the film's directors, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, seem to want to replicate that type of success without adding any passion of their own.

Gilliam is an interesting character. He IS Don Quixote. This makes Lost in La Mancha a reimagining of the Don Quixote story, with his First AD Phil Patterson becoming his Sancho Panza. This also worked for Hearts of Darkness, and if used with a bit more subtlety it could really work here as well. The problem is, there are constantly shots of Gilliam looking at windmills or just allusions to Gilliam's Quixote-esque nature, and it becomes overwhelming.

Knowing that this was originally intended to simply be a behind the scenes documentary for the DVD makes so much sense, because it's obvious that the filmmakers had little intention at making a truly interesting narrative, or fleshing out these characters as we see them on screen.

Oftentimes I just feel sorry for Gilliam, not that he doesn't bring a lot of this onto himself, but the man is a truly great filmmaker, and this documentary almost makes him out to be unprofessional and selfish. This may be the case, and I am happy they gave us an honest portrait of a famous director, much like in Hearts of Darkness, but in the end Gilliam just seems like a sad sack. I feel sorry for him because I can relate to his want to fulfill his dream of getting this film made, but I can't quite go all the way to the point of grief with him because the filmmaking simply doesn't allow for it. They draw nothing out of the viewer.

Many cinephiles have an intense fascination with failed productions and this is another in that long list. I found the idea to be more compelling than what the documentary came to be. With no heart for their own filmmaking Fulton and Pepe would do best to continue with 'making of' documentaries for extras on DVD's.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"My movie is not about Vietnam, my movie is Vietnam" HEARTS OF DARKNESS DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse-1991- Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper


Making of documentaries are usually meaningless little additions added on to a DVD package to give the consumers a little more for their buck. Rarely do you find within the confines of one of these films a narrative so deeply reaching at the reasoning behind making such a film. In Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, we are given the behind the scenes story of Francis Ford Coppola's struggle to get Apocalypse Now made.

Eleanor Coppola, Francis' wife, kept a diary about the on set struggles of not only Francis and the crew, but of herself and their family. She also documented behind the scenes footage for Francis, and unknowingly to him, recorded private conversations between the two of them that shows a vulnerable, scared side that is rarely heard of from a director of his caliber.

Hearts of Darkness works because it almost becomes a remake of Apocalypse Now. It is a film about obsession, it is shown through a war(filmmaking), we watch our lead character slip deeper and deeper into his obsession until it completely engulfs him. The only difference is Coppola isn't forced to deal with "the horror, the horror", as all of his fears cause him to make a film that opens to widespread universal acclaim. This is, unless you account for Coppola's sudden decline as a filmmaker after Apocalypse Now, which is interesting to note. Not that he never made another good movie, but that he never made another masterpiece.

"My greatest fear is to make a really shitty, embarrassing, pompous film on an important subject, and I am doing it. And I confront it. I acknowledge, I will tell you right straight from the most sincere depths of my heart, the film will not be good"

The documentary is both scary in it's presentations of obsession and doubt mixed with the fear of an unfulfilled dream, and uplifting in Coppola's perseverance at any cost. In the end, that's what makes it so compelling. Oftentimes it's hard to decide to cry out of grief or elation, you just have to look away. It's almost like a horror film because everything happening to Coppola, be it physical, emotional or mental, truly is horrific. Coppola himself seems to become a monster.

Ultimately, Hearts of Darkness reminds me of one of Nietzsche's famous quotes, " If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back at you." It is that kind of thing that the artist must so often face, and Coppola does head on, for the good of his art at the time, but possibly to the detriment of the artist.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"No one has ever, ever paid admission to see an excuse." American Movie DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

American Movie-1999-Chris Smith


In a perfect world we would all accomplish our dreams. But in our world, oftentimes we fall short of what we originally intended. The American Dream isn't an easy thing to grasp, proof of this can be found in Chris Smith's telling documentary American Movie.

Following fledgling independent filmmaker Mark Borchardt as he makes his low budget short Coven, we see a man who has seemingly already lost everything but is still fighting for his dream. American Movie is at once hilarious, heartbreaking and infuriating. Mark isn't given a sympathetic pass due to his unrelenting and ultimately sad way of reaching his dream. He is shown for who he is. He still lives with his parents, working dead end jobs, and must constantly convince his Uncle Bill to finance his films.

With a hero like Mark to follow, it can sometimes be hard to jump on board, but when seeing his passion for filmmaking and everything he has gone through to make this movie, it's hard not to at least cheer for the film's completion. In Mark we see everything that is the "American Dream". If you try hard and persevere anything is possible is what we're always taught, and here on display is a man who is trying to do just that. This is where American Movie is able to take a basic premise and make it something tangible.

Is Mark a sad, loser or is he a down on his luck filmmaker in need of a break? We always see in American movies that hard work pays off, all of our dreams will come true as long as we try try try, but is there ever a cut off point? With four kids, an ex wife, and piles and piles of debt most people would say the logical thing is to at least put your dream on hold and take care of those things first. But is that really what the American Dream is? Something that can be paused at any moment to take care of other things and then brought back with the same amount of passion.

American Movie's success is found in it's honest portrayal of the American Dream. Dream's aren't always fully realized, but in the end Mark accomplishes a little part of that dream, and it makes a difference.

Mark's friend Mike Schank is another joy. He is a former heavy drug user who seems to barely have the capability for abstract thought, but his innocent conversation and dedication to helping his friend reflects these men's serious case of arrested development as well as their beautiful friendship.

At various points throughout the documentary Mark shows vulnerability and grows scared of the possibility of not realizing his dream. As Mike shows up, Mark sees him smiling and feels that everything will be alright. It doesn't take much to make Mike smile, he wins 50 bucks on a lottery ticket and looks like the happiest guy alive.

Mark Borchardt: I'm gonna wake up to hell tomorrow, man. Those credit cards ain't gonna look nice, man. But I'm always a man for my word. Mike Schank, you happy?
Mike Schank: Yeah, I'm happy.

Mark Borchardt: How happy are you, man?
Mike Schank: I'm very happy.
Mark Borchardt: Well good, man, cause don't drink. You're gonna set the world's record. OK, man? I'm cooled down, but... Hey I'm serious, man. If I missed somebody or anything, man, thanks a million for, uh, for helping out, man. Cause I... I couldn't of, whatever, done it

It's in little conversations like these that we get the heart of the film. Even though these guys make terrible decisions in their lives, and really don't seem to be bettering themselves too much, their friendship is a replication of what the American Dream really is:

Finding the people you love and spending time with them.