Marshawn Lynch: A History

2022-01-19T17:18:31+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Marshawn Lynch: A History Director/ David Shields Watched on Kanopy Rating 4.5/5   I initially had no interest in watching a film about the life of the Seattle Seahawks running back. And I still don’t. But as it turned out, this film is about a very specific part of the life of Marshawn Lynch, his life of words and silence, and in that singular focus it ends up being a film about the very recent history of Black Lives Matter, the endemic prevalence of media racism, and the ways in which Black athletes are expected to fit the stereotypes and the behavioral modes assigned to them by a sports industrial complex that believes they own them. The film, by the author, essayist and editor David Shields, is not so much directed as compiled. Shields constructed the entire film from video snippets gleaned from the Internet, including movies, TV series, talk shows, highlight packages, and early local broadcasts of Lynch as a promising young football star in Oakland. It’s an act of biographical bricolage, fast-paced and dynamic, in which we watch an outgoing, thoughtful, fun-loving, self-confident young man continually admonished by an establishment that expected him to play by their rules. Which of course he did, on the field. But it is off the field, living his celebrity-built lifestyle, with his penchant for glitz and girls and fashion and freewheeling commentary, where the rules couldn’t touch him. Yet, he became such a target for criticism and insults by White and Black sportswriters and talk show hosts that [...]

24 Frames

2020-10-19T23:23:19+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

24 Frames Director/ Abbas Kairostami Watched on Criterion Rating 3/5   Abbas Kairostami didn’t know that 24 Frames would be his last film. After making it, he died of an unexpected and sudden illness. His death lends 24 Frames a spectral significance. The quietly haunting and luminous black-and-white and color images offer a restful vantage point from which to contemplate the themes, ideas, images and sounds which made up his canon of work. Admittedly, I was never a devotee. His naturalism seemed rudimentary, and his repetitions often veered to dullness. Yet, his images and stories were tightly controlled, and from the surface simplicity of his plots–which were more like situations, or reactions to encounters–one could easily get drawn into the growing and confounding complexities. Matters of class and envy collided with intellectualism, and he playfully but rigorously combined metaphysical questions with meta-narrative devices. He refused to be hurried, and if you stuck with his films, their ambiguous endings often left you with tantalizing questions. In this way, 24 Frames functions as a coda. Twenty-three still photos the director shot, and one famous painting, Hunters in the Snow, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, occupy the running time. Each frame is on screen for 4-5 minutes. Kairostami wanted to explore what may have happened before or after he snapped his pictures, so he employed CGI to animate the frames, inserting birds and animals, snow and rain, natural sounds and music. It’s unclear why he included the Bruegel, but the other pictures function the way the director’s films sometimes [...]

Dick Johnson is Dead

2020-10-22T18:42:19+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Dick Johnson is Dead Director/ Kirsten Johnson Watched on Netflix Rating 2/5   Johnson’s tonally jarring film contains moments of sweet, affecting intimacy between the filmmaker and her father, interrupted by bizarre and outlandish dream sequences that are, I think, meant to represent her dad’s visions of the afterlife. Or perhaps they are merely self-indulgent directorial flourishes. The film, a Netflix-funded extravagance, is another example of a curious new trend in some documentary circles. Filmmakers lucky enough to get excessive amounts of money budgeted for their productions try to imagine new ways to re-fashion the viewers’ subjective experience of the genre, to move documentary into a realm where make-believe and fiction can intertwine with real-life, creating hybrids intended to amplify or illuminate the non-fictional elements which, these filmmakers are quick to emphasize, are still the main reasons for making the film in the first place. I’m thinking here of Kitty Green’s Casting JonBenét, Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17, Jonathan and Elan Bogarín’s 306 Hollywood, and any number of the true crime documentaries streaming on all the top platforms. These films seem to be most concerned with enhanced visual opulence at the expense of narrative cohesion. As I’ve written before, I’m fervently supportive of new ways to invigorate documentary filmmaking, but when filmmakers rely on artificial constructs to boost the entertainment quotient of their films, rather than risk trying out inventive new approaches to point-of-view or character examination or ways to employ the tools of audio, narration or camera placement, I find the effects wearying and distracting. In [...]

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