A Good Yarn

Sunday, May 11, 2008


I know even among the movie watching group, there aren't that many who love documentaries, so I'll try to keep this short. But I find that those who do love them, like to hear if something is good and this is always a good place for me to find info about something I've seen in the past. This year's M-SPIFF had a lot of documentaries and I found some that I really enjoyed.

Lynch is probably the least widely appealing of the films I saw. It's a documentary about the film director David Lynch. If you're not familiar with his work, he loves to take beautiful images and idyllic situations and then show how under the surface everything is rotten. He also is quite a surrealist, putting unexpected images and characters into his films. I'm a huge Lynch fan, so I enjoyed seeing how his twisted mind works in this movie. It was mostly filmed while he was working on his last movie, Inland Empire, so you got to see a lot of interviews about what he was thinking about and see how he meticulously sculpted some of the sets and directed actors, etc. in creating the film. I think this film is probably reserved for those who are fellow Lynchphiles or perhaps people who are just really interested in seeing an artist's creative process.

I guess this one may have limited appeal also, but it shouldn't. I'm not a huge rap fan and I only know a handful of Public Enemy songs, but I do know that they've been hugely influential, so I wanted to find out more. If you are a big fan of the group, I'm not sure how much new information is revealed in the film, but for me, it was really fascinating. The heart and soul of PE is Chuck D, who is revealed as a really thoughtful, borderline genius of the industry. The way he combines a pointed political message with a party atmosphere on stage is just brilliant. Flavor Flav is clearly crazy, but Chuck D is smart enough to know how important he is to the success of the band. Professor Griff and The S1W are less known in the mainstream, I think, but add a gravitas to the band. The film contains a lot of concert footage that I think is probably appealing to the fans, even if they already know the full story of PE. There are also a lot of interviews with other artists who have been influenced by PE such as Henry Rollins and the Beastie Boys.

A film I think everyone should see is "American Teen". LOVE that poster (if you're not as ancient as I am, it's a take off on the Breakfast Club poster). It follows the story of 4 teenagers in an small Indiana town as they go through their senior year of high school. At first you think they really are just like the characters in Breakfast Club - the rich, popular girl, the slightly off-beat girl, the high school jock and the geeky misfit. But just like in Breakfast Club, you find out people don't fit in neat little boxes. Things aren't easy for anyone when they're 17 years old, facing decisions about the future, trying to fit in, figuring out who you really are. I was completely fascinated with them all and at times loved each one and at times wanted to shake each one because they were being so stupid. It was just endlessly entertaining - funny and sad in parts.

Up the Yangtze was also a really engaging film focusing on some teenage subjects. This time it is two Chinese teenagers working on a cruise ship on the Yangtze River. The Three Gorges Dam is flooding out vast expanses of land on the banks of the Yangtze River. So rich Americans and Europeans have been taking cruises up the river to see the area before it disappears. The film follows two teens who work on one of these cruises - one a boy from a comfortable family. He's an only child and a boy, one of the generation that their boss on the ship talks about as being totally pampered and spoiled by their parents and families. The other is a girl from a poor family who is losing their home due to the dam. They live in a small shack and farm a piece of land on the banks of the Yangtze. They don't have enough money to send their daughter to high school, so she reluctantly takes a job on the cruise. The film does a great job combining these personal stories with the bigger story of China's turn toward capitalism and how the economic progres and success of some in the country comes at the expense of those less fortunate.