Category Archives: Film

“POLYPHONIC PORTRAITS
OF A NEW AMERICA”— Self-Expression and the Economy

“POLYPHONIC PORTRAITS
OF A NEW AMERICA”

Self-Expression and the Economy

Amos Lassen

Natalie Bookchin’s feature documentary program is comprised of her award-winning film “Long Story Short”, and her new film, “Now he’s out in public and everyone can see”. Bookchin examines the ways self-expression is broadcast in a sharing economy.

“Now he’s out in public and everyone can see” is a 24-minute look at the fractured narrative about an unnamed man whose “racial identity is continually redrawn and contested by clusters of impassioned narrators.” It explores questions of racism and racial identity in the post-Obama world. The film consists of clips from YouTube and other online sources.

“Long Story Short” is 45 minutes long and addresses people’s experiences of poverty: why they are poor, how it feels, and what they think should be done about American poverty and homelessness today. People are asked about their encounters with—and solutions for—endemic poverty in the US”. Bookchin then layers and synchronizes these interviews with a unique, multi-image editing technique to deepen the original material.

The two films together show innovation and feeling about the divided country in which we now live; contemporary America has moved greatly to the right.

“TOKYO IDOLS”— Looking at Idol Culture

“Tokyo Idols”

Looking at Idol Culture

Amos Lassen

Kyoko Miyake’s “Tokyo Idols”  explores what has come to be known as idol culture, a huge, nearly billion-dollar industry in Japan as girl bands and pop music permeate Japanese life. RioRio, a bona fide “Tokyo Idol” who takes us on her journey toward fame and idol Culture. Rio has “brothers”a group of adult middle-aged male super fans ages 35–50 who devote their lives to following her in both the virtual world and in real life. Once considered to be on the fringes of society, the “brothers” have given up salaried jobs to pursue an interest in female idol culture that has since blown up and become a mainstream movement via the Internet.

The film takes us to the heart of a cultural phenomenon driven by an obsession with young female sexuality and Internet popularity. It is more than a fad and one of the interviewees here says it is a religion. in Kyoko Miyake’s increasingly unsettling documentary. “Idols” is a status claimed by around 10,000 teenage girls in the country, who sing and dance frothy J-pop for a, predominantly, middle-aged male fans. Their followers, in keeping with that quote, display a reverential fervor for the girls that hovers somewhere between being funny, depressing and sinister.

Miyake takes us on a thorough approach to her subject, showing both the fan-side and the opinion of those who make money from the industry, all the while probing at the psychological drivers fuelling the craze. RioRio, who is 19 years old and under no illusions admits that she cannot do this forever and is trying to move into adult pop. Almost all her energy seems to be spent on pushing her career, whether it’s recording YouTube make-up guides or even embarking on a cycling tour to get closer to her fans and, by extension, their money.

This cash element is very important. Koji Yoshida is a brother who admits that a large proportion of his pay packet goes on attending Rio’s concerts or on the associated ‘fan events’. These handshake sessions permit fans to have a couple of minutes of face time with their idol, to take a photo and have that all-important handshake. Like much in Miyake’s film, this seems pretty harmless at first glance, but it takes on more of a creepy vibe once we learn that handshakes in Japan are culturally and sexually loaded, not particularly for the younger women who have grown up with the practice but for the older men, who recall a time when touching of this sort was forbidden.

There is no attempt to present this situation simplistically. Miyake shows the many elements at play, not least the over-worked salaried men and obsessed ‘otaku’ who see this as getting attention from women the easy and quickest route, without any of the usual messiness that comes with relationships. She also isn’t out to condemn those who are obsessed by the idols, many of whom are chiefly motivated by the camaraderie that joining the fan base brings.

As the film progresses, Miyake starts to probe the more sinister aspects of all this, showing us younger and younger girls who are becoming involved in the industry. What might seem like harmless fun for a young woman with her head screwed on like RioRio, doesn’t seem so innocent when you see Yuzu, 10, meeting her fans or hearing one say that if she were older he would not be interested in her.

Miyake refuses to draw any firm conclusions, yet she certainly opens the subject up for the uninitiated and provides plenty of thought-provoking areas for debate. I want to see where RioRio’s career has ultimately takes her.

” A TRIBUTE TO LES PAUL: LIVE FROM UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD”— The “Godfather of the Electric Guitar

“A Tribute To Les Paul: Live From Universal Studios Hollywood”

The “Godfather of the Electric Guitar”

Amos Lassen

Les Paul has had quite a career— a hit-making musician, solid-body electric guitar trailblazer, and an inventor of unprecedented recording techniques. His impact and influence has changed the face of the music industry in this country and if anyone ever deserved a tribute, he is the one Filmed live at what was then the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles on February 8, 2006, this tribute gives viewers a front row seat for an unforgettable night of powerhouse performances, as some of music’s biggest names come together to honor him. The night was filled with by show-stopping numbers from an all-star slate of his disciples. We have Slash and Edgar Winter teaming up on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition;” Toto axe man Steve Lukather’s give their rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing;” and Joe Perry and Buddy Guy closed the night with a set of soulful blues. Other highlights include performances by Joe Satriani, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Neal Schon, and more.

There is rare commentary taken from several of Paul’s final interviews recorded at New York’s landmark Iridium Jazz Club, as well as at Paul’s home in Mahwah, New Jersey. The tribute was held to raise funds and awareness for the South Central charity, “A Place Called Home” which was designed to give at-risk youth a safe and secure environment they can thrive in.

Les Paul is considered by many to be the “Father of Modern Music” and we see that by the number of musicians from every corner of the globe and in every genre of the music industry who think so. He was an inventor, an award-winning musician, an innovator and most importantly a very special man. Those who made this tribute program possible give us every reason to remember that Les Paul was a man who influenced our music industry profoundly.

A huge lineup of rock legends pays homage to the man who left such an indelible mark in the music and guitar-building industries. Les Paul was not only a phenomenal, Grammy-winning songwriter and musician, but he made huge strides as an inventor. In fact, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005 for crafting the solid-body electric guitar. He was also among the first artists to use certain recording techniques including overdubbing, tape delay and multitrack recording.

This captivating concert special features unforgettable performances that pay special tribute to this man’s rich, enduring legacy. Guitar enthusiasts everywhere won’t want to miss a minute!

“SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS”— “The Satanic Kitsch Classic”

“Satan’s Cheerleaders”

[“The Satanic Kitsch Classic!”

Amos Lassen

Benedict High School’s cheerleaders aren’t shy and sweet. We have Debbie (Alisa Powell) who is quite slutty, Chris (Hilary Horan) who is quiet but usually speaks up with attitude, Patti (Kerry Sherman) who is soon to be possessed the hottest of the group and Sharon (Sherry Marks) with her fabulous legs.

The football team knows them well and Billy (Jack Krushen), the school’s disturbed janitor, would like to know them in the same way. In the locker room, the girl’s shower and dress, unaware that they are being secretly watched. They don’t know that a curse has been placed on their clothes. And they don’t know that their trip to the first big game of the season might sideline them forever. These four young and sex-starved teenage girls gallivant around town in this film directed by Greydon Clark. They flaunt their sexuality to all of the older prudes and to the crazy janitor at their school, who is also a practicing Satanist. He puts a curse on them as they make their out of town trip to cheer at a game.

Once the curse is revealed, their car breaks down on the side of the road just long enough for Billy to pick them up and kidnap them. He takes them to a satanic alter in the middle of the woods and straps Patti down as she is hypnotized and nude. Patti is then devil-raped by the pervert fallen angel Lucifer, who wants to make her his bride. When the janitor gets mad and wants in on the action, the devil chokes him out and when the girls come to he is dead at their feet and they don’t remember a thing. Now there we have had some action.

The girls make their way to the road and eventually find the sheriff (John Ireland),but the sheriff knows more than he lets on and is part of the satanic cult running the town.

Director Clark’s film are always interesting and “Satan’s Cheerleaders” is no different, the tremendous amount of cheesy girl togetherness as well as Satan worship are about as awkward a mix as it sounds. Yet it is all in fun.

Bonus features include:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Uncompressed Dual Channel Mono Audio
  • Audio commentary from writer / director Greydon Clark
  • Photo Gallery

“THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER”— Exiled in Paris

“THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER” (“La leggenda del santo bevitore”)

Exiled in Paris

Amos Lassen

Andreas Kartack (Rutger Hauer) is a tramp who is exiled in Paris and haunted by a criminal past. He sees no way out of his predicament until, almost miraculously, he is offered 200 francs by a wealthy stranger whose only request is that, when and if he can afford it, he return the money to a chapel dedicated to St. Thérèse. Andreas is a man of honor but with a weak will. He decides to try to rejoin the world from which he became a stranger. He finds work, goes out with women, dines out and sleeping real beds. However, these new luxuries make him forget his obligation. such luxuries, however, distract him from his promise. The film is an adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novella and like the book is simple.

Andreas shows us his pride, his dignity and his vulnerability. The film comes across as a parable with its religious elements subordinated to a story that is told minimally yet is very affecting. 
A lot is communicated with a few words and for whatever reason, we fall in love with Andreas. We see in him a sense of being in the moment and living the life that happens. When things change, he quietly follows where they lead. He finds joy in the small moments.

LA LEGGENDA DEL SANTO BEVITORE, (aka THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER), Rutger Hauer (left), 1988, © Bac Films

The film is about his epiphany and we see that there is always more than one chance, and that somehow not succeeding completely is okay as long as we do not stop trying. Although the story is primarily about Andreas, there are other wonderful characters including the stranger (Anthony Quayle) and the young prostitute, Andreas’s parents and so on. Italian director Ermanno Olmi adapted from the novella for the screen.

LA LEGGENDA DEL SANTO BEVITORE, (aka THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER), Sandrine Dumas, 1988, © Bac films

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

Brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of both the English and Italian versions of the film

5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Stereo 2.0 options for the English presentation with optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Stereo 2.0 audio for the Italian presentation with optional newly translated English subtitles

Brand-new interview with actor Rutger Hauer, recorded exclusively for this release

Interview with screenwriter Tullio Kezich

Theatrical trailer

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: New writing on the film by Helen Chambers, author of Joseph Roth in Retrospect: Co-existent Contradiction

“NISE: THE HEART OF MADNESS”— A Pioneering Figure

“Nise: The Heart of Madness” (“Nise: O Coração da Loucura”)

A Pioneering Figure

Amos Lassen

Nise da Silviera was a pioneering figure well known in Brazil,. She lived a rebellious but full life. This film focuses on and the film focuses on a short but definitive part of it when she worked at a Rio de Janeiro psychiatric hospital where she fought and won a battle against the prejudices of men and of science by daring to her patients as human beings.

Director Roberto Berliner focuses on the early ’40s when, fresh out of prison for her Marxist beliefs, Nise revealed that for her patients, artistic creation could be therapy (and this therapy produced some really good art). The film pens with Nise (Gloria Pires) banging repeatedly on a loud metal door so that she could gain entrance to the hospital where she had come to work. This scene foreshadows the struggles to come in a world that was dominated by male prejudice.

Once inside, Nise is appalled to attend a conference in which her male colleagues are extolling the virtues of electrotherapy and ice-pick lobotomies. She refusing to participate in such barbarism and was downgraded to the occupational therapy section. (Since she was also a Marxist, this move was very convenient for the establishment.)

Nise begins cleaning up first the premises as well as the language of the nurses, forbidding the use of terms like “nutcase’” and “animal” and replacing them somewhat disingenuously with “client.” Then, using a stocking and a rag, she sets her patients to play and to paint in order bring their unconscious minds into the open. The film also focuses on the results of her efforts and director Berliner lets us see the compassion in each of the characters. In fact, the patients are actually at the forefront of Nise’s story. Cinematographer Andre Horta shot the movie as if it is a documentary with no exaggeration. We see things just as they were.

In dealing with her chief male adversary, Dr Cesar (Michel Bercovitch), she is able to hold her own and is controlled. She is a woman who quietly deals with her personal frustrations with her husband. and austere performance by Pires which seems designed to allow those surrounding her to flourish: Her frustrations are quietly dealt with in aside scenes with her husband.

At first, Nice was ridiculed by her colleagues and the idea of a painting studio at a mental hospital was thought to be preposterous. Those who were to be artists were schizophrenic, poor, hospitalized for several decades, abandoned by their families and hopeless according to their doctors. However, engaging psychiatrist: Dra. Nise da Silveira brought them a miracle.

Nise is famous for her political passion and iconoclastic approach to psychiatry in Brazil but for those who will see this film, she is basically an unknown. At the psychiatric hospital in Rio de Janeiro, she continually has to assert herself to get attention. At the time of Nise’s arrival, the institute was a brutal place. This is because it used advanced electroshock therapy and the ice pick lobotomy when they were just coming into around the world. Most patients, or clients, (as Nise preferred to call them) were kept locked up and drugged into submission. Nise determines that the only way she can stay on there is by moving into the occupational therapy department; an area where progress has been slow. Clients are given mundane work to do. Nise wants to introduce them to something genuinely stimulating and so she drew on ideas developed by Jung. She was \ a pioneer in giving mentally ill people access to self-directed creative opportunities, and this is the film’s main focus.

There are a host of superb performances from the actors playing her clients, all of who have understood that they are playing people instead of just imitating the symptoms of diseases as is often the case in films about asylums. What’s also understood is that mental illness rarely makes people aggressive. Aggressiveness tends to be a response to ill-treatment or the frustration of being unable to communicate. This film never patronizes its subjects and never lets us forget their potential for violence (we sense the powerful underlying tension in many scenes, especially where groups are getting excitable or staff members are alone with clients who have a history of violence). We see the change that takes place when Nise’s clients are introduced to art but she is also sure that it is the responsibility of staff to maintain some emotional distance, and she’s clear that a client being able to hold a conversation or produce a work of art is not necessarily cured.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the real Nise’s work was the quality of the art that came out of it. We see it beautifully reproduced here and it’s initially through the paintings and sculptures that we get to know the inmates as human beings. When the credits start to roll is when we get the chance to see some of the real human beings whose stories are told here, several of whom made careers out of their work. The real Nise (who died in 1999) has a chance to speak as well here. The film is a beautiful look at a part of history that most of us are unaware of.

“BESIDE BOWIE: THE MICK RONSON STORY”— A Celebratiom

“Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story”

A Celebration

Amos Lassen

“Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” is one of the few rock and roll concerts that I have seen and one that I will never forget. It began with Mick Ronson alone on the stage playing his guitar as a clear plastic ball with David Bowie inside descended from the ceiling. Ronson’s guitar mesmerized us even though he was not the one we came to see. By the end of the concert, everyone talked about him and how he managed to almost steal the show.

“Beside Bowie” is a celebration of the life and works of guitar virtuoso Mick Ronson, a rock hero who was virtually uncelebrated even with “his direct contribution and involvement in countless compositions, lyrics and recordings that changed the face of music forever”.

Mick Ronson’s life began in Hull, England and while living there, he was known to modest and unpretentious. He worked with the city’s council while pursuing his craft with total dedication. Soon word of his talent reached David Bowie, who jumped at the chance to work with Ronson and that became a career-long association. Ronson also collaborated with other greats such as Bob Dylan, Ian Hunter, Lulu, Lou Reed, Morrissey and John Mellencamp. The albums with Bowie included “Ziggy Stardust”, “The Man Who Sold the World”, “Aladdin Sane” and “Hunky Dory”. These were all were constructed with Ronson on guitar.

While working on a solo album in 1993, Ronson died and this was before receiving the recognition he so richly deserved. This film contains unprecedented archival backstage footage that has never before been released and iconic imagery from superstar photographer Mick Rock. It is a fascinating and at times controversial authentic chronicle of the career of Ronson, a cornerstone of rock. Producer and director Jon Brewer has said that Ronson and Bowie were the “ultimate duo” whose masterpieces “will live on forever.”

“THE APOLOGY”— Sexual Slavery

“THE APOLOGY”

Sexual Slavery

Amos Lassen

In “The Apology”, Tiffany Hsiung reveals a profound and horrible injustice: during World War II, the Japanese army forced over 200,000 girls and young women into sexual slavery. These women were known as “comfort women” or “grandmas”. This documentary tells the story of three of these women as they struggle to find justice, understanding, and peace decades after their terrible ordeals. While each woman’s fight takes its own form, all three share a need to heal long-open wounds.

Each woman is from a different country. Grandma Gil lives in Seoul and participates in protests demanding an official apology from the Japanese embassy. Grandma Cao lives in Yu Xian, China and is one of the oldest living grandmas. Grandma Adela lives in Roxas City, Philippines, and participates in a local support group for comfort women called the Lolas Kampaneras.

This is a very difficult film to watch and thin about. The heartache and tragedy builds upon itself as each detail of these women’s hardships is revealed. The women both break our hearts and uplift us, often at the same time. We see footage of a current Japanese politician saying that sex slaves were “necessary” during the war.

Grandma Adela of the Philippines never told her late husband and family about her past. “They would be ashamed of me, I know,” she says. One of the film’s most moving scenes shows the aftermath of her finally revealing her secret to her grown son, who responds with soothing tenderness. We see one gut-wrenching scene after another. We especially see this when Grandma Adela nervously visits the ruins of the former “comfort station” in which she was held prisoner, or when Grandma Gil describes how she gave birth to two children in captivity, both of whom died horrible deaths.  

We see that respect for these elders doesn’t extend to the officials of the Japanese government; it continues to deny their existence almost 70 years after marking them with physical and emotional scars. Hsiung empathetically gives the women a forum to speak and they relieve themselves of the stories they hid from everyone.

The sense of release and the swelling feeling of catharsis are overwhelming. We are reminded to respect the rights and experiences of survivors. In effect, we just need to listen as “The Apology” gives voice to women who refuse to be silent.

Tiffany Hsiung takes an unconventional approach to horror as she challenges our collective urge to reduce history to a litany of horrific crimes and unknowable victims. Over 70 years later, the grandmothers are decades into a grassroots campaign demanding a formal apology from the Japanese government. As we hear the stories of the three survivors and the women become three-dimensional human that were bombarded with horrors and we hear about these horrors from the women themselves.

Grandma Gil leads weekly protests in front of the Japanese embassy, and goes on lecture tours and activist missions around the world. She is not well and her ailments stem from her abuse at the hands of Japanese soldiers. She has trouble waking up in the mornings and getting out of bed, but is pushed forward by a sense of duty and a responsibility to the other grandmothers, dead and alive. There is an ever-pressing sense that “time is running out.” She questions why war exists, and wonders about the young girl she was before she was abducted, and the life she could have lived.

Grandma Gil’s pain is immediate and difficult to bear. Perhaps it’s just coming to terms with the idea that, if there is some sort of justice to be had, she is unlikely to live long enough to see it. The documentary intersects personal and political issues since the grandmothers’ stories are both innately political and endlessly politicized. Perhaps the takeaway here is that, unfortunately, telling the stories of women is a fantastic way to approach history, through endless back alleys of trauma and pain. Crimes against women are often buried under layers of denial and social stigma. These injustices consistently fall through the cracks, leaving the burden of memory not on the offending governments or armies but on the victims themselves.

The mission of the film, then, is not just to help find justice for the grandmas but also to collect invaluable testimonies that will serve as indictments.

“WES CRAVEN’S SUMMER OF FEAR”— In the Family

“Wes Craven’s Summer of Fear”

In the Family

Amos Lassen

When Julia Trent’s (Lee Purcell) parents are killed in an accident, she comes to live with her aunt Leslie Bryant (Carol Lawrence) and Uncle Tom (Jeremy Slate). At first, their daughter Rachel (Linda Blair) accepts Julia as a new friend while her older brother Peter (Jeff East) lusts after Julia and her younger brother Bobby (James Jarnigan) doesn’t seem to notice. Basically, this is a film about an evil witch who brings about destruction for some inadequately explored reason. Julia realizes that there is something strange about Rachel while everyone is on Julia’s side.

The name Wes Craven is synonymous with horror, and in 1978 when this film was made it was then known as “Stranger in our House” and was a ‘movie-of-the-week’ for television and even tough it has two big names going for it— Blair and Craven, there are not many good things to say about it. . Rachel is welcomed into the family home, until strange events turn her against her. Strange things begin to happen; Rachel’s horse gets spooked, her skin breaks out in hideous pustules, her boyfriend Mike (Jeff McCracken) dumps her for Julia, there are burnt matches everywhere in Julia’s room and a strange object is hidden in her drawer. The old professor from across the street (Macdonald Carey) who specializes in the occult falls mysteriously ill, and everyone seems to prefer Julia to Rachel. What is really going on here? Is Rachel just going through all the petty jealousies and anxieties of an average teenager who feels displaced in her own family, or is her cousin in fact a powerful sorceress hell-bent on bewitching the family? The film’s opening shots of a car ‘accident’ with a superimposed image of Julia laughing maniacally are something of a giveaway and a spoiler at the same time.

It is possible that the whole film is an allegory of adolescent angst until the end.

“BOBBY JENE”— Ambition

“Bobbi Jene”

Ambition

Amos Lassen

Elvira Lind’s “Bobbi Jene ” is a love story in which we see the dilemmas and consequences of ambition. It is a film about a woman’s fight for independence by a woman trying to succeed with her own art in the competitive world of dance. The film profiles dancer/choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith as she leaves Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company and returns to America to advance her career. Smith just turns 30 when the film begins and she is at a crossroads that calls for tough decisions. She loves dancing in Ohad Naharin’s company and she is in love with a fellow dancer, Or Schraiber, who is ten years her junior. Dancing with Batsheva, however, meant relegating herself to the ensemble this making her simply a part of Naharin’s stage. As challenging and rewarding as Smith finds the dancing to be, she wants to establish herself in her own right and make the leap that will a secure a career for her as she ages.

 

Moving to New York brings its own challenges. One major hurdle is the choice to continue a long distance relationship. Schraiber doesn’t feel ready to leave Israel, so Smith and her beau stay connected through Skype. We see the passion of their relationship in Israel and when they reunite after being an ocean apart. Smith weighs love with her career and strives to have both.

Smith knows that the success of dance is fleeting and doesn’t bring financial security. “She supports her passion by teaching and mentoring. Having danced in Naharin’s company brings a measure of esteem to the New York dance scene that gives her an edge. We see that dancing has its own therapeutic rewards.We get a very intimate look at Smith’s personal and professional life. She first met choreographer Ohad Naharin  and his unique form of contemporary dance and she as able to gain a position with the Company and moved to Israel. She worked her way to the top of the Company’s ranks and even though she and Naharin were no longer lovers, they remained extremely close.

With her dancing days numbered because of her age, she wanted to fulfill a passion to develop her own work as a choreographer which meant that she had to leave the company. Aside from a six-month teaching residency at Stanford University, Smith had no plans. It was not only leaving Batsheva but also leaving fellow dancer Or Schraiber with who she was madly in love.  Schraiber was just at the very start of his career, and in fact in a similar situation as Smith was in when she came to Israel as a complete unknown. Despite his commitment to their relationship, Schraiber had no desire to settle in the U.S. or leave his extended family whom he was very close too.

Because she was a star at Batsheva, Smith had a credibility in NY but as work opportunities were not as plentiful as she may have hoped. We see her discuss the career/life limitations of being a contemporary dance professional and these make her absence from Schraiber very difficult. On the rare times the two are together, they can hardly take their hands off each other. We see a very impassioned performance piece that she has been commissioned by the Jewish Museum to do and this becomes the focal point of the documentary. It was certainly a big risk because of its eroticism. But with it, Smith has realizes that no amount of success however is worth it unless she can share it with Schraiber on a full time basis.