We live in a world where if you have an internet connection you can be a star. In 2011, The House of Radon, a creative agency from Stockholm, Sweden recognized this swelling cultural shift in our society and set out to document the phenomenon that no one else was talking about on a deeper level. Press, Pause, Play, which premièred as an Official Selection at SXSW, and as received accolades from The New York Times, The Guardian, Huffington Post and Wired, explores piracy, advancements in technology and digital mediums, and the notion of ‘accessible fame’ through the channels of art, film and music.
Concerned with the larger questions of technology’s problematic side, the most interesting angle Press, Pause Play takes, relates to standards and how these issues have affected our collective notion of “The Artist”. Prior to the digital revolution, standards in creativity tended to lean towards a black and white approach of ‘good art’ vs. ‘bad art’. Generally dictated by organizations, be it, Schools of Fine Art, record companies or Museums, art was delivered to the masses through a top down approach. What we are culturally experiencing today is a polar shift in the traditional methods that dictate fame and success. Art is growing from the ground up, but quantity is altering quality.
Is the democratic self-filtering approach emerging in art a successful one? Or will mediocrity be all you need to survive. Named as one of the Top Ten Art Documentaries to watch on Netflix, Press, Pause, Play explores the significant and timely issues surrounding modes of creativity.
Press, Pause, Play is available on Netflix, itunes and is also available to download here.
Agatha Christie, the grandmother of mystery fiction, couldn’t have written it better. The Imposter, a first feature by Bart Layton is what fiction dreams are made of. The only predicament is that not one bit of it is imagination. A documentary of sweeping thrill, The Imposter reconstructs the very real, and fully inconceivable crime of Frédéric Bourdin – master con-artist of the utmost niche genre – stealing the identities of missing children.
In October of 1994, Nicolas Barclay, an American lower-middle class pre-teen from San Antonio, Texas was declared missing by his family one evening when he did not return home after basketball. Three years later, a destitute, and lost, un-identified young adult is found in southern Spain, and taken into custody of a children’s shelter. Refusing to cooperate with Spanish authorities until the very brink of legal action, the unidentified person finally announces that he is Nicolas Barclay. But who can attest to the truth of his assertion? In a world where fingerprints and DNA are the only truths that are left infallible, assumption becomes the advantage of those who prey on humanitarian kindness – he is a missing person, and everyone is anxious to be a Good Samaritan. There is only one unsettling piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit. This Nicolas Barclay looks nothing like the Nicolas Barclay that disappeared. Relying on the power of group-think not to mention the incremental and segregated process of solving a mystery, the new Nicolas Barclay makes his way to the U.S, is reunited with his family, begins to attend high school, and immerses himself in the American dream, with few questions being asked.
As a result of already knowing the ‘Who’ of the mystery, the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’ become the compelling guide to breaking down Bourdin’s crime. The inspirational seed for the design of The Imposter can be found through Errol Morris’s ground-breaking documentary The Thin Blue Line. Morris’s 1988 film successfully freed a man who was falsely accused of murder due to its fact-gathering presentation of the evidence and its stylish re-enactment of the night in question. The same can be said of The Imposter which places sociopath Frédéric Bourdin in the bizarre position of star and culprit. He recounts his own crime with such enthusiastic motivation and eerie charm that even the objective viewer forgoes atonement in place of thrill.
By far one of the best documentaries of the year, The Imposter has the potential to grow a documentary sub-genre that will successfully blur the lines between fiction and reality. Not only will it keep you strapped to your seat in anticipation, it will have you digging through all the angles long after the closing credits.
Turn Me On, Dammit! is an exploration of female, teenage, sexual expression – a perspective that is rarely awarded equal billing on the big screen. There are plenty of coming of age stories that deal with first loves and the romantic feelings associated with this right of passage, yet Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s film is clearly a breed apart, due to its definitive main character.
Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is a gangly, yet attractive 15 year-old who refuses to suppress, ignore or plain control any sexual feelings she has towards anyone, no matter how uncomfortable things may get. Whether it is witnessing a kiss, watching her friend sensually apply lip gloss or catching a glimpse of her classmate crush Arthur, Alma is so sexually wound that she pounces on every possibility which allows her to descend into deep erotic fantasy, without actually having to touch anyone.
Embracing a sexual sensitivity that pushes her slightly past her teenage years, Alma becomes caught between Arthur’s sophomoric sexual advances and her excitement over the potential of being touched one night at a party. When word of Arthur’s unconventional “move” starts to circle amongst her classmates, Alma is given an embarrassing new moniker which she must endure as the rumour mill churns out her new name across the community of her small Norwegian town.
Based on the novel Få Meg På, For Faen by Olaug Nilssen, which originally tells the story of three women of varying ages who all experience a period of sexual exploration, the film is fiercely honest in its approach to narrate female desire. Jacobsen’s choice to focus on the teenage years of sexual angst are a refreshing reminder that there is an innocent side to lust, and as carnal as can get, there is always room for quirky in the bedroom.
A significant amount of time in my life has been spent devouring the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. Considering that the California born 42 year-old director has only made six feature films, his achievement in cinema can be attributed to a propensity for quality over quantity. Standing amongst a sea of American and international cinema giants P.T. Anderson has been a constant inclusion on variety of ‘best of’ lists that originate from the venerable American Film Institute to Entertainment Weekly. Each P.T. Anderson film sets the bar higher than the last in terms of execution and cinematic vision. Rumours over his latest film The Master which opens nationwide today, have been feeding the hype machine acclaim that it might be his finest work yet.
Too see how far Anderson has come look no further than his first feature film Hard Eight, starring Gwenth Platrow, John C. Riley and Philip Baker Hall (otherwise known as the library detective from Seinfeld).
One dreary Nevada morning, Sydney (P. B. Hall) meets a broke, down-and-out John (John C. Riley) who is desperate to win $6, 000 cash to pay for his mother’s funeral. The hard-nosed Sydney immediately has a soft spot for John. His effort to be kind begins with a cup of coffee and ends with a trip to Las Vegas, where Sydney is determined to show John how to sustain a living scamming casinos. Cut to two years later and under Sydney’s hand John has experienced the underbelly of casino life with success. When Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) enters John’s life, he becomes powerless over her seduction and vows to stand by her side regardless of circumstance.
The functioning mechanism of Hard Eight belongs to the airtight script, and the outstanding performances of the small cast. For a first feature, it is a solid film that exposes the film form that P.T. Anderon has become known for, and has strived to better ever since.
Whether placed under the category of Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Feature Film or Movie of the Year, in some facet this filmmaker has garnered over 80 nominations for his films. He is a director who sets himself apart by bringing us American rooted stories with characters that become defined in their darkest hours. Unraveling a depth that only a director with a taste for dysfunction told within epic parameters could accomplish.
Hard Eight is available on NetFlix and itunes. The Master opens today nationwide.
In Dogtooth (2009), almost everything has a falsely constructed meaning. Little yellow flowers growing in the garden are called Zombies. Planes flying over a meticulously kept backyard can easily fall from the sky. Cats are ferocious animals to be feared at all times. The first impression Dogtooth leaves stacks nicely into what we would expect from a sci-fi film. But Dogtooth doesn’t take place on a forbidden planet. It’s setting is rural Greece, and it’s center is the home of both thespian and psychotic, Father (Christos Stergioglou) who has successfully kept his adult children hostage for years. It sounds horrific, but the world director Giorgos Lanthimos presents is far from gruesome. Bordering on serene perfection, the family bastille is luxurious and near resort like in its provisions and amenities. The manipulation hides behind closed doors.
Although pushing through their adult years, Older Daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) , Younger Daughter (Mary Tsoni) and Son (Hristos Passalis) are treated as infants, and are subject to irking forms of mental abuse. Veiled under an icy world of control, the children are feed a heavy dose of disorientation, lies and bogus knowledge, all in effort to support the patriarchal reign. Slightly Wes Anderson in its quirk and style, Dogtooth remains unique in its portrayal of a twisted family drama, or dramedy if hilarity can be found in the outrageous lengths that are taken to keep the “children” from venturing into the outside world beyond their fortified home.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards and winner of Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Dogtooth brims with recognizable symbolic references and relies on customs of western society to feed its ingenious plot twists. The most important of which in this story is the meaning behind losing your teeth, a person’s undeniable need for sexual exploration and our intrinsic need for freedom.
Given that the foundation of the film is fixed in words, meaning and reference it should be noted that the translation of the film from Greek to English through subtitles is done with success and care, leaving nothing to the imagination. Except what happens in the end.
Dogtooth is available to rent on both iTunes and Netfilx.
In 1982, the Del Mar Skate Park was home to a 14 year-old beanstalk teenager named Tony Hawk. Today, you don’t have to own a skateboard to know who Tony Hawk is. He is the most successful professional skateboarder on the planet. His beginnings and skate life destiny, as well as that of Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill and Tommy Guerrero are documented (celebrated) in Stacey Peralta’s latest film Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.
Using an indirect interview technique paired with thousands of hours of video footage and still photography from the era, Peralta who is the founder of Bones Brigade, engages the six to paste their story together one interview at a time. The film reaches back into the early architecture of skate life while simultaneously profiling the history of the Bones Brigade collective.
Most inspiring to learn was Peralta’s recruiting technique for the Brigade. Initially he opted for nobodies, passing over those who already had impeccable technique. Proven skill to Peralta was less important than passion and drive for the sport. In choosing to develop young skaters, came freedom, and once within the entrepreneurial hands of Peralta his Brigade took over. The members, some as young as 10 years old, were coached, cultivated and grew so confidently into their craft they invented manoeuvres that would end up defining their decade. The influence of their peers nudged each of them up a technical notch and built an atmosphere of ambitious energy in which they could all excel in their own discipline.
An interesting angle that Bones Brigade: An Autobiography takes is its simultaneous documentation of the skate culture shift that occurred in the late 70’s and early 80’s. As skate parks began to close their doors to contrived competitions, an American sub-culture was breeding underground. Half pipes began to emerge in people’s backyards and D.I.Y chaotic skate contests owned and operated by skateboarders were popping up across the country. Mixed with the burgeoning popularity of VHS, the timing of this phenomenon made way for a rebirth in which Peralta was more than ready for. The ground breaking ad campaigns and self produced videos surrounding Bones Brigade mythologised skate life and infused personality and image into a sport that had previously been flat. By making it about concept over product, personality over generic, and fun on all accounts, skating became accessible to everyone, and Peralta changed its face in history.
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography is playing nationwide at various film festivals and special screenings. The film is rumoured to be released in fall 2012.
Sports films generally follow one cardinal rule. This rule has little to do with the technical aspects of film-making, story device, or even high octane performances. The one unforgivable component of a sports film is that it must – without a doubt- be inspiring. When I learned of the theme week topic I was keen to begin researching Olympics or Sports related films, as this is not a genre that I would naturally gravitate towards. As my research progressed, I gradually began to form self-imposed restrictions to uncover what would stand up as a high calibre sports film. I didn’t want it to star Adam Sandler (although admittedly I am a semi-fan), I didn’t want it to be about Football (to easy), and in the spirit of London 2012, I wanted it to focus on summer Olympics (leaving out the common denominator favorite Cool Running’s). My restrictions may be questionable, but in the spirit of going for the gold, I think rules might apply here.
There are hundreds sports films that are watchable, but there are mainly two that are dimensional enough to be accessible to a wider audience of sports fans and non-fans alike. It’s a cliché choice but, Chariots of Fire is the first. Released in 1981, nominated for seven Academy Awards and three prizes at Cannes that year, the film remains a quintessential example of sportsmanship, and the intrinsic drive that leads Olympic athletes to compete in the world’s fiercest competition. Set in 1924, the film follows two Cambridge scholars Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) who are both accepted to compete in the Paris 1924 Olympics, but who are driven by two very different motivations. The film tends to be slow and it deals with heavy religious subject matter (Jewish Abrahams experiences Anti-Semitism at Cambridge and Catholic Liddell is asked to compete on the Sabbath). As our 2012 world grows more and more secular the characters motivations in Chariots of Fire may seem trivial, yet the positive spirit of witnessing someone achieve a goal remains vividly inspirational. Besides, every frame of Chariots of Fire looks like it belongs in the dead center of the epic September issue of Vogue. If you could care less about the religious undertones, watch it solely for the luxury in set design and costuming that it displays on screen of an era that has escaped through time.
Without Limits is an easy second choice. Directed by Robert Towne, the 1998 film is the bio-pic of American record holder and long distance runner Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) or “Pre” as he was colloquially called. Without Limitsand subsequently Prefontaine’s story, is a staunch example of remaining true to the cardinal rule of inspiration as it profiles Pre’s goal to compete at the Munich Olympics. Not only was Pre an outspoken rebel and tour-de-force athlete intent on over throwing athletic establishments, his stoic and wise coach was Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland) the founder of Nike. As much as it is all consuming to sit at the edge of your seat and watch Crudup out run a squad of other exceptional athletes, it is equally as entertaining to witness Bowerman’s empire collate from waffle-iron shoe soles to what we now know as his million dollar industry.
Also worth checking out is the basketball tear-jerker documentary Hoop Dreams available on Criterion, and ESPN’s documentary series 30 for 30. All these films are available on Netflix and itunes.
April 2nd, 2011 holds an alternative meaning for fans of the indie electronic band LCD Soundsystem. It was on that spring date over a year ago that the group, lead by the hailed James Murphy, played their last concert to a sold out Madison Square Garden in New York City. Having announced to a shocked fan base about their disbandment earlier that year, the MSG show was methodically chosen as the extravaganza to conclude band’s 10 year career. Luckily, two British filmmakers, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who previously won a Grammy for their documentary on the band Blur ‘No Distance Left to Run’, were already engaged to develop a film on LCD Soundsystem.
Originally meant to focus specifically on Murphy as the intriguing front man, the film encountered a twist of fate. Where the director’s creative intent and Murphy’s career decision coincided, Shut Up and Play the Hits was born into its hybrid structure of character profile, concert experience and documentary film. Premiering at Sundance 2011, SXSW, and HotDocs, both Southern and Lovelace, cultivated a distinct vision for the film. Seeking to avoid the monotonous ‘taped show’ aesthetic, the duo focused on exploring the band’s last days and the transient moment in time of their last show. A crew of 10 cinematographers, including Spike Jonze, were asked to show no restraint in shooting a personal diary of the band dynamics, the relationship with their audience and the visceral experience of participating in a live setting. The concert footage strategically captures the emotion of an 18,000 strong crowd who are there to witness the last moments of the bands life – their funeral as they refer to it.
In the same vein as the infamous April one night only concert, Shut Up and Play the Hits, will play one night only in theatres across U.S.A and Canada on July 18th. Mixed by James Murphy himself, the film promises to bring you to the same emotional high as being part of the MSG show – for those who missed it. The documentary also gives fans a rare glimpse into the post existence of the band and Murphy on April 3rd – the next day.
It’s a funeral – but a musical one, where dancing in the aisles and singing along is welcomed. It might just be the most fun you have have at a funeral. Ever.