Boris Barnet, Marco Bellocchio, Lucas Belvaux, James Benning, Ingmar Bergman, Busby Berkeley, Bernardo Bertolucci, Susanne Bier, Kathryn Bigelow, Les Blank, Bong Joon-ho, Catherine Breillat, Robert Bresson, Andrew Bujalski,

Luis Buñuel, Charles Burnett, Ken Burns, Tim Burton



Babenco, Hector


All-Movie Guide   Sandra Brennan

Brazilian filmmaker Hector Babenco is an internationally acclaimed director noted for his socially conscientious films that center on the people who live on the fringe of established society. During the 1970s, Babenco was influential in the development of his country's post-cinema nôvo movement. Babenco was born to Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At age 18, he became interested in Beat authors and existential philosophy and decided to go on a "divine mission" to see the world. He spent seven years wandering over Africa, Europe, and North America, working at a variety of jobs. At one point he was an extra in Spanish and Italian spaghetti westerns. Babenco finally landed in Brazil in 1971 where he became intrigued with its new cinema and decided to become a filmmaker. Unfortunately, that year, the country's reigning military regime began heavily censoring the films and exiling most of the cinema nôvo directors. Babenco remained laying low, learning the art of filmmaking by doing documentaries, short films and commercials. At the same time, he began working on his first feature film, King of the Night (1975). In 1978, Babenco became the object of death threats and antagonism for his inflammatory drama Lucio Flavio (1978). Despite the controversy surrounding the film, it became the fourth highest grossing film in Brazil and helped reestablish the country's languishing film industry. Babenco first gained international acclaim for his 1981 film Pixote, a film which chronicled the daily misery faced by Brazil's burgeoning population of street children. The film is almost a documentary and centers on the improvisations of real homeless children. His first U.S. feature Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) won an Oscar for star William Hurt. Though he has made subsequent films in the U.S., Babenco's experience with the frequently overbearing Hollywood studios has lead him to believe that he has more artistic freedom in the still politically repressed Brazil.

Official Site  home website


TCMDB  Turner Classic Movies profile


Babenco, Hector  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They


Guardian Article (2003)   Hard cells and transvestite weddings, Alex Bellos from the Guardian, November 2, 2003



aka:  Survival of the Weakest

Brazil  (128 mi)  1981

Channel 4 Film

Director Babenco introduces this film on screen. It is a docu-drama in the tradition of Bunuel's Los Olvidados, so relentless in its depiction of life in the institutions and on the streets of So Paulo that it defies pity. Babenco takes representiatives of Brazil's deprived children (of whom three million are homeless) and presents their bleak lives using actual kids from the city's shanty towns. The hero is Pixote, a young-old boy, dragged into a police station after a round-up and sent to a reform school run by an outwardly kindly but totally corrupt regime. Pixote witnesses rape, beatings and death, which are unflinchingly portrayed as an everyday occurrence largely ignored - possibly condoned - by the authorities. In one case his friend is beaten to death by the police themselves. He escapes, turns to theft and becomes part of a gang living off a prostitute and, eventually, a killer. He's 10, with no future.

All Movie Guide [Jonathan Crow]

Not since Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados has there been as savage and harrowing account of the plight of street kids or as damning a critique of Third World poverty and societal indifference. 10-year-old Pixote ("Pee Wee" in Portuguese) endures the brutalities of Brazil's repressive, corrupt reform schools, where military death squads and juvenile prison rape are the norm, only to flee to the dubious freedom of Sao Paolo's streets. Soon Pixote becomes a pimp, thief, and multiple murderer. Yet, through it all, the audience never loses sympathy for Pixote; director Hector Babenco makes clear that all Pixote wants and needs is a stable loving person in his life. Babenco's work is in the same spirit as the 1940s Italian Neorealists who coupled a realist style with a keen sense of social injustice. His visual style is documentary-like and almost artless--a straightforward depiction of events. His true artistic feat lies in his handling of his actors, most of whom were street kids in real life. The performance he gets out of amateur Fernando Ramos da Silva is astonishing. Not since Jean-Pierre Léaud's performance in The 400 Blows (1959) had a child actor delivered a performance so filled with sadness and pathos. Da Silva's large eyes, set off by his round baby face, speak of someone who has seen too much too soon. Pixote is a raw, heart-wrenching experience that will burn into the viewer's mind for a long time to come.

eFilmCritic Reviews  Charles Tatum

Once in a while, you can go to the video store, grab a bunch of titles you have not seen and have never heard of, come home, pop a movie in the VCR, and have your life changed. This happened with "Pixote," a horrifying look at a Brazilian street child.

Director Babenco introduces the film, and we meet Pixote (pronounced Peh-Shot), played by Fernando Ramos Da Silva. He is an eleven year old homeless boy who is rounded up with other boys from the streets of Sao Paulo and taken to a reform school run by the tyrannical Sapato (Jardel Filho). There has been a judge murdered in the streets, and the homeless thieves are always convenient suspects. There is a law in Brazil that no one under eighteen can be tried as an adult, so children up to that age are committing crimes from petty larceny to murder, and get thrown into reform schools as punishment.

During Pixote's first night, another boy is raped and Pixote must become tougher to fit in. His little boy hair is cropped off, and he smokes pot with friend Fumaca (Zenildo Oliveira Santos). They observe the homosexual transvestite Lilica (Jorge Juliao) being accused of the murder by crooked cop Almir (Joao Jose Pompen), but Lilica refuses to confess to a crime he did not commit. Life in the reform school is hell on earth. The boys watch violent television shows, and role play elaborate bank robberies they plan to carry out when they are released. Family visitation day comes, and Pixote is visited by his uncaring grandfather. Soon after, a bunch of the boys are taken to a staged lineup at the local police station, and they decide to pin the murder on Fumaca. He is not returned to the reform school until after the others, and Pixote sees him there, he himself in the infirmary recovering from huffing glue. Fumaca has been beaten so severely he dies of his injuries, and his body is dumped in a landfill.

The police then decide to pin Fumaca's murder on another kid, who fights back and is also beaten to death. He was Lilica's lover, and Lilica leads a revolt that results in fires being set in the dormitory. As Lilica gets set up for the latest murder, he slashes his wrists and goes to the infirmary. The boys escape through Lilica's window, and they form a mini-crime spree through Sao Paolo. The group consists of Lilica, Pixote, Dito (Gilberto Moura), and Chico (Edilson Lino).

The second half of the film gets even darker, as the boys decide to sell dope for Christal (Tony Tornado). Dito and Lilica fall in love, and the four travel together to Rio to see Debora (Elke Maravilha), who promptly stiffs them for the money owed for the cocaine. Pixote and Chico later have a chance encounter with Debora. Chico is killed in the brawl, and Pixote stabs Debora, leaving her for dead. The three remaining boys buy a hooker named Sueli (Marilia Pera), and begin robbing her johns. Dito and Sueli grow closer, and Pixote also latches on to her as a mother figure. Lilica gets jealous and leaves, and Pixote commits two more murders, eventually trying to win the family he never had.

I had a difficult time getting through this film because of what was happening to the children. I have not been this bothered by a film about homeless children since the documentary "Streetwise." Babenco cannot be accused of softening the story or turning the camera away during the rough scenes, sparing his audience. If your idea of homeless children and prostitutes are special episodes of "Baywatch" or the laughably awful "Pretty Woman," then this may not be the film for you. Pixote sees so much death and mayhem in his life, he is surviving by instinct. He is not a brilliant boy trying to better himself, he is just trying to stay vertical and keep breathing. The drug and sex scenes are rough, and Babenco does not turn these young addicts into heroes like "Trainspotting" or "Drugstore Cowboy." Drug abuse is nothing glamorous or funny, it is dark and scary. Marilia Pera's Sueli is not a hooker with a heart of gold, she is a robber and a con artist. Her scene with Pixote in the bathroom, where she threatens to do to him what she recently did to her aborted fetus in a nearby garbage can is chilling and revolting.

Babenco had enough confidence in his script and actors to let the camera seek out the characters without getting into their faces, or showing off for the viewer. I never noticed any fancy editing or cool soundtrack, and Babenco turns us into a fly on the wall watching everything going on with fascination and repulsion. He also directed the leisurely "Ironweed," the underrated "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," and the good but not great "Kiss of the Spider Woman." This was his breakout film, and it is apparent he had more passion for the screenplay that he cowrote than he did to just make a big splash and move on to Hollywood.

The cast is excellent. Actual impoverished children were recruited for the film, a check of IMDB shows this was the only work many of them ever did onscreen. The two stand outs are Lilica and Pixote. Jorge Juliao does not portray Lilica as a prancing queen, although he seems that way on the surface. He is out for romantic love, and will sleep with anyone to get it. His jealousy with Dito and Sueli's relationship is natural, especially when the two make love on the same bed Lilica and Pixote are sitting on. Lilica is so desperate for love, he projects these feelings on other men immediately, barely finding time to get to know them before having sex and trying to keep them physically.

Fernando Ramos Da Silva. It is a cliche, but he does not play Pixote, he is Pixote. I have never seen such sad eyes on a child before. For such a young boy, Babenco puts him through some scenes that grown men could not possibly pull off. There is a ton of nudity, drug abuse, a wet nurse scene with Pera, shootings, stabbings, and Fernando goes through them like a professional. I remember the brouhaha over Tatum O'Neal smoking cigarettes in "Paper Moon," those critics obviously never saw this film. The saddest aspect of "Pixote" does not happen on film. Fernando was illiterate, and unable to memorize dialogue in order to audition and get more screen work. He was gunned down before his twentieth birthday by police who say he was involved in a robbery, although the charges do not seem to have been concrete. Looking at this boy, and his toothy grin, and his sad dog eyes, and knowing his life probably served as a nonexistent sequel to "Pixote" is something that will stay with me for years to come. Another film, "Who Killed Pixote?," takes a look at Fernando's short life and untimely death.

In the end, the film is brilliant. The story flows. The realism had me imagining I could smell the stinking surroundings these children must endure. The acting is great across the board. I cannot say much more without turning this into a clicheed review one would probably read when wanting to know about a Jack Nicholson film.

"Pixote" will stay with me for a long time, and it will be difficult to shake it so I can watch other films without any bias. It is that good.

Epinions [metalluk]


Senses of Cinema [Marc Lauria] DVD review [Vanessa Vance]


DVD Town [Yunda Eddie Feng]


Pedro Sena (Sylvia Stralberg)


Time Magazine [Richard Corliss] (capsule review)


Time Out


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (Vincent Canby)



Brazil  USA  (120 mi)  1985


Time Out

Flamboyant queen Molina (Hurt) and aggressive straight revolutionary Valentin (Julia) share a prison cell in an unnamed Latin American dictatorship. Molina, to Valentin's decreasing disgust, escapes the cell walls by recounting the camp French Resistance film of the title. The performances of Hurt and Julia win votes by the minute, Babenco directs their growing relationship with subtlety and depth, and the structure - mixing flashback, arch movie fantasy and powerful cell sequences - knocks the shit out of the gimmicks in Schrader's dubious Mishima. A film of fine balance and tone, not least in the dramatic turnaround ending.

PopcornQ Review  Dennis Harvey

Manuel Puig's novel (which was also adapted for the stage, and later the Broadway musical stage) becomes an epic art-pic weepie. William Hurt is the queen who narrates Maria Montez-like camp film sagas (given fantasy embodiment by Sonia Braga) to pass the time in his South American jail; Raul Julia is the macho political prisoner who makes his nelly cellmate's heart flutter. Rumor had it that the actors were initially cast in each other's roles. In any case, Hurt won an Oscar for what is essentially a case of technically impressive miscasting. A big hit at the time, with enduring critical support. But does the world really need another self-sacrificing, puppy-eyed gay man on screen whose (straight) object of desire finally takes pity and gives 'im a mercy bonk? It's just the same old Tragic Outcast syndrome in a new prestige package.

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

Reissued for no particular reason — unless its 16th anniversary is an occasion of note — Hector Babenco’s uninspired film is a literal-minded tribute to the power of escapism. William Hurt, even more smug and show-offy than usual, plays a dizzy queen imprisoned in a South American jail, along with a cynical political prisoner (Raul Julia). Spinning tales embroidered from the tattiest of origins — mainly a half-forgotten Nazi propaganda film whose real meaning totally escapes him — Hurt’s Molina creates a world inspired by cinema and fueled by caged imagination. Not a bad idea, certainly not in Manuel Puig’s source novel. But Babenco has no gift for staging Molina’s fantasies, despite the on-target casting of Sonia Braga as Molina’s movie-self; they’re flat, wavering between evocations of old movies and parodies thereof. And Hurt’s performance — which might be the best example of why one should never mistake Oscar bait for art — is appallingly self-congratulatory, every pause choked over, every heavenward eye-flutter a study in deceit. True, he’s playing a character whose life is a performance, but Hurt’s so caught up in Molina’s faded-belle theatrics he can’t be bothered to show us the man beneath the mask. For all its tributes to the salving powers of film, Kiss of the Spider Woman is a movie you want to escape from, not into. (Mark Adnum)

The history of gay cinema can be split into two sections: before Kiss of the Spider Woman, and after. This great film was undeliberately timely, and in the twenty years since its release, its pop-cultural importance has only increased.

Kiss Of The Spider Woman opened in a Manhattan cinema on July 26, 1985, the same week that a dying Rock Hudson flew to Paris on Concorde to try the experimental AIDS treatment, HPA-23. Days later, the first reviews of the film began appearing in newspapers, obscured behind disaster-movie style front pages featuring blown up pictures of the wasted Hudson, and announcements from UCLA immunologist Michael Gottlieb, such as “Mr Hudson is being evaluated and treated for complications of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.”

During the first screaming years of the AIDS epidemic, gay characters in movies all but disappeared. Then they re-emerged, politicised and martyred, in films like Philadelphia and Longtime Companion. Post AIDS epidemic, they were reborn - infantile and gurgling at the breasts of mother figures like Jennifer Aniston and Madonna in films like The Object of My Affection and The Next Best Thing.

Culturally, the AIDS epidemic rumbled in like a fire curtain, sealing off the danger zone - obvious, fruity homosexuality - and Kiss Of The Spider Woman lunged across the nationwide release line just in time. The film's main character Molina (William Hurt) was the last in a grand line of theatrical, flawed gay adults who didn’t shy away from their dark sides, their carnality and their sadnesses, and who had more bravery and spirit in each perfectly polished toenail than a thousand modern gay guys put together. The vital gay characters from films like Victim, The Boys in The Band, and Making Love were a breed apart from their washed-out post-AIDS epidemic cousins, and Molina/Hurt is the King of them all.

Appropriately, the film is nostalgic and operatic, featuring the doomed theatrical homosexual Molina recounting the grandeur and beauty of a time gone by. Imprisoned and frustrated, Molina yearns for a time when romance ruled over politics, and dreams of a place where he can find love and happiness without self-compromise. Kiss Of The Spider Woman is so prescient of the bland atmosphere left behind after the AIDS-induced death of colorful gay culture it’s simply not funny, and it’s easy to forget that as well as carrying this uncanny cultural value, it is also a beautiful, wise and original motion picture.

Manuel Puig, the author of the original novel, hated it, predicting correctly that in the role of Molina “La Hurt is so bad she will probably win an Oscar”. However, while Puig's novel was innovative, anyone who’s seen the film first will find the far less lyrical book comparatively drab.

John Neschling’s gorgeous theme music and Robert Dawson and David Weisman’s perfect title sequence open the film. We hear Molina’s voice next, huskily describing a strange woman while we watch a gentle pan across someone’s (his) lovingly decorated prison cell wall. Molina throws back his head, adjusts his turban, and inspects his nails. It’s the last time - and, incidentally, the first - that an imprisoned child molesting theatrical homosexual who deceives freedom fighting journalists into spilling their inside secrets for his own advantage would ever play the hero in a film.

The freedom fighter in question is Molina’s cellmate Valentin (Raul Julia), imprisoned as a subversive and regularly interrogated with whips and electric prods. As Molina probes for valuable details (an early release is waiting for him if he can uncover something good) the prickly energy between him and Valentin evolves into curiosity, respect, and ultimately becomes an intimate friendship. Pushing this evolution along is Molina’s intricate retelling of his favorite fairy tales, which include sepia-toned propaganda films from the Nazi era which Valentin initially despises, and the tale of the mysterious spider woman, a seductive creature who lives on a tropical island and who Valentin pictures as a comic-book version of his ex-girlfriend, Marta (Sonia Braga).

The memories of Molina merge with Valentin’s interpretations of them in the two mini-movies that weave through the main film - the sepia Nazi romance, and the dazzling outdoor idylls of the Spider Woman’s lair. As those minature stories unfold, so does the relationship between the mismatched cellmates, and eventually, their story becomes as bewitiching and metaphysical as the fairy tales they use to pass their time.

They exchange ideas of masculinity, of sexuality and politics. They learn what they can from each other, and take what they need, even if that taking constitutes a kind of robbery. In the end, they appear have passed each other by, leaving an imprint, not fusing together.

Can you imagine Molina popping up as a guest star on the suburban “Will And Grace”, or even floating around in the background of the lovely The Prince Of Tides instead of watered-down, neighbourly George Carlin? As Barbra Streisand said in her 95-96 concerts, “can’t do that, no no.” AIDS squeezed Molina out of the market - it’s just no longer acceptable to be gay that way.

Nick's Flick Picks  Nivk Davis


Reel Movie Critic [Brenda Sexton]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (Janet Maslin)



Brazil  Argentina  Italy  (148 mi)  2003


Carandiru  Bruce Diones from the New Yorker


Hector Babenco's new film (his first after a long illness) examines the life of Brazilian inmates inside São Paulo's notorious prison, Carandiru, and the events leading up to a bloody riot (exceptionally filmed) in 1992. Babenco shifts his focus from inmate to inmate, telling the stories of what led to their incarceration with the same powerful street sense he employed so brilliantly in his earlier film "Pixote." The tales of hardship veer close to being maudlin at times—the director's empathy is ferocious and gets in the way of some of the questions that a viewer may ask. But thanks to stunning visuals (the squalor is bathed in heavenly light, and Babenco's camerawork has a Scorsese-like sweep), the movie represents passionate filmmaking at its best. In Portuguese. 


Bacha, Julia


BUDRUS                                                                  B                     87

Israel  Palestinian Territory  USA  (78 mi)  2009                        Official site


It's unfortunate for the people of Budrus, but less unfortunate than the death of an Israeli citizen.      —Capt. Doron Spielman, Israeli Defense Forces


After a series of suicide bombers in the early 1990’s rocked major Israeli metropolitan areas, causing a neverending spread of panic and hysteria, it was determined that the bombers came from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, leaving the Israeli government to conclude they needed to build a wall between all border regions of the two territories permanently closing any holes in the border checkpoints between the two nations.  While this concept to protect its borders sounds reasonable enough, but when designing the placement of the walls, the nation of Israel only fueled the flames of resentment by deciding to construct the walls almost exclusively on Palestinian land, bulldozing existing olive orchards or cemeteries.  By 2002, the Israeli military was sent into the Occupied Territories to protect the construction of the wall, even as it cut through land owned by Palestinians, uprooting olive trees, basically razing productive and income producing crops, which included some 3000 olive trees in the city of Budrus alone.  The arrogance of the Israeli military to even conceive such a plan shows how they underestimate Palestinian life, showing no regard whatsoever for the destruction and economic loss they are causing, thinking this is simply an inconvenience that must be endured to protect the lives of Israeli citizens.  The question of why not build the wall on Israeli grounds is never addressed, as had they done so, the Palestinians would not have reacted the way they did when their crops were being destroyed by bulldozers. 


Apparently there was little opposition to the Israeli demolition crews until they hit the small town of Budrus, with a population of less than 1500 people, a quiet but productive village that has survived since ancient times by harvesting olive trees.  This film follows the journey of one man, the town’s mayor and social activist Ayed Morrar, who led the non-violent protests against the bulldozers, attempting to disrupt and ultimately stop their actions.  Initially the demonstrations were exclusively all male, but when Morrar’s 15-year old daughter Iltezam asked why women did not protest, she led a movement that included women who were initially extremely effective against the perplexed Israeli troops, which also included women, such as Yasmine Levy, an Israeli member of the border patrol assigned to keep the Palestinians away.  But Morrar, who served several stints in Israeli prison for various activist causes, including nationalistic political activities, mobilized the entire town, which includes several member of Hamas (one who is interestingly enough a math teacher), capturing the attention of the local news broadcasts in the region which became broadcast around the world.  Sympathizers from South Africa’s Anti- Apartheid movement arrived along with leftist Israeli demonstrators as well who joined in solidarity, where for nearly a year for adults and children these demonstrations became a routine way of life.  


Somewhat reminiscent of the police fire hoses used on non-violent blacks protesting the Jim Crow segregation laws in the South during the 1960’s, this film documents the egregious behavior of the Israeli military establishment that was eventually ordered to take more drastic measures, which includes an assault on the town, imposing a curfew, taking over several Palestinian homes, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, also live ammunition, to try to disperse any crowd movement, actions which only outrage and incite the wrath of the Palestinians, who could only throw stones in retaliation.  While all of this was captured on the evening news, Israeli Defense Ministers would justify the Army’s behavior while also suggesting any collaborating Israeli citizens should be arrested.  Like Barbara Kopple’s identification with the striking coal miners in HARLAN COUNTY USA (1976), the Brazilian director and co-writer of CONTROL ROOM (2004) grows close to several of the protesters, where the audience easily identifies with them as the offended party, as who could imagine a military occupation and a wall being built on someone’s own property?  It’s Kafkaesque and inconceivable to think one nation has the audacity to think they have the legal right to implement this kind of military imposed “final solution.” 


After a prolonged ordeal of over fifty demonstrations, each subject to life-threatening implications, it’s clear the protesters feel diminished returns about their use of non-violence, as it’s nearly impossible to remain peaceful and non-violent when live bullets are whizzing by your head.  The film legitimately raises the ire of the audience, who are rightly outraged by what’s shown onscreen, but the filmmakers never attempt to explain the Israeli side of the story or offer justification for why they insist on building the wall on Palestinian land.  The film also doesn’t do a good job in providing a historical backdrop leading up to this event, or provide a decent timeline for the events shown, as by the time this film was released, the events occurred six to eight years earlier.  The filmmaker only met Ayed Morrer and his daughter in 2007, mixing interviews made several years afterwards with original video footage obtained of the events.  While the film accentuates the non-violent nature of the protests, it’s evident this may be altering and idealizing the reality, imposing a point of view of someone who was not there, as the protests only initially began non-violently but eventually turned into an all-out war zone, where Bassem Tamimi, a Palestinian activist, adds, “Our enemy is so violent that he doesn’t give us a chance to be non-violent. So it is no wonder that Palestinians do not believe in non-violence.”  So by the end, when Israel decides to re-draw the boundary lines of the wall, the audience is mistakenly led to believe the non-violent protests are effective, as Budrus saved 95% of its land, while in fact this exact same military imposed solution has persisted to this day with other villages within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, all of whom are being surrounded by Israeli built walls, images reminiscent of the Warsaw ghetto in Poland before the outbreak of World War II.  How ironic that in a reversal of roles Israeli Jews, who were the oppressed party then, are the military belligerent offending party now, playing the part of Germany some 60 years later.    

User reviews  from imdb Author: nyshrink from United States

This documentary will be an eye-opener for many Americans. It tells the story of an on-going non-violent protest movement on the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. The movement has been created and led by Palestinians--a people often portrayed as terrorists or fanatics by the Western media. Some intrepid international activists as well as some Israelis have joined the movement, but the focus of this film is on the Palestinians.

The film portrays the actual protests and the response by the Israeli military. Just as interesting are numerous brief interviews with many people including the leaders of the protests, an Israeli activist and an Israeli military leader on the ground (who I began to suspect was probably later fired, as his comments were damning as well as humorous). Many people might be shocked to see a Hamas member talk about the value of non-violent protest and how he has met progressive Jews whom he now views as comrades. Not a bearded mullah, he is a math teacher.

The protests I believe were filmed in 2003, but this movement against the Israeli theft of Palestinian land continues on the West Bank. Since it is rarely covered by the Western media, this film may be your only chance to get a good look at it.

Richard Cohen - It takes a village to humanize the Israeli ...  Richard Cohen from The Washington Post, April 13, 2010

Budrus is a Palestinian village just inside the West Bank. "Budrus" is also a documentary about what happened in that village when Israeli authorities tried to use some of its land -- cherished olive groves -- to build a security fence separating Arab from Jew or, as has too often been the case, terrorist from target. The villagers resisted, the Israelis insisted, and in the end an agreement was reached. On paper, it looks like a compromise. On film, it's an Israeli rout.

I can commend "Budrus" for several reasons. It is not one of those films that embraces the present while ignoring the past. Israel's security fence, cinematically charmless, is often likened to a harsh product of an apartheid policy or mentality. "Budrus" explains, though, that the barrier, which in some places is a wall, is seen as a necessity, not much different from the fence going up on the U.S.-Mexico border or the lovely stucco walls of America's gated communities. The wall keeps out terrorists. In "Budrus," even the Palestinians concede that point.

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," Robert Frost wrote in his poem "Mending Wall" -- and Israel's security fence is no exception. Maybe the fact that it would be hated no matter what prompted the authorities to proceed in an ugly way. In the case of Budrus, the fence's construction supposedly required the uprooting of some of the village's olive trees. Maybe an engineer thought it was cheaper to do that than work around the trees, or maybe someone in authority just felt vindictive. Soon, Israel had to bring in additional troops.

Here again, the movie eschews the cliche. One of the Israeli soldiers is an attractive woman. She has a job to do and it is clear she does it without much relish. At least on one occasion, she uses force -- whacking a Palestinian woman with her baton -- but she takes no glee in it and expresses appreciation -- although not sympathy -- for the plight of the Palestinians. Everyone in the region knows the importance of olive trees.

As for the Palestinians, they, too, are humanized. They have suffered mightily and now -- for reasons they cannot fathom -- their land is being taken from them. One of the villagers, activist Ayed Morrar, organized passive resistance -- not the usual rock-throwing but nonviolence instead. Even the women participate, a departure for Palestinian society and a tactic that throws the Israelis off balance.

Soon, the villagers attract allies -- young Israeli peace activists. Now, the Israeli soldiers have to contend with their fellow Israelis. For critics of Israel, this is a bracing and unsettling moment. The Palestinians are the good guys -- but so are the young Israeli peace activists. If this could happen in any Arab country, I'd like to know its name.

Those of us who have watched Israel trying to control the West Bank have always wondered why the Palestinians have not tried passive resistance. This is what Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King did -- and Israel is weak in the way Britain and America are. It has a conscience.

In the end, Israel moved the fence. It compromised. Most of the olive trees were spared, and the barrier was kept back from an elementary school. Hamas and Fatah cooperated with the Israeli peace activists and to a degree with the army. It was a genuine kumbaya moment.

Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard and co-author along with John Mearsheimer of the extremely controversial book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," has for some time been carrying on a running dialogue with almost anyone to make the point that supporting Israel is not in America's best interest. In the sense that America's best interest has to do with oil and Muslim nations and fighting Islamic radicalism, he is right. But if America's interest is enlarged to encompass shared values, he is wrong. It is in America's interest to support Israel.

But "Budrus" the film and Budrus the village are emblematic of why America's support for Israel is being questioned. The pretty Israeli soldier aside, those appealing peace activists aside, the eventual compromise aside -- the awful sight of cranes yanking olive trees into the air sinks the heart. The current leaders of Israel, intent on expanding settlements and thus retaining the West Bank, ought to see "Budrus" in a theater. They won't like the film, but they won't like the audience's reaction even more.

POICA-The Isolation of Budrus Village - Ramallah  POICA, January 15, 2004

After launching the Israeli segregation plan to construct the so-called Segregation Wall, Israel has been issuing military orders to annex more Palestinian fertile land in the West Bank. Since the occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967, the Israeli authorities had confiscated large areas of Palestinian land in east Jerusalem and declared it as green areas aiming at changing it later to yellow areas in order to use it exclusively for its own purposes. The Israeli settlements of Neve Ya'cub, Pisgat Ze'ev, Ma'ale Adumim, Gilo, the French Hill, Giva'at Shabira and Har Homa are all built on land previously classified by the Israeli authorities as 'Green areas'. Israel placed severe restrictions on the lands where Palestinians are able to build and left the Palestinians with little room to accommodate their natural population growth. 

'Budrus village' is a small Palestinian village located to the northwest of Ramallah district. It has a population of 1300 inhabitants and a built-up area of 157 dunums. Life in the village is simple and people are welcoming. The olive trees groves dated back as far as the Roman ages.  To earn a living, about 70% of the inhabitants depend on their work inside Israel, 20% depend on working inside the Palestinian city of Ramallah, while 10% depend totally and completely on the village's agricultural production. 

After the 1948 war, The Israeli forces had confiscated 81% of the village land near the ''Armistice Line''. Today, the total area of agricultural land in the village is 2200 dunums in which the IOF are threatening to confiscate about 1000 dunums (45% of the villages land) for the construction of the Segregation Wall.

On December 31, the Israeli forces broke into the village and the villagers put up strong resistance to the forces who came to confiscate the 1000 dunums of their land and uproot their olive trees to construct the Segregation Wall. As a result of the clashes between the two parties, 40 Palestinians were injured and 7 others were arrested. The Israeli forces have announced Al-Sofouf an area in the village as a closed military area and imposed curfew on it in order to prevent the people from defending their land.

Much more, in a demonstration against the building of the wall, the Israeli forces opened fire on the demonstrators from Budrus as well as other nearby villages of Ne'lin, Qebia and Al-Media while headed to their land at the time when the Israeli forces began to uproot the olive trees and clear way for the construction of the wall. Demonstrations in the village continued for more than 7 days in which the protestors opposed the building of the Segregation Wall that threatens their village and their livelihood.  See Map of Budrus and the nearby villages

The Israeli forces are in the process of bulldozing and confiscating the 1000 dunums of agricultural land, uprooting hundreds of olive trees and  leaving most of the villagers without any source of income. The villagers added that this policy of land confiscation is only a strategy to force the residents leave their village and annex its land to Israel.

The Israeli authorities are building the Wall on the western part of Budrus village and on other villages land such as Qibya, Rantis and Al-Luban.  

Building the Segregation Wall will cut off the village, leave many villagers without any source of income  and will prevent many of them from reaching their work or their schools. The villagers will also be living in ghettos separated from the other Palestinian villages and communities.

The villagers assured that they will continue to demonstrate against  the Israeli policy which is against humanity and civilization. If Israelis are to build a separation wall, they can build it on the Green Line and not inside the Palestinian Territory. It is clear that the purpose behind building the Segregation Wall is to confiscate the most fertile Palestinian land and prevent the inhabitants from earning their living and force them to leave at the end. 

The building of such a wall, the separation of people from their families and their land and the denial of their freedom of movement are basic human rights as well as international laws violations. Tree uprooting, land confiscation and the construction of settlements and 'bypass' road by Israel contravene international laws, the IV Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations, the Oslo Accords and the Wye Agreement and are against the letter and spirit of the peace process.

“We Can Do It”  Kate and Anna from If America Knew, January 20, 2004

Budrus is a small village of 1200 people in West Ramallah, three kilometres from the green line. The Apartheid Wall’s bulldozers reached Budrus village three months ago, having already cut a swathe through the land of Qibbya, the neighbouring village. In 1953, Ariel Sharon led a massacre of 60 people in Qibbya and the site of the massacre is still visible today.

The intention of the Apartheid Wall in this area is threefold: to separate Budrus and Qibbya and their neighbouring villages, Nihilin and Medea, from all of their land; enclose them in their own separate wall which looks like a circular prison; and to install only one gate through which villagers can leave and enter to Ramallah, the only place where the villagers can access hospitals, universities and places of work. The villagers feel that this gate, like many other gates in the wall, could remain almost permanently closed.

Budrus village formed a Popular Committee to fight the Apartheid Wall. The Committee says there was no way to fight the Wall in court because they were given military orders that their land was to be confiscated and they should appeal to the courts within 14 days, but the next day the bulldozers began working!

Until now, the wall has not become a reality in Budrus. For the past three months, every able-bodied person in Budrus has been taking to the olive grove of 30 trees which is first in line for bulldozing, and using non-violent direct action to stop the bulldozers every time they start working. The Popular Committee has convened big demonstrations in the olive grove even when the bulldozers were not working. While in many villages the army’s bulldozers have met scattered protests, the people of Budrus believe they can stop the Apartheid Wall! The village says their secret is that everyone is united against the Wall and works together, no matter what their party affiliation. Because of their united strength, the village has defied every curfew declared by the Israeli Occupation Forces in order to continue the non-violent resistance.

Recently, however, the Apartheid Wall contractors’ bulldozers have been backed up by much more military might and the police have started making midnight raids into the village to arrest Popular Committee activists and even young boys. There has been a concerted attack on Budrus village’s non-violent resistance.

This began on the morning of December 30th, 2003 when a bulldozer headed for the grove most under threat. As soon as the villagers saw what was happening, a call went out from the mosque that the olive trees were being cut! Five international and Israeli activists camping in a school under threat of demolition in nearby Deir Ballut village had luckily slept in Budrus the night before. Together with Palestinian activists from the Budrus Popular Committee against the Apartheid Wall, we rushed down the hill to the olive groves only to be met by soldiers coming up with a paper declaring the area a closed military zone and blocking our way. We were perplexed when a Palestinian activist said we should all return to the village centre. On the way we heard another call go out from the mosque and everything became clear when we suddenly saw hundreds of women, girls, men and boys marching directly at the olive grove. Children who had rushed out of their classrooms were still clutching their schoolbooks.

At this moment, one of the most well loved activists in the village, Abu Ahmad, shouted “We can do it! We can do it!” The villagers broke up into three groups and started running down the hill towards the bulldozers.

The soldiers immediately started firing tens of teargas canisters at the different groups, before opening fire just minutes later with numerous volleys of rubber bullets. When groups of small girls were gassed, they took only seconds to recover their breath before marching forward again down the hill. Many people were hit in the legs, head, and arms and carried up the hill to the waiting ambulance. All the time, more soldiers were arriving and making their way up the hill. The Palestinians and soldiers met three quarters of the way down the hill. Although the bulldozer was relatively close now, it seemed that it would be impossible for us to break through the line of heavily armed soldiers and get to the olive grove.

The sudden arrival of three television crews startled the soldiers. In that moment, an old woman broke through the line and ran at the bulldozer. Different groups started getting around the soldiers. The soldiers recovered their composure speedily and began firing teargas canisters directly at people, but by this time the woman had thrown herself into the hole being dug by the bulldozer. A tiny girl jumped into the bulldozer’s scooper as it came down to meet the earth and nonchalantly started reading her schoolbook. Other girls started climbing all over the bulldozer and the driver turned off the engine.

That day was victorious for the people of Budrus. Although some trees had been destroyed, others were saved. And in the face of massive amounts of teargas and rubber bullets, they had advanced down the hill armed with nothing but songs of freedom, forcing the soldiers and the bulldozer to retreat. When the people reached the olive groves and the soldiers were pushed back to where their jeeps were parked, it was the small girls who faced off against the soldiers for the next three hours singing “Free, Free Palestine!” When the soldiers finally got into their jeeps and drove off, the entire village celebrated.

This scene has replayed itself over the past three weeks but with different results. During the past three weeks, the Wall Company has tried seven times to cut more olive trees. All seven attempts have been defeated by the people of Budrus. Four times the people succeeded in forcing the army out of the groves as they did on December 30th, but on three occasions the army attacked with over 200 soldiers, and forced the people back into the village. On these days, dozens of people were taken to hospital with injuries and soldiers opened fire on groups of children with live bullets, before occupying houses closest to the main road and beating the women and children inside. But even these times, the bulldozers did not uproot more trees.

At one point, the army declared the entire village a closed military zone. This did not stop the demonstrations from continuing. The village hit the world headlines when a Swedish Member of Parliament, Gustav Fridolin, and three other internationals were arrested for participating in the demonstrations. All of the internationals arrested, including two from IWPS, were imprisoned and eventually expelled from the country.

Ten men from the village have been taken prisoner by the occupation forces, including Abu Ahmad and his brothers Na’eem and Abdelnasir, Abu Ahmad and Na’eem were snatched from their beds at 2:00 am in the morning. Since their arrests, the Israeli regime has stonewalled their lawyers and supporters who have phoned the Ofer prison where they are being held. Israeli Knesset member Ran Cohen phoned the prison to protest their arrest and was told they had been released. People knowledgeable about the Israeli military court system fear they will be held indefinitely in administrative detention. Abdelnasir has been charged with “allowing internationals to stay in his home”. The charge of housing internationals was non-existent until now and only serves to expose Israel’s intention to smash any non-violent resistance to any of its policies.

Internationals from ISM, IWPS and other groups have established a long-term presence in the Budrus area to support their resistance. Last week internationals, Israeli Anarchists against the Wall and the Popular Committee went to meet the farmers of Nihilin. This village will lose 90% of its land to the Apartheid Wall and they were told on January 7th that bulldozing would start 14 days from then. In the run up to the International Court of Justice hearing on the Apartheid Wall in the Hague which begins in late February, bulldozers all over Palestine are working fast and furious to speed up the building of the wall, and giant 25 foot concrete slabs are being erected daily. So far, the village of Budrus, although shot, gassed, beaten, arrested and terrorised by the Israeli Occupation Forces, has managed to stop the Apartheid Wall’s trail of destruction through the Ramallah district.

In These Times  Michael Atkinson


Eye for Film (Ali Hazzah) review [3/5]


Global Comment [Lauren Wissot]


Slant Magazine (Chuck Bowen) review  Nora Lee Mandel


Cinephile [Matthew Thrift]


Spirituality & Practice (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat) review


Sound On Sight  Dave Robson


NewCity Chicago  Ray Pride


Chicago Reader  Ben Sachs


BUDRUS  Facets Multi Media


Village Voice  Ella Taylor

User reviews  from imdb Author: bducker-883-194559 from United States

Budrus Director Julia Bacha’s Appeals to Widest Audience  Interview with the director from indieWIRE, April 22, 2010


Budrus: The story of a people's will to defy a fence using ...  Gregory Boyce interviews Palestinian community organizer Ayed Morrar from The New Orleans Progressive Examiner, October 8, 2010


NPR: director interview  Mary Louise Kelly interviews the director from NPR, October 14, 2010


Variety (Alissa Simon) review 


Time Out London (Tom Huddleston) review [4/5]


TimeOut Chicago  Hank Sartin


The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review [4/5]


The Daily Telegraph review [4/5]  Marc Lee


St. Paul Pioneer Press review  Chris Hewitt


Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review


Chicago Tribune  Michael Phillips


New York Times  Mike Hale, October 7, 2010

To Take Up Arms or Not? A Film Joins the Debate  Ethan Bronner from The New York Times, October 1, 2010


Hitting the Wall  Nancy Updike from The LA Weekly, March 11, 2004


Judge revokes administrative detention order for Budrus man  Amira Hass from Haaretz, March 11, 2004


The village against the fence  Amira Hass from Haaretz, November 2, 2004


Five Injured, Eight Detained At Anti Wall Protest In Budrus ...  Ghassan Bannoura from Imemc, March 19, 2010


It Takes a Village: Budrus Re-Routes the Wall | Peace X Peace  Rula Salameh from Peace X Peace, May 13, 2010


Ayed Morrar, the moral giant of Budrus  James North from Mondoweiss, October 20, 2010


Budrus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Back, Silvio



Brazil  (118 mi)  1976

User reviews from imdb Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In 1937, the German family Kranz immigrates to the South of Brazil, settling in a hotel in the country. The members of the family are sympathizers of the Nazis and worship Adolf Hitler. One of the young woman of the Kranz was seduced and abused by a SS officer, arriving pregnant, close to the delivery and very disturbed. With the beginning of the war, two young men of the group move back to Germany to join the Nazi forces. After the war, the place becomes a meeting point for Nazi sympathizers, giving support to former Nazis and assisting them to move to Argentina. Eurico (Carlos Vereza), a Brazilian traveling salesman, arrives to the hotel and stays with the Kranz, expecting to be rewarded with hold for helping the Nazi sympathizers. Although awarded in many minor Brazilian Festivals, "Aleluia Gretchen" is a boring movie. Due to the long period covered by the story for the running time of 118 minutes, and the great number of characters, most of them badly developed, the screenplay is very confused. I am a great fan of Brazilian cinema, but I was completely disappointed with this film. My vote is four.

Brazil Film Update   Randal Johnson from Jump Cut

Silvio Back is perhaps the only Brazilian director to develop a continuity of regional films outside the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo axis. His first and second features, LANCE MAIOR (THE BIG ATTEMPT, 1968) and GUERRA DOS PELADOS (THE "PELADOS" WAR, 1970), both examine historical events in the Southern-most region of the country.

ALELUIA, GRETCHEN, the most controversial film of the 1976 Brasilia Festival, follows the life of a family of German immigrants from their arrival in Southern Brazil in 1937 until the present. Having fled their native land due to the rise of Hitler, the family becomes involved with fascist movements in Brazil. The film, in diary form, is divided into four parts, each corresponding to a particular phase of Brazilian political, cultural and economic development. The first part, from 1937 to 1938, deals with the family's arrival, their problems of adaptation and their concern with keeping in touch with events in Europe. Their discussions during this phase reveal the political conflicts that divided the world at that time, and even though they may on the surface oppose Hitler, they espouse much of his ideology. The second part, from 1942 to 1945, examines their relationship with Hitler youth organizations and other fascist groups in Brazil. During the war, the family's son returns to Europe to fight for Germany. In 1955 the group's ideology is challenged by members of the community, as a fugitive SS officer arrives to continue his courting of the family's daughter which he had begun before the war. The section dealing with today's Brazil continues a discussion of the cultural struggle they are involved in as, on a family outing, the Wagnerian soundtrack (a rock version of "The Ride of the Vaikyries") is drowned out by a samba played by local youth. The film is given an atemporal air since the characters do not age throughout the forty years dealt with in the film but rather only change clothes and hair fashion. According to the director, the film was invited to participate in the 1976 Berlin Festival, but the invitation was withdrawn without explanation.

Bacon, Lloyd


All-Movie Guide  bio from Hal Erickson

Born into an American theatrical family, Lloyd Bacon was the son of Frank Bacon, the actor who made the stage play Lightnin' virtually his life's work. Lloyd pursued the family business early in life, appearing in stock companies and touring shows, before entering films as a small-part player at Essanay Studios, where he worked with pioneer western star Broncho Billy Anderson. Another Essanay player, Charlie Chaplin, continued employing Lloyd as an actor and production assistant long after both had moved to other studios. Never comfortable as a performer, Bacon followed Chaplin's lead by becoming a director himself. His first directorial assignment was Private Izzy Murphy (1926), which starred Broadway entertainer George Jessel. The film inaugurated Bacon's long association with Warner Bros., where over the next two decades he would direct such notables as James Cagney, Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson John Barrymore, Joe E. Brown, Humphrey Bogart and Ronald Reagan. Most of Bacon's assignments came his way not because he was uniquely talented but because he was quick and efficient; while many stars welcomed this businesslike approach, others were unhappy that the Bacon technique left no time to properly "develop" a performance or to experiment with new ideas. But since producers and not actors make the final decisions, and since producers like to have craftsmen around who save time and money, Bacon worked steadily throughout the 1940s and 1950s. After leaving Warners, the director spent some time at 20th Century-Fox, where he made one of his best films, It Happens Every Spring (1949). Slapstick comedy fans especially enjoy Bacon's collaborations with screenwriter Frank Tashlin at both Columbia and MGM, notably the Red Skelton vehicle The Good Humor Man (1950) and the baseball farce Kill the Umpire (1950). Just before his death, Lloyd Bacon directed a pair of Howard Hughes-produced comedies for RKO, The French Line (1954) and She Couldn't Say No (1954). The Bacon family tradition was carried on by Lloyd's younger brother, ubiquitous character actor Irving Bacon.

Film Reference   Douglas Gomery

Lloyd Bacon is probably best known for his director's credit on such classic Warner Bros. films as 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Knute Rockne—All American, and Action in the North Atlantic. Still, other film personalities are better remembered for these films: choreographer Busby Berkeley for the musicals, and actors Pat O'Brien, Ronald Reagan, and Humphrey Bogart for the 1940s films. Today Bacon is lost in the literature about Warner Bros.
In his day, however, Lloyd Bacon was recognized as a consummate Hollywood professional. One cannot help standing in some awe of Bacon's directorial output in the era from the coming of sound to the Second World War. During those fourteen years he directed an average of five films per annum for Warner Bros. (seven were released in 1932 alone.) Bacon's 42nd Street and Wonder Bar were among the industry's top-grossing films of the decade. For a time Bacon was considered to be the top musicals specialist at Warner Bros. The corporation paid him accordingly, some $200,000 per year, making him one of its highest paid contract directors of the 1930s.
Bacon's status declined during the 1940s. His craftsmanship remained solid, for he knew the classical Hollywood system of production as well as anyone on the Warner lot. But Bacon never seemed to find his special niche. Instead, he skipped from one genre to another. He seemed to evolve into the Warner Bros. handyman director. His greatest success during this period came with war films. For example, Wings of the Navy had a million dollar budget and helped kick off the studio's string of successful World War II films. Bacon's best-remembered film of the 1940s is probably Action in the North Atlantic, a tribute to the U.S. Merchant Marine. This movie was Bacon's last film at Warner Bros.
In 1944 Bacon moved to Twentieth Century-Fox to work for his former boss, Darryl F. Zanuck. There he re-established himself in musicals as well as films of comedy and family romance, but still seemed unable to locate a long-term specialty. He finished at Fox with an early 1950s series of Lucille Ball comedies, and ended his directorial career in somewhat ignominious fashion, helping Howard Hughes create a 3-D Jane Russell spectacle, The French Line.
Bacon's most significant contribution to film history probably came during his early days at Warner Bros. as that studio pioneered new sound technology in the late 1920s. Bacon presided over several significant transitional films, none more important than The Singing Fool. Although The Jazz Singer usually gets credit as the first (and most important) transitional talkie, The Singing Fool should receive far more credit because for more than a decade, this film stood as the highest grossing feature in Hollywood annals. As its director, Bacon was honored by the trade publication Film Daily as one of the top ten directors of the 1928–29 season. As a consequence of his involvement on this and other films, Bacon established his reputation as a director who helped thrust Hollywood into an era of movies with sound.


Lloyd Bacon  Michael Grost from Classic Movies and Television


Bacon, Lloyd  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

Jean-Pierre Melville's 64 Favourite Pre-War American Filmmakers (Cahiers du Cinema, October 1961)


USA  (104 mi)  1933


Time Out  Tom Milne

The third of Warners' major backstage musicals to appear in 1933, unlike 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 in that it deals not so much with putting on a Broadway show as with combating the threat of talking pictures; unlike them, too, in that it pins its atmospheric faith less on the Depression than on Roosevelt optimism as personified by Cagney's irrepressibly bouncy choreographer. It ends with a string of three grandiose numbers by Busby Berkeley, that kitschy darling of current fashion, two of which (Honeymoon Hotel and By a Waterfall) are well suited to the wimpish personalities of Powell and Keeler; but the third, Shanghai Lil, is given a terrific boost by Cagney and by a camera raptly tracking through smoky Chinese bars, nightclubs and opium dens. But by far the best part of the film is its first hour, fast, furious and funny as Cagney sets out to convince his nervous backers that his idea for live prologues to accompany talkies can be made to work. (Chris Cabin)


With modern musicals being about as embarrassingly bad as they come (the nadir being Christopher Columbus’ deplorable Rent), it’s good to stop and take stock of the golden days of the movie musical. One of the splashy musical's most prominent heroes was Busby Berkeley, a choreographer who knew a lot about dance and even more about subtext. Through both his Gold Diggers pictures, Dames, 42nd Street, and Wonder Bar, you can see his dance style saying as much about the story as it is acting as a subversive agent. However, it never got so sly and perverse as it did in Lloyd Bacon’s exceptional Footlight Parade.

In his finest non-dramatic role, James Cagney plays Chester Kent, a stage musical director who turns into a prologue director when silent pictures go all talkie. Prologues are lavish musical numbers they put on before and in between films, and Kent is the best in the business at them. When the possibility to sign a 40-theater deal comes up, Kent goes nutty and must rush out three ace prologues in three days. Keep in mind; this is all while dealing with his contemptible fiancée, Vivian (Carole Dodd), his loyal, loving assistant, Nan (Joan Blondell), two business partners who are ripping him off, and a spy in his dance company that is stealing his ideas. And then there are the two main leads that are falling for each other (sweetly played by Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler).

The three main performances in Footlight Parade are at the end, the three prologues that must win over the owner of the 40 theaters. All three are choreographed with precision and feisty glee by Berkeley. In “Honeymoon Hotel,” he shamelessly dances around and hints at the amorous happenings on one's wedding night, and in “Shanghai Lil,” you can see his deviant smile behind Cagney choosing the Navy (male dominance) over the woman he’s been looking high and low for. Most shocking is “By the Waterfall,” which casts a man’s dream of love and marriage as a group of lovely women, flirting and swimming near a waterfall. On many of the overhead shots during the swimming scenes, there is more than a passing resemblance to the act of fertilization. It’s a seditious stab at the ratings board (timely now on its DVD appearance, what with the MPAA running rampant) and never makes the mistake of being too obvious.

The film generates laughs at a criminal rate, and it almost makes it hard to follow. Much like Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, however, we can still grab what is going on and see the generous story layering and deep character that Bacon and writers Manuel Seff and James Seymour worked in with deep love. Cinematographer George Barnes and editor George Amy are consistently inventive in the way they shoot the musical numbers. In “By the Waterfall,” their dazzling ability with space seems a little too good at distracting us from the fact that none of these could ever be put on any sort of stage.

Bacon and Berkeley collaborated on three other films, Wonder Bar, Gold Diggers of 1937 and 42nd Street. I’ll always have a place in my heart for the warmth of the dance numbers in 42nd Street, but one can’t argue that both men were at the top of their game with Footlight Parade. For all intents and purposes, it seems that what modern musicals are missing in abundance is the sense of mischief that movies like this and Cabaret (arguably the last truly great movie musical) had. With stinkers like Rent and From Justin to Kelly roaming the Cineplex, the most musical thing you can hear these days is Berkeley and Bacon rotating in their graves.


Turner Classic Movies    Frank Miller


James Cagney made the transition from gats to taps when he convinced Warner Bros. head Jack Warner to give him a change of pace with the lead in Footlight Parade, Busby Berkeley's 1933 musical extravaganza. Coming on the heels of the studio's first two groundbreaking musicals -- 42nd Street (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933 - the film had a way to go to top its predecessors. But, with Cagney dancing for the first time on screen, Joan Blondell cracking wise as only she could and 100 chorus girls swimming through a gigantic studio tank in the spectacular "By a Waterfall" number, most fans agree that it's the ultimate Warners musical.

As soon as he heard about the studio's plans to follow Berkeley's two smash musicals, Cagney campaigned for the role. After all, he reminded Warner, he had started out as a song-and-dance man and only blundered into gangster roles when he'd switched roles with the original star of The Public Enemy (1931). After Cagney reached film stardom, he continued to tap around the house after each day's shooting. In fact, visitors with dancing experience, like George Burns and Gracie Allen, were usually handed tap shoes and asked to join in.

Footlight Parade marked the third teaming for Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, who had shot to stardom in the first two Berkeley musicals at Warners. It also marked a reunion for Cagney and Blondell, who had started at Warners together in 1930's Sinner's Holiday, which they had also done on Broadway. Footlight Parade was actually their sixth film together. Blondell had just married the film's cameraman, George Barnes, though that didn't guarantee her better camera angles; her natural beauty rarely came through on screen and always astonished fans lucky enough to meet her in the flesh.

A backstage story like 42nd Street,
Footlight Parade saved most of its musical numbers for the film's finale. Before the finale, however, the movie is a fast-paced comedy about a Broadway producer who fights the inroads made by talking pictures during the Great Depression by staging extravagant "prologues" for movie theaters. Though she didn't get to sing or dance in the film, Blondell almost stole the picture as Cagney's secretary and love interest. When she kicks out a gold digger after his fortune, Blondell quips, "As long as they've got sidewalks, you've got a job." The line would be edited out in later years, when film censorship became more stringent, not to return until the picture's 1970 reissue.

After the simple plot was established,
Footlight Parade focused on dancing, with three of Berkeley's best numbers back-to-back. First up was "Honeymoon Hotel," in which Powell and Keeler's efforts to enjoy their honeymoon in private are thwarted by relatives, well-wishers and a lecherous baby (Billy Barty) who almost shares their wedding night. The number was heavily cut by local censors.

Next came the 15-minute number, "By a Waterfall." Berkeley came up with the idea when someone asked him how he was going to top the numbers in Gold Diggers of 1933. When he suggested the first on-screen aquacade, Warner screamed "Stop right there! It will take the Bank of America to keep you going." But a few weeks later, he suggested that Berkeley try the number in
Footlight Parade. The set, complete with an 80-by-40-foot swimming pool, took up an entire soundstage. Berkeley had the pool lined with glass walls and a glass floor so he could shoot the swimmers from every possible angle. Then he designed the swimming suits and bathing caps to create the illusion that the women were almost naked. He rehearsed the number for two weeks, then shot it in six days as technicians pumped 20,000 gallons of water a minute over the set's artificial falls. The results were so spectacular that the audience at the premiere gave the number a standing ovation and threw their programs in the air. Broadway impresario Billy Rose even tried to steal Berkeley from Warners to stage his aquacade.

For the finale, "Shanghai Lil," Cagney donned a sailor's suit and tap shoes to sing and dance the story of a sailor searching for his lost love in what most astute viewers realized was a brothel and opium den. When he finds her -- Ruby Keeler masquerading as a Chinese girl -- they joyously tap dance on the bar before getting caught in a full-scale brawl with 150 sailors and chorus girls. During the fight scene one chorus girl accidentally walked into a fist and ended up unconscious under one of the tables (the same dancer, years later, would marry MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer). Featured briefly in the sequence are a young John Garfield (five years before signing a Warners contract; he did extra work as a sailor briefly seen peeking over a barrel during the fight) and then-unknown chorus girls Ann Sothern and Dorothy Lamour. But the scene was Cagney's all the way. When the film opened, a reporter from the trade paper Variety located Max Tishman, an agent who had fired Cagney for demanding a raise during his song-and-dance days. When the reporter asked him what he thought of his former client, Tishman said he'd be happy to give Cagney the raise if he ever wanted to come back.


DVD Times  Eamonn McCusker


Bright Lights [Matthew Kennedy]  May 2006




Slant Magazine - DVD Review  Dan Callahan from The Busby Berkeley Collection


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review 


Turner Classic Movies dvd review  Paul Sherman


Ferdy on Films [Marilyn Ferdinand]


Footlight Parade (1933)  Brian Darr from Hell on Frisco Bay (Chris Dashiell) review


Classic Film Guide recommendation


TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [5/5]


Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]


The New York Times review  A.D.S. [Gary W. Tooze]



USA  (96 mi)  1941


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review

Although the screen has become alarmingly overcrowded with amateur detectives operating in series—fellows like Ellery Queens, the Lone Wolf, the Saint, et al.—we hardly expected to see the day when the situation would be so acute that the boys would have to turn to catching one another. Yet that is substantially what happens in the Warners' "Footsteps in the Dark," the first of a series, we are told, which introduces Errol Flynn as a sly sleuth, Yessir, Mr. Flynn actually puts the finger on Ellery Queen—or, that is to say, on Ralph Bellamy, who was Queen the last time we saw him. And if they think that's honor among sleuths (or honor among casting directors), then—But, wait a minute! Haven't we gone to work and given the whole thing away? Naughty, naughty—yes, we have!

Oh, well—don't let that disturb you. You would have spotted the villain anyhow halfway through the picture, if you could keep your mind on it that long. For this so-called comedy-melodrama, which opened yesterday at the Strand, does as poor a job of mystifying as it does of everything else. In a loose way, it's all about a surreptitious society sleuth who gets mixed up in a murder-and-jewel-robbery case, to the dangerous confusion of his domestic life. A few spots are faintly amusing, thanks to Allen Jenkins as a chauffeur-valet and William Frawley as a thick-headed cop. But most of it is painfully dull and obvious, the pace is incredibly slow and Mr. Flynn, playing the detective, acts like a puzzled schoolboy.

If he—and we—are to see more of this misbegotten character, we sincerely hope that his writers will give him something smarter to do, else the first thing he knows Boston Blackie or Nick Carter will be puttins the finger on HIM.

Badger, Clarence


IT                                                                                A-                    94

USA  (72 mi)  1927        co-director:  Josef von Sternberg (uncredited)


Sweet Santa, give me him.                  —Betty Lou Spence (Clara Bow) 


This is exactly the kind of Cinderella story that makes movie romance a myth, where a working class girl can grab a millionaire if she’s lucky enough, a prince in shining armor, just like in all the fairy tales.  This could easily be the Hollywood prototype for this kind of picture, and it’s one of the best of the genre featuring what is arguably the best female performance of the Silent era, none other than Clara Bow, where the film turned her into the biggest female movie star of the late 20’s.  And deservedly so, as she carries the entire picture on her shoulders, where her feminine guile and wit and sparkling personality with a multitude of sexual charm makes her one of the most appealing figures on film, where she is so continually mischievous and delightful that she renews the passion and inspiration for going to the movies.  Clara Bow grew up in a childhood of poverty, violence, and mental illness, living in a Brooklyn tenement with a schizophrenic mother and an alcoholic and sexually abusive father.  She became an actress at age 16, after winning Motion Picture Magazine’s “Fame and Fortune” contest in 1921.  Though delivered on a cheap, Coney Island tin-type, her image was enough to convince the magazine’s judges that she was special, so as the grand prize winner they awarded her a bit part in a small film BEYOND THE RAINBOW (1922), where her part was eventually cut.  Clara Bow loved the movies and loved acting, though she interestingly never had a chance to practice the craft except in front of her mirror.  Her mother compared actresses to whores and threatened to kill Clara in her sleep once she found out about the contest.  This meant the 16-year-old, singled out immediately for her innate talent, artistic maturity and range, never had a career on stage.  And without substantial stage training, she brought none of the trappings of stage acting to the silver screen.  The results were stunning, Clara Bow - She's Got It  YouTube (2:45)


Bow eventually signed with B.P. Schulberg’s Preferred Pictures in 1923 churning out low-budget films, where the following year she was one of 13 women chosen as a Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) Baby Star, chosen for their talent and promise as a potential motion picture star, which gained the attention of Schulberg's former partner Adolph Zukor, head of Paramount Pictures.  Largely due to Clara Bow pictures, Schulberg and Zukor merged to form one of the largest studios in Hollywood, but it was the smash hit movie IT (1927) that made her Paramount's number one star and the most famous name in Hollywood.  Described by critic David Thomson as “the first mass-market sex symbol,” it’s also important to point out that this is one of the most deliciously entertaining films of the Silent era, yet there’s no Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or any of the other great Silent comics, instead it’s a romantic comedy that still flourishes nearly ninety years later on the magnificence of its star performer, whose charismatic personality exudes a kind of contemporary allure that is nothing less than refreshing, as she’s completely in step with modern times.  What’s perhaps more ironic is the cheesy premise upon which this story rests, as the title comes from one of the characters thumbing through a 1927 Cosmopolitan magazine and coming across an article written by Elinor Glyn (who makes a cameo appearance) describing “It” as a kind of alluring sex appeal, described as “that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force,” or described earlier by Rudyard Kipling in his 1904 story Mrs. Bathurst, who may have introduced “It” by describing the sensation, “Some women will stay in a man’s memory if they once walk down the street.”  Unbelievably, this picture was considered lost for many years, but a nitrate copy was found in Prague in the 1960’s, and by 2001 it was selected into the Library of Congress National Film Registry.  


The director Clarence Badger was famous for making over a dozen films with Will Rogers from 1919 to 1922, but nothing that reached the success of this picture, becoming ill during filming where Josef von Sternberg directed some scenes during his absence.  Though expressed through title cards, much of the witty dialogue in the picture predates what would eventually lead to the screwball comedy of the 30’s, where it’s the irrepressible spirit of the women that tends to catch the more reserved upper class gents off guard, where Bow as Betty Lou is not so much a sex kitten as an adorably sweet working class girl with spunk, the kind of woman audiences can identify with as she’s just one of the girls, but her cutie-pie beauty and down to earth manner are a remarkable combination, where her aggressively flirtatious style “is” part of what’s so funny, seen early on as she’s working behind the counter at Waltham’s department store and sees the dashing young store owner’s son, Cyrus Waltham Jr. (Antonio Moreno) and exclaims humorously “Sweet Santa, give me him.  From that moment on she devises a plan to make that man her husband, just to prove a point to the other working girls that it can be done.  While the odds are against her, she gets a lucky break when Monty (William Austin), a kind of frat brother best friend of Cyrus (where they often meet “at the club”), is the one thumbing through Cosmopolitan magazine and starts searching the store for “It” girls, believing he’s finally found her with Betty Lou, offering her a ride home in his car.  She graciously accepts, but not in his car, preferring her own, and hops onto a heavily packed commuter bus, eventually agreeing to a dinner date, but only if it’s at the elegant Ritz, as she overhears that’s where Cyrus and his pampered socialite girlfiend Adela (Jacqueline Gadsden) are dining.  While the film is a choreography of misdirection and funny sight gags, it’s all led by Betty Lou’s tenacious drive to capture her boss’s interest, failing miserably at first, but not to be deterred, by continually placing herself in his path, she eventually catches his eye. 


Starting with the right dress to wear, with the help of her cash-strapped girlfriend Molly (Priscilla Bonner) who’s out of work and raising a baby alone, they literally cut into her work dress a plunging neckline while she’s still wearing it, Clara Bow Dresses for Dinner YouTube (6:07), converting it into an elegant look by evening, though by the time they reach the Ritz, the head waiter notices her work shoes, showing the various class layers she has to overcome just to be presentable.  And while she’s obviously using Monty to get to Cyrus, the portrayal of Monty is interesting, as while he’s charmingly polite, he’s more than likely gay, calling himself “Old fruit” in the mirror at one point, where his sexual neutrality allows the audience to accept this little opportunist game Betty is playing.  Monty is a good sport, often used to comic effect, and eventually aids Betty in her romantic ambitions.  By the time she finally gets her boss’s attention, Cyrus doesn’t seem to mind when he finds out she works for him, as what she offers is pure, unadulterated fun, an obvious class contrast and a poke at the idyll pleasures of the rich as being boring and pretentious.  When they finally go out on a date, she wants to go to Coney Island, filling up on hot dogs, laughing at the rides and funny mirrors, and literally having a ball at the good times to be had in an amusement park.  Happiness takes Cyrus by storm, clearly an unexpected pleasure, but when he tries to kiss her good night, she gives him a slap to protect her moral virtue and hurries out of the car, but is seen looking at him longingly out the window of her room afterwards.  While there’s an interesting diversion when the morally self-righteous welfare women, taking a zealously high-minded approach, come to take Molly’s baby away, creating quite a scene on the street below, where they send in a reporter to get the story, who is none other than Gary Cooper in one of his earliest (and last uncredited) roles.  Betty is able to make them go away only by claiming the baby as her own, which creates headlines, but also causes the morally principled Cyrus to have second thoughts, as he can’t be seen with a “fallen woman.”  This all sets up the free-wheeling finale on Cyrus’s yacht, where Monty helps stow Betty aboard as his supposed date, where after becoming the life of the party by playing her ukulele and clearing up a string of misunderstandings, the two literally take the plunge, lovers at last.  While Bow was only 21 when this movie was filmed, the advent of talking pictures all but ended her career, and while she made a few unsuccessful talking pictures, her stardom came to an abrupt end at the tender age of 25.    


Bright Lights Film Journal [Gary Morris]

Aficionados usually associate the cinema "shopgirl" of early cinema with Joan Crawford, but Clara Bow did Crawford one better in It. Bow plays Betty Lou Spence, the quintessential working-class flapper out to make the boss. Written by Elinor Glyn, this breezy 1927 comedy is loaded with period charm, including such dialogue as "Sweet Santa Claus, give me him!" and the witty dinner invite "Shall we gnaw a chop at the Club tonight?" There's plenty of pathos too in Betty Lou's loving friendship with single mother Molly, whom she defends against a pair of battleaxes trying to take the kid. There's even a coded gay character, queeny alleged straight Monty (William Austin), who, assessing his dubious sex appeal in a mirror, declares "Old fruit, you've got IT!" The film's mix of sophistication and sentiment proves an ideal vehicle for Bow, whose earthy sincerity always shines through. Contemporary audiences must have seen her that way too, because It made Bow an international sensation. Six years later, she was finished with film and fame, undone by apparently insurmountable emotional problems that are nowhere evident in this sweet divertissement.

“Sweet Santa, give me him.”

A wealthy fop (William Austin) becomes smitten with a perky shopgirl (Clara Bow) who he believes epitomizes a certain brand of sexual magnetism known as “It”; meanwhile, Bow falls for Austin’s handsome friend (Antonio Moreno), whose parents own the department store where she works.

Clara Bow (arguably cinema’s first sex symbol) is best known for her leading role in this iconic silent film, playing a shopgirl whose possession of “It” lands her an indirect opportunity to pursue the man of her dreams. While the narrative itself is not all that inventive (there’s little here we haven’t seen before in other romantic comedies), what makes the film worth a look is the presence of Bow, who starred in dozens of enormously popular flicks throughout the 1920s, but whose must-see filmography likely can be boiled down to this film and Wings (1927). (Readers, let me know if I’m wrong! Are there other must-see Bow titles?) I find Bow charming and cute, and understand her iconic status as the ultimate Flapper, but I’ll admit to not particularly understanding why she alone — among all the many beautiful shopgirls the camera pans during an early scene — epitomizes “It” (or at the very least, how one can know this from simply looking at her). With that said, she does a fine job playing the film’s spunky, loyal heroine — a woman who willingly lies about being her roommate’s son’s mother, to prevent him from being taken away by authorities — and thus she eventually convinces us she’s very much an “It” girl worth desiring.

Note: Film fanatics interested in learning more about Bow’s tragic life story should check out the informative and compassionate 1999 documentary Clara Bow: Discovering the It Girl (narrated by Courtney Love).

Silent Volume Review  Chris Edwards

I love Clara Bow. Love her looks, love her charm; love her little bit of everything a man might want. I love her confidence, I love her jokes. I love her fiery centre, burning down the ingénue roles around her, exposing them as paper. In every film of hers I’ve seen, Clara Bow’s in three dimensions; a laughing, crying, fully fleshed, dynamic being, pulling your eyes from the silent archetypes surrounding her.

Love her, love her, love her.

“It” is Bow’s most famous film today, though she made many. She was an enormous star in the late-1920s; a flapper writ large. She was scandalized, sometimes fairly, often not; she was propelled to stardom by a studio that also exploited her. She came from nothing, rose to the top, broke down, came back, and broke down again. She died alone, in front of her television set.

What do these facts have to do with “It”? Shouldn’t Bow’s performance be evaluated on its own terms? Not this time. “It”, in both theme and execution, is not a film for the ages—it’s a deliberate expression of its moment, and a meditation (however light) on that moment’s biggest icon.

‘It,’ by the way, is something you have. Or wish you had. British socialite Elinor Glyn coined the term in her 1923 novel, The Man and the Moment. Possessing ‘it’ meant projecting “self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not, [though] something in you... gives the impression that you are not all cold.”

Those lines appear in the film, in which Glyn has a cameo, as herself, hobnobbing with the wealthy in a nightclub. She’s answering a question posed by Cyrus Waltham, Jr. (Antonio Moreno), heir to the Waltham’s department store empire; a young man of commerce and frank impulse. He’s got a lot on his mind, and tends to miss the obvious. Luckily, his idly rich running buddy, Monty (William Austin), misses nothing.

It’s at this nightclub that Monty finally draws Cyrus’ attention to Betty Lou Spence (Bow), one of hundreds of Waltham’s employees. Why is this shop-girl here, in this snooty club? Well, because Monty brought her. Only the day before, he’d read an article about ‘It’ in Cosmopolitan; with time on his hands, he wandered the sales floor in search of a girl that possessed ‘It,’ and there was only one. Monty would sleep with Betty Lou if he could, but she’d never agree, and he’s too flighty to really care.

No, it’s Cyrus that occupies Betty Lou’s thoughts. While he’s a fantasy object for the rest of the shop-girls, for Betty Lou, he’s a goal. She intends to have him, and sets about planning ways they can meet. This implies that meeting him is all it will take—Betty Lou is indeed self-confident.

Monty’s flirting is Betty Lou’s way in. She arrives at the nightclub in a dress she and her waifish friend, Molly (Priscilla Bonner), designed the hour before with a pair of shears. The snobbish maître d’ wants her placed at a discreet table, but when she sees Cyrus dining dead centre, she makes sure she’s just as visible.

“It” is not a subtle film, and these scenes stray little from Bow’s own life story. She grew up in a Brooklyn tenement, a victim of horrible physical and emotional abuse from an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother. She became an actress at age 16, after winning Motion Picture Magazine’s ‘Fame and Fortune’ contest. Her image, though delivered on a cheap, Coney Island tin-type, was enough to convince the magazine’s judges she was special. They awarded her the grand prize of a bit part in a small film, Beyond the Rainbow (1922).

Clara Bow loved the movies and loved acting, but she’d never had a chance to practice the craft, except in front of her mirror. Her mother famously compared actresses to whores, and infamously threatened to kill Clara once she found out about the contest. This meant the 16-year-old, singled out immediately for her innate talent, artistic maturity and range, never had a career on stage. And without substantial stage training, she brought none of the trappings of stage acting to the silver screen. The results were stunning.

Watch her in a close-up. Her eyes dart up and down as she speaks, her shoulders shift, her fingers flutter. She’s active, the way a character with nervous energy ought to be, but so many silent actresses were not. Even Lillian Gish, Bow’s equal (at least) in talent, was more fond of the Grand Pose than Clara was. Gish’s style always considered the balcony seats; Bow’s considered only the lens.

Cyrus is suitably smitten. Betty Lou smoulders in his direction for the duration of the meal, even though he’s sharing his table with a woman of means, the lovely Adela (Jacqueline Gadsden). Alone with him in the foyer, she wagers he won’t even recognize her the next time they meet. Cyrus indeed loses that bet, but pays up with a date.

“It” rolls on in rudimentary fashion. Betty Lou has taken in Molly and her baby when Molly falls ill and cannot work; the baby’s crying disturbs the neighbours, who call the welfare authorities, portrayed here as judgemental busy-bodies. They try to take the baby from Molly, but tragedy is averted when Betty Lou claims the baby as her own. Her ferocious defence makes the papers, she is scandalized and libelled (much as Clara Bow tended to be), and Cyrus gets the wrong idea. Betty Lou feels betrayed by her dream man; she vows to win his heart, then smash it.

Like too many rom-coms, this one’s plot turns on a series of miscommunications, most of which could’ve been avoided if everyone just said a few more words before leaving a room. But Bow’s dynamism saves the film. Her reality is undeniable; her energy fills every scene, and in this movie, that is best. “It” is strongest when in motion, and Clara Bow, always, keeps moving.
The script, smartly, stays out of her way. Bow is herself: the true and original ‘It-Girl,’ and Betty Lou, as scripted, is sharp and self-aware. We never believe that her quest for Cyrus is a quest for status; she laughs at the idea of a shop-girl on a yacht, never tries to blend with the rich folks she meets and (we suspect) would never want to. Her heart can be broken, but she will always be a clear-eyed person; complex, complete and so very, lovably, alive.

The Sheila Variations [Sheila O'Malley]


Read TCM's article on It  Jay Carr


It Read TCM's Home Video Review on this film  Paul Tatara | It - Not Coming to a Theater Near You  Josh Bell


Studies in Cinema [Jeremy Carr]


It (1927) - AMC Blogs  Jake Euker 


Old School Reviews [John Nesbit]  also seen here: [John Nesbit]


Goatdog's Movies [Michael W. Phillips Jr.]


Cinema Sights [James Ewing]


Digitally Obsessed! - Kino Video [Mark Zimmer]


DVD Talk [John Sinnott]


DVD Verdict  Amanda DeWees


Fulvue Drive-in [Nicholas Sheffo]


Silent Era


The Spinning Image [Graeme Clark]


epinions DVD [Stephen O.Murray]


Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]


Bill's Movie Emporium [Bill Thompson]


Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]


Clara Bow: Discovering the "It" Girl - Turner Classic Movies  Stephanie Thames on the 1999 documentary film, Clara Bow: Discovering the It Girl


TV Guide




New York Times [Mordaunt Hall]


Badham, John



USA  (118 mi)  1977


The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

The image of John Travolta in a white disco suit has so saturated popular culture that uninitiated filmgoers tend to think of Saturday Night Fever as a goofy, dated disco cash-in. But those who've seen the film know it as a rich slice of Italian-American life in Brooklyn, topped with post-Scorsese '70s grit and filled with a surprising amount of ugliness. Travolta's working-class disco enthusiast spouts racist slurs, treats women badly, and is as dim and clumsy off the dance floor as he is rapturous on it. He and his friends knock around the streets and nightclubs of their Bay Bridge neighborhood, working crummy jobs all week so they can afford to buy pills and booze and pay cover charges on the weekend. Saturday Night Fever's plot revolves around a dance contest—and Travolta's attempt to get pretty, seemingly classy Karen Lynn Gorney to be his partner—but its story is about the tyranny of family and friends, in a cramped urban grid just across the river from a sprawling center of wealth and glamour. "There are ways of killing yourself without killing yourself," Travolta mutters at one point, bucking against a way of life that'll probably leave him as a lifer at a paint store, married to some shrill woman he'll impregnate in the back of a car. What saves Saturday Night Fever from being unrelentingly bleak (even for the cinema of the '70s, when homely faces and desperate lives weren't necessarily box-office poison) is Travolta's appealing balance of softness and sharpness, and the sheer physicality of the disco dancing. Director John Badham employs a variety of extreme angles in the dance sequences, suggesting the lightly masked sexuality and violence beneath the dancers' poses. Out of the nightclubs, Badham makes masterful use of steadicam (then a fairly new device) to track through the cluttered anxiety of homes and workspaces on the way to the wide-open harmoniousness of the dance floor. Badham's DVD commentary is livelier and better organized than such tracks usually are, full of trivia and affably delivered inside information. His storytelling exuberance explains why people still think of Saturday Night Fever as escapist fun. It is, in a way, but it's also harrowingly clear about what's being escaped.


Turner Classic Movies   Pablo Kjolseth

What REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE was to the 1950's, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was to the 1970's. The film, inspired by a New York magazine article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," follows Tony Manero (John Travolta), an 18-year-old kid selling paint at a hardware store whose real talents are on the dance floor. It also had a surprisingly real and gritty Brooklyn street credibility that highlighted sex, drugs, racism, misogyny, and some of the most famous line-dancing captured on the silver screen. On December 7th, 1977, it launched John Travolta, then 23-years-old, from television fame as a "Sweathog" on WELCOME BACK, KOTTER to a larger career in Hollywood - the soundtrack alone sold over 35 million copies.

The dvd release of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER boasts a solid transfer with vibrant colors, a 1.85:1 ratio, and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The dvd also has three special features; a running commentary by director John Badham, deleted scenes, and highlights from VH1's BEHIND THE MUSIC. The latter offers a wealth of inside information, home movie footage, various interviews with key players, and the kind of background drama that makes the film a joy to revisit. Surprisingly, the only thing really missing is that one thing that otherwise seems to have a ubiquitous presence on most other dvds: the trailer.

Beyond the financial success (it pulled in $285 million), the trend-setting success (the film elevated disco from its underground roots to a leviathan-like trend that blossomed for a good two years later), does the film live up to a legacy that goes beyond camp? You bet. The reason is encapsulated in the opening scene with John Travolta's famous strut down the Brooklyn Street, his legs and arms hitting the musical marks of "Stayin' Alive" like a metronome while the camera glides at the Brooklyn street level to capture it all - No sound stages, shot on location (and this despite mobs of fans that threatened to close down the shoots), the film had charisma, style, and the kind of grit that elevated 1970's cinema into its own class. These qualities help explain why Roger Ebert's late partner, Gene Siskel, loved the film so much that he bought SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER'S famous white suit at a charity auction; Ebert even boasts that Siskel claimed it his favorite film of all time and that he must have seen it at least 20 times.

Qwipster's Movie Reviews (Vince Leo)

It's the movie that made John Travolta (Grease, Two of a Kind) a superstar, and a quintessential film of the 1970s.  Unfairly maligned by some, possibly because of its association with one of the most reviled forms of popular music ever created, Disco, this is actually a solid character study, full of gutsy characters, interesting developments, and some of the most electric scenes of dancing around.  It also sports one of the most successful soundtracks ever made, with some very memorable tunes by the Bee Gees in particular.  It exploded onto the scene and became an international sensation, only to burn out just as quickly as the music within it, and somewhere along the line, people forgot that there is actually a very good movie here.

Travolta plays Tony Manero, a 19-year-old Brooklyn resident living with his parents and barely eking out enough money to support his one true passion -- dancing at the local club until the wee hours of the morning.  Although he isn't anything special by day, his parents thinking him a failure, working as a lowly assistant in a paint store, but by evening, he's the king of the dance floor.  He's the envy of all of the men, and the dream conquest of the ladies, but all he wants to do is be respected for his dancing, and maybe, get out of the lower class existence that is holding him back.  He finally spots a slice of the good life when an older, more sophisticated woman catches his eye in the form of another great dancer, Stephanie (Gorney).  She sees Tony as a step back for her socially, but he is persistent, and soon, the two become partners -- but only on the dance floor.  Feelings often get in the way, and the two have to come to grips with what is most important in life, where they want to go, and who they want to be.

At the time of its release, disco was actually seen to be on the decline.  Primarily an underground scene, it catapulted into a major mainstream phenomenon due to this film, and soon, nearly every guy was out there on the dance floor in a white polyester suit just like Travolta, putting on the same moves and hoping that they are good enough to clear the floor so that everyone can watch them strut their stuff. 

The reasons why the film's quality is dwarfed by its success are many.  One happens to be the monumental success of the soundtrack, perhaps even more popular than the movie.  Hits like "Night Fever", "More Than a Woman", "You Should Be Dancing", "Stayin' Alive", "Disco Inferno", "If I Can't Have You", "How Deep is Your Love", and others became breakout hits, ruling the pop charts and making the soundtrack one of the best-selling records of all-time, even to this day. 

The film's biggest asset is Travolta himself.  Tony Manero could have very easily been an unlikable character, unworthy of adulation or attention, but Travolta makes him very appealing.  Travolta literally spent months nailing down the moves and attitude of the young Italian dance floor god, and he is so good, you really do believe he could be the cream of the crop in the city of New York.  Travolta would get nominated for Best Actor for his dynamite performance.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most phenomena that become massive pop culture fads, the burn out factor was extreme here.  Disco died as quickly as it came, the Bee Gees hold on the pop charts was no more, and people became tired of seeing Travolta's face anymore, leading him to struggle as an actor for over a decade in obscurity. 

Sadly, when many people think about Saturday Night Fever, they only think about some of the patented moves, the songs, and the glitz of the discotheque.  It's so hard to remember that this is a story of a boy becoming a man, wanting desperately to make something of himself and not knowing how, and how the art of dancing, even in a setting as banal as the local club, can provide the escapism and self-expression one needs to cope with all of the problems of the day.  As fun as the 1970s nostalgia may be, there are universal themes here that resonate wonderfully, if only one is able to see and hear them under the strobes, mirrors and thumping rhythms of the disco anthems.

PopMatters [Marco Lanzagorta]


Saturday Night Fever   Just Dancing, by Peter Steven from Jump Cut


DVD Town (Dean Winkelspecht) (Jon Danziger) DVD review [Jim Hemphill] (Collin Souter)


Ted Prigge


Dragan Antulov


DVD Verdict  Rob Lineberger


Movie Vault [Vadim Rizov]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times  in 1977


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times  in 1999


Bahrani, Ramin


"The facts don't really matter:" An Interview with Ramin Bahrani, Part 1  Interview by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from The Auteurs, February 17, 2010


"The facts don't really matter:" An Interview with Ramin Bahrani, Part 2  Interview by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from The Auteurs, February 18, 2010



USA  (87 mi)  2005


Man Push Cart  Jonathan Rosenbaum from The Reader


Haunting and touching, this feature by Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani focuses on a former Pakistani rock singer (Ahmad Razvi) who hawks coffee and bagels from a pushcart in Manhattan. Bahrin follows him as he sells porn on the side, reflects on his estranged son, takes a house-painting job, and befriends a young Spanish woman (Leticia Dolera) who works at a nearby newsstand. This is somewhat fuzzy as narrative, but it's a potent mood piece, and its portait of urban loneliness has some of the intensity of Taxi Driver without the violence. 87 min.


Time Out London (Wally Hammond) review


The cart is a mobile New York coffee-and-bagel kiosk; the man pushing is Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi), a new Pakistani immigrant to the Big Apple. In his beautifully measured second feature, Iranian-American Bahrani follows this polite American-accented young man’s day – manhandling the cart through the streets at dawn, taking the A-train after dusk. His conversation is restricted to ‘You got it!’, ‘Cream cheese with that?’, or asking for cigarettes from the nearby hut operated by pretty Barcelona-born Noemi (for which, incidentally, he exchanges pirate DVDs). In this character study, Bahrani applies a minimalist approach, reflecting the subjective experience – he lets the facts speak for themselves – but his long, often music-less takes differ in effect from, say, Kiarostami’s. His movie is just that little bit less demanding; ‘directed’, attentive rather than serious, licensing the camera’s roving eye to linger over a twinkling East River skyline or stay on Ahmad’s play with a tiny kitten he finds.

Bahrani, even in silence, is eloquent as the Apu-like protagonist. Skillful, too, is the discreet way Bahrani slowly releases information about him (we hear, for instance, Ahmad had been a ‘rock star’ back in Lahore, and a couple of other revelations), inducing our sympathy and understanding and increasing the emotional depth without stooping to miserablism or sentimentality. Thus, what begins as a delineation of a man in a landscape becomes a study in sadness and stoicism, disorientation and even desperation, then finally, by extension, a delicate, rewarding and cliché-free enquiry into the complex heart of the lone immigrant experience. (Chris Cabin) review [3.5/5]


To date, the services of the food carts that litter the corners of New York City have never been of use to yours truly. The world of the people who runs these small huts, often Indian, Israeli or Mexican, is often a dystopia of non-existence. They aren't recognized as people but simply as peddlers of the morning coffee and bagel and the middle-of-walking snack attack and then as a faded memory. But then someone recognizes them, and then it's a whole other world.

Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi) pours cups of piping hot coffee, spreads cheap cream cheese on bagels and hangs dangling teabags in hot water for dozens of people each morning and he's fine with it. He comes home to the closet he calls an apartment, writes, and takes care of a small kitten. It's his life; it's not big but he likes it. That is until Mohammad (Charles Daniel Sandoval) recognizes him. Back in Pakistan, Ahmad's homeland, Ahmad was a famed rock star, like Bono with longer hair. Mohammad remembers this and feels it's his duty to bring him back into the limelight. At the same time, Ahmad begins to fall for Noemi (Leticia Dolera), a Spanish girl who operates a magazine and candy shack a few blocks away. The romance is tentative, but Ahmad's hesitant climb to get back to where he was hits snags, major ones.

First-time director Ramin Bahrani has set up an introspective, refreshingly unpretentious look at the struggle of immigrants, both spiritually and economically. Back in Pakistan, Ahmad could have done anything he wanted but he wanted to come to America and became a nobody. His food cart is a sort of temple, where he feels safe in the daily routine of serving the businesspeople that walk up and down Midtown. This job acts as a sort of ritual for him (prayer, perhaps?) that gives him comfort when he returns to his small apartment. Mohammad is a reformed Middle Eastern man: He does what he wants and is rich enough to where he doesn't really have to worry about consequences. His offer to help out Ahmad is construed more as an offer to make him American and to quit his ritual. Ostensibly, he's asking him to give up his Middle Eastern roots.

There are chinks in the armor. The act of simply being in his food cart and reveling in the slow routine isn't explored quite to its fullest extent. One could blame this on the romance subplot, but the relationship between Ahmad and Noemi is done with such artful vacillation that one couldn't have many qualms with it. The kiss that Ahmad and Noemi share is as passionate a kiss as one will likely see in a film not rated NC-17 this year. Perhaps it's the simple fact that even a moment is diverted from Ahmad and his search for spiritual solemnity. There's something missing from the film's transcendental reach, but that doesn't delude the fact that Bahrani is a major talent and his film should garner due attention. Maybe a bagel and coffee wouldn't hurt tomorrow morning., Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Les Wright

Newcomer indie director Ramin Bahrani spins a sparse tale told in cinema verité of contemporary immigrant life in Manhattan. In Man Push Cart, one-time Pakistani rock star Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi) is now a contemporary displaced person, a working-poor immigrant seeking his version of the American Dream on the mean streets of post-9/11 New York. More often than not, it seems as if it’s cart push man, rather than the other way around.

Ahmad finds himself starting over in a strange and hostile new world. His wife has died, his son is being raised by relatives, they blame him for the wife’s death and keep his son away from his very fallible fathering. Ahmad lives in a hovel somewhere in Brooklyn, but is rarely there. He sells bootleg porno DVDs to earn enough money to pay off the push cart he is buying. Ahmad is up and on the road at 3 AM, but manages to take on carpentry work for a financially successful fellow expatriate.

Most of the film is shot in natural night light or set in dark interiors, underlining the metaphorical dark passage of Ahmad's aching immigrant soul. He pushes his push cart up and down Broadway like a modern Sisyphus. This seems less to atone for any monotheistic guilt (the Manhattan setting somehow enhances the common bond of its Christian, Jewish, and now Muslim newcomers), but because in the American jungle little has changed since the days of Upton Sinclair. This is still, or again, a dog-eat-dog race for survival.

In fact, the most trenchant aspect of Bahrani’s tale is how it darkly mirrors It’s a Wonderful Life. Except, despite all the sacrifices that Ahmad undertakes, despite the seeming interventions of serendipity, Ahmad is only ever brought back to where he started. He cannot afford to insure his push cart. The compatriot who did him favors wearies of Ahmad and his poor immigrant plight. The Spanish girl he meets and kind of hopes fervently to flirt with keeps turning up as the "guest" of the compatriot. Ahmad, who was once a famous rock singer in his home country, can’t motivate himself to rekindle his singing career. In the film's low point, a masterfully deadpan nadir, the two-week-old stray kitten Ahmad had brought home becomes yet another mark of his failure in the soul-crushing new world of America.

A sad, powerful, austere experience of a movie, this is the story of a man who has known profound, compound loss. Man Push Cart is told in unadorned, unpretentious linear narrative fashion, reminiscent of Italian neorealism. It’s almost The Bicycle Thief, stripped down to an ascetically bare-boned anti-sentimentalism. This New York City could be taken as a symbolic rendering of contemporary Baghdad or Beirut just as easily. Or perhaps it's the heart of darkness in which not only the unwelcome urban underclass lives today.

Turner Classic Movies dvd review  David Sterritt


When he created Ahmad, the main character of Man Push Cart, filmmaker Ramin Bahrani was thinking of Sisyphus, the mythological king who was condemned by the gods to push a gigantic boulder up a hill, see it roll down to the bottom, then push it up again, et cetera, for all eternity. Ahmad doesn’t have it quite this bad, but few people would volunteer for the daily routine of this young Pakistani immigrant. He rises long before dawn in his run-down Brooklyn apartment, takes an interminable subway ride to Manhattan, picks up a food cart at a central depot, loads it with supplies, pushes it to a distant street corner, makes sure the doughnuts are displayed and cups are stocked with teabags, and sells his wares to busy people, most of them going to jobs far less tedious, repetitive, and poorly paid than his. Then it’s back to Brooklyn, early to bed, and more of the same the next day. And the next. And the next.

The remarkable achievement of Bahrani’s film, which premiered at Sundance in 2006, is to make this everyday grind look absolutely real and absolutely grueling, yet make us understand why Ahmad keeps plugging away at it without succumbing to hopelessness or despondency. Even more remarkable, Bahrani does this in a thoroughly cinematic manner, transforming mostly drab details into a tone poem of evocative images and sounds. By commercial-film standards,
Man Push Cart is a study in bare-bones minimalism, sketching its events and characters without an unnecessary shot or wasted word. But this accounts for much of its power. Rarely are the style and content of a film interwoven as seamlessly and appropriately as they are here; by the final scene you don’t feel you’ve merely observed Ahmad’s everyday grind, you feel you’ve stood at his side through all of it – emerging, like Ahmad himself, with ongoing hope that pushing the gigantic rock must ultimately have some kind of payoff.

Not every scene in
Man Push Cart finds Ahmad peddling his bagels on Sixth Avenue, and in some parts of the story he manages to have a social life. Buying cigarettes from a newsstand cart one day, he meets a young Spanish woman named Noemi who’s in the same line of work, and as they get better acquainted it looks like romance might develop. Ahmad also takes a second job, refurbishing the apartment of Mohammad, a yuppie who’s from Pakistan like him, and this provides another companion to hang out with. From their conversations we discover that Ahmad was once a pop-music star in Pakistan, although we never learn why his former, more successful life didn’t last. It probably had something to do with the death of his wife, leaving him with a little boy who now lives with Ahmad’s angry, resentful in-laws. Being able to support his son someday is the dream that keeps Ahmad going. But his income is so shaky – even with his extra job, and his sideline of selling porn DVDs – that the slightest hitch could ruin all his plans. He’s saved enough to make the first payment on a pushcart of his own; what if for some reason he can’t make the second?

Bahrani is an Iranian-American who went to college in New York and then lived for three years in Iran, where he made a student film. After a stay in Paris, he returned to the U.S. and started preparing
Man Push Cart, his first feature. His second movie, the 2007 drama Chop Shop, is another New York story, this time about a poor Latino man. So far in his career, Bahrani has shown a consistent and commendable interest in exploring facets of American life too dreary and unromantic for Hollywood, or even most independents, to take much notice of.

Another unusual aspect of
Man Push Cart is its plot structure, which begins where a conventional movie would end – leaving out the backstory of Ahmad’s music career and letting us piece this history together from bits and pieces of dialogue. The film is indirect in other ways as well: Ahmad’s friendship with Noemi is so uncertain and indecisive that there’s no telling where it might lead, and although his relationship with Mohammad starts extremely well – Mohammad’s connections might even get him into the New York music scene – it’s unclear how reliable the yuppie is. These elements give the story additional layers of psychological interest.

Bahrani researched the production by spending countless hours with real-life pushcart vendors, and to play Ahmad he recruited Ahmad Razvi, a Pakistani-American businessman and community activist who was once a pushcart man himself. Razvi is extraordinarily good, as are the professional actors who play the other main characters. Some parts of Bahrani’s technique – shooting on a tight three-week schedule, using “live” locations with unstaged background action, casting a first-time actor in the leading role – link him with Italian neorealists, French New Wave filmmakers, and more recent realists like Ken Loach and Abbas Kiarostami, the greatest Iranian filmmaker of them all. Bahrani also has much in common with American independents like Jim Jarmusch and Gus Van Sant, who share his empathy with people on the margins of society. On the DVD’s commentary track, Bahrani says that in Hollywood movies a pushcart vendor is always a pair of disembodied hands; what he wanted to do was let the customers be disembodied hands, while showing the pushcart guy as a fully rounded person. Extras on the DVD include two Bahrani shorts – also minimalist, and very brief – and the commentary track with Bahrani and three collaborators, who discuss everything from the title (borrowed from a thirteenth-century Persian poem) to their taste in films (Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes, and of course Kiarostami) and the challenges of shooting a movie with long, carefully choreographed takes that often had to be done dozens of times before they came out right.
Man Push Cart is a modest picture, as unpretentious and unglamorous as its characters and their workaday jobs. To make a powerful impression on these terms is a notable cinematic feat, marking Bahrani as a young filmmaker with a very promising future.


Asia Pacific Arts [Brian Hu] 


Film Freak Central dvd review  Travis Mackenzie Hoover


DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov) dvd review [4/5] [Steven Flores] (Dave Micevic) review


Slant Magazine review  Nick Schager


VideoVista review  Joshua Rainbird


Village Voice (Michael Atkinson) review


The Onion A.V. Club review  Nathan Rabin


Cinema Without Borders (Diane Sippl) review


PopMatters [Chris McCann]


The Village Voice [Dennis Lim] review [3/4]  Pam Grady, also seen here: [Pam Grady]


Cinematical [Kim Voynar]


Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice review [3/5]  KJ Doughton


Slate (Dana Stevens) review


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review (Devin Faraci) review


DVD Verdict (Clark Douglas) dvd review


Bina007 Movie Reviews


Eye for Film (Amber Wilkinson) review [3/5]


The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review [Jurgen Fauth]


cinemattraction (Lydia Storie) review


interview with New York Magazine  Director interview by Logan Hill, New York magazine, January 8, 2006


Cinema Without Borders  Who Is Doing the Pushing – the Man or the Cart?  Interview with the director by Bijan Tehrani, October 7, 2007


Entertainment Weekly review [B]  Owen Gleiberman


Variety (Jay Weissberg) review


Telegraph [Sukhdev Sandhu]


The Independent (Anthony Quinn) review [2/5]


The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review


The Observer (Philip French) review


Time Out New York [David Fear]


Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov) review [3.5/5]


San Francisco Chronicle (Peter Hartlaub) review [2/4]


Los Angeles Times (Kevin Thomas) review


Movie review: 'Man Push Cart'  Michael Wilmington from The Chicago Tribune


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]


The New York Times (Stephen Holden) review



USA  (84 mi)  2007


Time Out London (Geoff Andrew) review


Arguably a little more conventional than Bahrani’s Man Push Cart, this centres on 12-year-old Alejandro, helping out and making his bed at an auto body-shop in a run-down New York neighbourhood, and his older sister, joining him from a foster home and also trying to make enough money to buy a truck the kid’s set his street-smart heart on. The neorealist tendencies extend even to faint echoes of ‘Bicycle Thieves’, but Bahrani’s  warier of melodrama than De Sica; though the film does divide into three half-hour acts, the focus on character, mood and texture rather than plot make for great credibility in the treatment of kids at the exploitative mercy of adults. Touching, funny, sad and beautifully observed.


Screen International review  Jonathan Romney at Cannes


A flawlessly observed piece of street realism, and an unforgiving parable of American economic reality, Chop Shop is a compelling follow-up to Man Push Cart, Ramin Bahrani's 2005 debut.
Using a non-professional cast to convincingly natural effect, the film follows in the tradition of Los Olvidados and Pixote as it recounts the turmoils of a 12-year-old boy fending for himself in the car repair jungle of Queens, New York. Less character-driven than Man Push Cart, more an evocation of a harsh enclosed world and the survival skills it requires, Chop Shop again proves Bahrani's skill at treading a thin line between fiction and quasi-documentary.
Sketchy narrative and a dramatically unglamorous setting will limit sales to discerning niche distributors, but the film will burn bright on the festival circuit and enhance Bahrani's rising profile.
"Chop shop" is the slang term for illicit repair shops that recycle stolen cars for spare parts. The film is set in Willet's Point, Queens, around the Shea baseball stadium, an area known as the "Iron Triangle" for its proliferation of scrapyards and body shops.
Twelve-year-old Alejandro, or "Ale" (Polanco), is an orphan who earns his own keep by vending sweets and DVDs, but mainly by working in the auto shop run by Rob (Sowulski) in return for payment and lodging over the premises.
When Ale's 16-year-old sister Isamar (Gonzalez) moves out of care, she joins Ale in his digs. Together, the siblings cherish Ale's dream of buying and refurbishing a wrecked food van - a goal for which the boy is saving up a serious amount of money. Isamar, meanwhile, is moonlighting as a prostitute servicing local men - one of whom, Ahmad (Razvi) is able to put some car work his way.
Chop Shop is compelling both as fiction and as filmic journalism, as Bahrani and his team have immersed themselves thoroughly in Willet's Point culture and the minutiae of the repair trade. Michael Simmonds' hand-held HD camerawork brings an immediate, hugely kinetic feel.
Largely cast from real-life denizens of the Iron Triangle, the film has the convincing smack of reality: Sowulski, for example, actually owns the garage seen in the film. The acting is uniformly impressive, although much of the time it seems as though the cast are simply being themselves: an exception is Razvi, the lead of Man Push Cart, who makes his mark with an economically sketched minor character. Young lead Polanco is a terrific find, giving Ale a delicate combination of wide-eyed naivety and street-rat amorality.
A mercifully if subtly upbeat ending adds a gentler note to what could have been a brutal drama: nevertheless Chop Shop is a striking film, in which you can practically taste the rust and the desperation. (Chris Cabin) review [3/5]  also seen here: dvd review [2.5/4]


A young boy (Alejandro Polanco) starts off his day by waking up and opening the auto shop where he works before his friend (Carlos Zapata) and he hop onto the G line in Queens to sell candy to commuters. When he's not doing hocking M&Ms and Sweet Tarts, he's working hard at the chop shop, selling bootleg DVDs to tired mechanics and doing late-night work for another chop shop run by Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi); anything that might help him obtain a luncheon van, where he might have a chance at finding a place to sleep that isn't located inside this particular strip of auto shops known as "The Iron Triangle." The young boy is named Alejandro (Ale for short), he's 12-years-old and he works more than any college graduate I know.

The 32-year-old director Ramin Bahrani caught my eye two years ago when his debut film Man Push Cart opened in the New Directors/New Films Festival here in New York City. Cart was based in New York, specifically Manhattan; Shop is also immersed in New York, specifically Willet's Point in Queens. The Country Club sodas, the subway-car sales-pitches, the grapefruit glow of the street lights, the flavored-ice vendors: They should print the movie tickets on MetroCards and be done with it.

A beleaguered slab of neorealism, Bahrani's film focuses tightly on the day-to-days of Alejandro. This young hustler from Puerto Rico seems older than every other youngster in the film, but yet he still has moments of unblemished childishness. He nags like a kid and he talks like a kid: all pride, little knowledge. When a friend begrudgingly admits to never getting a blow job, Ale makes fun of him but then quickly offers to pay for him to get one. That Ale's sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzales) is servicing the man they are watching during this exchange seems only befitting.

Isamar and Alejandro are dead-set on the luncheon van but they are more obsessed with an eventual out from the conga-line of chop shops and auto yards their existence has become. No matter how effectively submerged in the Queens scrap pile Bahrani is, there is a lightness here that hinders the film's fluidity. A noticeable problem arises when Bahrani seems more concerned with what he wants to show than what exists, never more apparent than in conflicts between Ale and his sister's friends. His cast of young (mostly unprofessional) actors loses much of its organic vitality when they are made to push the story rather than have the story form around them.

Two films into his career, Bahrani has an undeniable penchant for neorealistic narrative in the vein of the Dardenne brothers and Ken Loach, circa Looks and Smiles, but he lacks the intrigue of the latter and the utter brilliance of the former. What he doesn't lack is a genuine interest in unearthed communities and a deep wanting to understand and document their existence. As it was with his first feature, Bahrani just can't seem to shake the schematic shadow behind his stories. Does that weaken the topographical wonder of his film? Not really, but it makes Chop Shop an oddity to be stared at thoroughly. What it should be, and what I'm sure Bahrani wanted it to be, was something to be deeply contemplated.


The House Next Door [Kenji Fujishima]


The Village Voice [Nathan Lee]


Cineaste  A Sense of Place:  an Interview with Ramin Bahrani, from Cineaste, Summer 2008


Cinematical (Kim Voynar) review


Salon (Andrew O'Hehir) review
REVIEW | Street Poetry: Ramin Bahrani's 'Chop Shop' - indieWIRE  Michael Joshua Rowin from Reverse Shot at indieWIRE, also including An Interview with Ramin Bahrani from Reverse Shot
Queens Dreams  Andrew Sarris from The New York Observer
Ruthless Reviews review  Alex Kendziorski


Slant Magazine review  Nick Schager


Fataculture [Nick Plowman] review [2.5/4]  Ken Dubois


The New York Sun (Nicolas Rapold) review


New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review


The Onion A.V. Club review  Noel Murray


DVD Town (Christopher Long) dvd review (Howard Schumann) review  also seen here:  OhmyNews (Howard Schumann)


Monsters and Critics  Ron Wilkinson


DVD Talk (Phil Bacharach) dvd review [3/5]


DVD Talk (Chris Neilson) dvd review [4/5]


DVD Verdict (Clark Douglas) dvd review


The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]  at Toronto


cinemattraction (Robert Levin) review


Film Journal International (David Noh) review


Cinema Without Borders  Interview by Bijan Tehrani, November 3, 2007


Variety (Todd McCarthy) review


Time Out New York (David Fear) review [4/6]


Time Out Chicago (Ben Kenigsberg) review [4/6]


Washington Post [John Anderson]


Boston Globe [Wesley Morris]


Philadelphia City Paper capsule review  Sam Adams


San Francisco Chronicle (Walter Addiego) review


San Francisco Chronicle [Steven Winn]


Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review


Chicago Sun Times [Jim Emerson]  at Toronto


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]


The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review


GOODBYE SOLO                                                   C+                   78                   

USA  (91 mi)  2008        Official Web Site


Interesting that in one day, I saw back to back films that feature lead roles with the name Souleyman, in Laurent Cantet’s THE CLASS (2008) where the character Souleyman is a troubled teen from Mali, while in this film, the actor Souleymane Sy Savane plays the lead named Solo, an overly gregarious cab driver from Senegal now displaced to Winston-Salem in North Carolina.  Unfortunately, while this film does have some genuine moments, the story is mostly adrift in aimlessness, never really knowing what it wants to do, desperately needing a script.  It features an odd couple for the two leads, Solo, the young effervescent cabdriver who wants to be everyone’s friend, and Red West (formerly in plenty of Elvis movies from the 60’s) as William, an elderly Richard Farnsworth look-alike (see David Lynch’s THE STRAIGHT STORY from 1999), a cranky old bastard who pretty much keeps to himself, living out of motels, occasionally calling a cab to go to the movies, seemingly his only activity.  Suspicious of his motives, Solo immediately befriends him, but hijacks him in his cab would be more like it, as he keeps him in the back seat while he runs illicit errands for friends which nearly gets them all killed, bringing him to his own home for the night, as it’s apparently too late to find a motel.  By morning, Solo’s pregnant girl friend is in a huff about the uninvited guest, as if he’s supposed to provide cover from all the complaints she has about Solo himself, who has a loving relationship with his stepdaughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo), but a contentious free-for-all with her Mexican mother, Quiera (Carmen Leyva).  When Solo runs William over to a motel, little did he know that his own relationship would deteriorate so quickly that he’d soon be joining his new friend there almost immediately. 


By this time we’ve already had enough of Solo, whose over-enthusiastic brand of friendship can be obnoxiously irritating because he never shuts up.  He’s obviously well meaning and has a heart of gold, but he’s a bundle of loose nerve endings.  An older guy like William is used to his privacy and plenty of peace and quiet, where Solo never gives him any space, but is instead always pestering him about his uniquely peculiar request, that Solo take him on a one-way ride to The Blowing Rock in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains for a large sum of money, no questions asked.  When Solo persists with the questions, ingratiatingly worming his way into his life, they eventually come to blows, as he’s crossing the line into William’s private territory which includes digging through his pockets and making wild personal speculations, which gets him kicked out, where he has noplace left to go except to live in his cab.  This on again off again relationship kills the pace of the film, as William has made it clear he has no interest in sharing this part of his life with Solo, so for him to keep digging is counterproductive and borders on stalking.  Of course the elephant in the room is why William wants to take this strange ride, though the director makes it abundantly clear what he thinks, leaving little to the imagination of the viewer, but the tightly closed William is obviously placing concerned citizen Solo in an awkward situation, as Solo doesn’t want to see any brash acts.  While some will think this is a charming story about emotions seething just under the surface, impressed by Solo’s near savior mission, I don’t think so, as Solo’s incorrigibly sunny disposition got on my nerves and the director is just not clever enough to create any drama out of the situation other than the obvious.  There are a few secondary stories of interest involving Alex, while the rest go absolutely nowhere, and unfortunately, that line in the sand drawn by William makes it very difficult to care or be drawn into a place where no one is welcome.  So nothing really works here except Alex stealing every single scene she’s in along with some scrumptious fall shots of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Goodbye Solo  JR Jones from The Reader


Born in North Carolina to Iranian parents, Ramin Bahrani has carved out a peculiar space for himself with stories of immigrants living on the margins of American society: in Man Push Cart (2005) a former Pakistani pop singer peddles coffee and bagels on the streets of New York City, and in Chop Shop (2007) two Puerto Rican children hustle to get by in the scrap yards and auto shops near Shea Stadium. With this moving third feature Bahrani returns to his home state but also reaches back to the old country for his story, which riffs on Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry. In Winston-Salem, a bighearted Senegalese cabbie (Souleymane Sy Savane) agrees to drive a sullen old man (Red West) to the top of a mountain on an agreed-upon date; fearing the man intends suicide, the driver gradually coaxes him into his home life with his Mexican wife (Carmen Leyva) and sweet, perspicacious stepdaughter (Diana Franco Galindo). The emotion here is genuine, but the outlook is tough: in Bahrani's movies we're all aliens to each other.


Review: Goodbye Solo | Newcity Film  Ray Pride

Raman Bahrani’s “Goodbye Solo” sounds like the setup for a student film or a revisit of “Collateral”: in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a Senegalese cabdriver named Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané), working hard to make money for his family to subsist, picks up a fare, William (Red West), a rough 70-year-old white Southern loner. William proposes a ride to the nearby mountaintop of Blowing Rock in two weeks, where he intends to leap to his death. But Bahrani, as he’s proven in “Man Push Cart” and “Chop Shop,” works beyond cliché and archetype and shows a genuine drive to understand behavior in its intimate and momentary particulars. Solo befriends William, taking him on taxi rides, hanging out in bars, checking out women. Bahrani’s written that “ultimately Solo must find the courage and strength to love his new friend selflessly in order to help him do something seemingly horrible, or leave him to face it alone.” There is so much about friendship and loneliness and hope and despair in “Goodbye Solo,” from the very opening when the deal is proposed. The drama that develops between William and Solo-between West and Savané-is nothing short of astonishing. Bahrani observes these two men’s faces and suggests worlds-two small ones, two modest lives, filled with blood and heart and simply alive. It’s a thrill to see performances this accomplished and a film, shot by Michael Simmonds in fine, rough form that lives up to their work and the characters. Bahrani’s sense of both city and mountaintop is also uncommonly expert.

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

Goodbye Solo is a film light in plot but generous in spirit. It tells one of those old, familiar Hollywood yarns about the eccentric oddball who takes an uptight outcast under his or her wing and tries to open him or her up. Then they both learn happy lessons about life in balance. Hollywood generally bungles this formula by making the characters too extreme, with no resemblance to life, but here director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) makes no such mistake. Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane, in a terrific film debut) comes from Senegal and lives in North Carolina, drives a cab, is married to a Mexican woman (Carmen Leyva), and is expecting his first child. He dreams of becoming a flight attendant and constantly studies his manual. He also has a whip-smart stepdaughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) who likes to spend time with him. Solo is like somebody you might know and wish to be more like; he has lots of friends and seems to trade in favors more often than money. (His wife, however, sees him as dreamy and impractical.)

Bahrani and co-writer Bahareh Azimi don't waste any time with these details; they're simply strewn about the course of the film so that we can pick them up as we go along. Rather, the movie starts cold as Solo picks up an aging good-ol'-boy, William (character actor Red West, also known as a close friend of Elvis Presley's) in his cab. William requests another pickup in several days' time, and a ride to the top of a mountain in exchange for a substantial fee. Though the movie never confirms it, Solo assumes -- as do we -- that William intends to end his life up there. Solo quickly realizes that if he refuses, William will simply hire another cab, so he tries to befriend the old man, introducing him to things like life, family and hope. The movie is a good deal more organic and grounded than it sounds; it's not sentimental, nor is it forced. It simply lives moment by moment. Perhaps the most telling detail is the one in which we learn that a stick, when thrown off the side of the mountain, will return due to the strong and peculiar wind patterns. Whether or not William actually ends his life off the edge of the mountain isn't really the point. He will now live a little bit longer, thanks to Solo and thanks to this movie. review [4/4]  Chris Barsanti, also seen here: (Chris Barsanti) review [4/5]


You think you've seen this movie. Irascible old codger (white, of course), who doesn't need or care about any other human being on the planet, gets his ice-cold heart thawed by a fireball of empathy (maybe a child or a colorful minority) who comes bounding into his life. There are indeed elements of that movie floating to the surface from time to time in Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo, but fortunately they tend to get slapped to the side by the vision (yes, we can call it that) of a filmmaker with better things on his mind.

A film that almost dares you to call it "heartwarming," makes you regret even thinking the term, and then finally creeps up on you in a way that is, indeed, heartwarming, before it then becomes heartbreaking, Goodbye Solo makes striking cinema out of that hoariest of clichés: the unlikely friendship. Bahrani and his co-writer Bahareh Azimi start the film in mid-sentence, with the irascible old codger in the back seat of a cab driving through the Winston-Salem night, barking at the grinning Senegalese driver, "Why are you laughing?" As we'll soon come to discover, the first part of an answer to the old man's question is that laughter is the default modus operandi for the driver, a blithe spirit by the name of Solo (the ridiculously charming Souleymane Sy Savane, with a grin like a glass of iced tea on a hot day).

But really, Solo is laughing because he doesn't understand why the old man—William, a crusty ex-biker of few words and few emotions besides irritated silence and played to perfection by character actor and ex-Elvis Presley bodyguard Red West—wants to be driven all the way out to Blowing Rock. Then, when William refuses to answer Solo's questions about why he wants to go out there, a look into the old man's eyes tells Solo all that he needs to know. From that point on, it becomes Solo's full-throttle but hardly thought-out mission to make William an integral part of his life (one already crowded with a daughter, a quite questionable friend, an angry and pregnant wife, and a dream to become a flight attendant), and to bring him around to believing that there are things worth living for.

Stylistically and linguistically, Bahrani is a minimalist, which makes for a nice balance with the warm and complex humanism of his story. In his streetlight-lit nighttime scenes, the cabs prowl lonely streets and the impulsively gregarious Solo knows and talks to everybody, yet seems just as lonely a spirit as the one he is trying to save. The stereotyped story we're expecting would have set up Solo as the warm fount of worldly wisdom (think Jeffrey Wright in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers) counterposed to William's cold dry whiteness. (And indeed Bahrani has Solo giving William the full press, taking him out for drinks at the pool hall and practically inviting him to move into his house, sparing no generosity.) But in that story, the immigrant is always the outsider. Goodbye Solo is told from the immigrant's point of view, from which whites seem few and far between, even in a small Southern city. In this world, the flint-hard William is the alien presence, and the one quite possibly responsible for saving Solo, not the other way around.

The clean and simple, leisurely-paced style is in many ways pure American indie, redolent at times of Jarmusch's Night on Earth. But what Bahrani has over his contemporaries is no need for quirk and affectation. He also shows an ability to wrest potent performances out of actors who seem to be doing very little. This is particularly evidenced by a scene late in the film wherein a single, pleading look between William and Solo packs an emotional gut-punch that few directors could manage without a soaring soundtrack or manipulative dialogue.

Yes, Goodbye Solo is the tale of an unlikely friendship, one that reaches across generational and cultural barriers. But for once, that actually means it's a reason to see the film, not avoid it.

Slate (Dana Stevens) review

There's hope yet for world cinema if an Iranian-American director can take the premise of an Iranian film, set it in North Carolina, cast the lead roles with an African fashion model and Elvis Presley's former bodyguard, and produce something utterly new and beautiful. Goodbye Solo (Roadside Attractions), the third film written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) owes its basic story line to the 1997 Abbas Kiarostami film Taste of Cherry, but it's neither a straight-up remake, a parody, nor an homage. A film of great intelligence and quiet assurance, Goodbye Solo exhilarates without ever trafficking in easy uplift.


The wildly charismatic Souléymane Sy Savané plays Solo, a Senegalese cab driver in Winston-Salem, N.C., who's studying to become a flight attendant. One night he picks up William (Red West), a gruff, 70-year-old loner who's immune to Solo's good-natured banter. William wants only to be dropped off at a local cinema and picked up two hours later. On the way there, he offers Solo a curious deal: In a week's time, he wants to be driven to Blowing Rock, a peak overlooking a sheer drop-off, and left there. After all but admitting that he plans to leap to his death from the rock, William offers Solo $1,000 to set the date, no questions asked. Instead, Solo sets about insinuating himself into the old man's life and creating a friendship by fiat. He introduces William to his wife, Quiera (Carmen Leyva), and her 9-year-old daughter, Alex (Diane Franco Galindo); takes him out to shoot pool; and, when the pregnant Quiera throws him out after an argument, moves into William's motel room.

All the while, Solo is conducting a benevolent espionage mission: In an attempt to fathom the source of William's depression, he searches the old man's bags for family pictures and has his pills checked at a pharmacy to see if he's suffering from a terminal illness. Solo simply can't accept the notion of giving up on life; he's convinced that, once William realizes that at least one person truly cares about him, he'll reverse his plans. William, for his part, remains a mystery. He seems to be warming to Solo's generous overtures, but when he senses that his privacy is being invaded, he lashes out with unexpected savagery.

The relationship between these two men—one who's given up on life, another who's endlessly and miraculously resilient—could easily recall one of those "magical Negro" films, in which an isolated and grieving Caucasian is rescued from himself or herself by a spiritually grounded emissary from the Third World. (The Visitor and In America come to mind.) But Bahrani is too smart, and too compassionate, for that; his script, co-written with Bahareh Azmi, allows both characters their complexity, their contradictions, and ultimately, their privacy. We never learn just what in William's past has brought him to this point, nor why Solo's usually smiling face occasionally slackens into an expression of the purest sadness.

Goodbye Solo is as far as you can get from a tale of humanist redemption, but it's kept buoyant by Savané's embodiment of that rarest of things, a good (but not simple) man. Solo leads his immigrant working-class life with style and grace. This is a man who, as he, William, and young Alex are about to tuck into bologna sandwiches in their dump of a motel room, makes sure to wish them all, "Bon appétit." That graciousness extends to Bahrani's sense of place: The one-story brick houses and tobacco warehouses of Winston-Salem, where the director grew up, are filmed (by cinematographer Michael Simmonds) with dignity, never condescendingly milked for "local color."

The film's narrative suspense—will Solo drive William to that fateful appointment at Blowing Rock?—relies on a clunky visual device in which Solo repeatedly consults his calendar as the preset date approaches. ("Who runs their finger along a blank calendar page like that?" complained my viewing companion, who likes to obsess about these details.) Yet, if the will-he-or-won't-he setup has a whiff of contrivance to it, the climactic scene, set against a backdrop of natural grandeur worthy of King Lear, upends your every expectation.

Village Voice (Scott Foundas) review


Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani, 2008)  Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at Mubi, April 3, 2009


Last Night With Riviera [Matt Riviera]


PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review


Confessions of a Pop Fan [Jamie S. Rich]


Twitch review  X


New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review


Cinematical (Kim Voynar) review


Slant Magazine review [3/4]  Nick Schager


Eye for Film (Anton Bitel) review [4/5]


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review


Twitch (Todd Brown) review


Critic's Notebook [Sarah Manvel]


Daily Plastic - Festival Report [J. Robert Parks]


Variety (Ronnie Scheib) review


Time Out New York (Joshua Rothkopf) review [4/6]


Time Out Chicago (Ben Kenigsberg) review [4/6]


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]


The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review


The Blowing Rock  all purpose website which includes a photo gallery


About Blowing Rock - A Quaint American Village in the Blue Ridge ...


Blowing Rock, North Carolina - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Baichwal, Jennifer



Canada  (75 mi)  1998


The Village Voice [Elliott Stein]

From the outset of Jennifer Baichwal's Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles, it's clear that the director has succeeded in cultivating enough of a personal relationship with the Morocco-based recluse to worm out unexpected revelations from the famously reticent writer. A talking-head movie, yes—but what heads. Ned Rorem, the highly photogenic doyen of American composers, provides a keen assessment of Bowles's other creative body of work—his music. Before he began the career for which he's best known, Bowles had turned out a number of elegant chamber works and music for stage productions by Orson Welles and Tennessee Williams. There are precious scenes in which Baichwal captures Bowles's final meeting with William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.

If hardly a "life"—it's too fragmentary—this is a deeply engaging film portrait, full of memorable nuggets. Bowles is blistering on the subject of Gertrude Stein and her "house of humiliation"; his verdict on Bertolucci's adaptation of The Sheltering Sky is a curt "idiotic." And the 88-year-old writer speaks with less restraint than in earlier interviews about his life with Jane Bowles, who died in 1973. Although the couple cared for each other deeply, both were primarily homosexual and pursued a number of same-sex relationships during the course of their stormy marriage. One of the director's major coups is her footage of the notorious Amina Bakalia ("Cherifa"), the Moroccan peasant woman who was Jane's lover for 20 years, considered by nearly everyone in their entourage to have practiced black magic on Jane and Paul and to have poisoned her. Jane Bowles, for Truman Capote "that genius imp, that laughing, hilarious, tortured elf," unfortunately gets short shrift in the film. A marvelous writer and a profoundly original talent, she deserves a movie all her own.

eye WEEKLY [Kevin Connolly]

Any film about Paul Bowles will, by definition, be incomplete. But Canadian director Jennifer Baichwal's much-praised glimpse of the notoriously evasive expatriate American writer, Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles, is so fragmentary it presents more questions than answers.

Still, Baichwal -- best described as "the smart one" on Newsworld's On the Arts -- has got a number of things right, starting with the timing. At 87, Bowles isn't getting any younger, and Baichwal and co-producer/D.O.P. Nick de Pencier secured eleventh-hour interviews with the likes of David Herbert, Allen Ginsberg and, most importantly, William Burroughs.

While she never appears in the film, Baichwal has clearly succeeded where dozens of similar pilgrims to Tangiers have failed. She's cultivated enough of a personal relationship with the dour icon to get two excellent sessions out of one of the world's worst conversationalists. Highlights include Bowles' account of Gertrude Stein's house of "humiliation," his dismissal of Bernardo Bertolucci's film version of The Sheltering Sky as "idiotic" and his discussion of his work as "detective stories in which the reader is the detective."

Bowles' relationship with his wife Jane -- a loyal, sexless union between a vivacious lesbian wit and a gay depressive -- was surely one of the oddest literary love affairs ever. But Baichwal's film sheds little light on it beyond including old photographs and stray comments from mutual friends.

Baichwal's problem is that as good as this footage is, there's nowhere near enough of it to construct "The Life" suggested in the title. As a result she falls into the old highbrow trap of assuming people will know who all these people are.

A little straightforward narration -- in place of some of the floating passages from Bowles' writings -- would have been helpful, as would some consistent camera work. The opening sequence -- in which a passage from Bowles' story "The Delicate Prey" is superimposed on a desert vista while a typewriter clatters in the background -- is unforgivable, as is the stagy, off-centre, shot-from-the-floor treatment of Baichwal's wonderfully relaxed, unguarded interview with Burroughs.

There's enough fresh stuff here to make the film a real treat for Bowles fans, but for the rest of the planet, Let It Come Down offers little more than an interesting muddle.

Film Journal International [David Noh]

Is there a living artist today more fascinating than Paul Bowles? Born in Jamaica, Queens, he left a successful career as a music composer in the '40s and moved to Tangier where he's remained ever since, immersed in its culture and people. He began writing fiction, most famously the legendary The Sheltering Sky, several striking short stories, and his autobiography Without Stopping (1972). Although primarily gay, he married, and his wife, Jane, a lesbian, became as well-known as he for her brilliant writing (Two Serious Ladies, the play In the Summer House) and personal eccentricity. Since 1962, Bowles has returned to the United States only once, in 1995, for two concerts of his music at New York's Lincoln Center.

Jennifer Baichwal's documentary Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles is an absolute labor of love that is largely successful in recounting Bowles' life, as well as the more daunting task of attempting to solve the enigma of this notoriously reclusive, mystifying man. At age 19, Baichwal, obsessed by his writing, biked to Morocco from France, knocked on his door and was graciously received. She ended up staying there for a year. Years later, she reintroduced herself to Bowles with the idea for her film and was met with cooperation by him and various friends to be interviewed. The 85-year-old subject, recumbent and puffing on a kif pipe, is frail but still very alert and, although ever-filled with subterfuge, more forthcoming here than he's ever been. ('I always started to write before smoking, otherwise I'd never write. It clears my mind out'). A real coup for Baichwal was a summit meeting in New York of Bowles and Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, two longtime friends who rendezvous with him for one last time. In fact, Burroughs acts as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on and clarifying Bowles' relentless obfuscation. He says that Bowles' Without Stopping should have been entitled Without Telling and marvels at how, as a young man, he was accepted as a music student by no less than Prokofiev but instead fled to Germany. He calls Bowles' style more in tune with the classical rather than Beat. Ginsberg is, perforce, more gossipy, describing the ever-alluring availability of Moroccan boys, 'like Provincetown in the good old days.' No less an achievement for the filmmaker was an interview she got with the infamous Cherifa, an Arab woman who was Jane's longtime lover and rumored to have poisoned the authoress, who lost her mind, suffered a stroke and died in 1973. Now a grizzled old lady, she scoffs at such notions of black magic on her part, but several of Bowles' friends remain unconvinced.

Bowles himself emerges as the ultimate existentialist, believing in neither the notion of love nor the self. 'People are planets floating around and if they touch, they touch at one tiny point. We're all self-sufficient,' he says. 'Being in love is extremely abnormal, like schizophrenia. A man in love is an obsessed person.... If one lives or dies, it makes no difference. The only meaning of life is inevitable death.' Several friends attest to the fact that he is a man without friends, despite his considerable aid to other writers, from his wife to various Moroccans in need of translation. 'A writer,' he says, 'should keep himself out of what he's writing. If he allows the self in, it weakens his fiction.' Many readers, disturbed by such chilling Bowlesian images of a self-castration in Let It Come Down or the incestuous seduction of a father by a son in Pages from Cold Point, might be relieved to hear this. Baichwall laces her film with eloquent readings from these and other works which, like the accompanying music (all of it composed by Bowles), add resonant ambiance.

A real key to the man lies in his early years, spent as the only child of rigidly repressive, very 'New England' parents who forbade him every pleasure and didn't consider writing a normal activity. ('I wrote a book when I was four because I didn't have anything else to do.') There seem to have been few major figures in 20th-century art, from Copland to Kerouac, whose paths didn't at some point intersect with his, and he is often very lucid at shattering idols ('Gertrude Stein humiliated everyone'). 'Success is vicious,' he states. 'Once you reject something, it doesn't bother you anymore. In life, very little goes right. One has no right to want or expect anything.' A friend agrees, saying, 'Paul was only happy when things were going wrong and miserable when things were going right.'

One gets a vivid picture, too, of the fabled expatriate community in Tangier, whose number included, at various times, Barbara Hutton, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Cecil Beaton and the Hon. David Herbert who, as interviewed here, is the perfect image of etiolated, Brit-eccentric aristocrat. Jane Bowles, that maddening genius who many consider a superior writer to Paul, also emerges in a full portrait via photographs and reminiscences. (Burroughs: 'Even if you read one sentence of hers, it couldn't be anyone but Jane.') Their marriage is finally verbally elucidated by Bowles, who betrays a definite tinge of emotion when he observes, 'She was such fun I felt it would be wonderful to be with her all the time,' but 'Jane drank far too much. For 16 years, she went downhill. She became blind, then paralyzed. There was some war going inside her that made her mad.' Although one might read a sense of desolation into his words--'If I described myself, that would mean that I exist. I don't believe that....All my work is behind me'--what you really come away with from this film is an overpowering respect for a man who rejected the commercialized artistic rat race, created a highly satisfactory, unique life for himself and, without ever intending to, gained the world's admiration

Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles  Gerald Peary


DVD Talk [Matt Langdon]


The Japan Times [Giovanni Fazio]


Time Out


New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden



Canada  (75 mi)  2002


eye WEEKLY [Ingrid Randoja]

Jennifer Baichwal (Let it Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles) has established herself as one of Canada's premier documentary filmmakers, a significant achievement when you consider how many great documentarians this country produces. The True Meaning of Pictures focuses on contemporary photographer Shelby Lee Adams, who has been both praised and derided for his portraits of impoverished Appalachian families. Baichwal allows Adams, his critics and the subjects of his work to speak their minds, but the greatest strength of the film lies in the inclusion of Adams' personal video footage, which gives us the back stories of the various families he's photographed and puts his work into a context we can appreciate. (Jon Danziger)

One of my best friends is from Knoxville, and on more than one occasion, he has (rightly) pointed out that there's only one acceptable prejudice in America anymore, and that's against those disparagingly referred to as "rednecks." He prides himself on his heritage, as he should, as we all should; but he's keenly sensitive that the sort of casually offensive references that were made generations ago—about African Americans, or Native Americans, or Jews, or those of Asian descent—have been rightly done away with, in the better part of the public discourse, anyway. But not the image of the hillbilly, who remains an object of derision.

Shelby Lee Adams is a photographer from Kentucky, and his principal subjects are the poor people of rural Appalachia; this documentary considers the artist, his models, and the reception of his work. There's unquestionably something haunting and powerful in many of Adams' photographs, in which the subjects look disarmingly directly into the camera—the question is, though, if these are works of journalism, or of art. Is Adams giving us something of the essence of life in Appalachia, or just making photographs that appeal to him? Is he working in the tradition of Walker Evans, or Diane Arbus? And is he telling us one thing but doing another, trying to have it both ways?

There's no simple answer, of course—Adams defends his own work, and those who appear in his pictures are universally supportive. But there's an obvious and uncomfortable cultural divide: Adams photographs some of the poorest Americans, and seeing their pictures hanging in hoity toity galleries as black-clad urbanites sip Chardonnay is a little nauseous. But things don't just break down along the lines of "civilized" and "primitive"—a good number of people in Kentucky aren't too happy with Adams either, for they feel that his work plays directly into the worst sorts of stereotypes about the South: granny smoking a pipe, no-accounts sipping on jelly jars filled with moonshine, intimations of incest and inbreeding, the sorts of callous generalizations that have been made, and that Southerners have come to resent, at least since Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society program. (The film even includes a few clips from Deliverance, the sine qua non of Hollywood's version of Appalachia.) A sister of one of Adams' subjects even goes so far as to say, "He has disgraced our family."

Adams seems to have a genuine affection for his subjects, but he's clearly not a documentarian. Here's one example: he bought a hog for a poor family, so that he could document them killing it, and snap a photograph of them posed around the carcass. Looking at it, if you didn't know better, you might guess that this was typical behavior after the kill—but it takes a critic from the New York Times to alert us to the fact that this is seriously posed, a long way from the truth.

Do Adams' subjects know what they're getting into? One gallery owner suggests that they lack the visual sophistication to get Adams' work, but another photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, sticks up for the subjects: "Just because they're poor doesn't mean they're stupid." Whatever the case, there's a whole lot of Southern Gothic on display, both in Adams' photographs and in this documentary; it doesn't really forge much new ground, and most of the intellectual arguments about Adams' work are presented in the first couple of minutes, so the rest feels like variations on the theme. Still, this is fairly provocative and interesting stuff, on both aesthetic and socioeconomic levels, and especially given the film's relatively brief running time, is surely worth a look.

Film Freak Central review [Walter Chaw] - DVD Review


MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES                    A-                    93

Canada  (90 mi)  2006


From the outset, this is a film that made me more inquisitive about both artists featured in the making of this film.   Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal has set a high standard for the manner in which she chooses to document artists, developing a personal relationship with Moroccan recluse Paul Bowles ahead of time so that a writer with a reputation for stubborn reticence becomes a fascinating interview in LET IT COME DOWN:  THE LIFE OF PAUL BOWLES (1998), or painstakingly allowing both critics and admirers to chime in on her exploration of poverty through the works of Appalachian photographer Shelby Lee Adams in THE TRUE MEANING OF PICTURES:  SHELBY LEE ADAM’S APPALACHIA (2002), so that in both films Baichwal’s goal has been defined by a near scientific objectivity, a straightforward presentation of the material, allowing the audience a chance to make their own judgments.  Similarly, Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has taken a fascination with the world’s industrial dumping grounds, capturing startling images by framing the subject in such a way that it fills the entire picture, maximizing its impact as it seemingly extends into the infinite [web site].  Earlier in his life, Burtynsky worked in gold mines and auto assembly plants and reportedly took a wrong turn on a rural Pennsylvania road, discovering a huge coal pit that left such a mesmerizing yet horrible impression on him that he was inspired to make his life’s work photographing similar panoramic vistas, making ugliness look stunningly beautiful, raising questions about the aesthetics of debris, known as “the industrial sublime.”   


Something of a follow up to Michael Glawogger’s WORKING MAN’S DEATH (2005), even sharing a similar location, a Bangladesh shipyard that more accurately resembles a shipping graveyard, a place that survives on scrap metal with workers stripping old oil tankers piece by piece, which is contrasted against another immense Chinese shipyard that is constructing as many as 100 ships, or Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s OUR DAILY BREAD (2005), a wordless yet stark examination of depersonalization through degrading and monotonous work that someone necessarily endures for the sake of the food we eat.  In this film, Baichwal and cinematographer Peter Mettler follow photographer Edward Burtynsky to China and Bangladesh, adding real life context to what he so eloquently captures in still shots, recording a heightened imbalance of nature, showing how modern technology is so rapidly reconfiguring the shape of our landscape, both internally and externally.  It’s an interesting project, as a photographer’s eye is initially struck by specific subjects, such as rock quarries, strip mines, waste dumping grounds, recycled tires, computers, or ship parts, the mass employment of factory workers, the displacement of humans by gigantic technological projects that are considered vital to modern advancement, then the filmmaker follows up on that idea, extending the boundaries of the photographs, showing how people are dwarfed when placed alongside these massive projects which reduce humans to just a speck on the landscape. 


Resembling the enormity of the final image from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), we get an eyeful from the opening seven or eight minute shot, seen in a clip here Stars Of The Lid - Taphead (12:55) in the first seven and a half minutes, though the clip adds music that is not in the film, and it quickly cuts away before the shot actually comes to a stop.  It features a slow tracking shot down a side aisle of a huge Chinese iron assembly plant that reveals endless rows of bright yellow-shirted factory workers sitting at their work stations performing a synchronized monotony of repetitious motions, many of whom seem relieved to stop and stare at the camera’s obvious intrusion, where the accumulation of ever-expanding space defies all known concepts of rationality, finally settling on a single worker who is fast asleep.  This indoor shot is immediately followed by another similarly choreographed outdoor shot, where the entire work force of yellow-clad workers is lined up in perfectly organized columns directly outside the yellow colored factory buildings, where the road is lined with yellow flags, creating a surrealist glimpse of human progress.  We see other factories with workers uniformly wearing pink, with all the women in identical blue headscarves.  Burtynsky himself, in extracts from his Chinese lectures, tells us that China recycles 50% of the world’s computer parts, a task that is illegal in the West due to the toxic effects of what’s called E-waste, that a recognizable odor permeates for miles before entering a town that performs this task, where the workers wear no protective gear as they hammer apart computers and heat circuit boards in order to separate the chemical compounds, a process that may have the effect of poisoning the workers as well as the neighboring water supplies, routinely throwing the waste into nearby streams.  Though it’s been illegal to import electronic waste into China since 2000, Baichwal’s camera captures tons of debris being unloaded at local shipping ports in giant containers mostly from Europe, Japan, and the United States, which are then trucked to the nearby recycling centers.    


Sometimes a single photo or a slow wordless pan will introduce a segment, perhaps the voice of a worker describing their task, but the film is notable for its hauntingly beautiful original music from Dan Driscoll and an extraordinary industrial sound design from David Rose and Roland Schlimme (who doubles as the film editor), providing an ethereal calm to the already provocative subject matter.  Some of the more devastating footage is showing the impact of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric engineering project on the Yangtze River, more than 50 % bigger than any other dam in the world, where some of the most fertile farmlands in the country had to be destroyed and where over a million people have been displaced to make room for this mammoth construction project, seen here being paid by the government to remove their homes brick by brick so that they could rebuild their new homes elsewhere using the same materials.  


Much of the film was shot in China, home to over a billion people, as it’s a country undergoing a colossal shift in priorities.  Under Mao, the country was 90% agricultural and 10% urban, while today it is 30% agricultural and 70% urban, changing the landscape with unprecedented speed.  Nothing reflects that change any more than the modernization of Shanghai which has nearly completely demolished its old city, making way for a skyline of new high rises in the name of progress.  Baichwal finds one old woman who refused to be moved, despite the threats of broken bones, whose lone one room shanty remains standing, as the modern building complexes were forced to build around her.  In a scene reminiscent of Kurosawa’s HIGH AND LOW (1963), there is an opulent estate next to this woman’s home with giant glass windows revealing sweeping panoramic vistas of modern Shanghai, a scene that couldn’t possibly provide more contrast between an old woman’s humble origins and an extreme flaunting of wealth.  The woman residing in the modernized apartment is the epitome of China’s new woman, who bears a striking movie star resemblance to Gong Li (who was credited with thanks at the end of the film), welcoming the camera into her home, graciously offering her Jackie Kennedy-like tour, proudly showing us her library of classical Chinese books, where any one room is bigger than the old woman’s entire house.  By the end of the film, after seeing the damaging environmental impact of industrial waste on such a large scale, one couldn’t be sure if this one person’s arrogant display of opulence in Shanghai wasn’t even more egregiously horrifying, as her wealth, and others like her, is likely acquired by selfishly turning a blind eye to the community of others.  Isn’t that the same arrogance that demolishes old cities, destroys natural farmlands, displaces ordinary people, and leaves behind a trail of toxic debris for others to clean up after them? [Andrew O'Hehir]

If you really want terror, you won't see anything all year as profoundly scary as Jennifer Baichwal's "Manufactured Landscapes," a magisterial tour of the world's most devastating and devastated industrial zones with Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. Purely as a pictorial experience, it's an amazing film, but your mind will barely be able to process the Joseph Conrad-scale horror of what Baichwal and Burtynsky show us.

Slant Magazine [Keith Uhlich]

The lengthy tracking shot that opens Jennifer Baichwal's documentary Manufactured Landscapes is a thing of beauty. Mesmeric and mysterious, it takes in the seeming totality of a cavernous Chinese factory, and attains, by its close, a subtle and lasting sense of horror. It infects the senses and the mind in ways that recall the work of David Cronenberg, specifically his interrogative short film Camera. Like Cronenberg's mini-masterpiece, Manufactured Landscapes is a film very much aware of its own existence, of the mechanisms that brought it about, yet it never again reaches the transcendental heights of this pre-credits prelude. The work of still-photographer Edward Burtynsky is the film's ostensible subject, but Baichwal is more concerned with macro-meditating on the quickly deteriorating state of planet Earth. (The press notes, no surprise, lead off with enthused praise from Al Gore.) Baichwal's technique is scattershot, at worst recalling the trance-doc pretensions of John & Jane Toll-Free, with which it shares a similarly problematic nightclub sequence (a cliché that should be retired post-haste: the discotheque as numbing seventh circle of hell). But there is plenty here to recommend, particularly Baichwal's understated yet damning examination of Burtynsky, who is several times seen manipulating his subjects, via cash payoffs or god-like directives, for maximum effect. It reveals the great divide that quite often separates a globally conscious work of art from the anything-goes processes of its creator, a necessary observation and insight that Baichwal ultimately fails to direct at herself.

What have we done to our planet?  Andrew O’Hehir from Salon

From the opening shot of Jennifer Baichwal's "Manufactured Landscapes," which may last 10 minutes, you're either with her film or you're not. Her camera pans and dollies down the immense expanse of a Chinese toy and electronics factory, many football fields in length, while the rows of workers in fluorescent yellow go about their machinelike tasks. Baichwal's film is about an artist, Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, but it's really about what Burtynsky has chosen to look at, aspects of modern life most of us choose never to see.

Baichwal's camera accompanies Burtynsky to unimaginably huge piles of coal; to the mile-and-a-half-long Three Gorges Dam, with its 120-mile-long reservoir; to the factories where circuit breakers and household irons and oil tankers are built and to the ass-end places in the world where they end up when we've thrown them away. Without a single moment of polemic, Burtynsky's pictures -- and Baichwal's document of how they are made -- asks urgent and painful questions about what we have done to the world, whether it's been worth it and what, if anything, we can do to change it.

Burtynsky avoids questions of human suffering, but it's here all the same as we watch teenage boys in Bangladesh clear crude-oil scum by hand from the holds of tankers left for dead on the "shipbreaking beach" at Chittagong. Or when we see old Chinese women who may never have seen a working computer, but spend their working lives smashing old motherboards and monitors (and releasing heavy metals into the environment) to scavenge scraps of reusable metals. "Manufactured Landscapes" may tell you more about how the 21st century world actually works than you really want to know, but it's a heartbreaking, beautiful, awful and awesome film.

The Village Voice [Jim Ridley]

Nothing illustrates the monstrosity of globalized commerce more vividly than the lateral tracking shot that opens Jennifer Baichwal's mesmerizing documentary Manufactured Landscapes. Maintaining a glacial, Kubrick-like creep for eight minutes of screen time, the camera glides almost a third of a mile through the bubble world of one titanic Chinese factory. Afterward, massed on the street outside in color- coordinated formation as far as the eye can see, the many thousands of employees are robbed of all individuality. Pictorially, though, the image is breathtaking, even playful— Metropolis as designed by Busby Berkeley.

The sight should scare the hell out of environmentalists as well as economic protectionists. But Baichwal's meditative, mood-altering film—strongly recommended to fans of Koyaanisqatsi and An Inconvenient Truth, and no less important than either—is more suggestive and unnerving than a mere jeremiad. Its focus is photographer Edward Burtynsky, who specializes in macroscopic panoramas that show how industry has smashed, scarred, and altered the environment. With cinematographer Peter Mettler working to approximate Burtynsky's eye-in-the-sky perspectives, Baichwal follows the artist's travels through China, where he leaves government officials puzzled over why he'd rather photograph, say, the Martian desolation of Shanghai's endless Bao Steel yards than pandas and temples.

But the yards are temples—Ozymandian monuments to man imposing the will of commerce on entropic disorder. Strip-miners, outsourcers, and earth movers do Burtynsky's processing for him, raking the wilderness into strikingly patterned Japanese gardens of ruin. It's the terrifying vastness of his subjects—a mountainous computer graveyard, the mammoth Yangtze River Three Gorges Dam project shown in Jia Zhangke's Still Life—that gives both his photographs and Baichwal's film the hypnotic otherworldliness of science fiction. Yet the scale and symmetry of Burtynsky's work tends to eclipse outrage with awe, which adds to its snake-charming potency.

By finding beauty in appalling heaps of corporate waste and industrial devastation, is Burtynsky aestheticizing the plunder of the planet, and are we lulled into cowed complacency by his Olympian vantages? As in her excellent Shelby Lee Adams doc The True Meaning of Pictures—which refuses to resolve the tension between genuine concern and freak-show gawking in Adams's Appalachian photographs—Baichwal undercuts easy answers. Her subject is the discrepancy between how an artist sees the world and how the world sees the art. Where Burtynsky sees the coppery glow of a river of toxic waste, we're inclined to see unnatural disaster—until we stand rapt before his elegiac photograph. Manufactured Landscapes challenges us flyspecks to relocate our compass, if we can, within the cosmic enormity of Burtynsky's pitiless vision.

» Manufactured Landscapes - REDEFINE MAGAZINE   Independent Film Reviews

Manufactured Landscapes is an unusual treat for anyone who is interested in the world at large, and in man’s involvement with the world. Although clearly a film that makes you contemplate your connection with the environment, the film is not outwardly politically-motivated or explicit about its stances on environmental issues. Featuring the large format photography of Edward Burtynsky and sweeping overhead camera work, Manufactured Landscapes takes the viewer through a visual journey through the world of strip mines, recycled computer mountains, dilapidated housing, and much more.
In a Q&A session with director Jennifer Baichwal, she mentioned that the ambiguity of Burtynsky’s work made it something that both the management of environmentally-destructive offices and the environmentalists fighting those offices would have hanging on their walls. I’d agree with that sentiment. What makes his photography so compelling is the fact that you’re not sure what you think when you first see the images. They’re beautiful, but clearly disturbing. The controversy within oneself that this film stirs up is the internal struggle between loving one’s excess goods and loving one’s environment. There are no easy answers, and this movie is not political in the sense that it provides no solutions.
From the film’s 8 minute introduction in which a camera is mounted on a golf cart and driven the entire length a giant iron assembly factory in China, the viewer immediately notices the individuals who stand out amongst the mass of similarly dressed workers. Noticing the individual amongst the mass is largely what this film is about, and one leaves the film with a degree of self-consciousness.
The majority of the film was shot in China, and the crew was followed from place to place by foreign affairs officials. The purpose was to monitor what the crew was filming, to make sure that they did not film material that was especially sensitive to the Chinese government. The Chinese government has been known to review some footage prior to allowing filmmakers to leave the country, but because Manufactured Landscapes was shot on film reels as opposed to video tapes, the officials did not have a chance to view theirs.
Amongst the sensitive material was a portion where the filmmakers about residential displacement of over a million individuals due to the creation of the Three Gorge Dam. This is a story that has been covered by other news crews before, but Manufactured Landscapes takes a first-hand glimpse on not only the lives of the displaced individuals after displacement, but of the aftermath of the locations where those individuals had once lived. Viewers see and learn that the individuals who lived in small communities displaced by the Three Gorge Dam were paid to remove their old homes, brick by brick. And they did it.
Another sensitive subject was the portion of the movie on “e-waste,” the recycling of computer parts. E-waste is an especially sensitive case in China, which recycles 50% of the world’s computer parts. Recycling of these parts is technically illegal due to high toxicity levels and dangerous fumes, but in practice, the Chinese government turns a blind eye.
Jennifer Baichwal is careful to say that Manufactured Landscapes is not a film solely on China, but about human’s impact on the world in general. The reason China is focused on so often is simply because that China is now undergoing an industrial revolution of a proportion yet to be seen in history. Watching China’s path of growth mirrors back to the growth of our own societies, and although shot primarily out of the United States, Manufactured Landscapes hits closer to home than the film makes you initially think.

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES  Katey Rich from Film Journal

Manufactured Landscapes opens with a single, bold, mesmerizing 10-minute shot; a camera dollies past row upon row of a Chinese manufacturing plant, as thousands of young people assemble various mechanical parts in what looks like an endless, twisted funhouse mirror. When we finally see a full photograph of the factory, the walls actually recede to the vanishing point; the plant really is endless. As we will soon learn, this factory is no anomaly; China's manufacturing industry, and its industrialization boom in general, may very well be endless as well.

Landscapes is a riveting look at this rapid cultural transition through the eyes of Edward Burtynsky, a Canadian photographer who specializes in what he calls "manufactured landscapes," or parts of the earth utterly transformed by mankind. China has become the big bogeyman in recent discussions on global warming, as its industries explode with little or no concern for their environmental impact. Burtynsky's photographs, collected in an exhibit of the same name, explore that impact to devastating effect.

The film's minimal narrative is shaped by a lecture given by Burtynsky and documentary footage following the photographer on his trip to China in 2004. Aside from a few scuffles with reluctant Chinese authorities, Burtynsky himself is involved in very little of the drama. Few interviews are done with the people seen on camera, and the images, as Burtysnky insists his own photographs must do as well, largely speak for themselves.

Director Jennifer Baichwal, who traveled with Burtynsky along with her cinematographer Peter Mettler, intercuts her footage with Burtynsky's actual photographs. Aside from a few moments of zooming into specific details of the photographs, Baichwal largely lets them stand unadorned. What's remarkable is that her footage manages to add meaning to the photographs, already so powerful on their own. Seeing the scores of factory workers before they line up the way they appear in Burtynsky's photograph, or watching the workers tear down the walls of an entire city, the human role in China's industrial revolution becomes much more evident than in Burtynsky's large-scale images. One subject, shown a Polaroid of a photograph, remarks that it's too wide, you can't see the faces; for Burtysnky that's the point, but for Baichwal there is a human element worth exploring as well.

The film serves as a kind of travelogue through industrialized China, starting at a factory in which workers--scolded for low productivity--display astonishing dexterity at, say, testing 500 spray nozzles over the course of an hour. The camera then moves on to the immense amount of waste produced by such factories, memorably cutting from rows of brand-new irons merrily rolling along an assembly line to a destroyed iron plate on a massive heap of garbage. Burtynsky notes in his lecture that 50% of the world's computers end up in China to be recycled, a statistic accompanied by images of elderly Chinese women cracking microchips with their hands, and a mountain of mangled, twisted computer monitors.

After a trip to the shipyards in eastern China, the film moves on to Bangladesh, where old shipping freighters are destroyed for parts; the sight of young men who slop around in the lakes of crude oil found in the hulls is as compelling as the skeletons of freighters stranded in the muck. The film ends back in China, depicting the wholesale destruction of cities in order to make room for a hydroelectric dam--environmental progress, but at what cost?--and, finally, the rampant urban growth of Shanghai.

Manufactured Landscapes moves slowly and deliberately through its scenes, much like that first factory tracking shot, which makes it an art documentary even in the most literal sense. But there is an inconvenient truth to be found here, one much more frustrating than Al Gore's. Watching China as it threatens to tilt the crucial ecological balance, what exactly can we do? It's American and Canadian computers that are filling their landfills and poisoning their streams, not to mention how many of those irons will be shipped here. The film is no polemic, and Burtynsky insists that he has no message to spread with his photographs. While that may be true for his work, it is less true for Baichwal; there is a clear sense at the end of the film that something must be done to stop this. What the answer is, though, no one is willing or able to suggest.

PingMag - The Tokyo-based magazine about “Design and Making Things ...  Verena interviews the director and beautifully exhibits many of the amazing photos from the film for PingMag


Offscreen :: Manufactured Landscapes  Felix Rebolledo from Offscreen


Manufactured Landscapes « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist


Made in China: Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky on Their Travels Across Manufactured Landscapes   Damon Smith from Bright Lights Film Journal

The Lumière Reader  Catherine Bisley

Manufactured Landscapes (2006)  Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus

Film Freak Central   Walter Chaw


indieWIRE   Michael Joshua Rowin


Manufactured Landscapes: the photographs of Edward Burtynsky  Kristin Miller from Afterimage


collections  Edward Burtynsky website


Manufactured Landscapes  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

Exclaim! [Travis Mackenzie Hoover]

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Rotterdam Film Festival notes [Ken Dubois]

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

reports  Glen Helfand from SF360 interviews Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky

Contemporary Art London New York, Edward Burtynsky Manufactured ...  thirteen Burtynsky photos used in the film

Manufactured Landscapes - Review - Photography - New York Times  Ken Johnson

New York Times (registration req'd)  Manohla Dargis

Baigazin, Emir


HARMONY LESSONS (Uroki garmonii)           B+                   92

Kazakhstan  France  Germany  (115 mi)  2013  Website


Much in the same vein as other darkly disturbing films that expose the deadly effects of systematic violence and corruption, like the Mexican film Heli (2013) or the Russian film The Major (Mayor) (2013), all are brutal films that unleash a horrific price on what are otherwise innocent bystanders who happen to be pulled into this viciously dirty business.  While there don’t seem to be as many mafia movies these days, in their place are a multitude of films about swarming gangs of thugs that control a highly specialized marketplace, as they’re each one a loose commentary on black market capitalism that lives by its own rules, like the Wild West, answering to no law but their own.  Each one survives by inflicting enormous violence, which generates an accompanying fear associated with it, allowing them to continue to operate with impunity.  Until another gang moves in that’s bigger or stronger, they each feed, like vultures on a carcass, within their own established turf.  What could be more localized than the rural regions of Kazakhstan?  Beautifully set in a landscape of mountains and snow, where a vast emptiness seems to dwarf the inhabitants living in the small town, the harshness of survival in these lonely outskirts is expressed early on when young 13-year old Aslan (Timur Aidarbekov, who was discovered in an orphanage) first has to catch a slippery sheep and then slaughter and skin it under the supervision of his grandmother.  Written, directed, and edited by this first time director, he already exhibits a mature style, making a strikingly realist film with nonprofessional actors, yet he uses an interesting technique of skipping past major incidents, where we only learn what happens by the repercussions afterwards, leaving much of what happens in a permanent state of ambiguity. 


Aslan is a quiet and studious farm kid that keeps pretty much to himself, having few social skills and no friends, the kind of kid that doesn’t speak unless spoken to, where he takes his schoolwork seriously and seems to have a talent for science, where he collects cockroaches, tying them on strings and feeding them to his lizards living in a fishbowl, while at the same time he’s learning about survival of the fittest from Darwinism.  When they teach him electricity, he concocts his own tiny electric chair and fries a poor unfortunate roach.  But his reserved, anti-social behavior makes him a popular target for schoolyard bullies, who are little more than extortion artists led by the lead thug Bolat (Aslan Anarbayev), threatening to beat up anyone who is seen talking or befriending Aslan, who quickly becomes isolated and even more of a social outcast.  We soon learn Bolat collects money from lower classmen, which is then handed over to upper classmen, who are in turn extorted by local gangsters, where the money is used to support their members in prison.  This social hierarchy is thoroughly in place, where anyone who doesn’t play by the rules gets attacked and beat up by several of Bolat’s sidekicks.  Another kid that recently moved from the city, Mirsayan (Mukhtar Andassov), isn’t really afraid to stand up to bullies, as he’s not impressed, but he takes his lumps.  There’s also a side story about an attractive young Muslim girl, Akzhan (Anelya Adilbekova), who insists upon wearing a headscarf, even in gym class, as otherwise boys spend too much time leering at her, actions that she feels violates the Koran.  She wants nothing to do with stirring up that kind of desecrating behavior, even though the school officials urge her to remove it.  One of the more curious moments finds Aslan spying on her when she’s performing a modern dance routine, which may all be happening inside his head.    


There’s constant head-butting against authority in this film, as teachers are quick to lecture kids who challenge their authority, which means they’re not listening to the concerns raised by the kids, who often provide them with information they need to hear, but instead they get punished for it.  Similarly, if they go against the grain with Bolat, they’ll be brutalized for anything outside the norm.  Meanwhile both Mirsayan and Aslan have aspirations to defy Bolat, choosing different methods, where Mirsayan is willing to fight him one on one, while Aslan resorts to more devious means.  When Bolat is found dead, an act we never see, they are the prime suspects, where the police instantly fill the void of the schoolyard brutalizers, literally torturing the two kids to force them to talk, but both insist they had nothing to do with it, even after extensive beatings.  At one point one of the cops turns to the other asking what if they’re telling the truth?  But they quickly put those thoughts aside, as they’re paid to get the results the commander is looking for.  Every level of society is bullying whoever is directly below them on the food chain, creating a horrific picture of rampant corruption and brutality in the education, police, and criminal justice systems, where Mirsayan and Aslan are their current victims.  Because the film is told in such a realist style, it comes as a complete surprise when the director uses dream states for Aslan, which only becomes evident by the out-of-character events unfolding, expressed through an exaggerated state of mind.  This method is even more effective by leaving out so much of the significant material, where the audience and the police are only privy to theories and unproven allegations, relying instead upon motive and established character traits, yet it remains something of an elusive puzzle for everyone to comprehend.  Bolat and his gang could only operate with teachers continually turning a blind eye, while the police and their henchmen brutalize suspects with no community oversight.  In this manner, the police have no established credibility with the audience, as we’re not likely to believe their questionable results, leaving the finale in a mysterious state of psychological disbelief, where truth is often difficult to obtain, clouded by the murky methods of operation.  The cinematography by Aziz Zhambakiyev is often stunning, giving the film a grimly poetic yet continually gripping feeling of austerity and despair.    


Georgia Straight [Janet Smith]

This austere look at a culture of bullying is the film you won’t be able to shake at this year’s VIFF. Director Emir Baigazin maintains a cold, artistic remove from the brutal story of an odd teen who is relentlessly picked on by the elaborate gang network at his uniformed boys school. As his few misfit friends fall victim to the beatings and stealing, the enigmatic lead character starts to move from victim to a more sinister force. But where the film becomes truly Kafka-esque is when the state becomes involved, and the real bullies go into devastating action. Deeply disturbing and hypercontrolled; every frame, from the symbolic butchering of a sheep in a snowswept yard to the backs of uniformed schoolboys huddled in a secret basement meeting, is a bleak piece of art.

Screen International [Lee Marshall]

At first director Emir Baigazin’s debut feature, set in rural Kazakhstan, seems to be shaping up to be yet another of those worthy world cinema titles in which families eke out a meagre living in a harsh landscape. But before long, Harmony Lessons turns into something far more rich and strange: an existential coming-of-age revenge movie.

Intriguing, laconic, mysterious (occasionally a little too much so for its own good), Harmony Lessons derives much of its impact from a script that keeps us guessing throughout and from the committed performances of its non-professional adolescent cast – especially Timur Aidarbekov (who was discovered in an orphanage) as the film’s sensitive, intense schoolboy hero and Aslan Anarbayev as the bully who victimises him.

Though the pace is measured and the final act overlong and overscripted, the film’s well-received Berlinale competition press screening proved that Harmony Lessons has the ability to hold an audience. The challenge will be to pitch it to the right one. The aridly beautiful landscape of the steppes and the daily life of a remote Kazakh high school provide plenty of local colour, but this Himalaya-meets-Hitchcock hybrid is not an uncomplicated feelgood ethnic number like previous Kazakhi arthouse charmer Tulpan.

Perhaps the most compelling and original aspect of the film is its dual nature as revenge thriller and magical-realist-tinged rite of passage. That the two strands manage to coexist, most of the time, without undermining each other, is tribute to Baigazin’s finely-tuned script. We first see Aidarbekov’s character Aslan chasing a sheep around the yard of the remote farmhouse where he lives with his elderly grandmother. It’s funny; but then it isn’t, as Aslan shackles the sheep, cuts it throat and begins patiently to skin and disembowel it with his grandmother’s help. It’s as if the director is sending out an early message to his audience to say: if you think life is cute here on the steppes, think again.

Aslan, who at a guess is sixteen, is an introverted lad of few words. He’s picked on by school bully Bolat (Anarbayev) and his gang and ostracised after a prank in which he is persuaded to drink a glass of water with an unsavoury past; as a result, Aslan begins washing himself obsessively. An ace physics student, he also collects cockroaches and electrocutes them in inventive ways before feeding them to lizards he has caught (the film feels briefly Lynchian in these scenes, but it’s a passing impression).

Bolat is running an extortion racket in his year on behalf of two hardcase twins in the senior year; he tells Aslan’s classmates that they are not to sit next to him or talk to him. A tentative attraction to a female classmate, Mirsayani (Andassov), comes to nothing, but help finally arrives in the form of Azkhan (Adilbekova), a student newly arrived from the city, who befriends Aslan and defies the bullies, at least for a while.

Shot in a series of carefully composed, fixed-camera shots, with cinematographer and production designer bringing out the pastels and half-tones of landscape and school buildings, Harmony Lessons is as dense with symbols and narrative sideshows as a Kazakh pilaf. Not everything adds up; the rise of fundamentalist Islam in liberal-Muslim Kazakhstan, for example, is alluded to several times without really being developed. More intriguing – though equally allusive – is the film’s play with geometrical forms. Aslan wears a triangular amulet around his neck; he draws squares within circles and makes an origami lotus; and a geometrical diagram he and Azkhan draw in their exercise books will turn out to have an unexpected bearing on the plot.

Is Aslan’s school with its distant teachers who turn a blind eye to tyranny and violence a metaphor for Kazakh society at large? The question is left hanging; but the film works on so many other levels – including that of a parable of an age when childish toys must be put aside – that it hardly matters.

Tribeca 2013 Review: HARMONY LESSONS, A Brilliantly ... - Twitch  Christopher Bourne

A village school and the surrounding area in rural Kazakhstan is the backdrop for the brutal Darwinism, of both the social variety and that found in nature, depicted in Emir Baigazin's astonishing debut feature Harmony Lessons, whose extraordinary accomplishments in visual, thematic, and psychological terms belie the fact that this is his first feature. Baigazin has created a viscerally potent portrait of the concentric cycles of cruelty, violence, and ultimately murder that characterize the lives of everyone in the harsh, economically depressed village of his film's setting.

Harmony Lessons focuses on Aslan (Timur Aidarbekov), a 13-year old boy who lives with his grandmother in a farmhouse on the steppes. We are introduced to Aslan in a deceptively humorous way: he is chasing a sheep in the front yard of his house. But when he catches it, the tone changes very quickly, as he slaughters, guts, and removes the skin from the sheep under the watchful eye of his grandmother, and under the merciless gaze of Baigazin's unflinching camera eye. This is a clear signal to the viewer that this will not be some innocuous, exoticizing look at a culture distant to Westerners, but will delve into much darker areas.

Aslan makes what is presumably a lengthy trek daily to his school, where he is subjected to bullying, mostly at the hands of Bolat (Aslan Anarbayev), the school's resident thug/gangster, who shakes down the other students for money on a regular basis, and rules with a Stalinesque iron fist. However, it is soon revealed that Bolat is but one rung on the totem pole of a yakuza-like structure of gangsterism that extends to the local jail, where the shakedown operation presumably originates. 

Oddly, Aslan seems to be the only student in the school not forced to pay Bolat. However, he is subjected to an even worse fate at Bolat's hands. After Bolat engineers a very cruel and humiliating practical joke against Aslan during a school physical, he ostracizes Aslan from the rest of the students, forbidding them from speaking to him. This pushes Aslan further into isolation and psychological trauma, which Aslan reacts to by being obsessed with personal cleanliness - washing multiple times daily and discarding his clothes after wearing them once - and turning his scientifically-inclined mind to experimenting on and torturing small animals, including cockroaches and lizards.

The film tantalizingly raises the possibility of Aslan's situation being leavened through a sense of solidarity with others who find themselves being treated as outcasts at the school. Madi (Omar Adilov), another bullied student, attempts to befriend Aslan; Aslan himself seems interested in Akzhan (Anelya Adilbekova), a strikingly beautiful girl who is a devout Muslim who refuses to wear the school uniform, insisting on wearing her headscarf to school despite her teacher's objections. Aslan's closest ally is Mirsayin (Mukhtar Andassov), a boy new to the school sent there from the city. He regales Aslan with stories of life in the city, which is much more exciting and colorful than the drab village surroundings; Aslan is especially intrigued by Mirsayan's rapturous descriptions of "Happylon," an amusement arcade mall in Almaty that represents ultimate freedom from the world's cruelty. Mirsayin stands up to Bolat, defending Aslan, and directly challenges Bolat by fighting him. However, none of this is enough to prevent Aslan from planning revenge against Bolat, the consequences of which propel the film's final sections, which fully reveal the cruel power structure of state and police authority that curtail any possibility of real escape from its far-reaching clutches. 

Harmony Lessons is a beautifully designed and directed film, whose rigorously composed fixed-take compositions and symbolically allusive geometric patterns are as compelling as the narrative itself. Baigazin elicits wonderfully naturalistic performances from his cast of nonprofessionals, especially Timur Aidarbekov, who was found in an Almaty orphanage, and who is the mysterious, unsettling, yet undeniably charismatic heart of this remarkable film. Baigazin sometimes bears down a bit too hard on the symbols and thematic elements, especially with the direct lessons on Darwin given by one of the school teachers. Nevertheless, Harmony Lessons is filled with stylistic riches and sharp psychological acuity, and despite its somber subject matter, is not without a sense of humor. Director Emir Baigazin has undeniably announced himself as a filmmaker well worth following.

Harmony Lessons  Tatiana Filimonova from KinoKultura [Jordan Hoffman]


Interview: Emir Baigazin | Film Comment  Nicolas Rapold interview, May 2, 2013


Hollywood Reporter [David Rooney]


Variety [Leslie Felperin]


Bailey, Lucy and Andrew Thompson


MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN              B                     85

Great Britain  (94 mi)  2009


This devastating film exposes the horrendous injustices taking place in Zimbabwe under the corrupt leadership of President Robert Mugabe, yet the one-sided only approach to documentary filmmaking leaves much of the story still untold, a major flaw, which lessens the historical impact of the film.  The film focuses on a single white farmer, which personalizes one family’s experience instead of placing their plight in context with the many Africans who were exploited during the British colonial rule in what was formerly known as Rhodesia.  Robert Mugabe, an African nationalist with financial and military assistance from China and the Soviet Union, led a series of guerilla attacks on white-owned farms in the mid 70’s known as the “Bush War,” which eventually led to the country’s independence and to his popularity as President.  None of this is mentioned in the film.  Instead they describe Mugabe’s policies some thirty years later as if they existed in a vacuum.  Under Mugabe’s rule, the black government has taken over the property of existing white farmers one by one, though not via any court ordered legal maneuvers, but through force, using rag tag militias roaming the countrysides who are little more than armed thugs with knives and tire irons who break into the homes and beat the inhabitants to a bloody pulp, breaking their arms and legs until they decide to leave, abandoning their property and their source of income, leaving the country decimated with once thriving farms that are now in ruins, inoperable, trashed by the new inhabitants, who happen to be friends and cronies of Mugabe’s government, who know nothing about farming.  The nation loses the income produced by the farms, including the loss of thousands of workers who had been working on those farms for generations, now left unemployed with no place to go.  The result is a collapsed economy with widespread poverty and unemployment, yet opposition candidates, newspapers and their supporters are brutally beaten, with cars and buildings fire-bombed, or people dying under mysterious circumstances or supposed car crashes so that there is no opposition in Zimbabwe.  Mugabe, who spent 11 years in prison under British rule when the nation was known as Rhodesia, has run a campaign targeting the remnants of the British empire, promising to eradicate them from the country.  Like an ethnic cleansing, this exact same method has slowly been implemented across the nation until nearly all the whites have moved out of the country. 


The filmmakers unfortunately received no cooperation from the Zimbabwe government and made their film undetected, as had the government known they were filming, they would likely have been beaten or killed.  The entire focus of the film pits Mugabe’s crude land grabbing tactics against Mike Campbell, a 75-year old white farmer who purchased his property after Zimbabwe obtained their independence in 1980 and refuses to surrender the title to the government, who only became interested in it once it was paid off in full some twenty years later.  Campbell employs hundreds of African workers and has an excellent work record of humane treatment, many of whom are seen in the film, though most don’t speak English.  Campbell’s son-in-law Ben Freeth helps run the farm and is a featured spokesperson throughout the film.  They have relatives in England who are also seen, but they don’t have the stomach to put up with the perpetual threats of violence against whites.  Campbell, Freeth and his wife frequently quote the scripture, as they are continually under duress in a Job-like undertaking where they are constantly challenged, yet they believe in their righteous cause, which is to refuse to be intimidated and driven off their land.  They believe if more whites would stand up to these hostile practices that the country wouldn’t be in such a state of financial ruin, as good farms produce food, jobs, and income, which benefits everyone.  Consequently, everyone suffers by their absence.  They also refuse to be drawn into Mugabe’s hate campaign, believing the President wants blacks to hate whites, and whites to hate blacks, while they have more Christian leanings which teach them to love their neighbors.  What this film never explains is Mugabe’s politics, whether he’s a communist or socialist or just a plain old thug, as this might explain his land redistribution policy.  Certainly during the Russian Revolution people were thrown out of their homes, or they were forced to share what was considered “large” accommodation space with others, which was detailed in Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, a novel that was banned in Communist Russia for its self indulgent themes, as it dwelled on the personal instead of thinking about the good of the nation, which is exactly what this film does.  Mugabe is singled out from the outset, where bands of armed militias are seen swarming around a neighboring farm from Ben Freeth’s car, as he drives right up to them before making a hasty retreat, as like zombies, they turn in his direction.           


“For the benefit of landless black peasants  This may be the nation’s idealized dream, yet those actually inhabiting the white farms appear to be judges, army officers, civil servants, girl friends of politicians, and those with well paying jobs who strangely drive late model cars or SUV’s.  Since there are no police, judges, or governmental body in Zimbabwe that will address or protect the needs of whites, Campell is forced to take his case to an international tribunal in Namibia, where an entourage of Mugabe’s defense team continually postpone the hearings, extending the process beyond the breaking point, as despite an order of protection from the court, Campbell and Freeth are eventually attacked and brutally beaten, where blown up photos are brought to the court showing exactly how the tribunal’s court order is blatantly disregarded in Zimbabwe, where there is literally nothing to prevent armed mobs of blacks from storming the homes of whites.  These are sickening revelations, where we hear a first hand account of how their neighbors were attacked and forced to escape, but only after the infliction of abhorrent beatings.  The writing on the wall suggests it’s only a matter of time for the Campbells, yet they persist.  Perhaps the ultimate irony, the Campbells are represented by a British barrister wearing a white wig in court, perhaps the ultimate effrontery to Mugabe’s hatred for the last vestiges of British influence.  But they’re also represented by an African female lawyer who recognizes that this policy of atrocities and racial divisiveness does not bode well for the nation, that all people should have the same rights under the law, and she’s sickened to discover that her clients were nearly beaten to death. 


The horrors are everywhere in this depiction, but the filmmakers’ failure to place these actions in any historical context is inexcusable.  Atrocities are a large part of African history, and Mugabe is one of the more ruthless leaders, in the Idi Amin mold, where he’ll do anything to eliminate his opposition.  But Africa has also witnessed the colonial humiliation of Belgium, the Dutch, the British, and the French routinely raping their lands, exploiting its citizens, and stealing their resources, all of which made people very wealthy in their own imperialist countries, leaving Africa with nothing in return, oftentimes jailing or murdering outspoken voices of opposition, like Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.  Mugabe may be a war criminal by waging war against his own white citizens, and what happened to the Campbells is an atrocity, but they are certainly not alone.  The filmmakers chose to ignore the significant impact to all the others, such as those in Rwanda, Darfur, Sierre Leone,or the Congo, or the many who were routinely displaced in any Communist takeover or in China from the Three Gorges Dam project which relocated millions, where the larger story is the effect the policy has on so many lives, including the flooding of entire cities that will be extinguished from the earth, as opposed to the effect it has on a single person who may have stood up to object, but was singularly ignored.  While the documentary is no doubt compelling, there are certainly larger historical implications that this film simply ignores.         


TimeOut NY  Eric Hynes

“Is it possible to be a white man and an African?” muses a fair-skinned farmer in Zimbabwe; the question hangs over both this tragic documentary and dictator Robert Mugabe’s thug-enforced policy of property distribution. Yet what Mugabe sells as racial justice is state-sanctioned piracy, violently forcing white agriculturalists from their land and replacing them with his cronies. The film clandestinely captures marauders in action while embedding itself in the imperiled home of aging farmer Michael Campbell. He’s not the movie’s ad hoc martyr, but something more compelling: a simple man whose fight for personal justice has matured into patriotism.

Chicago Reader    Cliff Doerksen

The notion that only whites can be racist barely survives this riveting 2009 documentary about Michael Campbell, a humble and honorable Caucasian farmer who acquired his large land holdings in 1980, after the black takeover of Zimbabwe, and ever since then has been fighting the efforts of President Robert Mugabe to violently displace him. Directors Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson document the 75-year-old farmer's fight to get justice before an international civil rights tribunal; due to Mugabe's repressive policies, they had to gather most of their footage on the sly, which heightens the suspense. The result is part legal thriller, part five-hankie melodrama.

NewCity Chicago  Ray Pride

The Oscar-shortlisted “Mugabe and the White African” charts the determination of one of the few white farm families left in Zimbabwe since President Robert Mugabe’s violent land-seizure program took effect in 2000. As the country descended further and further into confusion, an indignant Mike Campbell pressed charges of human-rights violations and racial discrimination against Mugabe in an international court in 2008. Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson’s brooding documentary is tense and brimming with suspense, effectively playing out as a thriller. Across the course of a year, and coinciding with a presidential election, “Mugabe and the White African” is a terrifying look at the consequences of the breakdown of the rule of law, wherever and under whatever circumstances it might occur. The effective, jangling score is by Jonny Pilcher. 94m. Video.

Village Voice  Ella Taylor

The idea of a film pleading the cause of white landowners in the new Africa might make you roll your eyes. But if there's one dictator whose thuggery and contempt for his own people can't be written off as a legacy of colonialism, it's Robert Mugabe, whose despotic, chaotic 30-year rule of Zimbabwe has brought the country to its knees. Shot undercover by British filmmakers Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson, this incendiary documentary showcases Mugabe's corrupt use of land reform to further polarize a fragile nation already divided along racial lines, by following an elderly white farmer's struggle to avoid being forced off the land he bought in 1978. Trying to bring their case before an international tribunal in Namibia, Mike Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, find themselves stonewalled, intimidated, and finally horrifically beaten and tortured by Mugabe's hoodlums. As their extraordinarily brave black female attorney points out, at stake are not merely the rights of this family or indeed of all white farmers, but the future of race relations and human rights in Africa.


Family patriarch Mike Campbell is one of the few white farmers left in Zimbabwe since President Robert Mugabe began his violent land seizure program in 2000. Since then the country has descended into chaos, and the economy has been devastated by the reallocation of formerly white-owned farms to Mugabe cronies, who have no knowledge, experience or interest in farming. In 2008, after years of intimidation and threats to his family and farm, Campbell decides to take action. Unable to call upon the protection of any Zimbabwean authorities, he challenges Mugabe before an international court, charging him and his government with racial discrimination and human rights violations. Lurking beneath every frame of this riveting documentary is a palpable sense of fear, something many in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe feel on a daily basis. Mugabe and the White African is the only documentary feature that has come out of Zimbabwe in recent years -- with much of the footage shot covertly -- and is perhaps our only real glimpse of what it's like to live inside Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

The Independent Critic [Richard Propes]

Winner of the 2009 BAFTA Award for Best Documentary, this debut from Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson is the story of Mike Campbell, a white Zimbabwean farming on land for 30 years with his wife, 500 workers and their families, his son and his son's wife. Under the land reformation policies of dictator Robert Mugabe, however, Campbell knows it is simply a matter of time before the land that he purchased in 1978 is stripped away from him. In an attempt to circumvent this repossession, Campbell makes the bold and life-threatening decision to take Mugabe's regime to court. This decision will lead to threats, beatings and torture at the hands of Mugabe's hoodlums.

Filming is banned in Zimbabwe, so Bailey and Thompson are themselves risking their lives to film this documentary. While this risk doesn't necessarily come across often on screen, it does lead to a further appreciation of the film that the two first-time filmmakers have created.

In theory, the idea of land reformation is a popular one in African nations where whites have long held the power while blacks were seen as subservient and, for the most part, forbidden to own land. However, this is Zimbabwe and Mugabe's version of land reformation doesn't so much involve redistribution of the land to the poor, in itself controversial, but redistribution of prized land to those within his own inner circle. As a result, this one rich and prosperous nation has been practically decimated.

The main problem with Mugabe and the White African is that far too often Bailey and Thompson seem to take Campbell at his word, trusting that Mugabe's violent misdeeds, or at least his awareness of violent misdeeds on his behalf, will be enough to sway audiences that Campbell and his family are innocent victims in this entire affair. Anyone with even an ounce of awareness of African history will be aware that, while Mugabe's actions may be completely and utterly reprehensible, there are always two sides to every story.

Not in this film.

It's hard not to watch Mugabe and the White African without becoming frustrated at the overwhelming seeds of conflict, hate and racism that permeate both sides of this story. Yes, Mugabe and his regime are wrong in the way this situation is handled, however, the wrongness of the actions of Campbell and his family feel just as intense for those, at least, who think from a social justice perspective.

Far more a contemplation of colonialism past and present than an inspirational tale of one man's battle against a dictatorial regime, Mugabe and the White African ultimately raises more questions than it answers.

The House Next Door [Elise Nakhnikian]

The makers of Mugabe and the White African, like their subjects, seem to have an almost touching faith in the European legal system, yet they ask us to find their antagonists guilty as charged without so much as hearing their case. And so, though I was horrified by the violence encountered by Mike Campbell, the white African of the title, as codirectors Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson wanted me to be, I wasn't swayed by their insistence on the righteousness of his cause.

Mike and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, are among the white farmers who refused to leave their farms in Zimbabwe after President Robert Mugabe voided their deeds, claiming the land for black Africans under his "Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans" program. (Mike's and Ben's wives and Ben's kids are there too, but they're shown only rarely and almost always from a distance, mute symbols of what the men are fighting for.) The Campbells and Freeths have been essentially squatting on what used to be their land for nearly a decade when we first see them in December 2007, enduring constant threats and occasional beatings (though those seem to be borne mainly by their guards) by groups of vigilantes who are unofficially supported by Mugabe. This is a camera-ready setup if there ever was one: You could cut the tension with a machete when white-haired Mike and his suntanned son-in-law get chased down a road near their house by armed men who've tried to trap their car at a makeshift roadblock, or when Mike and Ben pile a bunch of guards onto a pickup truck and head into the night to flush out armed interlopers hiding in their own backyard. But the filmmakers aren't so good at illuminating the issues that have led to these charged standoffs.

Always taking Mike and Ben at their word, never questioning their assumption that what's good for them is good for Zimbabwe, and rarely offering any evidence to support their assertions about what's ruining the country's economy, this film put me in the awkward position of playing devil's advocate for a man I believe to be one of the worst of Africa's many brutal and self-serving despots. I'm no apologist for the beatings and worse Mugabe reportedly doles out to people who oppose him and there's no disputing that Zimbabwe's economy is a mess (the unemployment rate is over 90%), but I needed more than just the Mike and Ben's opinions to be convinced that Mugabe's land redistribution plan is just a cynical ploy to consolidate his power. The film does show just how Mugabe awards the confiscated land to his cronies and allies, but then, isn't that pretty much what Cecil Rhodes did about 100 years ago, when he annexed what he then named Rhodesia for Britain? I'm not saying that excuses it—two wrongs don't make a right, as my mother used to say—but there's a certain rough karmic justice in what's happening to Zimbabwe's white landowners now, especially when the farmers are as blind as Mike and Ben are to their own power and privilege.

The black Africans in the film are almost always seen and not heard, and what we see of the white landowners' relationship with them is shockingly reminiscent of our own plantation past. Mike professes his love for the men who work for him ("we're trying to help them," he says), but their body language reveals a distance and lack of ease that belies his words: This is clearly a relationship of unequals. We learn that the farm supports about 500 people in addition to the white family that owns it, but we know almost nothing about these farmhands and guards and their families, since they speak, if at all, in the smile-heavy, yes-laden, monosyllabic language of the subservient. This could have been a much more interesting movie if the filmmakers had moved out from the big house to find out where and how the workers live and whether they think white farmers like Ben and Mike are good for their country.

By the time we finally hear from a black African who does more than mumble or grin, he's so furious he can barely speak at first, though he winds up landing some sharp verbal jabs. A minister's son, he shows up at the Campbells' farm to claim "my land," which was granted to him by the government four years earlier. When Mike replies that it's his farm, duly paid for, he asks: "Who did you pay? Did you pay the government of Zimbabwe or did you pay another white fella?" The government has reclaimed the land, he says, because "We are so tired of you. You come here and you grab up all the best stuff…. We don't want to have anything to do with you people any more. We have shifted from you people to the Asians."

Serenely immune to his arguments, Ben and Mike seem clueless about the poisonous legacy of Zimbabwe's colonial past and the potential offensiveness of their conviction that their leadership is good for the people of Zimbabwe. Despite their insistence that they are Africans, these two and their friends and relatives share an old-school English sense of propriety and certitude. I was moved by the quintessential stiff upper lip exhibited by Ben's mother, who spoke in measured tones about her support for his stance, insisting that "it's right to stand for what's right" as tears coursed down her cheeks, but I found Mike and Ben's smug head lawyer, a man so English he wears a white wig in court, a little hard to take as he pontificated about the patent absurdity of the opposition's case and the "distinctly racially discriminative" nature of the system.

As Ben started talking about how God put them there for a purpose, I started thinking dark thoughts about the forbearance shown by the vigilantes toward these arrogant white fellas. After all, I thought, they've let them stay there for years, and when they do kick them out, they let them go in peace and take their stuff. Which is probably more than you can say for the way the white people's ancestors took the land in the first place. Yeah, yeah; two wrongs don't make a right. I'm just saying, it could have been a lot worse.

I even started to question the way Mike and Ben invoke the rule of law as a cover for defying their own country's law. People who own private property are never happy when it's seized by the government, but isn't obeying laws we don't like part of following the rule of law? Well, yes, so is trying to overturn the ones you don't like, which is what they're doing. But do they really expect the government of Zimbabwe to change its laws just because some court in Namibia says it should? I mean, please. If an international court convicted the U.S. of war crimes for our invasion of Iraq or our treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, do you think we'd pull out our troops or shut down the prison?

Mugabe and the White African is a fascinating document, but it's not the inspirational story its directors intended. Instead, this half-digested chunk of modern history is an inchoate case study of the contemporary face of colonialism.  Nora Lee Mandel

User reviews  from imdb Author: miles-tendi from Oxford

Pasadena Art Beat [Jana Monji]


theartsdesk [Sheila Johnston]


Nick's Flick Picks [Nick Davis]  lengthy


Slant Magazine (Joseph Jon Lanthier) review


NPR   Mark Jenkins from NPR, July 22, 2010


Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [5/5]


Mugabe And The White African | Review | Screen    Fionnuala Halligan from Screendaily


Dave's Movie Ramblings [David Wilcock]


Phil on Film (Philip Concannon) review  including an interview with the directors, November 11, 2009:  here

User reviews  from imdb Author: timrunacre from Epsom

User reviews  from imdb Author: davideo-2 from United Kingdom

The Spinning Image (Graeme Clark) review


Rich On Film [Richard Haridy]


Little White Lies [Anton Bitel]


ViewLondon (Matthew Turner) review [3/5]


Rude Reviews [ Simon Cameron]


Interview: filmmaker Lucy Bailey  JW Arble interview from The Third Estate, March 8, 2010


The Hollywood Reporter review  Frank Scheck


Variety (Ronnie Scheib) review


Time Out London (Dave Calhoun) review [4/5]


The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review


The Independent (Anthony Quinn) review [3/5]


The Daily Telegraph review [4/5]  Tim Robey


Los Angeles Times (Gary Goldstein) review  also seen here:  Chicago Tribune 


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]


New York Times (registration req'd)  Mike Hale


Zimbabwe - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Nightmare of Mugabe's Matabele atrocities | Sokwanele


Rwandan Genocide - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


War in Darfur - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Sierra Leone - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Democratic Republic of the Congo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Baillie, Bruce


Bruce Baillie  Fred Camper from Film Reference


The career of Bruce Baillie has two central aspects, which are also features of the whole American avant-garde film movement. First, his films are generally intensely poetic, lyrical evocations of persons and places in which the subject matter is transformed by the subjective methods used to photograph it. Second, many of his films display a strong social awareness, describing attitudes critical towards, and alienated from, mainstream American society. In many cases, Baillie fuses these concerns within single films.
Stylistically, Baillie's films are characterized by images of haunting, evanescent beauty. An object will appear with spectacular clarity, only to dissolve away an instant later. Light itself often becomes a subject, shining across the frame or reflected from objects, suggesting a level of poetry in the subject matter that lies beyond easy interpretation. Baillie combines images with other images, and images with sound, in dense, collage-like structures. Thus, many of his films cut frequently between scenes, or superimpose objects on each other. One is constantly aware of a restlessness, an instability, which seems to result from his images' appearance and flow. It is significant, too, that many of Baillie's films contain, or are structured as, journeys.
The effect of Baillie's films is to make the viewer feel that any moment of the viewing, any single image he is looking at is a mere illusion that will soon vanish. The sensuousness of the light and colors only heighten one's awareness of their unreality. It is as if there is a void, a nothingness, that lies behind all things. It is not irrelevant in this regard that Baillie has evidenced strong interest, over the years, in Eastern religious thought.
Some degree of social comment is present in most of Baillie's films, but in widely varying degrees. Mr. Hayashi places the poetic and the social in a very precise balance. The imagery consists of evocative, sun-drenched images forming a short, haiku-like portrait of a man. On the soundtrack, we hear the man speak of his life, and his difficulty in finding work. Mass and Quixote indict American society as overly aggressive, toward its citizens, toward Native Americans, and toward nature; as impersonal and dehumanizing; as lacking physical or moral roots. For Quixote, Baillie uses an extremely dense, collage-like form, in which images and fragments of images are intercut with and superimposed on others, with a similarly complex soundtrack. At times, the film's multiple themes seem to blur into each other, as if the filmmaker is acknowledging that he is as "lost" as the society he is depicting.
Castro Street, Tung, and Valentin de las Sierras are, by contrast, apparently simpler portraits of people and places. By keeping his camera very close to things, Baillie renders their details ever more stunning, while his collage editing and soundtrack again create an instability leading to "nothingness." Castro Street, which depicts an industrialized area, is extraordinary for its combination of diverse photographic representations—black and white, color, positive and negative—in editing and superimposition. Quick Billy contains thematic and stylistic elements of most of Baillie's previous films; its motifs include autobiography, "portrait"-like representation of people and events, and an underlying theme, made explicit in the film's final section, of Western man's aggressiveness toward his surroundings.



USA  (10 mi)  1966


pieces   Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

This is Baillie’s most famous film, which regrettably isn’t saying as much as it should, since his immeasurable influence has yet to yield the wider recognition accorded to other avant-garde masters.  When I’ve seen this film projected publicly, the person introducing the program unfailingly stipulates that Baillie is not depicting San Francisco’s Castro Street, but rather an industrial byway in Richmond, out near the Chevron refinery.  This confusion is one of those tricks of history; the very words of the title connote the unofficial headquarters of gay and lesbian culture in the U.S., while the film is ostensibly more neutral in its geography.  But what can we see in Baillie’s film nearly forty years on?  While these Castro Streets are inevitably distinct, how does the film bridge their gaps in our mind?  Baillie has said that he conceived of the meshing structure of the film (a right-to-left pan in color, blended with a left-to-right movements in black-and-white) as an analogue to “masculine” and “feminine” principles coming together. [See Scott MacDonald’s interview with Baillie in A Critical Cinema 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992, pp. 109-138.)] This union is equally evident in the soundtrack, a collage of rumbling train sounds, gentle whistles, and pop radio.  And even within the “masculine” passages of railroad space, Baillie lavishes a beautifying gaze on those conductors and brakemen. Outlying suburban spaces transcend their commercial utility.  Grimy trackside labor becomes luminous.  I am not trying to enfold Baillie’s film into a different history via an against-the-grain “queer reading,” but I am proposing that Baillie’s lasting achievement (in this and all his films) is his attention to the living surfaces of the physical world, the way he allows them to disclose themselves.  The images of male beauty Baillie generates do not necessarily reveal desire, but a perceiver not as capable as Baillie of embracing the whole of the world might actively disavow that beauty, or merely pass it over in silence. As he did with his marvelous single-shot film All My Life from the same year, Baillie asks his audience to attend to the scenes unfolding before the camera as occasions for meditative contemplation of the rhythmic interplay of human and natural forces, the radiant beauty found in the humblest of places.  Sometimes, good fences make great landscapes.

Bruce Baillie  Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television

Baiz, Andrés


SATANÁS                                                                 B                     86

Columbia  Mexico  (95 mi)  2007


This was quite a welcome change of pace, nothing great but certainly enjoyable from start to finish, as films using a horror genre are not usually shown at film festivals, and this film reveals its colors (blood red) from the outset, leading into the title credits. Shot in Bogotá, the characters in this surprisingly bold creepfest become more dark and disturbed, each more fucked up than the next, creating a subterranean hell that exists just under the surface of an ordinary unsuspecting world. A common thread here seems to be tortured souls, humans in conflict with themselves, all happening underneath a more placid surface. Mixing together seemingly unrelated characters, a woman’s confession to a priest that changes his life forever, an ex- soldier’s quiet life at home with his grotesque, elderly mother while also tutoring a young teenage girl, asking her to read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or a beautiful woman who works a scam with a couple of thugs until the tables are turned on her in one of the more vividly grotesque scenes in the film. After awhile very little appears normal here, everything is so over the top, the already exaggerated behavior becomes lurid in its capacity to explode out of control at any minute, usually with excessively violent results with characters that haven’t a clue how they arrived there. "We are not one person, but many. We are just afraid to accept it," the young student reveals.


Despite the audience’s growing expectations to expect a sense of other worldliness or derangement, this first time director does an excellent job satisfying those expectations, where a kind-hearted priest has a strange fascination with the flesh, a naked woman in prison wipes her pee with pages from The Bible, then eats the paper, or a man reads a library book but ants start coming out of the pages, distorted events usually accompanied by flashes of lightning, the sounds of laughing, or other musical extremes that compound a sense of unreality with morbid humor. Building on this sustained theme, the film continues to weave in and out of different character's lives, a revolving door of very real lives where their tenuous hold on reality establishes tension, finally bringing all these characters together in a logic that remains faithful to the horror mindset, culminating in a feverish display of the world veering out of control.  "Everything you have lived has been a dream, and you know what?  You've just woken up," a character declares in a Travis Bickle-like moment of clarity.  Supposedly based on real events, it is clear however that this director had a blast taking liberties with the style.            


Baker, Damani and Alex Vlack


STILL BILL                                                               B                     84

USA  (78 mi)  2009                    Official film site


One’s appreciation for this documentary may depend on whether or not you’re familiar with Bill Withers’ music, which was all over the radio in the 1970’s, highly personal, autobiographical music with a comforting, clear-voiced, soulful southern twang, sung with such baritone clarity that every word could be heard perfectly, a rarity since the rock “n” roll craze of the 60’s.  But no sooner was he a star, a latecomer whose career began at the age of 32, the man simply disappeared from view, where his songs are still heard on oldies stations or light jazz programs.  This film finds him at home celebrating his 70th birthday party with family and friends, attending an old high school reunion in the small coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, and still living comfortably up in the hills of Los Angeles.  But the man hasn’t released an album since 1985 and has really had little motivation to re-enter the music industry, a business that he found phony and disastrously incompetent when it came to black performers, as the experts on blacks in the music industry were always whites, which he derogatorily calls blaxperts, as they supposedly had the insight into the black psyche, or so the business was led to believe.  So he simply walked away and refused to play that game, raising two children with his lovely wife, who runs his music publishing company.  While the film is a gentle portrait of the man today, it’s not his private life, but his former singing career that continues to fascinate audiences today, so the movie includes plenty of vintage footage thirty years ago of Withers performing on American Bandstand or other filmed musical performances during his heyday.  The movie stays away from his controversial past where he allegedly abused his first wife, actress Denise Nicholas (from the TV show Room 222).  While it shows him performing new songs in his music studio, which is built right into his home, the film never makes clear whether Withers has any intention of releasing any of these new works, which can be a bit confusing.   


His is a different story, as he eschews celebrity status, a humble man not driven by greed, and only achieved his career success after spending 9 years in the Navy, and several more working at Douglas Aircraft where he was involved in building the airplane toilets, a story he reveals on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show.  His songs were massive hits, largely because people could connect to the authenticity of his first person storytelling revealing themes of friendship, close family ties, and the intricacies of love.  For the most part, Withers has simply ignored the music industry for the past twenty years, including any work in his home studio, claiming he didn’t know how any of the equipment worked, but felt he would return to it one day.  In one of the film’s best moments, he returns to a theater school in New York for students with stuttering problems, where he addresses them from his own unique personal insight, as he stuttered himself until well into his late 20’s.  He is obviously moved by this event, being brought to tears, as it clearly reminds him of agonizing moments in his own life where his speech impairment prevented him from expressing what he wanted to say.  It’s all the more ironic that he built a career renowned for the clarity of thought behind his heartfelt songs.   


In a sudden unexpected turn, he calls Raul Midón, an eclectic blind musician with black and Argentinean roots who has insights into multi-ethnic musical origins.  Together they work on a mutually developed song called “Mi Amigo Cubano” where his daughter Kori works the sound equipment and where some of Midón’s musical licks are simply incredible.  In perhaps the highlight of the film, Kori performs a solo song on the piano that he records, where one thinks perhaps the main reason he is reacquainting himself with the music studio is to get closer to his own daughter, who has her own musical interests.  Her performance of a song called “Blue Blues” is stunningly personal and simply gorgeous.  Their moments together are genuinely affecting, as we see developing onscreen the same intimate qualities that define his music, filled with little insights of personal affection and wisdom.  The film also shows Withers on stage at a recent performance with aging guitarist Cornell Dupree wearing an oxygen tube in his nose, a man who worked with Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, and was also featured on Brook Benton’s brilliant soulful hit “Rainy Night in Georgia.”  But all this is conflicting information, perhaps shown for the benefit of the cameras, as there is no indication Withers has released anything, either solo or collaboratively.  It does however show a portrait of a man doing what he loves to do with the people he loves the most, and from what I can tell, that’s what it’s all about.    


TimeOut NY  Hank Shteamer

“The fame game was kicking my ass,” says Bill Withers in this fascinating doc, concisely explaining a quarter-century absence from the limelight. Still Bill gives the onetime R&B superstar ample space to air his tough yet warmhearted worldview, and to demonstrate its daily application: We see Withers, a childhood stutterer, tear up as he addresses children struggling with the same issue. Elsewhere, the singer patiently assists his vocalist daughter with a recording session, further illustrating an achievement that rivals his stunning catalog—walking away from fame with his humanity intact.

Chicago Reader  Cliff Doerksen

Seventy-year-old soul man Bill Withers—who wrote and sang "Lean on Me," "Just the Two of Us," "Ain't No Sunshine," and a ton of other terrific songs—is profiled in this handsome and agreeable 2009 documentary by Damani Baker and Alex Vlack. After years of creating songs in his head while working on aircraft assembly lines, Withers took a gamble on showbiz at the ripe age of 32, became a major hit-maker in the 70s, then decided he wasn't cut out for "the fame game" and retired to family life. He comes across as an all-around excellent guy and a philosopher vastly superior to the fatuous Cornel West, who condescendingly explains to Withers why he's wrong to defend "selling out" as a good thing. 78 min.

NewCity Chicago  Ray Pride

Damani Baker and Alex Vlack’s sweet and inevitably bittersweet “Still Bill” is an understated portrait of Bill Withers, the musician behind memorable pop like 1971’s “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Just the Two of Us.” The avalanche of music documentaries are a long way from simple records of performances in front of an audience, and the best dig into the quirks of personality that provide inspiration for the mystery that is tune and song. Intimacy is key. Bill Withers walked away from a career that didn’t begin until he was grown, not owning a guitar until he was 32. Why the silence since his last music release in 1985? The filmmakers shot over 300 hours of footage across two years as Withers approaches his seventieth year. A trip back to his childhood home in the worn coal town of Slab Fork, West Virginia inspires Withers’ rich reminiscence. (There’s a present-day detour as Withers records a song with his daughter in his home studio.) Withers is also prone to aphorism: “I think I’m kind of like pennies. You have ‘em in your pocket but you don’t remember they’re there”; and “It’s okay to head out for wonderful, but on your way to wonderful? You’re gonna have to pass through ‘all right.’ And when you get to ‘all right’, take a good look around and get used to it, ‘cos that may be as far as you’re gonna go.” “Still Bill” passes through all right. Talking heads include Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Angelique Kidjo and, erm, Sting. 78m.

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

It wasn’t stopping anything. It was just doing something else.
—Bill Withers

“I lived a good portion of my life before I started to play music,” says Bill Withers. That would be nine years in the Navy, a few more working as an aircraft mechanic for Douglas and Weber Aircraft. When his first single, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” was released in 1971, he was already 33 years old.

As Withers tells it, this late start has never troubled him. At the time, he says in Alex Vlack and Damani Baker’s documentary, Still Bill, screening Tuesday at the IFC Denter’s Stranger Than Fiction series, he wasn’t especially moved to leave his mechanics’ gig. “I decided it would be awfully nice to get into the music business,” a young Withers tells a TV interviewer, despite cautions by industry experts that he was too old. These experts, 33-year-old Withers says, “had a rhythm and blues syndrome in their minds, with the horns and the three chicks and the gold lamé suit, you know, and I wasn’t really into that. I had a job.” 

Such confidence and self-respect weren’t exactly appreciated when he signed with Columbia. Instead, Withers recalls, filmed in a low, wide angle in a big white living room, he was confronted by “a whole bunch of guys trying to tell you what to do, with all their goofy suggestions and stuff. They have the R&B black guys and then they have what I like to call ‘blaxperts.’ That’s the white guys who are supposed to be experts, you know, who have some kind of tap into your black psyche.” Recalling that he was urged to cover Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto,” Withers sighs, “I was livid,” he says, as well as vulnerable and disappointed and, eventually, fed up enough to leave the business: he hasn’t made an album in 23 years.

Over an old TV clip where young Withers appears on a stage surrounded by a slick purplish lighting design, the 70-year-old remembers that he never was very good at the “fame game.” But the film underscores another point too, that this game was rigged. Withers and others were advised on how to sell their “blackness,” a concept premised on adhering to white conventions and mainstream expectations. During a sit-down with Cornell West and Tavis Smiley, Withers only half-accepts the usual line, that he’s a model artist, able to “break through” while not becoming a “sell-out.” He asks that they rethink their own language. “We’re all entrepreneurs,” he points out, “The best thing you can do is put up a sign that says ‘sold out.’”

Even as these three most authentic, admired, and well-paid black men share a laugh here (and West quotes Shakespeare on “thine own self”), the film goes on to break down what’s at stake in Withers’ crucial insight. On its face, Still Bill seems a portrait of Withers retired yet restless, watching football on TV, with lawn tools neatly arranged on his garage wall and a state of the art recording and editing studio upstairs. If he’s not wholly sure how to run all the equipment, he confesses that he’s got it for a reason. “I’m trying to give myself a chance to get driven,” he says, the frame crowded with monitors and software packages, “where just the sheer activity of doing something gets you jacked up.”

His search keeps simultaneously him grounded at home (his wife and children feature prominently in Still Bill, in particular his daughter Kori, also a musician (“You ain’t no joke, sugar,” he beams) and takes him back to Slab Fork, West Virginia, where he was born. A mining camp where “the company owned everything,” from homes to shops to transportation, now dominated by railroad tracks and pit mining equipment. Here he remembers his grandmother: “She would sing spirituals right on that porch and clap her hands,” says his childhood friend C.V. Thompson. Withers nods, “They called it getting happy.” Withers, who stuttered well into his 20s, was raised by this “elegant” woman who inspired him not to heed the taunts of his classmates and teachers (“You can’t do nothing”). He and Thompson remember sorting through the basic hypocrisies racism, their segregated existences while knowing, “Like it or not, most of us had white folks in our families.”

With that in mind, Withers and Thompson head over to the cemetery where Bill’s brother and father are buried, the headstones covered over with weeds and branches. Though they locate brother Earl’s grave, they can’ find his father’s. “Well papa,” he sighs as they trudge among the overgrown greenery, “Wherever you at, I’ll catch you something later.” Sitting on Thompson’s porch that night, the camera perched at some distance, Withers reflects on his own background and choices: “My father, he put the work thing in my head. My mother put the moral thing in my head.” Today, he doesn’t regret leaving the business so much as he considers a return “on his own terms.” “You know how unhappy you would be if you thought that the way you are is not okay?” he asks. “I started out my life like that. I don’t want to end up my life like that.”

As difficult as his own journey may have been, Still Bill makes the case—subtly and deeply—that Withers has found his way. “We’re all accidents of birth, you know,” he says. “At some point or another, we have a choice, if we’re sane enough by that point, as to how much we’re gonna apply ourselves and a lot of that is influenced by the people who nurture us.” He gazes on an old black and white photo of his grandmother. “I already did what I did. I’m not that little boy or that young guy that hasn’t had any validation.” And that makes him all the more compelling. (Jay Seaver) review [4/5]


jdbrecords [Jeffery Berg] 


The NYC Movie Guru [Avi Offer]


Eye Weekly [Dave Morris]


STILL BILL  Facets Multi Media


Village Voice  Nicolas Rapold


Withers In No Hurry To Make New Album  Billboard magazine (Undated)


Still A Lovely Day  Catherine Elsworth from The Daily Telegraph, August 10, 2006


Washington Post: Withers interview  Ann Hornaday interview, June 14, 2009


Huffington Post.  Robert Rosenthal interview, February 2, 2010

Singer Bill Withers on Tavis Smiley’s PBS Show  This Black Sista’s Page, February 8, 2010

Directors' interview  Video interview with the directors from Director’s Notes


Variety (Eddie Cockrell) review


TimeOut Chicago  Hank Sartin


Chicago Tribune  Michael Phillips


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]


New York Times  Mike Hale


Bill Withers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Bill Withers official site


Bill Withers Biography  from his website


Bill Withers  biography from Ed Hogan from All Music


Biography  Soul Tracks


Baker, Josephine – actress, singer, dancer extraordinaire


Josephine Baker - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Official Josephine Baker Website


The Official Josephine Baker Website  Biography from the website


glbtq >> arts >> Baker, Josephine  Biography from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer culture encyclopedia


Josephine Baker  Biography from Red Hot Jazz Josephine Baker  biography


Josephine Baker  John Bush biography from All Music


"Josephine Baker Biography"  Women in History


"V & A - About Art Deco - Josephine Baker"  bio from About Art Deco


"Josephine Baker" bio from The African American Registry


A History of Josephine Baker in the 1920s  1920’s Fashion and Music


"Stork Club Refused to Serve Her, Josephine Baker Claims"  The Milwaukee Journal, October 19, 1951


"Josephine Baker Is Dead in Paris at 68" Obituary from The New York Times, April 13, 1975


The electric body: Nancy Cunard sees Josephine Baker (2003) – Philip M. Ward essay of dance style and contemporary critics, 2003


"Firestorm Incident At The Stork Club, 1951"  David Hinckley reviews the media wars between Baker and gossip columnist Walter Winchell from New York Daily News, November 9, 2004


Susan Robinson: Josephine Baker (Gibbs Magazine)  August 1, 2005


"Profiles in Courage for Black History Month"  National Black Justice Coalition, February 28, 2006


Lester Strong - Josephine Baker's Hungry Heart - Gay & Lesbian Review Magazine  September/October 2006


"Review of Josephine Baker: A Centenary Tribute"  Ann Shaffer reviews Hommage à Josephine Baker: disque du centenaire=a centenary tribute; [songs from 1930-1953], from Black Grooves, October 4, 2006


"Josephine Baker (Freda McDonald) Native of St. Louis, Missouri"  Black Missouri, February 10, 2008


"Discography at Sony BMG Masterworks"


A Josephine Baker photo gallery  Silent Ladies


Photographs of Josephine Baker  Virtual History


St. Louis Walk of Fame: Josephine Baker


Josephine Baker  Find a Grave


Les Milandes- Josephine Baker's castle in France


Baker, Roy Ward



Great Britain  (91 mi)  1970


Time Out review 

The film which made Ingrid Pitt a major horror movie cult figure (she plays a voracious lesbian vampire). Based on Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, it is well mounted and enjoyable, with solid performances: the pre-credits sequence, in particular, has a dreamy beauty. But some of the action is a bit flat; and overall it marks the point at which vampirism in British movies became so overtly erotic that the films virtually ceased to be about anything except sex. Later examples of the strain were to become terribly monotonous.


The Vampire Lovers was Hammer’s first and only co-production with Hollywood’s leading horror specialists American International, who have been responsible for most of the Edgar Allan Poe pictures. This film tapped a new source of classic horror literature, the work of J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and injected an audacious dose of sex into the proceedings.

Ingrid Pitt plays a beautiful female vampire, Mircalla Karnstein alias Carmilla. Carmilla rises from the grave to avenge the deaths of her relatives, claiming not only the odd male as victim, but also several attractive young girls, a lesbian aspect emphasised by her fanged attention to their breasts. Moving on to the family of Roger Morton (George Cole), Carmilla continues her revenge afresh on his impressionable daughter Emma (Madeleine Smith). Douglas Wilmer’s Baron Hartog is Carmilla’s chief adversary, arranging for a stake to penetrate her heart, while Peter Cushing’s General Spielsdorf, father of one of her victims, makes doubly sure by removing her head!

KQEK (Mark R. Hasan) dvd review

Fans of Ingrid Pitt's Hammer horror film debut have been waiting a long time for the uncut version, after a history of theatrical edits and fumbled video releases.

MGM's transfer is very nice, showing some slight artifacting when mist swirls in low-light shots, but overall maintaining a nice color spectrum for the brightly-lit interior sets, and creepy nighttime scenes. Harry Robinson's evocative score comes through without distortion in the original mono mix, and the dialogue, screams and sound effects are quite sharp.

Though no one in the commentary track really addresses the edits made by the Brits and American International Pictures (the latter actually producing the film when Hammer scaled back in-house production and sub-contracted work), the track reflects the same structure as Countess Dracula , with Hammer scholar Jonathan Southcott moderating a discussion with director Roy Ward Baker, actress Ingrid Pitt, and writer Tudor Gates.

Bosoms are another group of distinguished characters in this once-daring film, mixing full-frontal nudity with erotic fang-biting – a natural way for vampires to behave themselves in the tightwaddish Victorian era. Pitt addresses her onscreen nudity, and while a major draw for the film's loyal fans, it's the characters and intense relationship Mircalla Karnstein develops with her last victim (spindle-thin Madeline Smith) that stands out; the seduction scenes are photographed with taste, and are quite integral to the story. Director Baker, one of England's esteemed genre directors who managed a steady career during Europe's production crash a few years later, really plays up the vampire atmosphere, beautifully building mystique for the film's prologue, and constructing the nighttime seductions with nods to the classics of the silent era.

The best bits in the largely consistent commentary track concern actor Peter Cushing's life after his wife's passing (following the film's completion); touching portraits of the man, his firm marriage, and the bouts of sadness that dominated the actor's final years. Writer Gates also describes the short story “Carmilla,” by Irishman Sheridan le Fanu, and the lesbian subtext exploited by the filmmakers under the freedom that existed during the more permissible Seventies; and a few details regarding the two sequels (“Lust for a Vampire” and “Twins of Evil”). Director Baker and Gates also describe a lost mime scene that was deleted before the film's release by a studio executive.

Among additional extras, Ingrid Pitt reads excerpts from Le Fanu's story, while 77 stills flow by, showing production and really funny publicity stills of actresses posing, mugging, and standing as a team of vampires in translucent nighties. An anamorphic trailer offers an alluring montage of shocks, and no doubt helped draw in audiences for what became Hammer's most successful film of the decade, raking in over $1 million. (Mark Zimmer) dvd review  also reviewing COUNTESS DRACULA

The horror films of Hammer Studios were a watershed from the old black-and-white pictures from Universal and other studios. With their color and emphasis on gore and cleavage, they provided a provocative alternative that other filmmakers strove in vain to emulate. In about 1970, the Hammer horrors made a shift of their own from implied sexuality to more blatant onscreen sex with copious nudity. This double feature from MGM provides two films from that sudden change, one of which is surprisingly rated PG. Both star Ingrid Pitt, who briefly was the Scream Queen of the early 1970s in no small part due to these films.

Countess Dracula features Pitt in heavy and unconvincing age makeup as the newly-widowed middle-aged Hungarian countess Elisabeth Nadasdy. Although her longtime lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) desires to make their union a legitimate one, the Countess has ideas about other, younger lovers. Her desires take on reality when she cuts a chambermaid in a fury and gets blood on her face; magically the ravages of age vanish. The chambermaid soon vanishes and the countess is transformed into the beautiful young Pitt. Masquerading as her own daughter Ilona (Lesley-Anne Down), the Countess must continue to butcher the local virgins in order to keep her youth and hold the interest of young lieutenant Imre Toth (Sandoer Elès).

Although the plot here seems rather silly, it was actually based on the true story of Elisabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess who did indeed bathe in the blood of virgins in hopes of keeping her youth (though she did not experience the magical effects that Pitt obtains here). Although estimates are unreliable and vary widely, it appears certain that Bathory was responsible for the deaths of dozens of young women in this manner.

Pitt is simply terrific in the lead; despite the unconvincing makeup, she moves and acts in a very convincing manner as the aged Countess. Had a better makeup artist been available, her abilities might have been better recognized. In support, Green provides a wild-eyed Rasputinish tone to Captain Dobi that helps make it believable that he would assist the Countess in her bloody plots. As usual for the Gothic Hammer output, the film has excellent production values with lavish sets and costumes (but note how these were obtained in the commentaries!)

Also in 1970 Hammer embarked on a loosely-related trilogy of films based on the vampiric Karnstein family. This was apparently an attempt to develop a franchise of vampires despite the well-known displeasure of Christopher Lee for having to return to the role of Dracula again and again. The attempt wasn't successful, but it did produce some memorable movies. The first two films of the trilogy, The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire (1970) are both based on J. Sheridan LeFanu's oft-filmed story, Carmilla. The last, Twins of Evil (1971, supposedly forthcoming from MGM) is less closely related to these two and goes off into completely different directions.

Pitt also appears in this film, this time as Mircalla Karnstein. Mircalla, with the connivance of her mother (Dawn Addams), arranges to stay in a series of homes of young women with single fathers: first General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing), and then Mr. Morton (George Cole). The daughters, Laura Spielsdorf (Pippa Steele) and Emma Morton (Madeline Smith) each slowly become deathly pale and subject to bizarre nightmares as the vampiric Mircalla (who also goes under the names Marcilla and Carmilla) seduces them. The old adage about the most beautiful women being the most dangerous certainly rings true here.

This picture tries to create a new vampire mythos of sorts; while these vampires can go into the sun (although they dislike it) and need not sleep in coffins, they must keep with them the shroud in which they were buried originally. This is an interesting little variation that helps propel the finale along. As in the source story, there is a certain amount of duplication here, essentially repeating the same situation, though with varying outcomes. Hammer really takes the sexuality into new grounds, however, making the lesbian subtext of LeFanu's tale into quite explicit lesbianism, especially in the uncut version provided here. For 1970 mainstream fare this was quite shocking indeed; the fact that the girls seduced are clearly represented as being significantly underage makes it still carry a significant impact. The contrast of the intense female sexuality of the teen daughters against the respective utterly clueless fathers surely resonated in a strong way among the members of the burgeoning sexual revolution, making this one of the most profitable films Hammer ever released.

Pitt is again in fine form here, and not just physically. Her Mircalla is a shade distant, and again she conveys in a surprisingly effective manner a very old woman mimicking a very young one. This theme of deception helps tie the two films together thematically and makes this a very pleasing double feature. Cushing doesn't get much to do (he was very much preoccupied with the illness and death of his beloved wife, so that's understandable). Kate O'Mara as the governess (also seduced by Mircalla) makes a huge impression with her violent outbursts as she realizes where this love triangle is heading. Ferdy Mayne (the head bloodsucker in Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers of 1968) has a small but memorable role as the doctor who pieces together the links between Emma and Laura's illnesses.

Between the two films, one gets a good grounding in what would become the violent and sexy horrors that make up the 1970s canon of Eurocult. Both are well done and worth checking out for the horror fan.

British Horror Films (Chris Wood) review

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  also reviewing COUNTESS DRACULA, which also includes an earlier article on the restoration:  Restoring Prime Hammer Horror - Nudes and Gore Galore!

Kinocite  K.H. Brown

DVD Verdict (Bill Gibron) dvd review  also reviewing COUNTESS DRACULA

The Digital Bits capsule dvd review  Barrie Maxwell, also reviewing COUNTESS DRACULA

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [2/5]  Richard Scheib

Destructible Man  great photos

Eccentric Cinema  Brian Lindsey

Furie's Review

Classic Horror review  Jason Jones  Fernando F. Croce (Josh Darling) review [4/5]

Happy 70th Birthday to Ingrid Pitt!  Kimberly Lindbergs from Cinebeats, November 1, 2007

Bearded Freak's Reviews

The Vampire Lovers (1970)  House of Mirth

The Spinning Image (Graeme Clark) review

Wooden Spoon's  includes movie posters

TV Guide review

Variety review

The New York Times (A.H. Weiler) review

Pitt of Horror  Ingeid Pitt official website

The Ingrid Pitt Column

Hammer Glammer Films

Hammer and Beyond



Women of Horror #72: Madeline Smith  Dead Lantern

Hammer Glamour: horror's finest ladies including Madeline Smith ...


Baker, Sean


STARLET                                                                 B                     86

USA  (103 mi)  2012  ‘Scope


This is an unusual and somewhat mysterious examination of the banality and utter vacuousness of both the elderly and young twentysomethings while living in the San Fernando Valley, which never looked more rampantly oppressive.  Opening with an exquisite musical theme by Manual that recurs throughout, as we quickly see blank yellow walls, where a blond head slowly rises on the edge of the screen, the film is seen through the breezy eyes of a 21-year old blond, Jane (Dree Hemingway, the daughter of actress Mariel Hemingway), a scantily clad girl apparently with too much time on her hands, as she spends a good deal of it getting high or playing video games with her roommates, where together they comprise an updated Three’s Company (1976 – 1984) glimpse of what it means to be total airheads in the 21st century, as anything resembling thoughts rarely come out of anyone’s heads, where one suspects they will quickly grow tiresome, as almost immediately they hold little interest whatsoever.  It’s Jane’s pet Chihuahua dog that is named Scarlet, a well mannered dog that she takes everywhere, sleeping away most of *his* life, much like his master.  When Jane picks up a few odds and ends at yard sales to decorate her otherwise empty room, one of the items purchased is a thermos, which she plans to use as a flower vase, but inside she discovers wads of cash money totaling $10,000, which she figures is actually something worth thinking about.  Returning to the scene of the crime where she bought it, the cantankerous old lady that sold it to her, 85-year old Sadie, Besedka Johnson, a remarkable first-time unprofessional actress, and easily the most natural presence onscreen, slams the door in her face before she can utter a word.   


After going on an instant shopping spree for herself and her dog, helping out the aggressively obnoxious roommates downstairs, Stella Maeve as Melissa and James Ransone as Mikey, both regular pill poppers whose adrenaline is always a little over-amped, calmed down by pot smoking, but both are a nervous wreck most of the time who always find themselves in desperate financial straits.  Jane finds a way to accidentally run into Sadie, by paying off her waiting cab at the grocery store and pulling up in her own car, acting neighborly.  The trouble is, Sadie’s been around the block once or twice and she smells a scam when she sees one.  But Jane is kind of a naïve, happy go lucky Ana Faris style girl whose good looks get her through every situation in life, where people will literally step over one another to try to get into position to help her.  Understanding this since about the age of 6, she fully utilizes this kind of attention to her full advantage, wearing barely there Daisy Mae outfits that have all eyes devouring her.  Despite this social phenomena, she simply ignores it most of the time and goes on about her business as if nothing of any significance was happening, constantly smiling, without a care in the world.  Nothing at this point is remotely compelling to the viewer until Jane persists in running into Sadie, who actually calls the cops on her as a stalker and potential scam artist, only to discover she has no rap sheet and the police are calling her a Good Samaritan who is actually trying to help her, offering rides for free instead of having to pay cabfare.  Sadie is the kind of woman who rarely gets exposure in the movies, as at that age, the elderly are invisible, out of sight, out of mind, yet she literally takes over the film.  Slowly and reluctantly, a kind of friendship develops, where it seems Jane wants to mention the money, but Sadie says she has more money than she’ll ever need, as her dead husband was a gambler, and a good one who apparently left her plenty. 


The side stories are completely undeveloped, but notable, where both Melissa and Jane do porn shoots on the side to earn cash, as does Mikey, who seems to think he’s Melissa’s agent as well, but Melissa has been tossed out of the business for 30 days to cool out after a violent, drug induced, temper tantrum nearly costs her a job, where Jane also works a convention circuit selling photos, hyping her merchandise, and mingling with her fans.  Sadie, on the other hand, has ultra conservative neighbors who attempt to gain leverage over her by suing her, claiming injuries from falls on cracks in her sidewalk, or unflattering tree branches that reach into their yards, basically an excuse to bully an elderly lady with self-righteous talk about how she’s a danger to the neighborhood.  Sadie, by some strange quirk of fate, likes the foliage as it keeps her neighbors out of view.  Among the best scenes in the film are quiet and somewhat awkward moments of Sadie opening up about her life, chatting with Jane in her backyard flower garden, where we get a glimpse of an era when she wasn’t a frail elderly lady, but a woman happy to be with the guy she loved, often dreaming of Paris.  Instead she spends her time at weekend bingo games, rarely winning a pot, but loves being part of the action.  The two couldn’t be more different, yet the film simultaneously explores the existential emptiness in both their lives, as neither one has anyone close, where both are forced to suppress their real emotions in order to get through the forced artificiality of their working life or the dreariness of growing old alone, dealing with the onset of old age, where you have to pretend it doesn’t bother you.  Nearly all color has been bleached out of these images, where despite the vacuousness of the toxic atmosphere in the Valley, there’s a quiet mystery to be found under the surface of this odd relationship, where the recurring musical refrain adds to the texture of this gentle portrait.   


User reviews  from imdb Author: Culver Bronsan from Seattle, WA

STARLET is a bold and original independent film. It's not afraid to go places most indies would shy away from, mostly due to not landing a distribution deal etc. That is just one of the many reasons why STARLET has true independent spirit.

I saw STARLET at SXSW earlier this year and it was the most exciting narrative to come out of the fest. Sean Baker is a fearless filmmaker that has already established himself with a diverse body of work. He's one I'll be watching for a longtime to come.

And of course this short review/praise would be incomplete without mentioning the breakthrough performance by Dree Hemingway. You could tell she had complete faith in Baker and it showed in her performance. It's a risky role that she seemed to handle gracefully.

STARLET is a film that challenges it's viewers. It challenges our prejudices and preconceived notions, but it does so with a heart.

Honorable mention: The brilliant, and almost effortless, performance by the dog, "Starlet".

SXSW 2012 Review: Unlikable Supporting ... - Film School Rejects  Kate Erbland

There’s nothing quite like found money to bring out people’s true colors – and, in the case of Sean Baker‘s Starlet, the character that emerges from lead character Jane is surprising to everyone around her, especially herself. Baker’s film centers on Jane (Dree Hemingway), a Florida transplant who now wiles away her days in Los AngelesSan Fernando Valley doing, well, what is it that Jane does? The gorgeous Hemingway spends most of her time driving around with her dog (Starlet, even though he happens to be a boy), getting high with her terrible roommates (an appropriately screeching unhinged Stella Maeve and her dirtbag boyfriend James Ransone), and wearing clothing so short that it nearly becomes its own plot point.

While it’s eventually revealed just what Jane does with her time and for her money, Starlet focuses on an undefined Jane in the film’s first half, a time period in which nothing much happen beyond the introduction of the Starlet’s major plot point, though that only takes less than five minutes. And though we get to know Jane more as the film plods on, it does not prove to be an ultimately rewarding experience. 

Jane, sick of the blank-walled room she rents from Mikey and Melissa, spends a weekend day hitting various garage sales to procure her own furniture and decorations. At Sadie’s (Besedka Johnson) house, she purchases a large flowered Thermos that she’s bent on using as a vase. The crotchety older woman has no bones about telling Jane it is indeed a Thermos and that there are no refunds. But the last thing Sadie needs to hem about is giving Jane back her money, because once Jane has taken the vase home and filled it with water, rolls of hundred dollar bills pop out.

Hemingway (of course, the daughter of Mariel and great-granddaughter of Ernest) is still a somewhat green actress, but the parts of the film that work best are the moments when she is excepted to react in a real world way. From her facial expressions down to her body language, Hemingway’s reactions to some of the unexpected people she meets and situations she finds herself in feel rooted in truth and honesty – particularly as it applies to her discovery of the money and her decision to attempt to give it back to Sadie. These scenes are, however, exceedingly better than the portions of the film where is she clearly under less direction and has been asked to improvise her words and responses (which, unfortunately, make up the majority of the production).

Starlet has been billed as a story of a cross-generational friendship between Jane and Sadie – and while their chemistry eventually comes together, the film takes far too long to get to the meat of their story. And although their relationship hits some emotional beats, it’s still quite predictable, and it feels far too much like other independent features of the same mold. The film itself is also perhaps about twenty minutes or so too long, and though Baker’s choice to focus on Jane’s trashy roommates and skeezy boss makes sense (it’s far nicer to see Jane with Sadie than the rest of them), they are unshaded characters and generally revolting to watch for any extended period of time. Starlet itself is a fine watch, and despite some inspired moments, it too feels unshaded and forgettable.

The Upside: An often lovely performance from Dree Hemingway; brief bits of inspired cohesion between writing, directing, acting, theme, and aim.

The Downside: Unsympathetic and uninteresting supporting characters; a bloated runtime; an ultimately directionless plot that feels like a million other films of its same ilk.

Golden Girls: Sean Baker's Starlet - Cinema Scope  Adam Nayman, also includes an interview with the director

The opening shot of Sean Baker’s fourth feature Starlet is beautiful, and not just because it (eventually) rests on Dree Hemingway. Underneath dreamy, faintly menacing music by Manual, we fade up on a mottled wall cast in sunlight, with some sort of tousled mass peeking out slightly from below. That little blonde outcropping is our deceptively unceremonious introduction to Jane, who is given to sleeping in late because there’s no need in her life for an early start. As the music cuts out, she sits up, slumping against the edge of the frame and yawning the hair away from her face. She’s hardly ready for her close-up, but there it is anyway.

It’s quite literally apparent from the first shot that Starlet is a movie made by a director who is thinking on the job, as he did in his nimble New York City neorealist films Take Out (2004, about an illegal Chinese immigrant hustling to pay off his former traffickers) and Prince of Broadway (2008, a Dardennes-inflected paternity tale populated by contraband hucksters). But the cogitation is subtle enough that the sleepy-eyed might mistake it for just another L.A. story. In more ways than one, Jane is a type: within the world of the film she’s just another snake-hipped chick walking her little Chihuahua (the movie’s true namesake, played by Baker’s own dog, Boonee) around the San Fernando Valley, but she’s also familiar enough as a protagonist—the pretty young thing who goes west to either be disabused of her notions of stardom or else painfully abused in its pursuit. “I swear to God, it’s like somebody took America by the East Coast, and shook it, and all the normal girls managed to hang on,” snarked Robert Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), neatly encapsulating the attitude of most moviemakers towards female characters in this particular milieu—that all that’s waiting for them in Hollywood is the bed they’ve made for themselves and the entreaty to lie in it.

For Jane, it’s a futon: she’s crashing with Melissa (Stella Maeve) and her boyfriend Mikey (James Ransone), and it’s obvious that she doesn’t much like her living situation since the first words out of her mouth—after rousing Melissa from THC-induced unconsciousness on the living room floor—are “Can I change my room?” Scouring neighbourhood rummage sales for affordable feng shui props, she finds some cheap picture frames and a thermos that she thinks would make for a nice vase; Mikey and Melissa are more interested in their ongoing game of Call of Duty. So far, so Lifestyles of the Poor, Young, and Feckless, but Starlet surprises its audience and its main character in one fell swoop. The thermos contains wadded up rolls of hundred-dollar bills, and suddenly Jane—whom we already have seen donating blood, seemingly for money—is flush with cash.

“Question: Say you found like a shitload of money…what would you do?” asks Jane in a mutually glazed moment with Melissa, zoning out half-lidded in front of a rerun of Greg the Bunny (the Fox sitcom that begins Baker’s resume). “Fuck it, it’s yours,” is the other girl’s response, but nothing in Starlet is that simple, not even this very exchange, which, along with many other scenes (including the bit where Jane donates blood), will be suggestively re-contextualized later on. The thermos’ former owner turns out to be Sadie (Besedka Johnson), who, like Jane, is a type: a muttering old woman in a cluttered old house whose hostility borders on Lynchian eccentricity. The apparent unlikelihood that Jane would want to give the money back, much less suffer even a moment’s rudeness during a pseudo-reconnaissance mission to Sadie’s place, is matched by the unlikelihood that an indie drama about characters separated by six decades striking up an intense friendship could be anything but maudlin, precious, or ridiculous. But Starlet, which is extremely well-written (by Baker and Chris Bergoch) and acted, transcends both its L.A. Movie and Lifetime Movie set-ups.

Starlet also transcends—though that’s maybe not the right word—its other major narrative revelation, which has to do with how Jane makes the money she does have. It’s a twist that Baker places relatively late in the game—about 40 minutes in—but one that’s impossible to not disclose in order to discuss the film at all. Jane acts in pornographic movies: she’s a rising star(let) at a company called Rampage, where Melissa works also. (Mikey, hilariously played by Ransone, is a hybrid boyfriend/pimp/manager figure who obviously gets off on having a girlfriend in the business of getting people off, but the sleaze factor is otherwise surprisingly low.) Whether or not viewers are actually blindsided by this twist, which is hinted at many times in everything from incidental dialogue to Jane’s endearingly skimpy wardrobe (and that pitiful blood donation might really have been a job-mandated test), the real surprise is how Baker treats it. Which is to say: explicitly, matter-of-factly, as one significant component of Jane’s life but not as something that she (or we) should be stigmatized by—not even the likely to be much-discussed hardcore sequence. It’s also not really a factor in the evolution of her relationship with Sadie.

What really shouldn’t be spoiled about Starlet are the scenes between Jane and Sadie, which are lightly comic and occasionally even cute (that most verboten of modes in serious cinema), but which are also suffused with different and occasionally overlapping shades of sadness and melancholy. Jane’s burgeoning affection for her bingo-hall pal is laced with guilt and a fear of being found out, while Sadie’s defensive posture is both hard-earned and hard-edged (one early encounter ends with the younger woman getting maced in the face). The idea of two very different women who are lonely in superficially distinct but underlyingly compatible ways is powerful, and Baker keeps coming up with scenes that develop—as opposed to simply reiterate—this theme. Calling a film “generous” is an empty-calorie compliment (especially since it implies that films that don’t “love” their characters are somehow ethically suspect), but the way that Baker gives everyone, even the moronic Mikey, a fair shake in the end is rare. In another film, Maeve’s Melissa, who eventually figures out that Jane wasn’t speaking hypothetically, would have been a walking plot device; here she gets a pair of scenes that afford her just as many complex emotions as the leads, even as she tries to tear down everything that they (and the film) have built.

It’s easy enough to see that Starlet is a gorgeous-looking movie: cinematographer Radium Cheung, whose credits as a grip run the gamut from Swimfan (2002) to Blue Valentine (2010), is obviously a major talent who understands the sun-blind look of Southern California. What’s harder and more rewarding to discern is just how lovely Starlet is at its core—how it understands the difference between sentiment and sentimentality and does justice to the former while adroitly sidestepping the latter. As a showcase for two actresses making their debuts, it feels, if not unprecedented, then at least momentous. Hemingway’s famous last name (remember that her mom did the ingenue thing back in 1983 in Star 80) and supermodel status shouldn’t confuse the issue of her performance, which is unaffected, natural, and superb; the fact that Johnson is an unknown makes for good press release copy, but there’s a finesse to her acting that goes beyond canny casting. They absolutely deserve each other. And Baker’s film deserves a good, hard look rather than the half-hearted glance that a plot synopsis in a program note might seem to warrant. Yes, it’s another movie about the seedy side of showbiz, and yes, it’s a movie where an adorable dog is both used as a plot point and gifted with a few reaction shots. It’s also very, very good.

SXSW REVIEW: Sean Baker's 'Starlet' a Provocative Showcase for ...  Eric Kohn from indieWIRE


Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]


Starlet: SXSW Review - The Hollywood Reporter  John DeFore


Variety [Peter DeBruge]


Bakshi, Ralph



USA  (76 mi)  1973


Slant Magazine review  Ed Gonzalez


Ralph Bakshi's cartoon Heavy Traffic ferociously mixes in live-action elements, tracing the schizophrenic journey of a struggling cartoonist through a crippling '70s New York City. As preposterous as it is urgent, Bakshi's disconcerting manifesto is ripe with racial tensions, sexual ambiguities and seemingly prefigures both AIDS and Giuliani. Michael is a virgin, caught up in the riptide of his parents' chaotic relationship: his father is a low-life cheating Italian, his mother a foul-mouthed Jewish harpy. He is unloved and ridiculed into committing rape. He takes to the streets, coming in contact with an assortment of underground lowlifes that disgust, scare and inspire him to draw. Heavy Traffic followed Bakshi's now-classic Fritz the Cat and is alive with the same kind of gritty aplomb familiar to early Abel Ferrara works. Heavy Traffic is all over the place but this deliriously perverted, ghostly film about artists struggling against poverty is a frightening blast from the past.


Bakuradze, Bakur



Russia  (124 mi)  2011


Cannes 2011. Snapshots: Bakur Bakuradze's "The Hunter"  Marie-Pierre Duhamel at Cannes from Mubi, May 22, 2011

Bakur Bakuradze is a director of great tenacity, of strong stylistic choices, of clear standpoints in the way he looks at Russia to design his stories.

All the qualities he showed in his previous works, including the beautiful documented-fiction short Moscow, are reflected in his film in Un Certain Regard, The Hunter.

The main character of this new film takes something from Bakuradze's previous anti-hero Shultes: a man of not many words and of a strong physical presence (Bakuradze's talent in casting and actors' direction is exceptional). The mise-en-scène (precise even when elliptical, always at the right distance) takes the best from its semi-documentary position to tell of a man, of his handicapped son (how to help him conquer his autonomy), of his lover (a woman prisoner he hired from the town prison manager to work in his farm), of his family and environment.

The film, soft-paced yet filled with tension, in which faces, gestures, actions and words are the tangible result of an obviously patient and keen observation of reality and people, can be seen as a melancholic song, a ballad sung in an undertone. The woman prisoner is liberated and has to go back to...what? The boy with a bad arm will be able to hunt together with his dad, the farm-factory will go on and maybe expand...yet everybody, somehow and at times, is "Humiliated and Insulted." Even the father-hunter-boss.

Not a "typically Russian" film, stylistically picturesque, not a film that summons the masters nor provides ready-to-use references: just contemporary cinema.

The Hunter  Fionnuala Halligan at Cannes from Screendaily, May 21, 2011

Hyper-naturalistic (fielding an entire cast of non-professionals), agricultural, and glacial in pace, Bakur Bakuradze’s second film The Hunter (Okhotnik) is unafraid to make demands of its audience over a two-hour-plus running time. Set on a pig-farm in Pskov in Russia’s Northwest, it is dramatically uneventful yet occasionally watchable - if the viewer buys into its policy of strict information-rationing.

Following up Shultes, which also received an Un Certain Regard berth at Cannes, Bakuradze has become even more elusive in his plotting. This deliberate setting aside of narrative combined with a sparseness in production (there is no score, for example, and hardly any dialogue) and lengthy running time will see The Hunter confined to the more rarified end of the festival circuit, where it may draw a following. Theatrical exposure at home would appear to be a challenge.

The Hunter tracks day-to-day life on a remote pig farm where Ivan (Barskovich) lives with his wife, young son Kolya (Avdochenok) and teenage daughter. He runs the business watchfully with the help of manager Viktor (Degilev), who is the closest he has to a friend.

His son has only one arm and occasionally visits the doctor, or a health spa, for treatment, and is keen to become a boar hunter like his father. Kolya frets that he will not be able to hold the rifle and Ivan becomes increasingly concerned with this potential problem.

To the ambient sounds of grinding farm machinery and squealing pigs, an exhausted sow gives birth and is rapidly sent for impregnation again. The local mill is forced to close due to a temporary shortage of flax, and Ivan hires two women from the plant to muck out his pig pens.

It slowly becomes apparent that they are part of a local prison labour camp. One cannot stomach life on a livestock farm; the second, Lyuba, appears more engaged in the routine, and we note that Ivan is watching her.

Bakuradze’s camera studies the daily grind of life on this farm, largely carried out in silence. Ivan, Kolya and Viktor visit a sausage factory and invest in similar machinery for their own farm. They take their pig carcasses in the back of a van to local abattoirs (vegetarians may not warm to this film).

They go out on the lake in a boat, trying to see a WWII fighter plane that was shot down by Nazis and now lies below the waters. They notice the tracks of some poachers. Kolya develops a fondness for the raccoons Viktor is breeding for a winter hat. Life follows a set routine.

Bakuradze’s use of non-actors works in this setting, and Ivan in particular is a natural, his performance complemented by Lyuba’s angular, silent face.

The director clearly believes that the audience will be drawn into their silent world, to become part of the gaps between them; but The Hunter’s running time is leisurely for a film this dramatically sparse. Technically, The Hunteris clearly limited by budget concerns, but some strong sound work and smart editing make it feel like a smooth enough ride. 

Balabanov, Alexei


BROTHER (Brat)                                                    A                     95

Russia  (96 mi) 1997


from the Pacific Cinematheque (link lost): 


"The best Russian movie I have seen in years."  —J. Hoberman, Village Voice

"Russian noir comes of age with Alexei Balabanov's Brother, a tough, taut, expertly made gangster movie about a baby-faced former soldier boy from the countryside (Sergei Bodrov Jr.) who takes today's St. Petersburg by storm, creating a trail of dead Chechen thugs and blown-away local mafia before hitchhiking by truck to his future destination. Where next? 'Moscow!' he says with a crooked smile. Director Balabanov is brilliant at getting at the cruel, chaotic, anything-goes Yeltsin-era Russia. Still, the movie belongs to Bodrov, who previously played the nice young soldier in Prisoner of the Mountains (which was made by his father, Sergei Bodrov Sr.)... On screen here, he's a primal throwback to Cagney in The Public Enemy and Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, a charismatic killer with a wan smile, a goofy, junior-high-bully's voice, a dim intelligence, and a disquieting sweetness, which can appear on display just moments after he's saturated a seedy enemy with hot bullets. He murders and then he listens lovingly to his Sony Walkman: there's a great score throughout of throbbing Russian devil rock!" (Gerald Peary, Boston Phoenix). "Terrifically stylish... Brother has a thread of cynical humor that connects it to the American gangster movies of the 1930s as well as to more recent films like Goodfellas that examine the flashier trappings of macho gangster culture with a satirical eye" (Stephen Holden, New York Times).

Brother   Julian Graffy from Sight and Sound

A small Russian town, the present. Demobbed from the army, Danila Bagrov wanders on to the set of a rock video being made by the band Nautilus Pompilius and gets beaten up. On his mother's advice he leaves for St Petersburg where his brother Vitia lives. Vitia is a petty criminal, hired by gang boss Kruglyi to take out a Chechen who has muscled in on the boss' protection racket. Wandering round the town, Danila saves a man named Gofman from an extortionist and meets Ket, a young girl. Vitia passes on the job of dealing with the Chechen to Danila. He does the killing, but is shot by Kruglyi's men and escapes on a tram driven by a young woman, Sveta. Later, he and Sveta attend a Nautilus concert together.

After an evening with Ket, Danila is asked by Vitia to do another job. He joins two crooks on a stakeout of a flat, but while they are waiting for their quarry, he wanders upstairs where his hero Viacheslav Butusov, the leader of Nautilus Pompilius, is at a party. He kills the crooks and saves the man they have taken hostage. Searching for Danila, Kruglyi's men badly beat up Sveta and terrorise Vitia into summoning Danila into a trap. Danila kills Kruglyi and his men, and persuades Vitia to go home to look after their aged mother. After parting with Sveta, Gofman and Ket, he leaves for Moscow.


In Danila Bagrov, Aleksei Balabanov gives us a new type of hero, experienced yet unformed, a killer with the innocent face of a Young Pioneer. Every enthusiasm he acquires - from the music of Nautilus Pompilius (quite wrong for him, being the cult band of the previous generation) to his new clothes and haircut, from killing for a living to his moves to St Petersburg and Moscow - is suggested to him by someone else. Constantly in motion, he's searching for a father figure, be he the brother who helped bring him up, or the Petersburg-German Gofman of whom he asks the perennial Russian question "Why do we live?", or the musician Viacheslav Butusov. He's descended from both the strong, silent heroes of Russian folklore and the inscrutable outsider heroes of Clint Eastwood's Sergio Leone movies and Taxi Driver, who arrive in town and proceed to "clean it up". Yet he is also (and this is Balabanov's major achievement) a representative of a post-Soviet generation unexpectedly released from the cage of moral and social certainties. The resulting confusions are effectively conveyed by the slightly bland good looks and the understated acting of Sergei Bodrov in his second major role after springing to fame in his father's Prisoner of the Mountains.

When, at the end of the film, having wasted half a dozen 'bad guys', Danila goes out once more on to the great Russian road, he seems scarcely more certain about his intentions. The film gains hugely from this openness, from its refusal to editorialise. Yet there is ample evidence for us to draw our own conclusions from the reactions of the other characters. For his brother Vitia everything in the new Russia can be reduced to biznez. Druggy, affectless Ket hangs out with him when he has money and ignores him when he hasn't. But Sveta, to his bemusement, would rather stay with her violent but humanly comprehensible husband than leave with a tough guy who thinks shooting can solve every problem, and Gofman, eking out a living with the down and outs, tells him the city has destroyed him. What both these characters have, and what Danila conspicuously lacks, is some sense of community.

Brother is the only one of Balabanov's films to be set in a socially articulated contemporary Russia, and it effectively delineates the contradictions between the provinces and the big city, between the penurious old Russia and the new Russia of petty mafiosi and feckless youth. It shows the casual contemporary Russian racism towards Jews, Chechens and other "black-arsed" trans-Caucasians. In Danila, it illustrates the beginning of the backlash against total cultural Americanisation.

Above all the film gives a wonderfully resonant picture of modern St Petersburg, the most ambiguous and multifarious of Russian cities. When Danila arrives we are given brief glimpses of its classical centre, including the statue of the Bronze Horseman by the Neva, but we also get the tenement blocks of 19th-century Petersburg, inhabited by the heroes of Gogol and Dostoevsky. (Indeed the whole film can be seen as an ironic subversion of Crime and Punishment, with the killing but without the repentance.) And, cheek by jowl, we also see the Soviet Leningrad of communal flats and the new, bourgeois Petersburg of the glamorous rock elite.

Balabanov's other films - his first film Happy Days, his wonderful short Trofim and his most recent meditation on the underside of early photography Of Freaks and Men (reviewed on page 53) - are also set in St Petersburg and have outsiders wandering its streets and exposing its paradoxes. Brother lacks those films' visual elegance and bravado, but it is in itself a superbly assured piece of work. Tight editing and a repeated use of fading-to-black give it an episodic, fractured quality, appropriate to Danila's inchoate personality. It is a work of great cinematic confidence with a subtle script, telling performances and a clever, contrapuntal use of music. A triumph in Russia, particularly among the young, it's one of the most perceptive, unpartisan diagnoses of the ambiguities of the new Russia and deserves a wider audience. Meanwhile, this spring will see the Russian premiere of Brother-2, which traces the further adventures of Danila in Moscow and Chicago.

OF FREAKS AND MEN (Pro urodov i lyudey)             A-                    93

Russia  (89 mi)  1998


A delightful film, with terrific use of very Russian music, Prokofiev and Mussorgsky, which is exaggerated to such a degree that it becomes comical and extremely clever.  It’s superbly filmed in monochrome by Sergei Astakhov using sepia-toned photographic imagery representing the transitional era in the late 19th century from using still photographs to the birth of cinema.  Voyeurism is used as a common theme, reflected in the business of pushing dirty post cards, beautiful women (Dinara Drukarova) bearing their behinds for a flogging, then filling the movie houses with similar imagery, adding an odd element of “freaks,” the fascination to look at and watch strange and devious things.  Siamese twins are exploited for this purpose, selling naked photos of the boys, filming images of getting one of them drunk, putting them onstage where they sing beautiful songs while accompanied by an accordion, but they are seen and understood as freaks. 
Using silent era inner titles for humor, also ornate period costumes which add to the ravishing beauty, somewhat reminiscent of Janos Szabo’s THE WITMAN BOYS, accentuating sex instead of violence, the film captures a world filled with dark, brooding self-absorbed men, cold, underworld characters in suits and bowler hats creeping through the darkened streets, stairways, and hallways, even traveling down city canals, under bridges, carrying white lilies for their ladies in a steam-powered boat while accompanied by this comically accentuated, ultra-dramatic music, before being seen filming their naked girls, whose white skin is the only light in this otherwise darkened universe, where these men would murder anyone who stood in their way.  Balabanov indicated he preferred using the empty streets of St. Petersburg in order to accentuate the architecture, filming inside various museums which donated their elaborate decor as well as their authentic costumes.    


from the Pacific Cinematheque (link lost): 


"Insinuating itself into the viewer's mind the way its nefarious lead characters corrupt and undermine two families in turn-of-the-century Russia, Of Freaks and Men is a dark gem. References for this picture, shot almost entirely in tinted-sepia re-creations of period daguerreotypes, are tough to find, but one could look to David Lynch and Canadian cult auteur Guy Maddin. But Freaks contrasts sharply with both in its fidelity to its sympathetic characters and the central premise that sex is the sinister undoing of both the innocent and the evil. Two St. Petersburg families, one high-society and one middle-class, come into contact with the strange, dour Johann, a professional producer of still pornography, which appears to be a booming trade in old St. Pete. Railroad engineer Radlov is being treated for a heart condition by upper-crust Dr. Stasov, but what binds them more than medicine is Johann's hold on Radlov's seemingly innocent daughter, Lisa, and the good doctor's maid, Darya. Like a merry, malevolent middle man, Johann's henchman Victor creeps between households peddling the photos and developing a taste for the illicit. Thought provoking, funny, disturbing and utterly involving, Freaks marks a terrific follow-up to Balabanov's award-winning 1997 Russian box-office hit, Brother. Cinematographer Sergei Astakhov's carefully modulated and composed sepia-tone images are both disconcerting and hypnotically mood-enhancing" (Steven Gaydos, Variety).

Of Freaks and Men   Jonathan Romney from Sight and Sound (excerpt)

Balabanov is, in a sense, doing a service to the history of Russian cinema, rescuing it from its onerous reputation for ideological high-mindedness. He fairly exhaustively drags the high canon of Russian cultural values down to cinema's level, enlisting the music of Prokofiev and Musorgsky, and revealing Petersburg's most grandiose buildings as hiding murky subterranean secrets. Victor Ivanovich walks down a sweeping marble stairway that narrows from shot to shot, leading to the cellar where the gang produces its wares. The film is an outstanding essay on city architecture, especially in its exploration of Petersburg's waterways, with Johan's final journey more akin to a funeral trip.

Russian literature has a long tradition of the arcane and abject, and Balabanov's real precursors here are writers such as Gogol, Bulgakov (in the diabolical mode of The Master and Margarita) and Andrei Bely, in his modernist panorama Petersburg. Most of all, Of Freaks and Men is Dostoevskian, with Johan an archetypal wanderer from the west and an epileptic, albeit no holy fool.

Despite the sepia photography, the period dressing and the wry intertitles, the film only takes its early-cinema pastiche so far. Balabanov is more concerned to develop his own style of melancholy grotesque, which has its closest affinities with David Lynch (this film is to the Tsarist drawing room what Blue Velvet was to small-town suburbia) and Peter Greenaway, with its symmetries, doublings and highlighted artifice. Balabanov has a particular genius for faces, and the casting is flawless, from the maidenly blankness of Dinara Drukarova as Liza, to Sergei Makovetskii's glacially dour Johan. Balabanov's regular star Viktor Sukhorukov is especially memorable as Victor Ivanovich, his simian grin the true stuff of nightmares.

Even Lynch and Greenaway have rarely left an audience with such a bitterly ironic punchline. Liza, left drifting in the west, purges her melancholy with a spanking session at the hands of an androgynous, rather anachronistic leather boy: you can't escape either your conditioning or your libido. Nor can you get away from the fate of film: Johan, the would-be mogul, may have met his downfall, but celluloid sleaze is very much the coming thing. As Johan drifts down the Neva on his ice floe, half Frankenstein, half defeated Aguirre, we pretty much know what's in store: the rest is 20th-century cinema history. 

DVD Talk (David Walker)      


CARGO 200 (Gruz 200)

Russia  (89 mi)  2007                Official site [Russia]


Time Out New York  Wally Hammond

Balabanov having put his idiosyncratic stamp on the perverse art-movie ('Of Freaks and Men') and and the populist gangster film ('Brother 1 & II') turns to to the horror genre in this, his latest, possibly allegorical,  provocation set  in a grimey industrial town in Kazakhstan (Leninsk, whose history  includes the gulag made famous by Solzenitsyn and the secret  headquarters of Russia's early space and nuclear missile facilities) during the period of 'shortages', war  (in Afghanistan) and so-called perestroika in 1984.  A compromised Professor of Atheism (Leonid Gromov), whose car breaks down, and a partying young couple,  a self-seeking would-be entrepreneur (Leonid Bicevin) and the vulnerable party chief's daughter (Agniya Kuznetsova) he's picked up, find their paths cross at an isolated illegal drinking hole patrolled by a chillingly  creepy  look-out (Alexei Poluyan), a moonlighting local police captain and psychopath. Balabanov, adopting a tone which blends the explicitness and moral inscrutiblility  of John McNaughton's 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer' with a cynical black humour  that exceeds even Kubrick's at his darkest, contextualises the ensuing terror against a carefully, brilliantly observed background of wholesale degradation, personal,  environmental, political, moral and, most significantly, religious. Whether this superbly-acted, finely-directed, vision of hell is intended as a despairing state-of-the-nation address or a shocking spirital wake-up call is unclear; what is certain, it's certainly  provides this year's grizzliest cinematic ghost-ride. As the opening credits calmly inform us, it's based on a true story.

The Village Voice [Vadim Rizov]

Aleksei Balabanov's Cargo 200 is an unflinching portrait of the grim vileness of Soviet Russia in 1984; from an American perspective, though, it looks awfully like The Leninsk Chainsaw Massacre. Balabanov—one of Russia's most popular (and nationalistic) directors—insists his movie is in no way genre-oriented. So, when watching this cavalcade of atrocities, keep in mind that the opening title announcing "Based on true events" isn't just the usual slasher trope, but a mission statement. When not supervising the beating of prisoners, sadistic police captain Zhurov (Aleksei Poluyan) hangs out at the rural shack of Aleksey (Aleksei Serebryakov), where illicit sales of hardcore grain vodka are supposed to finance the creation of a utopian "City of the Sun." What happens instead is straight out of the Tobe Hooper playbook: girl gets brought out by a drunk guy to pick up more drink; girl gets kidnapped by Zhurov and repeatedly raped and brutalized. What Balabanov is getting at is the scandal of the U.S.S.R.'s war in Afghanistan: "Cargo 200" is code for the return shipment of dead soldiers. The film's key shot is of a runway where bodies are unloaded from one side of a plane while soldiers run onto the plane simultaneously. It's hard not to watch the whole thing as exceedingly black comedy: The outrages (many and constant) stop being appalling and become grimly amusing. By the time Zhurov dumps the corpse of his captive's fiancé (straight back from Afghanistan) onto the bed where she's chained and reads the soldier's unsent love letters without any inflection, it feels as if you're watching some kind of deranged performance-art piece. Regardless of intent, Cargo 200 is beautifully filmed and completely disturbing for its entire running time.  Yana Litovsky

Cargo 200’s nightmarish depiction of the Soviet Union obliterates whatever feelings of Soviet nostalgia that may be surfacing in Putin’s Russia. Director and provocateur Alexey Balabanov sinks his teeth into a profoundly disturbing real-life kidnapping, using its grisly details as a prism for the rotting state of the mid-’80s Soviet machine, just years shy of its collapse.

The events unfold in and around a hellish industrial wasteland, near where the car of Artem (Leonid Gromov), a professor of atheism and proud member of the Communist Party, breaks down on the side of the road. Seeking help, he wanders into a tucked-away moonshine distillery run by a boorish alcoholic with dreams of Russia’s religious reawakening.

After a drunken debate about Soviet godlessness—the film’s most direct verbalization of the looming ideological shift—the academic leaves and is soon followed by the arrival of a young couple fresh from the local disco. After one too many glassfuls of homemade vodka leaves the boy incapacitated on the floor, his companion—the virginal daughter of a communist official—is kidnapped by Zhurov (Alexei Poluyan), the deeply disturbed watchman, who believes that he is taking for himself a bride.

When he’s not tormenting his new ”wife”—sodomizing her, stripping her naked, and handcuffing her to his bed—the psychopathic Zhurov commands the local police force. The terror and corruption perpetrated by him and his cronies is so systematic that the callous murder of a prisoner by the police, among other examples, is carefully staged and all but officially documented.

While its on-going perversion may be exaggerated, Cargo 200 accurately taps into the foulness of the decaying Soviet regime. The title refers to the military code word for the coffins of fallen soldiers shipped back for burial from the war in Afghanistan. Though that conflict isn’t central to the film, its futility is used to color in the mood of the ’80s, along with the zeitgeisty mix of restless underground rock and kitschy pop tunes. A darkly ironic scene showing new recruits running onto a cargo plane at the same time as caskets are loaded off works as heavy-handed but biting symbolism of not only the pointless war but of the self-destructive elements about to rip the country apart.

Balabanov condemns the Soviet Union’s twilight years more brutally than any filmmaker to date. But unlike the psychological torture of watching Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (2007), for example, this agonizing look at the dark recesses of humanity is at least intended as a means to an end. And, with the benefit of hindsight, the director suggests that the collapse of communism may have only exchanged one putrid and corrupt lifestyle for another.

Kinokultura [Tony Anemone]


East European Film Bulletin [Konstanty Kuzma]


Dead Souls: "Alexey Balabanov's 'Cargo 200'" | Indiewire  Eric Hynes, also seen here:  Cargo 200 | Reverse Shot [Michael Atkinson]


Eye For Film [Michael Pattison]


Slant Magazine [Nick Schager] [Omar P.L. Moore]


Twitch [Ard Vijn]


Cargo 200 : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video  Bill Gibron


National Public Radio [Mark Jordan Legan]


The L Magazine [Henry Stewart]


DVD Verdict [Joel Pearce]


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]


Best Movies by Farr [John Farr]


Cargo 200 - The Hollywood Reporter  Neil Young


Cargo 200 | Variety  Alissa Simon


Bad Soviet Memories Keep on Curdling - The New York Times  also seen here:  New York Times


Cargo 200 (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Balagueró, Jaume


DARKNESS                                                 C                     72

Spain  Italy  (102 mi)  2002


Despite the presence of Anna Paquin, this is little more than a haunted house, creepy coven of witches ghost story.  Relying on repressed images, which only late in the film come to fruition, the story only grows more and more preposterous until eventually, despite a fairly interesting finale, we have lost nearly all our interest.  A few bold images early in the film would have held the audience’s attention much more than this long, drawn out series of empty gestures that only in the last three minutes comes together.  Poorly directed, without attention to that thing called suspense, this looks good but falls pretty flat.     


SLEEP TIGHT (Mientras duermes)

Spain  (102 mi)  2011  ‘Scope               Official site [es]


Film Blather [E. Novikov]

Jaume Balaguero’s Sleep Tight is a feature-length illustration of the principle that misery loves company — that unhappy people treat happiness as a zero-sum game, raising their own spirits by making others miserable. It’s an enduring truth made bluntly literal by this thriller about a Barcelona building super whose only source of joy is wiping the smiles off the faces of the posh, cheery tenants he has to serve. His campaign is multi-pronged and sometimes subtle, but his primary target is Clara, the beautiful and seemingly irrepressible young woman on the 5th floor.

Balaguero came to prominence with [REC], the Spanish found-footage sensation that was remade in the States as Quarantine; he attempted an American crossover with the underrated supernatural thriller Darkness. The versatile filmmaker approaches Sleep Tight as a grim, methodical procedural told from the point of view of the villain, who sneaks around unseen executing his increasingly elaborate plots as we wait with bated breath for something to go wrong. It’s suspenseful stuff, filmed with a lush, old-fashioned professionalism, occasionally leavened with some gallows humor. (A precocious young girl in the building has Cesar figured out and blackmails him; he sabotages the special diet of a kind old lady’s dog.) But the emotional stakes are a little low. We can only get so engaged in the exploits of a guy who’s basically just being a douchebag.

The most intriguing part of Sleep Tight is Cesar’s visits with his hospitalized mother, whom he regales with the stories of his various schemes. At first I thought she was a co-conspirator, but no: at one point, she loses consciousness and Cesar physically turns her face toward him and keeps talking. This, we realize, is how he tortures her; how deep his bitterness and ill-will runs. That part of the story might have made a more interesting film. [James Mudge]

“Sleep Tight” was one of the films screening at the festival that had been the subject of most critical praise, a dark Spanish suspense thriller from Jaume Balaguero, one half of the “[REC]” directing team. The acclaimed film sees top Spanish actor Luis Tosar (who delivered a towering performance in the recent “Cell 211”) as Cesar, a quiet, kind seeming man who works as a janitor at a posh old apartment building in Barcelona and is well liked by all the inhabitants. However, Cesar has a sinister secret, spending his nights stalking and hiding under the bed of beautiful tenant Clara (Marta Etura, also in “Cell 211”), carrying out a strange and twisted campaign against the unfortunate young woman. Although Cesar seems to have everything under control, a nosy child across the hallway and a police investigation threaten his plans, and it all soon starts to fall apart.

‘Hitchcockian’ is an overused cinematic adjective, though here it’s truly fitting, as “Sleep Tight” is a marvellous, cunningly constructed piece of near-immaculate tension and twists, Balaguero notching up the suspense throughout. The film also resembles Hitchcock through its pitch black sense of coffin humour, things becoming ever more complicated and it looking increasingly less likely that Cesar will succeed in whatever it is his scheme entails, and it plays out almost like a creepy comedy of errors. It’s no easy ask to feature such an unpleasant protagonist and still hold the interest and generate sympathy, but thanks to a marvellous showing from the hugely talented Luis Tosar, the film is never anything less than gripping, and there’s more than a touch of Almodóvar to the way in which things eventually pan out.

“Sleep Tight” is well deserving of the praise heaped upon it, standing as one of the best thrillers of the year, and being very likely to be a break out foreign language hit.

The A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

In one of the most famous scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Anthony Perkins tries to dispose of a murder victim by putting her in the trunk of her car and then pushing it into a swamp. As the vehicle sinks—way too slowly—the film momentarily encourages the audience to sympathize with a madman’s frustrations. Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight is like a feature-length version of that Psycho scene. Luis Tosar stars as a misanthropic, suicidal apartment-complex doorman/handyman who’s dedicated himself to making the residents’ lives miserable, in ways both subtle and horrific. He waters the plants at the wrong time of day, so they’ll die; he feeds one old woman’s dog the wrong food, to give it diarrhea; he hides rotten fruit in the back of a refrigerator; and so on. He’s especially determined to depress the chipper, pretty young Marta Etura. He sends her threatening letters and texts, and sneaks into her apartment to inject skin-irritants into her beauty products and to plant insect eggs. As Tosar perpetually skirts around the edge of being caught—or being exposed by Etura’s nosy pre-teen neighbor Iris Almeida Molina—the viewer has to decide whether to root for this creep to succeed.

Granted, it isn’t that big of a dilemma. As much of a sad-sack as Tosar is, he’s never likeable, per se—which means Sleep Tight is mainly just a clever exercise in inverting a common suspense plot, by holding to the prowler’s point of view. The shift in perspective also means Sleep Tight isn’t terribly scary, because the audience is stuck with the person who has almost all the power: the stalker, not the stalkee. But Balagueró—best known for directing the first two parts of the [Rec] series—has a fine control of pacing and tone, and is able to keep Sleep Tight gripping throughout, right up its shocking final act. The whole movie could be seen as a high-difficulty challenge for the director and for screenwriter Alberto Marini, who try to keep viewers involved with the machinations of a terrible human being. This is a crime story with little to no interest in the who or the why, but only the what and the how. It’s a reverse-procedural, tracking not the solution of a crime, but all of its awful particulars.

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

Last year, while friend and frequent collaborator Paco Plaza was driving a nail into their [Rec] franchise, Jaume Balagueró was slicking up this taut psychological thriller, which leans a little too heavily on the dime-store psychoanalysis of Psycho's disheartening studio-mandated finale. It begins on a Monday, with César (Luis Tosar) waking up next to some honey, Clara (Marta Etura), and going about his day as the doorman of their lovely Barcelona apartment building, setting out the day's newspapers, sorting mail, opening the elevator door for tenants, and offering to feed Sra. Verónica's dogs while she's out for the evening. But things aren't as they seem: Clara doesn't speak to César as a lover might (that isn't him in the photo by her bed), a foul-mouthed brat ballsily shakes him down for money, and rather than feast on the potato pie that Sra. Verónica (Petra Martínez) left for him, he feeds it to her pooches. There's also his mother, dying at a nearby hospital and forced to endure in her seemingly catatonic state her son's curious rants about the building's one particularly tough holdout. César, it seems, doesn't like it when people are happy.

Balagueró is a skillful craftsman of glossy Hollywood calling cards, and Sleep Tight, which chronicles César's weeks-long assault on Clara's particularly adamant optimism, moves briskly as the overzealous doorman sets one joy-wrecking mouse trap after another. Hiding under Clara's bed almost every night, César chloroforms her so that he can inject a rash-causing substance into her beauty products, but when the makeup she cakes onto her face come morning allows her to keep up her spirits, he seizes on her fear of bugs by infesting her apartment with roaches. The stakes get higher with every breadcrumb the creep lays down, and the film derives sometimes remarkable corkscrew tension from watching César being backed into a corner. It delights in young Úrsula (Iris Almedia Molina) conning César for money (even pornography, recognizing the seed of a future perv in the little girl) in order to keep his secret, and it absolutely thrills in seeing the doorman try to weasel his way out of Clara's apartment after she brings her boyfriend home and César, hiding under the bed as the couple fucks, accidentally chloroforms himself.

Tosar has a history of playing off-color characters, subtly but boldly articulating motivation in ways that often pick up a story's slack, and Sleep Tight's suspense is enriched by his customary conviction; beyond the sweat on César's brow, the panic in his eye, his sly movement and clever explanation for why he was inside Clara's apartment compellingly suggest a history of similar close calls. Of course, not so credible are many of the other characterizations, from the nosy neighbor (Carlos Lasarte) who rather inexplicably hounds César with the knowledge of his past employment to Clara herself, who, though she's tormented almost daily with scary text messages and letters from a secret admirer who likely resides in the building, never suspects César of being the source. As she isn't in cahoots with the cops, her obliviousness is almost cartoonish, as is her sunny, almost naïve disposition, especially during an apartment-wide, only-in-the-movies dance she puts on to shake the bad spell of her admirer's latest torrent of correspondences.

César's process may be convincing, at least more convincing than Clara's boyfriend, Marcos (Alberto San Juan), confronting César after a telling discovery instead of going to the police, though the rationale for the process is more dubious. The idea of a man almost obsessive-compulsively going about erasing people's joy because he's unable to feel joy himself is tritely beholden to the cheapest sort of blame-the-mother psychoanalysis. This is a shame, because given that the building's maid describes the tenants as "posh shits" at one point, the stage seems set for a horror film about class warfare. Times are tough these days, even in Spain, but rather than spike his genre kicks with Buñuelian chutzpah and have César torment his victims in an attempt to level the playing field between the haves and have nots, Balagueró gives us an exterminating angel that, however creepy, has caught a light sneeze from Norman Bates. But times are tough even at the movies these days, so an old-fashioned but spry game of cat and mouse will suffice.

Sleep Tight, Don't Let The Doorman Bite - New York Observer  Rex Reed [Nick Hasted]


Sleep Tight -Bloody Disgusting  David Harley


0-5 Stars Moria - The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review [Richard Scheib]


Brutal As Hell [Marc Patterson]


DVD Talk - Blu-ray [Adam Tyner]


DVD Verdict (Blu-ray) [Daryl Loomis] [Casey Broadwater] [Brian Orndorf]


DVD Sleuth [Mike Long]  Blu-Ray


Dread Central [Brad McHargue] (Blu-ray)


Electric Sheep [Evrim Ersoy] [Jack Gattanella]


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Cinesploitation [Greg Baty]


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Film Comment [Sophie Blum] [Anton Bitel]


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CompuServe [Harvey Karten]


The L Magazine [Henry Stewart] [Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg]


Film School Rejects [Cole Abaius]


NPR [Jeannette Catsoulis] [Eric D.Snider]  also seen here: [Eric D. Snider]


[Interview] Director Jaume Balagueró On Crafting The Suspense Of ‘Sleep Tight’ And The “Harder Horror” Of ‘[REC] 4′!!  Evan Dickson interview from Bloody Disgusting, January 7, 2013


TV Guide [Jason Buchanan]


The Hollywood Reporter [John DeFore]


Variety [Jonathan Holland]


The Cleveland Movie Blog [Bob Ignizio]


'Sleep Tight,' From Jaume Balagueró - Movies - The New York Times  Manohla Dargis


Balekdijan, Frédéric


GAMBLERS (Les mauvais joueurs)                  B+                   91

France  (85 mi)  2005


Very much in the edgy gangster style of Jacques Audiard’s THE BEAT THAT SKIPPED MY HEART, using an in-your-face verité camera style that features plenty of vibrant street action, mixing the look of several different ethnic groups all pitted together in a world where people are constantly in debt.  The camera follows Pascal Elbé, though he starts out almost as a secondary character, as ruthless Armenian mobsters, led by Simon Abkarian from Sally Potter’s film YES, of all films, control the garment district in Paris, running sweatshops with illegal indentured Chinese immigrants whose 24 hour lives locked inside a crowded sewing room resemble human slavery.  Elbé is something of a shakedown artist, a con man who can deliver carpets and provide needed muscle, who never smiles throughout the entire film, where simmering under the surface is the threat of violence and unpredictability, as he’s physically imposing, yet tender and loyal.  His ex-girl friend, Linh Dan Pham, has left him without explanation, though her newly-arrived brother that she doesn’t even know has arrived in Paris and Elbé’s expected to protect him and show him the ropes, but the brother barely speaks French and doesn’t listen to anyone anyway, refusing to work most of the time, preferring instead to read comic books or pursue one of the girls locked up in the sweatshop, which only leads trouble.  Much of the beauty of the film is exposing the space between things, in unprotected moments where people can let their guard down, where some of the best scenes in the film are of this kid, along with other Chinese youths, playing video games, or foosball, while pulsating music rocks the screen.


The film reveals migrant communities through a lens of down and out, hardcore working class immigrants who have few, if any, options.  Elbé, against all odds, actually gives a damn, but in the gangster world, caring means trouble, as it’s perceived as a weakness.  The film is framed by a three card shell game where a talker is continually keeping onlookers off balance, always keeping the cards moving as well, inviting high stakes.  Losers get angry, often times violent, culminating in an extended chase sequence that branches off through sides streets and through the Parisian subway system.  Part of the problem with this film is it’s saturated in macho swagger and style, but little else, as the frenetic pace of the film takes our breath away, where image and music are powerfully effective, and the actors are especially first rate, but other than a near documentary look at a social underclass which we rarely get a chance to see, similar to the Dardennes LA PROMESSE, lives here have little meaning, and are seen as temporary, almost replacement parts to support somebody else’s carefree lifestyle, someone none of these people will ever get a chance to see.  The film breaks down at the end in an unnecessary party sequence, losing its hard-earned edge, as people who have no business being together come together for a New Year’s party which can only erupt in violence and mayhem and complete predictability. 


Ball, Alan


TOWELHEAD                                                          B                     88

aka:  Nothing Is Private

USA  (124 mi)  2008  ‘Scope


Written with a darkly absurd Neil LaBute-style provocation in mind, this film straddles the line between hilarious and outrageous, occasionally veering into cringe territory, but by the end it undermines its own effectiveness by sending too many mixed messages.  But that doesn’t diminish what’s excellent in this movie, which is the wit and stark originality of subject matter, even if its unclear about the message it wants to send.  Introducing brilliant newcomer Summer Bishil as Jasira, who at age 18 plays a 13-year old racially mixed girl caught in an ugly tug of war between her divorced parents who are too absorbed in their own lives to notice her.  Set during the outset of the first Gulf War (prior to 9/11), the film explores racial and sexual stereotyping and its underlying roots simultaneous to Jasira’s sexual awakening, which is anything but typical.  Adapted from the novel by Alicia Erian, herself an Arab-American woman, it’s an interesting gauge on Americana, where people painstakingly show off their patriotism while shoving social concerns to the back burner.  Mario Bello is her flagrantly promiscuous mom in Syracuse, who after discovering her sleazy boy friend was shaving exposed hair around Jasira’s private parts blames her daughter as the provocateur, concluding she needs a stern disciplinarian and ships her off to the suburbs of Houston, Texas to live in the rigid universe of her Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi), a repressed, control freak who is obsessed with the oncoming war and his consuming hatred of Saddam Hussein.  Both are terrible parents in the self-centered, clueless mold, leaving Jasira alone to fend for herself in this coming of age struggle. 


While the film has a touch of caricature to it dressed in a highly stylized, artifical world, where the picture of suburbia is reminiscent of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990), it’s a highly volatile work featuring hormones on overdrive leading to pedophelia and rampant underage sexual activity from masturbation, menstruation and intercourse, some of it seething with a prurient even criminal fascination, exactly the subject sure to enrage social conservatives, just like Jasira’s father who on more than one occasion strikes back with physical blows.  As a result, she has to hide or disguise her activity, leading a secret life that is the subject of the film where there are major questions about her carefully concealed identity.  Puberty is expressed as being a stranger to her own body, which expresses itself through awkward menstruation moments or frequent masturbation images of Jasira rubbing her legs together, including while babysitting or at school, indicating Jasira couldn’t feel more out of place anywhere, especially when she’s also the object of racial taunts, making her life miserable.  The juxtaposition of sex and racial bigotry is a new one, as it’s bound to cause discomfort to the audience.  But rather than slither into a hole of shame and disappear, like a normal high school kid, Jasira instead finds a black boyfriend (Thomas Bradley) that’s sure to enrage her father, an insufferable Army Reserve racist neighbor (Aaron Eckhart) who can’t keep his hands off her, a considerate, near term, pregnant neighbor (Toni Collette) who offers her home as a safe house as she suspects something is up with that Army Reservist, and a hilarious Spanish-speaking janitress (Soledad St. Hilaire) who figures out what she needs while holed up in the school bathroom but can’t understand why her parents don’t speak Spanish at home.  


Intentionally provocative and voyeuristic, especially of Jasira’s sexual promiscuity, coming to the verge of leering without resorting to graphic footage, many of the shots feature adult women showing plenty of cleavage, yet no one wants their young girls displaying the same, and there are several camera shots showing a view as seen through Jasira’s legs, sort of a variation on the Mrs. Robinson shot ( - June 4, 1968 newspaper ad) from THE GRADUATE (1967).  The problem with Jasira’s sexual proclivity is not how as a parent to handle it, as it’s clear these parents haven’t a clue, but how it becomes a sign of her independence from her parents, something she’s never shared with them, ever discussed with them, so it’s portrayed as a sign of choice, of personal courage and liberation instead of moral outrage, as it’s obvious she will have long-lasting negative repurcussions that are never suggested.  This myriad of conflicting emotions may lie at the heart of the film, as it is what every teen going through puberty experiences, but this film offers equal time for confused pedaphiles and abusive parents, continually dwelling on dysfunctional viewpoints, which leaves totally unclear the role of healthy adults who could make a significant difference in these troubled teen lives.  Suburbia as a wasteland is not the whole story.  


The Village Voice [Nick Pinkerton]

American Beauty scribe Alan Ball makes his dreaded feature-directing debut with another tale of suburban purgatory, featuring yet another erotically stifled military man (though pederasty is the forbidden fruit here). Unfolding around the events of the first Gulf War, Towelhead—cringe—follows Jasira (Summer Bishil), a pubescent half-Lebanese girl relocated to live with her father (Peter Macdissi) in Texas sprawl country. Through parental neglect and her own extreme introversion, Jasira's been left to piece together the Sex-Ed basics; as the film's moronic title broadcasts, her journey will be a "provocative" one—and so Ball, who can't conceive of human motives beyond the hypertrophic, smutty sexuality that's his stock in trade, primly divides his characters into avatars of Sick Repression or Healthy Liberation. Hemmed in by her father's Old World patriarchal prohibitions, her own porn-induced body-loathing, and her touchy-feely G.I. neighbor (Aaron Eckhart), Jasira finds shelter with an "earthy" young Edie Brickell–listening couple (presumably Dukakis voters). Intellectual slackness breeds pictorial indifference in endless gray, underlit rooms strafed with hot splotches of "sunlight" suggesting a perpetual supernova outdoors. That our heroine's first menstruation is announced by a low-angle shot through the gore-sullied panties will tell you everything you need to know about that famous Alan Ball touch.

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review

Alan Ball’s Towelhead is a faithful adaptation of Alicia Erian’s snappy novel about a 13-year-old mixed-race girl, Jasira (Summer Bishil), who finds herself caught between many rocks and even more hard places. Men have started sniffing her up, projecting things on her. Her mother’s boyfriend volunteers to shave her pubic hair—which results in her being shipped off to live in the Houston suburbs with her Lebanese dad (Peter Macdissi), who promptly slaps her when she shows up at the breakfast table in a revealing outfit, refuses to let her use tampons (only pads), then carries on in front of her with his girlfriend. This fellow is a mass of contradictory impulses—forbidding her to date an African-American classmate, Thomas (Eugene Jones), while decrying prejudice against Middle Easterners; loathing Saddam while resenting Bush Sr. (The film is set during the first Gulf War.) Jasira herself is torn in about ten different directions. Thomas turns out to be another fervent pubic-hair shaver. A grown-up neighbor (Aaron Eckhart) shares his porn magazines and she … likes them. Does she like him? When Jasira loses control of her sexuality, it’s with an irreducible mixture of erotic pleasure and victimization.

This is potentially incendiary material for the screen, but Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) cools it down and keeps it at a slight ironic distance, often presenting Jasira as a ripe sexual object. The film is superbly acted (especially by Macdissi, who makes the father a borderline hysteric), but it’s hard to know what to feel except, “How can any girl navigate this oversexualized culture?”

Movies into (N.P. Thompson) review  “Worst Movies About Orgasms” section from The House Next Door

Alan Ball’s Towelhead, which also qualifies for Worst Movie about Statutory Rape, Worst Movie Involving Close-ups of the Menstrual Cycle, and (last but not least) Worst Movie about a Young Woman Learning to Express her Sexuality via Porno Magazines for Straight Men. Ball, Oscar-winner for American Beauty, returns to suburbia where things are just as rotten as they ever were, and thank heaven the screenwriter-turned-director is around to point this out. Gratuitous fantasy shots of buxom snowbunnies and topless golf cart drivers really ram home Ball’s self-congratulatory desensitization techniques in trotting out taboo subject matter. The director does almost zilch to differentiate his point-of-view from the sadistic mother overacted by Maria Bello, a woman whose neediness for her daughter is surpassed only by her desire to humiliate the girl. Lost in the jacked-up shambles here, there’s nice work by Summer Bishil as the cruelly mistreated by nearly everyone Jasira. Ball’s surface smooth yet out-of-control direction suggests what Alexander Payne and William Friedkin might have devised in the field of outré sitcoms—everything from tone to action is freaky, ghoulishly smug. Aaron Eckhart and Toni Collette acquit themselves with humanity to this booby trap; where the film spectacularly fails, besides in the writing and directing, lies in Peter Macdissi’s grotesquely ill-conceived approach to playing a Houston-based, traditionalist Lebanese father. It’s a tad difficult to buy into Daddy Dearest’s punitive objections to his daughter’s wearing a tampon when Daddy seems more like an interior decorator from Christopher Street than the NASA engineer he’s supposed to be.

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

Alan Ball returns to nasty, vile, repressed suburbia with Towelhead, an adaptation of Alicia Erian’s novel that the American Beauty writer fashions into another cartoonishly broad, repulsive vision of middle-class life. In a cookie-cutter Texas planned community in the early ‘90s (an arbitrary time frame employed mainly for its slightly dated outfits), thirteen-year-old Arab-American Jasira (a understated Summer Bishil) finds herself the sexual object of desire for both her Army reserve neighbor – husband and father Travis Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart) – as well as an African-American classmate named Thomas (Eugene Jones III) who pursues Jasira after apologizing for calling her “sand-nigger.” Seemingly every man wants to fondle, screw and/or shave the pubic hairs of Jasira, and Ball goes a very small way toward suggesting that these men’s relationships with her function as a means of channeling racist and chauvinistic urges. Towelhead, however, is first and foremost a grotesquerie. And thus, it subsumes any investigation of the way intolerance and perversion inform erotic desire – or the way that Jasira conflates this sexual attention with love and acceptance, which aren’t provided by her abusive Lebanese father Rifat (Peter Macdissi) – in favor of presenting a cavalcade of ugly caricatures fit for sensationalized scenarios. Ball attempts to prove himself an equal-opportunity offender by casting all of his characters (save for Toni Collette’s pregnant earth-mother and her conveniently Arabic-fluent husband) as noxious. Yet given that his plot generally strives for either pseudo-shocking graphicness (bloody tampons, bloody panties, porn fantasies) or wannabe-scathing “comedy” (involving Gulf War I, oil, scary black people) – two modes that frustrate rather than facilitate any real engagement with the racial/gender/cultural issues lurking beneath the surface – the film turns out to be merely a stridently reductive portrait of the messy clash between puberty and prejudice.

The Onion A.V. Club review  Scott Tobias

Perhaps the best way to explain what's so wrong about Towelhead is first to consider what's right about it, and that begins and ends with Summer Bishil, excellent as a 13-year-old who experiences a rude sexual awakening. The mixed-race daughter of two raging narcissists—her mother neglectful and irresponsible, her father inordinately strict and oppressive—she gets mixed messages from home and little but contempt from her classmates, who don't like the color of her skin. So when her sexual curiosity naturally begins to pique, as it will with any girl that age, Bishil doesn't have a clue where to go with it, which leads her to seek pleasure where she can get it, and love in wildly inappropriate places. Consider this plot thread in isolation, and Ball had the makings of something like Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl, which captured this particular rite of passage with raw terror.
Instead, Ball piles on the provocations: Working from Alicia Erian's novel, he takes Bishil's coming of age as an opportunity to overload the movie with important themes and issues, including racism and interracial relationships, suburban hypocrisy, Gulf War I (with clear allusions to Gulf War II), pedophilia, and white-wine liberalism. And that's just for starters. Towelhead is like a great melting pot of writerly self-importance. After a disturbing prologue that has her mother's boyfriend offering to shave her excess pubic hair, the film brings Bishil to suburban Houston, where she's forced to live with her Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi), a moralistic tyrant who nonetheless flaunts his swinging bachelor lifestyle. Macdissi imposes so much modesty on his daughter that he won't even let her use tampons, and she revolts by surreptitiously dating a black schoolmate and encouraging the advances of the married Army reservist (Aaron Eckhart) next door.
As if to cover all of his sociopolitical bases, Ball throws in a hippified neighbor (Toni Collette) who tries to project and educate Bishil, but may be too permissive. Needless to say, all these combustible elements eventually converge in the final act, each representative of one type or another used to illustrate one point or another. Much as with Crash—and Ball's script for the overrated American Beauty, another Oscar-winner—the themes come first and the characters are manufactured in service of them, not the other way around. From its title on down, Towelhead alarms and manipulates, and succeeds in goading the audience like a schoolyard bully, but apart from Bishil's harrowing attempts to find herself, the strings stay too visible.


Screen International review  Mike Goodridge at Toronto

Perhaps the most polarizing film of the Toronto International Film Festival this week, Nothing Is Private marks the feature directorial debut of American Beauty writer and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball. As you might expect from Ball's oeuvre to date, it is a provocative piece scratching at the ugliness underneath the placid surface of American suburbia with his customary spiky humour and not a little misanthropy.

Most invigorating of all is that the film arrives at a time when independent US cinema is over-run with rosy, Little-Miss-Sunshine-views of the world, Ball takes an unflinching look at taboo subjects like racism, child rape and teenage sexuality with a desire to make you uncomfortable that recalls the glory days of Todd Solondz, Larry Clark or Neil Labute. Like those directors, he has a bold voice, a way of illustrating humanity as he sees it, which will repel as many viewers as it fascinates.

Warner Independent Pictures bought domestic rights to the film in tandem with Netflix division Red Envelope Entertainment, and has already received an "R" rating in the US. Like Happiness or Kids before it, it won't make much of an impression at the box office, and critics will be as divided as were Toronto audiences. However, it will certainly be talked about, and will become a cult item among loyal Six Feet Under fans and more open-minded filmgoers.

Internationally, it could gain fans as an arthouse picture, especially since so few US films these days dare to take such risks.

Based on Alicia Erian's novel Towelhead, the film is a coming-of-age story set in 1990. Saddam Hussein has just invaded Kuwait and George Bush Sr is talking of war when 13 year-old Jasira (Bishil) shaves off her pubic hair with the inappropriate assistance of her mother's boyfriend. Her self-absorbed mother (Bello) is furious and packs her off to the suburbs of Houston Texas to live with her stern and hypocritical Lebanese father Rifat (Macdissi).

Jasira suffers in her new environment. She is teased by schoolmates and by the 10 year-old boy she babysits next door for being a "towelhead", is lonely and hopelessly confused about her sexuality, a fact not helped by her father's old-fashioned ideas and strict, repressive tendencies.

But as her sexual longings and desire begin to overwhelm her, she begins to flirt with dangerous situations. She finds herself attracted to the handsome army reservist next door Mr Vuoso (Eckhart) and gets aroused when she looks at his porno magazine collection. He responds to her innocent sallies with an aggressive sexual assault, breaking her hymen with his fingers.

Meanwhile she attracts the attentions of a schoolmate Thomas (Eugene Jones) whom her father forbids her to see because he is black. She soon starts having sex with him.

As Vuoso and Thomas vie for her body and her father becomes more suspicious and more violent in his punishment of her, Jasira seeks the friendship of a concerned neighbour (Collette) and begins to realise that she has more power than she previously believed.

The film is tonally inconsistent, veering from blunt, broad comedy to ugly scenes of sexual violence. It is kept on track, however, by a courageous central performance from Bishil, who was 18 when the film was shot. She manages make Jasira authentically naïve and innocent, while at the same time the girl engages in startling acts of sexual provocation. This contradiction takes the film into moral grey areas which American audiences will find hard to bear.

Ball also lacks discipline in this long final cut. Several sequences feel superfluous to the central story – a visit from Bello 's under-drawn mother character, Jasira's modelling fantasies, the death of the Vuoso cat – and he is prone to caricature (Bello, Carrie Preston as Mrs Vuoso, the viciously racist kids at the local high school). Eckhart on the other hand is chillingly plausible as the man who crosses the line, while Macdissi as the Saddam-hating Lebanese American with no discernible parenting skills achieves a nice balance between banal stupidity and dictatorial menace.

Ball enlists his regular composer Thomas Newman to contribute an irritatingly tinkly score which sounds like a blend of the Six Feet Under theme with the American Beauty music.

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]  a shock tactic for shock tactic's sake


PopMatters [Bill Gibron]  tawdry and tasteless, in many ways like Funny Games without the snooty Euro-centric sneer


indieWIRE review  Michael Koresky from Reverse Shot, Ball never makes a compelling case outside of his own childish provocation


Pajiba (Ted Boynton) review   an enjoyable, funny, tender film largely because of Ball, but it flies highest when he is at his most restrained


PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review   the movie provides little context for her complicated view, surrounding her with pathologically immature adults (Chris Barsanti) review [3.5/5]   a sort of adolescent fever dream looking to tick off as many taboos as possible (Peter Sobczynski) review [1/5]    it comes across like a Todd Solondz film without the wit, whimsy and empathy


Twitch (Kurt Halfyard) review  if nothing else, this has shed some light on how people recoil with hostility from Lars Von Trier’s ‘America Trilogy’ films


Zoom in Online (Todd Howard) review   a vastly effective, gorgeously filmed, smartly edited, superbly acted, and emotionally crafted film review [3/4]  Pam Grady, well worth seeking out for those who can get past their squeamishness


ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]   bitter, spicy, and poignant


Slate (Dana Stevens) review   provocative without being thoughtful, an exercise in button-pushing that seems unsure of what it wants to say (Brian Orndorf) review [B-]   Ball is a gifted salesman of torment, a shining example of extreme moviegoing uneasiness [Andrew O'Hehir]   clearly a story about multicultural America in transition


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review  a mess, and it's based on material that demanded precision


Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice review [5/5]  Zack Haddad


Debate Over Child Actors and Sexuality Is Decades Old   Hannah Sentenac from FOX News, March 19, 2007


Foxnews   Kiddie Porn Movie Rocks Toronto as ‘Feel-Awful’ Film of the Year, Roger Friedman, September 11, 2007 - Film Critic Joins Protest of Two Movies With ...  FOX News, September 19, 2008


Time Out New York (David Fear) review [2/6]


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Ballard, Carroll


All-Movie Guide  Sandra Brennan

Contemporary filmmaker Carroll Ballard has not made many films, but the ones he has are memorable. The son of a boatwright, Ballard was raised at Lake Tahoe. He experimented with his father's trade after high school and built a catamaran before enlisting in the army where he served in the South as a cameraman. Three films inspired Ballard to enroll in the UCLA film school in the early 1960s: Teinosuke Kinugasa's Gate of Hell (1953), Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) and Ordet (1955) by Danish filmmaker Carl Dreyer. In school, where Francis Ford Coppola was one of his classmates, he made several short fiction and documentary films, most of which were about animals. In 1967, he earned his first Oscar nomination for producing the documentary Harvest. He made his directorial debut with The Black Stallion (1979) and followed it with another outdoor film in 1983, Never Cry Wolf. His films are noted for their exquisite use of cinematography. The painting-like images he uses do as much to tell his stories as does the dialog. His 1993 film adaptation of The Secret Garden is no exception, nor is his 1996 effort Fly Away Home which, while receiving mixed-reviews for its content, was hailed for its breathtaking shots of geese flying in formation with an ultralight plane.

TCMDB  Turner Classic movies profile

Meticulous American director of several lush, visually striking films since the late 1970s who made a memorable feature debut with "The Black Stallion" (1979), an exquisitely crafted tale of the far-flung adventures of a boy and a horse. Executive produced by Ballard's UCLA film school chum Francis Ford Coppola, the film was hailed both for its extraordinary attention to visual and behavioristic detail and as a beautifully realized adaptation of Walter Farley's classic 1941 children's novel. Four years passed until Ballard's next film, "Never Cry Wolf" (1983), an unusual and haunting nature tale featuring Charles Martin Smith, in a rare starring role, as a biologist investigating whether wolves are responsible for the gradual disappearance of the caribou herds. Two years of demanding production in the wilds of the Yukon and Alaska paid off to create a poetic work that easily transcended the standard qualities of a Disney nature picture (which it was, after all).

Ballard's subsequent output has been disappointingly sparse. Six years elapsed before "Nutcracker: The Motion Picture" (1986), an ambitious film version of the Christmas 1983 Seattle production staged by Maurice Sendak and Kent Stowell. Ballard utilized Sendak's dreamy sets to bring out some of the psychosexual underpinnings of the ballet. Less successful was the sometimes frantic editing which some reviewers found too reminiscent of music videos. "Wind" (1992) was a ho-hum yacht racing yarn that boasted outstanding cinematography by John Toll. Ballard's affinity for the beauties and rigors of nature and weather were undiminished but the material and characters were unworthy.

Doubtlessly making "Wind" called upon elements of the filmmaker's childhood spent at Lake Tahoe where his father was a boat builder. Ballard himself spent a year after high school building a catamaran. He next enlisted in the Army where he served as a cameraman while stationed in the American South. During that period, Ballard saw three films that revolutionized his notions about film: Teinosuke Kinugasa's "Gate of Hell" (1953-Japan), Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" (1957-US), and Carl Dreyer's "Ordet" (1955-Denmark). Inspired, he enrolled in the UCLA film school in the early 1960s. There Ballard began making acclaimed short narratives and documentaries that usually starred animals. He was nominated for a Oscar as the producer of the documentary, "Harvest" (1967).

Ballard, Carroll  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They


Wide Angle/Closeup Interview   by David Morgan



USA  (118 mi)  1979


At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The quintessential horse movie artfully directed by Carol Ballard, who evokes realistic performances from the actors. As was almost a fad in the late seventies, the soundtrack is sparse, leaving many of the quieter moments genuinely quiet. Here, this technique is used with wonderful results, and when the soundtrack does kick in, it is excellent. The scene where the boy and the stallion dance in the ocean is a masterpiece of composition and cinematography.
Spirituality & Practice [Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat]

For this eye-fetching screen adaptation of Walter Farley's classic novel, executive producer Francis Ford Coppola chose Carroll Ballard, an independent producer-director of short films, to be at the helm of this adventure story. Shot in Sardinia, Rome, and Toronto, this drama is pleasing in every way. From the opening sequence of a shipwreck at sea to the closing scenes of triumph for a boy and his horse, this is family entertainment at its finest.

Eleven-year-old Kelly Reno plays Alec Ramsay, an American lad who falls in love with an Arabian stallion called Black the first time he sees him. On the screen, there is real magic between them. Mickey Rooney stars as the trainer who sets up a match race between Black and two other spirited horses. The cinematography by Caleb Deschanell is breathtaking. Also featured in supporting roles are Teri Garr, Hoyt Axton, Clarence Muse and Michael Higgins. The Black Stallion slowly and gently shows how beauty can bloom in our relationships with animals.

not coming to a theater near you (Jenny Jediny)


There is a long moment when a boy and horse, sole companions from a shipwreck, regard one another. The two have spent an indeterminable amount of time on a deserted island, focused on self-survival, and now find that a curiosity overcomes their reserve and their loneliness. The boy holds out seaweed, perhaps kelp, and offers this to the jittery horse. Although both hesitate for some time, the horse accepts this gesture and their bond is solidified. A deliberate patience characterizes this scene, and it is only one of the qualities that distinguish Carroll Ballard’s film, The Black Stallion. Based on Walter Farley’s 1941 children’s classic, the film concerns the story of the companionship of the boy, Alec, and “The Black,” their rescue from a shipwreck and eventual championship racing. The plot is straightforward enough for generic adaptation but what Ballard has accomplished is a lyrical and rather transcendental experience.
Prior to the shipwreck we meet Alec and his father during a journey home aboard the steamship Drake. Ballard invokes ancient storybooks and authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, whose inspiration is confirmed as Alec’s father plays cards with a cast of characters who could easily rent rooms at The Admiral Benbow (the troupe antes jewels and ivory edged weapons as bets). A sense of destiny is infused in the chance meeting of Alec and this horse aboard the ship, connecting it with the gift that Alec’s father bestows: a pewter horse he claims as Bucephalus, mythical horse of Alexander the Great. These small details enrich and set the tone, only intensifying as the ship is struck and sinks in a frightening sequence, leaving Alec and The Black stranded alone on the island.
Nearly half of the film focuses on the companionship formed between the boy and horse on the deserted island, in remarkable scenes that do not romanticize the situation but instead convey the loneliness of a child who has not only lost his father through disaster, but now needs to grow up rather quickly if he is to survive. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography captures this seclusion as Alec wanders through endless stretches of sand and learns to forge for food. The return to a primal state is enhanced with the boy’s near spiritual friendship with The Black, a connection defined in practicality to curb solitude, but with an implied air of fate. While the soundtrack suggests a mystical quality with musical references of Arabia and the ancient East, the shots of Alec thundering along the beach on The Black suggest a connection of the two through nature, unaffected and organic. Children and animals, more often the small and fuzzy kind, are sensibly connected for a shared cuteness or innocence; here the correlation stems from mutual respect and a genuine understanding that the natural world has instilled in both creatures.
The pair is eventually rescued and returned to civilization in Alec’s upper class neighborhood. This ordered world is not as absorbing as the wild, and far more conventional. There are expected hijinks as the horse becomes accustomed to backyards and traffic, but there is also an anticipation as Alec trains The Black for a race at Belmont. Alec, accomplished at spearing fish and avoiding dehydration, feels disconnected at school and at home, where he sleeps on the lawn rather than in bed. There is solace when Alec discovers the racetrack, befriending an old racing pro (Mickey Rooney in a sweetly nostalgic role) and slowly regains his autonomy in training The Black. Ballard completely alters the aura of a racetrack; although the monetary benefits are obvious for a down on his luck jockey and the half orphaned Alec, the track also becomes the place where Alec and The Black find their Walden within suburban confines. The link made on an anonymous beach is made stronger while the two fervently practice in midnight runs around the track, and ultimately in the Belmont race that returns Alec and the viewer to the island. In the exquisitely edited finale there is a combination of meticulous sound design, as the din of the crowd dissolves into the quiet soundtrack of the beach, juxtaposed with images of Alec’s memories of the island.
It is difficult to describe a film as having a magical quality without a response of rolling eyes, or immediately preparing for defense against cynicism (particularly when you yourself are often guilty of such reactions). Describing The Black Stallion with any other adjectives isn’t quite sufficient; it is admirable in that it manages to inject feelings and qualities so often associated with children — a sense of wonder, breathlessness, and exploration — and persuades us to recall these feelings as adults. In that final race it is so thrilling to watch Alec and The Black furiously push their way to the finish line, but what is far more exhilarating is hearing the sound dissolve from the cheering crowd to calm quiet, a stalled moment that recalls the two alone on the island. It celebrates nature, certainly kinship and the joys of victory, but what I find most enduring is the ability of this film to keep my heart in my throat even upon repeated viewings.


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NEVER CRY WOLF                                   A                     96

USA  (91 mi)  1983
Adapted from the Farley Mowat book about a Canadian biologist dropped off on a frozen lake in the middle of the Canadian Arctic to study the supposed threat by wolves to the disappearing caribou herds, starring Charles Martin Smith (Toad, from AMERICAN GRAFFITI!) as Tyler, a stand-in for Mowat, a clueless fish-out-of-the-water scientist, a man we can identify with due to his uncommonly ordinary demeanor, who realizes instantly just how completely unprepared he is for the upcoming ordeal, but who is transformed into another being by the end of his journey.  This is an unforgettable, astonishingly gorgeous film, featuring a hauntingly beautiful musical soundtrack by Mark Isham, complete with large doses of unanticipated humor that could easily have been references to Chaplin, as most of this film is silent, accompanied by an inner narration that is an interesting mix of bemusement and philosophy as he voices his observations and reflections. 
Brian Dennehy is the Alaskan bush pilot who represents the obnoxious, exploitive view that everything is for the taking, all bravura and gusto, leaving a path of carcasses in his path.  His trip into the wild is hilarious, nearly getting them both killed with a smile, a perfect contrast to the utter silence that follows, which is all that remains as the plane flies away.  Tyler’s entry into the wilderness is just as amusing, as he’s a klutz that screws up just about everything he tries to do, who may easily have frozen to death on his very first week had he not been rescued without a word by a non-English speaking Inuit on a dogsled, Zachary Ittimangnaq as Ootek, a quiet, wise man with an appealing smile who provides him shelter, brings all his gear, then leaves again without a word, using haunting images that are vibrant and revealing, telling us all that we need to know.  Samason Jorah is Mike, an English-speaking Inuit ("He says, 'Great idea!'") who is sort of an adopted son to Ootek, a more practical man who sees wolves as money, as a means of supporting his way of life, which is otherwise dying off as well, losing their land and resources to ever-expanding commercial interests, just like the diminishing wildlife.  Ootek sends him along to keep Tyler company.  By then, however, it is spring and Tyler has found his way in the wild and is studying a pair of Arctic wolves with their three cubs, ingeniously protecting his space from the wolves by peeing in a circle around his tent, territorial boundaries that are respected by the wolves. 
Rather than eating caribou, the wolves survive eating field mice which are plentiful in the region.  As a scientific experiment, Tyler decides he will subject himself to the same diet to see if a large carnivore can survive on mice.  Ootek and his family visit and reveal Inuit legends about the wolf and the caribou, describing how the wolf protects the strength of the herd by thinning out the sick and the weak, leaving plenty for the Inuit people.  As the wolves are howling, Ootek knows the caribou are coming nearer and he takes Tyler on a 3-day hike directly into their herd.  Of course, Tyler is still a klutz and nearly sleeps through it, but then the scene takes on transcendental qualities, as he runs naked with the herd, immersing himself into the various life forms that are living and surviving all around him, that could vanish in the blink of an eye.  The director’s vision here is simply remarkable.  In this state, almost like a sacred peyote vision, Tyler is jolted out of his senses by rifle shots.  Reality slaps him in the face when he runs into the bush pilot again, this time gorging himself on the flesh of the caribou, carrying with him several wolf pelts, living like a king, which Tyler finds despicable, knowing man, not the wolves, is killing off everything around him.  On his way back to camp, he discovers the two adult wolves missing, their cubs huddled alone in the den.  Without a word or thought expressed, we feel Tyler suspects the bush pilot.  But when he finally arrives at camp, loud music is playing.  Mike is there alone and immediately grabs his things and says he was just leaving.  When asked about the wolves, he of course knows nothing about them, but has a full set of teeth where a toothless grin used to be, and he vanishes into the wind.  Alone in a universe where harmony is constantly disturbed by the forces of man, Tyler sits on a mountainside in the snow and bears witness to the last vestiges of pristine beauty before it disappears.  Filmed entirely on location without any pretense of special effects, this is a powerful, exceptionally beautiful film, perfectly balancing all the interconnecting worlds with very few words and spectacular imagery.


Time Out

Sent to the desolate northern reaches of Canada to prove that the wolves are destroying the herds of caribou, Tyler (Martin Smith) might be any one of us left to fend for ourselves in a bleak landscape. Ballard's film, produced by Disney and resembling the old nature films, tells of an engaging, fearful scientist who grows to admire the wolves he is sent to condemn, adopts their diet (mouse stew minus the tails), and learns from an ancient, mystical Inuit (the furclad local inhabitants) that in true Darwinian fashion the wolves only cull the weaker members of the herd. For the most part very absorbing, the film suffers from some embarrassingly obvious symbolism.

DVDTown [John J. Puccio]

Here's a film you don't have to think about much to enjoy: Two eyes and a pair of ears are enough. Adapted from Farley Mowat's best-selling autobiographical book, "Never Cry Wolf" is a beautifully photographed, beautifully crafted nature study, with perhaps just a tad more moralizing at the end than necessary. Since its release to theaters in 1983, only its appearance on DVD has done justice to its picture and sound.

Charles Martin Smith has the prize role of his career as the young biologist, Tyler, assigned by the Canadian Wildlife Service to study wolves in the northern Barrens. His charge is to gather evidence that wolves are depleting the caribou herds, enough evidence against the wolves to justify the government eradicating them.

What he discovers, needless to say, is just the opposite. Wolves and caribou live in perfect balance, as they have for thousands of years; the wolves feed only on the sickest and weakest of the herds, making the caribou stronger all around. It is Man who is decimating the caribou, largely for sport, and now Man needs a scapegoat.

In his film interpretation of the book, director Carroll Ballard misses some of Mowat's wry humor but makes up for it in the majesty of the scenery and the beauty of the wildlife. Sweeping vistas of Arctic wilderness are set against human and animal drama in Ballard's realization of the saga, the wolves, ironically, taking on a dimension of humanity sorely missing in most of the story's peripheral characters.

Besides Tyler the other actors in this sparsely populated film are Brian Dennehy as Rosie, a pilot whose ambitions are entirely geared to personal profit; Samson Jorah as Mike, an Inuit who befriends Tyler and loans him the use of his cabin; and Zachary Illimangnaq as Ootek, an Inuit shaman who knows more about wolves than most wolves.

As a young man, Mowat put in two stints in the Canadian northland studying wolves, and his 1963 book is a colorful narrative of those times. It was one of the first accounts of actual wolf behavior in the wild, although because of Mowat's sometimes fanciful wit it was not always taken seriously by the scientific community.

Ballard's film starts with the author's basic story, visually highlights its sense of wonder at the harmony of nature, and concludes with the postulate that Man is insensitive to anything but himself. The result is a beautiful motion picture. [Sylvia Stralberg Bagley]


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USA  (107 mi)  1996


Tucson Weekly [Stacey Richter]

Anna Paquin stars in this dignified kid's movie about a young girl who's adopted by a gaggle of orphaned Canadian geese. Amy (Paquin) is lonely and withdrawn after the death of her mother, but the discovery of the goslings invigorates her and leads to a round of bonding with her dad, nature, the news media and her own little self. An even directorial style and great cinematography help to keep the corniness from getting out of hand as Amy learns to fly an ultralight plane and leads the wild geese in their migration south. Beautiful footage of geese flying beside the enthusiastic Paquin will warm the chilliest heart.

New York Times (registration req'd)  Janet Maslin

The tender beauty of Carroll Ballard's "Fly Away Home" goes well beyond what might be expected from a movie about things that hatch. Rekindling the delicacy and invigorating naturalness he brought to "The Black Stallion," and again helped immensely by the radiant cinematography of Caleb Deschanel, Ballard turns a potentially treacly children's film into an exhilarating '90s fable. It concerns family, ecology, adolescence and, above all (quite literally) geese. See it and you will never look at a down comforter in quite the same way.

One caveat for children: "Fly Away Home" begins traumatically (just as "Bogus" does) with the violent death of a mother in a car crash. And 13-year-old Amy Alden (Anna Paquin) finds herself permanently uprooted almost before the opening credits are over. Raised in New Zealand, she must suddenly migrate back to rural Ontario, where her parents lived before their separation. The shadow of this tragedy never entirely leaves this otherwise uplifting film.

Her mother's death reunites Amy with her father, Thomas Alden (Jeff Daniels), a shaggy-haired sculptor and inventor who is innately child-friendly. Thomas sculptures dragons and invents things that look like wonderful toys. Daniels plays this role with delightful gusto and with a serious compassion he has had too little chance to display on screen. If young viewers who know him only from "Dumb and Dumber" take Daniels for somebody entirely different here, they'll be right.

Amy, played with fine, mercurial intelligence by the Oscar-winning adolescent star of "The Piano," initially regards her father with suspicion. He seems distracted, not to say batty, in his enthusiasm for crackpot inventions. So Amy assuages her loneliness and grief by finding a project of her own. When a developer's bulldozer drives some Canada geese from their nesting place, Amy collects the eggs and begins mothering them. Ballard realizes this part of his story exquisitely.

Hatching, chirping, waddling, flapping their little stumpy wings: the film's goslings are magic, and "Fly Away Home" dotes on them lovingly. A string of enchanting, unsentimental girl-and-geese scenes are the film's central highlight, as Deschanel finds miraculous new ways to show off pastoral green landscapes and back-lighted yellow fuzz. This part of the film remains so refreshingly formula-free that it never turns cloying, and it doesn't scant the scientific fascination in Amy's work. Toting the eggs in a baby carrier, making a nest from her mother's scarves in a bureau drawer, this young girl embarks on her own rite of passage while helping the geese find their way.

"Fly Away Home," written by Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin, was developed from a a real account on the television news magazine "20/20" about Bill Lishman and his own remarkable work with geese. The little girl is entirely a Hollywood invention, though Paquin never plays her that way. So the film's second half illustrates Lishman's experiments with goose migration as it cooks up a reason to involve Amy and Thomas and Thomas' nerdy, amusing brother (Terry Kinney) in this process. Just as Lishman did, they become worried about what will happen to geese that have never been taught to fly south. And, with the help of gliderlike ultra-light aircraft, they lead the way.

In narrative terms, the film becomes more ordinary as it follows father and daughter on this innovative journey. The path to triumph is not unknown to Hollywood, and the Aldens' trip takes that familiar route; it's not about to be cut short by hunting season.

So the latter part of "Fly Away Home" is best appreciated as an astonishing technical achievement, one only slightly enhanced by special effects. Geese had to get to know Paquin so that they would follow her. (Some of this was done with a stand-in and a recording of her voice.) The film makers had to devise light, slow-flying aircraft that could transport heavy camera equipment at goose-determined speed. Goslings had to perform on cue.

The planes don't stall, and the screenplay does only slightly, most notably when it integrates migration talk with resolving family problems, and when it gives Thomas a kindly girlfriend (Dana Delaney) who must win the affections of smart, stubborn Amy. There's also a battle with land developers that is extremely pat. But the film does celebrate the principals' daring as they try to save a chunk of North Carolina, make a significant innovation in protecting wildlife and demonstrate a whole new way to fly. [Charles Taylor]


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DUMA                                                                        B+                   92

USA  (100 mi)  2005


A UCLA classmate of Francis Ford Coppolla, this director has established himself with some of the most gorgeously photographed animal films on record, 1979’s THE BLACK STALLION, featuring a boy and a horse shipwrecked at sea, surviving alone on a lost island, 1983’S NEVER CRY WOLF, my personal favorite, which features one of the most beautiful musical soundtracks ever by Mark Isham, based on the Farley Mowat book about a lone man dropped off in the Canadian Arctic with the wolves to study their supposed threat to the disappearing caribou herds, and the 1996 film FLY AWAY HOME, where a 13-year old girl flies solo in an ultra-light craft, actually teaching a flock of geese their migratory path from Canada to the wetlands of Chesapeake Bay.  While the last two were based on factual circumstances, DUMA is also based on the real-life memoirs of Xan and Carol Cawthra Hopcraft, How It Was With Dooms, adapted a little differently onscreen by Karen Janszen and Mark St. Germain using a story by Carol Flint and Karen Janszen, this beautifully shot family film follows the growth of an orphaned baby cheetah found alone on the side of the road by a white family, raised by a 12-year old boy, Xan, and his parents at their family farm in South Africa.  At first cute and cuddly, this animal soon develops a sleek, mature look and as his father tells Xan, “He may not show it now, but inside, he knows he belongs in the wild.”
After a flurry of unfortunate events, just as the boy (Alex Michaletos) and his father (Campbell Scott) were about to return the cheetah to the wilds, the father dies, forcing the mother (Hope Davis) to move back to the city to look for work.  These city scenes with a cheetah living in an apartment were a little preposterous, but once Xan decides to take his father’s motorbike, with a sidecar for the cheetah, and hit the road across the Kalahari Desert to the game reserves, the beauty and expanse of Africa soon take our breath away, brilliantly photographed by Werner Maritz, accompanied by the luring voices of an African children’s choir.  Of course, they eventually run out of gas, but they meet a mysterious black traveling stranger, Rip, played by Eamonn Walker, a survivor of the diamond mines who has spent time in prison, whose motives are unclear, who may or may not help, but it becomes startlingly clear that Xan has absolutely no sense of the danger of his mission.  When he finds out where they’re heading, and Xan says he’s not afraid, Rip warns him “You’d better be afraid.  That is a place of many teeth, my friend.  That is a place to die.” 
What really works in this film is the natural grace of the 4 actual cheetahs that were used in the film, who worked right alongside the actors.  Working in such close proximity to humans, it would be all so easy to humanize feelings for this animal, thinking it’s adorable and safe when really it’s a natural predator that needs to kill for a living.  Once the animal could stretch out and discover its own place in the grasslands, it was a liberating joy to behold.  The journey through the desert across the Makgadikgadi salt pans, the Okavengo Delta, down the rivers past the crocodiles to the Erongo Mountains has a Huckleberry Finn humor and a similar sense of exploration and danger, even as the film takes on a greater sense of seriousness and urgency just to stay alive.  The portrayal of Africa is respectful of its many riches, not the least of which is the warm spirit of the people, who speak their own un-subtitled language, which only adds a feeling of authenticity to what the boy must have experienced.  There’s beautiful developing spirit of the interconnectedness of things.  I was not impressed with the Peter Gabriel song playing over the credits, which, from the opening notes reflected a different world, but the rest of the well-chosen music by John Debny featured an African children’s choir that aptly connected with effortless simplicity to the far-reaching horizons. 


Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

Carroll Ballard's splendid-looking, mildly old-fashioned boy-and-his-cheetah tale became a minor cause celebre last year when the film's distributor, Warner Bros., backed away from a full-scale theatrical release, citing disappointing test runs in Chicago and the Southwest. A handful of critics took up the cause; here was lyrical, resonant children's fare, without fast-food tie-ins or CGI flash, a film that might cause children to pester parents for nature hikes instead of action figures. But by the time Duma pulled into New York in September, more than five months after its initial debut, the fate of Ballard's heartwarmer (his first since 1996's Fly Away Home) was pretty well sealed.

Released at last to the rest of the country, Duma is revealed as something less than a murdered masterpiece. The film's narrative, loosely based on a book by Carol Cawthra Hopcraft and her son, Xan, is patchy and predictable, never quite taking on the mythic resonance Ballard so obviously seeks. (It doesn't help that the rough sound mix—often a sign that a studio has lost faith and is trying to cut costs—muffles large chunks of dialogue.) But the interaction between young Alex Michaeletos and his not-quite-pet cat is frequently astonishing, as is the South African countryside around them. As they traverse the desert, fulfilling the boy's dying father's wish to see the cat returned to its natural habitat, the two seem to have a rapport born of years and not months. Domesticated in story terms (and, obviously, trained in real life), the film's cheetah (actually, four of them) never has the whipped look of a scrawny zoo cat; he's just feral enough to suggest the consequences of keeping him out of the wild much longer.

The film fares less well when it has the boy meet a wandering tribesman (Oz's Eamonn Walker) whose main function is to augment his young charge's life lessons; the failure to explore the implications of such a friendship, connecting a black man to a white boy born after the end of apartheid, feels less utopian than neglectful. But considering that few children's movies even bump up against such themes, the movie's failure to exhaust them is pardonable, if regrettable.

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis)

In a movie year already distinguished by stalwart penguins and volatile grizzlies comes another film that puts nonhuman concerns front and center. "Duma," a soulful, piercingly beautiful story about a boy and his cheetah - and a boy and his patrimony - marks the welcome return to the screen of the director Carroll Ballard, whose previous films include "The Black Stallion" and "Fly Away Home." As in these earlier works, Mr. Ballard has taken up the mystery of human existence through a story that plumbs the depths of that original kingdom we have long tried to abandon, the animal world.

Set in South Africa, the story opens with an irresistible mote of yellow and black, the cheetah cub later known as Duma, losing first his mother and then his way. Nosing through a bit of fence meant to protect him and the rest of the game-reserve inhabitants, the cub ends up stranded one night on a stretch of highway, where he almost becomes roadkill. Fate, or rather storytelling contrivance, intervenes in the form of the freckle-faced Xan (Alexander Michaletos, then 12), and his father, Peter (Campbell Scott), who are hurtling through the enveloping dark in a vintage sportscar. After plucking the cub from danger, Xan brings the rescue home, where his mother, Kristin (Hope Davis), tends their little house on the veld.

For Xan and his family, the encounter with the cheetah cub is love at first sight. It's easy to see why. Played by four age groups of real cheetahs - tiny cubs, somewhat bigger cubs, a 7-month-old and five adults - Duma was born both for intimate close-ups and for expansive long shots that allow Mr. Ballard to make the most of the dazzling surroundings. Like all those cheetahs and the young Mr. Michaletos, who makes his film debut here, the landscape, with its seemingly endless ocher grasslands and shocks of bright blue and emerald, is one of the chief pulls. As shot by Werner Maritz, also making his debut in this film as a cinematographer, these landscapes appear strangely, bewitchingly timeless, as if untouched by the modern world and its ills.

Although the hook of the story is Xan's friendship with Duma, who quickly grows into a soccer-playing, motorcycle-racing wonderment, the parallel narrative is that of a child's inevitable, sometimes wrenching passage into adulthood. Partly inspired by the picture book "How It Was With Dooms," about a real South African boy and his pet cheetah, and given dramatic shape and gristle by Karen Janszen and Mark St. Germain, the film initially seems to cleave to the sentimental idea that childhood is a lost paradise, however short-lived. In this parched Eden, Xan embodies his truest, most natural self and talks to his animal freely, without worry or self-consciousness. It's a dream world, as radiant as a soap bubble and, as it emerges, just as fragile.

What happens to Xan and Duma doesn't lead to any revelations, though the road they take at times forks, taking them down some pleasantly twisty byways. After tragedy rains down on Xan's family, the boy and the cheetah end up tearing across the desert on Peter's motorcycle (and sidecar), dangerously alone. They soon meet a wayfarer named Rip (the fine British actor Eamonn Walker) who comes equipped with a bush baby and a shadowy past. As they smartly play off "Huckleberry Finn" - they even toss a raft on a river - Mr. Ballard and the screenwriters add an unexpected layer of meaning to their story, embellishing their unimpeachable message that to live in the world fully means accepting that all creatures - great, small and gloriously wild - deserve a place here, too. [Stephanie Zacharek]


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The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias] (Chris Cabin)   and again here:  MovieWeb (Chris Cabin) (Joel Cunningham)


DVD Verdict [Brett Cullum]


The Village Voice [Ben Kenigsberg]


Time Out London [Scott Foundas]


Boston Globe   Ty Burr


Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan)


Chicago Tribune [Michael Wilmington]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


Bani-Etemad, Rakhshan


THE MAY LADY (Banoo-Ye Ordibehesht)                   C                     72

Iran  (85 mi)  1997


Being human is not a gift, it is a non-transferable right


Very much a copy cat, existentialist essay in the emotionally detached manner of Godard, something of a non-natural statement of the natural state from Iran’s leading female filmmaker, who has a documentary film background with obvious skills, but this is a lifeless and tiresome film that never gets around to revealing what it has to say, filled with the similar manner of European films from decades past connecting to a morose, urban alienation in its existential meaninglessness, complete with a dry, dull, voiceover narration.  What’s left is a rather empty portrait about a self-absorbed, divorced, middle-aged professional filmmaker who is attempting to raise her teenage son alone, manage her career, and respond to developing feelings in her life from a new relationship which appears to alienate her son, yet benefit her.        
A modern woman in a modern city in a modern apartment with a photo of herself on the wall over her bed says it all – how can we like this woman?  She spends the entire film reflecting on her self-doubts as a woman, whose son prefers Spielberg to Iranian culture or history, who is constantly reminded of her younger spirit, using a detached voiceover, “Where is that person who hated helplessness?”  She is now left with a nagging sense of alienation, “I am looking for my true self,” but she has become a cold, austere, intellectual woman leading a lonely life, searching for her own salvation through the lives of others, making documentary films interviewing and examining the lives of hundred of women in search of “The Exemplary Mother of the Year.”


We witness the filmmaker try to balance her life as a mother, wife, professional, modern woman-on-the-go talking on her cell phone as she vacuums, changes the sheets, goes to the laundromat, spending endless time on freeways going God knows where as we also see video images of mothers everywhere, mothers who have lost husbands or sons to war or prison, to failed relationships, many of which take place before the camera, as she murmurs to herself “I wander aimlessly, captivated by their lives...I wish I had their boldness, I’m filled with ambivalence.”  In the end, the video faces become dark shadows, colorless, the same, and she cannot choose between them, “the film has neither a beginning nor an end.” 
With thoughts running through her head, she reads Persian poetry, or letters from a boyfriend who is attempting to arouse in her some true love:  “I met you in May, a Spring month.  In the middle of our lives, should we deny the true laws of nature?”  She decides to allow her son to read her personal diary, but he runs away, even though it begins with thoughts about him, how it is against Iranian laws of nature for divorced mothers to raise their children, how they naturally go to the father, but she fought for him.  The diary eventually leads elsewhere, to thoughts of another man.  When her son returns, she tells him “There are things that you should not only listen to but understand,” which is met with silence.  “When parents reach middle age, they all say the same thing...”  The phone rings, neither answers.  Later, she dials the phone on her own, an existential moment breaking the inertia, finally, a pulse, a heartbeat...

UNDER THE SKIN OF THE CITY (Zir-e poost-e shahr)

Iran  (92 mi)  2001


Village Voice (Michael Atkinson)


Imported Iranian movies freely excoriate their nation's sociopolitical conditions, and yet the land of mullahs and doe-eyed tykes is conceived of here as a "closed," Islamo-Stalinist dystopia that precludes such dissent. The preconception's demolition could start with Abbas Kiarostami's Ten and Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's Under the Skin of the City, both cosmopolitan essays on future shock, Iran's anti-feminism, and the stress-tattering of the familial fabric. Bani-Etemad's generational melodrama observes a blue-collar dynastic collapse worthy of Lillian Hellman, but stays steadfastly fixed on the quotidian of Tehran life.

A 48-year-old veteran of docs and fiction, Bani-Etemad is a pragmatic feminist, and like her breakout film, Nargess (1992), Under the Skin is a conscientious taboo-breaker. Bani-Etemad dares to glimpse a woman dancing and show us female hair being washed (the censors bitched, the filmmaker prevailed), but I prefer her strategy for managing the no-male-female-contact rule: a neighboring wall from beyond which hellacious brother-sister "honor" beatings can be heard. When the teenage victim runs away, her best friend (Baran Kowsari, Bani-Etemad's daughter) furiously breaches the wall and smacks the abusive brother down.

The family at the movie's center is led by Tuba (Golab Adineh), an aging, co-dependent matriarch with a layabout husband and a textile factory job. The younger son (Ebraheem Sheibani) fights for reform, the eldest (Mohammed Reza Foroutan) struggles for a visa to Japan so he can support the family, and the eldest daughter (Homeira Riazi) routinely returns home with her children after spousal pummelings. Bani-Etemad adroitly erects intersecting social critiques within these commonplace lives, and avoids sermonizing in favor of experiential right hooks. What's hard to forget is the volleyball game between dozens of pitch-black chadors, or the grim visage of the bruised eldest daughter as she's told to kiss her enabling mother-in-law's hand. Bani-Etemad is not above questioning her own cultural role: On election day, a decimated Tuba directly addresses a documentarian's camera with the question that titled Bani-Etemad's 1992 doc, "Who do you show these films to, anyway?"


Ten and Under the Skin of the City  Jessica Winter from the Village Voice (excerpt)

Puzzlingly, the director Abbas Kiarostami doesn't consider politics part of Ten's equation, though every scene polishes a facet of the myriad restrictions on Iranian women. "I don't think that Ten is especially about the women's situation in Iran," Kiarostami insists. "It's about existential problems that affect the relationships between women and men in any country."

Rakhshan Bani-Etemad puts it another way: "In any country where women aren't free, no one is free." In her first U.S. release, Under the Skin of the City (opening this Friday), a working-class matriarch struggles to keep her family's heads above water while her eldest son embarks on increasingly desperate moneymaking schemes. Set during the 1998 parliamentary elections, Under the Skin begins and ends with scenes of female voters enduring inept TV interviewers. "I wanted to show that since Iranian television is run by one organization representing one political point of view, its version of society is limited and clichéd," says Bani-Etemad. "This is why television ads for this film were refused. On the eve of the film's release, we decided to tag all the billboards advertising the film in Tehran: 'Ask yourself: Why is it there are no ads for this film on television?' " The gambit paid off: Under the Skin was the highest-grossing homegrown movie at the Iranian box office in 2001.

The veteran director has since completed Our Times, a documentary about the 2001 elections: The first part focuses on young novice voters, and the second follows a 25-year-old single mother who's evicted from her home while she's, of all things, running for president—one of 48 female candidates for the office that year. "The difficulties for women in Iran are cultural, legal, and economic. But in facing these, the women haven't become weak or impotent," Bani-Etemad says. "If anything, the women have developed a resilience, their own sense of empowerment."

Senses of Cinema (Tamara Tracz)


World Socialist Web Site   Joanne Laurier (Nicholas Schager)


An Iranian Jewel, 'Under the Skin Of the City' - indieWIRE  Howard Feinstein from indieWIRE


Film Freak Central   Walter Chaw


Los Angeles Times   Kevin Thomas


The New York Times (A.O. Scott)


OUR TIMES (Ruz-egar-e ma)

Iran  (65 mi)  2002


Jan  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

A shocking, late-breaking contender for my year-end top ten until the last few minutes (an egregious closing-credits montage which pillages the preceding film for “poignant” images, after the fashion of NBC Olympics coverage).  Other than that misstep, Bani-Etemad’s structure is impeccable, moving easily from the general to the painfully specific.  First, we meet various young people who are involved in the campaign to re-elect President Khatami.  We hear defenses of his reforms, counter-arguments (mostly from folks who feel he isn’t getting the job done, not from anti-reformist hardliners per se), but mostly we are shown the exhilarated affect that comes from increased democratic participation. (At a Khatami rally, the Pres throws a flower into the crowd, and Bani-Etemad shows us a young girl weeping like she just caught Elvis’s sweaty scarf.)  Then, Our Times shifts focus to women’s role in the 2001 campaign, in particular the record number of women who ran for the presidency.  (In this regard, Iran may have bested the U.S. handily, fringe candidates though they may be.)  RBE interviews various women candidates, asking them why they thought they should be president, and what the Iranian government needs to do for women.  The answers, though interesting, are rather rote – they are leftover campaign promises, after all.  Then, in an unexpected turn, the director zeroes in on Arezoo, a disqualified female candidate.  We meet her family – blind elderly mother, young daughter, no husband (she divorced him due to his drug problem and subsequent arrest).  We follow her as she races against eviction, declined for apartments because she’s a single mother.  In the end, Bani-Etemad presents Arezoo’s quixotic political endeavor as a last-ditch struggle to maintain sanity, much less dignity.  Despite the film’s formal failings (the closing montage, some ill-advised video effects), Our Times manages what at this point I’d have considered impossible – it delves into Iranian womanhood and finds a new story to tell.

Filmjourney  Doug Cummings



EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP                     B                     89

USA  Great Britain  (87 mi)  2010


I don’t know how to play chess, but life is a chess game for me.                    —Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash


A case of pure filmmaking provocation or a true representation of the fickle face of the art world?  One never knows.  As a result, not the full-fledged revelation this film might have been, as rather than open new doors, it seems to close just as many behind afterwards, leaving the audience in a perpetual state of frustration, but certainly not due to any cinematic deficiencies or lack of an ingenious imagination by the director, whoever this turns out to be.  Instead it hinges on outing an unlikable hero, a guy with delusions of grandeur who is the main focus of the film, Thierry “Terry” Guetta, someone who allegedly infiltrated the urban Graffiti art movement in Europe and Los Angeles by videotaping various street artists at work, no small task considering all of these guys exist outside the law, operate in the stealth of night, and whose work mysteriously appears in public arenas as if conjured up by ghosts.  No one ever sees them.  If they did they’d be subject to arrest for defacing public property.  So the claims of this guy, a French exile who ends up on the streets of Los Angeles owning a highly fashionable clothing store, is highly suspect, except that he did accompany the supposed director Banksy on scouting locations around the rooftops of LA and allegedly has volumes of tapes recorded of many of these infamous artists at work, like Swoon, Neckface, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader (supposedly his cousin), Cheez, Coma and Banksy, a British legend who he befriends, hoping eventually to make a documentary illuminating their explosively dramatic artistic street vision.   


Dressed in a hoodie, his voice electronically altered, and continually shot in an unrecognizable black silhouette, Banksy turns into the criminally witness protected narrator of his own film, as he extemporaneously offers his comments about Guetta, who is prone to exaggerations and hyperbole, who always seems inclined to be the center of attention himself, and who’s real delight is supposedly hanging around and filming other artists, including Banksy, not editing the footage which simply lies around for months untouched.  But believing he has a goldmine once Banksy surges to superstardom, whose art exhibit becomes associated with well-pocketed Hollywood stars (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), turning his work instantly into collectors items with Graffiti art suddenly cashing in for large sums at swank public auctions, Guetta finally succumbs to the pressure and crafts a 90 minute editing nightmare disaster documentary called “Life Remote Control,” where unrelated images with no context whatsoever simply whiz by the screen, as if a remote control was continually changing the channel for upwards to 90 minutes, which can feel like being dropped out of a flying airplane without a parachute as the thoughts and images go streaming through your head in a nanosecond like a life threatening experience, leaving an audience dazed with horror.  Banksy considers it a nightmare of such colossal magnitude that he begins to suspect Guetta might have mental problems, and instead decides to take a stab at moviemaking targeting Guetta himself along with the available material, which somewhat haphazardly turns into this film.  


Besides Banksy, there is another unseen narrator who playfully describes Guetta’s foibles, Rhys Ifans, calling this “the biggest countercultural movement since punk.”  His tone is mocking, but befitting of the preening subject who’s switched sides of the camera, who’s gone from filming others to being the subject of the film itself.  At the urging of Banksy, largely to get rid of him and expose him for who he really is, an art wannabe, he urges him to become a street artist himself.  Guetta throws himself into this idea as if inspired by Michelangelo himself, creating a new name and street artist persona, calling himself Mr. Brainwash, garnering plenty of publicity, even featured in a spot by LA Weekly when he decides to turn an empty industrial building into the largest exhibit of Graffiti Art ever, an outlandish project that features extensive quantities of his own works, which eventually generated about a million dollars in personal revenue for himself.  He became an instant star, designing the cover of one of Madonna’s Greatest Hits albums (sold on Amazon here: and seen here:  Mr Brainwash creates artwork for Madonna Album cover).  But when we view his methods, he’s nothing more than a plagiarist, as he takes the existing works of others, namely Andy Warhol, prints hundreds of copies, and then splashes new paint on top of the existing copies, giving the appearance of an original work.  Despite his charlatan shortcomings, in typical Warhol fashion, he rides the tide of the Graffiti Art movement to become an instant celebrity, soon fading from public view into utter ignominy. 


Guetta is such a prima donna that he grows tiresome after awhile, even in such a short timespan, actually portrayed by Banksy as a loathsome and somewehat pathetic figure.  The entire film is a provocative work in question, however, exposing the subjective superficiality in commercial art evaluation, using a talentless hack like Guetta as a hyped example of a momentary high priced market commodity, where it’s possible the supposed narrative is a spoof, using a foolish, demented soul (and French on top of that!) as a would-be filmmaker/artist that may entirely be a work of fabrication, perhaps an unseen persona from the already shadowy world of Banksy himself, who is a legitimate artist who could have actually financed and filled an empty warehouse with his own works.  That muddled feeling in your head afterwards is the utter state of confusion this potential truth and/or faux documentary fiction leaves you with, offering no definitive views one way or another.            


Exit Through the Gift Shop  JR Jones from The Reader

A movie of billboard-size ironies, this tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French wannabe who spent eight years videotaping street artists (Banksy, Invader, Shepard Fairey) as they executed their illegal works. When pressed to deliver his long-promised documentary, Guetta assembled an unwatchable mess called Life Remote Control, then switched gears and, assisted by a cover story in LA Weekly, reinvented himself as a Warholian pop artist called Mr. Brainwash. Meanwhile Banksy—a Brit whose identity has never been revealed and is protected here—turned the tables on Guetta and made this highly amusing documentary about him. Since Exit Through the Gift Shop premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, some have suggested that the whole story, including the emergence of Mr. Brainwash, is an elaborate hoax engineered by Banksy to satirize the commodification of art. If so, it’s a brilliant one. R, 87 min.

The Onion A.V. Club review [A-]  Noel Murray

Once upon a time, in Los Angeles, French-born clothing-store proprietor Thierry Guetta picked up a video camera and began shooting everything and everyone around him. He pestered family members. He pestered celebrities, who couldn’t distinguish Guetta from a common paparazzo. Then one day, while visiting family in France, Guetta discovered that one of his cousins was the legendary street artist Space Invader, who was then gaining fame for the tiled mosaics he’d been installing surreptitiously in public spaces around Europe. Guetta, as was his wont, began videotaping Space Invader, and soon other graffiti artists, including Shepard Fairey and the mysterious British legend Banksy. Guetta claimed he was collecting all this footage for a documentary, but as the years rolled by, no documentary appeared, and Guetta’s friends began to wonder if he was more madman than filmmaker. Then again, what artist isn’t a little crazy?

Exit Through The Gift Shop is the result of Banksy’s attempts to wrestle with Guetta’s massive library of videotapes, and to make the documentary that Guetta couldn’t. The movie contains a lot of amazing footage of artists at work, and of their finished installations, most of which were removed or wiped away days later. Just as a permanent record of a remarkable artistic movement, Exit Through The Gift Shop is valuable. But there’s more going on here. In telling the story of Guetta’s obsessive behavior, Banksy delivers a surprisingly wry, analytical essay-film that starts out being about the DIY impulse, then becomes about what makes an artist great, and not a well-meaning wannabe. Exit features plenty of twists and turns—many involving the clandestine, lawbreaking art projects themselves—and it’s probably better if viewers don’t know the whole arc of the story going in. Suffice to say that Banksy’s movie grapples with the responsibility he feels for inspiring people like Guetta, and also grapples with the question of whether the enduring value of a piece of art derives from the image it captures, or the person who captures it. Exit Through The Gift Shop is a documentary that doubles as a comic thriller, and it’s as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

The Village Voice [Aaron Hillis]

A genuinely hip, thought-provoking work of art disguised as a doomed documentary resurrected, Exit Through the Gift Shop is not just the definitive portrait of street-art counterculture, but also a hilarious exposé on the gullibility of the masses who embrace manufactured creative personas. Though it's credited as a Banksy picture—as in the ever-elusive U.K. graffiti ninja whose puckish, anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian stencils have appeared everywhere from metropolitan billboards worldwide to the West Bank barrier wall—the film ostensibly began with him tapped as its on-camera subject.

Banksy's talking head appears faceless under a dark hood, with his pithy wit digitally masked, to help narrator Rhys Ifans explain how the role reversal occurred. The real "director" of most of the truly fascinating, dangerously obtained footage herein is Thierry Guetta, an eccentric French expat and family man living in Los Angeles. Guetta's fanatical devotion to recording every banal moment of his life yielded massive amounts of tape from the early days of the '90s street art scene—tape that would ultimately become Exit. Flush from his overpriced designer clothing store, Guetta had the time and resources to begin following his cousin—the mosaic artist Space Invader—on his night bombing missions, serving as the lookout man through his viewfinder. From there, the self-proclaimed filmmaker earned the trust of other street-scene notables. In addition to his holy grail Banksy, Guetta filmed Swoon and Shepard Fairey, who Guetta meets for the first time on camera as Fairey's printing out enlarged copies of his notorious "André the Giant Has a Posse" designs at a Kinko's. The irony of creating art with tools from a commercial franchise is not lost on Fairey, who admits that his logos "gain real power from perceived power."

Without ruining some subversively funny, late-breaking surprises, the impact of Fairey's quote sharply resonates after we see Guetta rechristen himself as the artist "Mr. Brainwash," exploiting his connections to get pull quotes for his first bought-and-paid-for solo exhibition, an inexplicably successful event aided by an LA Weekly cover story that inspired frothing among gallery patrons and bemused shrugs from Banksy and Fairey. Guetta's bullshit pop technique was to rip off those guys, and Warhol, wholesale, which in turn has made some question the validity of this film itself. Is Mr. Brainwash a flesh-and-blood installation, manipulated into being by Banksy, and is the hoax on us for being entertained by what we believe is true? I don't think so. Too cleverly constructed to dismiss as another recycled joke on the inanity of modern art, Exit Through the Gift Shop is—against its players' better judgment—strangely inspirational. Go on, pick up an aerosol can, paint yourself an empire, and see if we call your bluff.

The Times of London (Wendy Ide) review [4/5]  Wendy Ide, March 5, 2010

Street artist, provocateur, pop cultural phenomenon, criminal: in his career Banksy has managed to achieve the seemingly impossible, combining ruthless self-promotion with anonymity. So it’s to be expected that his film-making debut, Exit Through The Gift Shop, would be something of a conundrum. The simplest reading is that this is a straight documentary about the world of street art as seen through the eyes of the hanger-on turned art success story Thierry Guetta, aka Mr Brainwash or MBW.

It’s possible, however, that what the film actually documents is one of the most daring art hoaxes ever perpetrated, a joke at the considerable expense of those who rushed to commodify an art form that was always meant to be about free expression, free to all. Whether or not you take it at face value, this is a hugely entertaining movie, a fascinating record of an influential art movement infused with a suitably anarchic spirit.

Guetta is a part wide-eyed naïf, part semi-certifiable obsessive with a compulsion to document every banal detail with his ever-present video camera. Through his cousin, the mosaic artist Invader, Guetta stumbles on to the street art movement at a time when an explosion of creativity is propelling an underground medium into the mainstream. Guetta becomes the Zelig of the graffiti movement, documenting artists such as Shepard Fairey, Neckface and Banksy in action. The footage he captures is grungy and unpolished, but it is charged with the lawless energy of the scene. But, as an irony-drenched narration from Rhys Ifans explains, Guetta hoards his tapes, unwatched, with no real idea of what to do with them.

It’s at this point that things get intriguingly ambiguous. Realising that there are inanimate objects with more film-making skill than Guetta, Banksy takes on the project and tries to shape the vast cache of material into a film. He encourages Guetta to make his own work, anticipating that he will just tag a few walls or print a few posters. Instead Guetta sets up a studio, hires a team of helpers and sets about raping and pillaging 20th-century art to come up with a huge portfolio of work. He then hires a warehouse and stages one of the biggest art events to be held in LA.

I am inclined to suspect that there is at least a level of deception at play here. Banksy admits in the film that it was his suggestion that prompted Guetta to rifle through the pop cultural dustbin and put together his monster show. It’s not too much of a stretch to surmise that Bansky orchestrated the whole event to test the credulity of the art-buying hordes.

I have another reason to suspect this. I once met Banksy. It did not go well. What started out as a perfectly amiable chat descended into hostility when he talked about his favourite film and I gave my critical evaluation of it. The film was Life is Beautiful, the mawkish story of a man who creates a fictional alternative reality in a Nazi death camp. And the title of Guetta’s LA show? Life is Beautiful.

Twitch [Ryland Aldrich]

This year's Sundance Spotlight Surprise slot was filled by the documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, directed by the enigmatic artist Banksy.  The film is a documentation of the rise and subsequent commercialization of the street art movement, told via the narrative lens of one of the movement's most bizarre and commercially successful members, Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash.  The film is wildly successful at both capturing an art form that's practice has been mostly hidden behind the cover of darkness, and at telling that interesting story of a truly kooky character.  But the real success of the film is the questions it raises about the formation of the artist, the commerce of art, and the authenticity of documentary film.

The movie opens with a shrouded and vocally distorted Banksy explaining that while this movie was started as a documentary about him, he found the original filmmaker far more interesting. That man was the Frenchman Thierry Guetta - and his story starts in Los Angeles where he ran a successful vintage clothing shop. Thierry carried a video camera with him virtually everywhere he went, filling up tape after tape with a running documentation of his life.  That life changed dramatically on one trip to France when Thierry took his camera out one night to put up art with his cousin Space Invader, an early player in the street art scene famous for his mosaics depicting characters from the videogame of his namesake.  Thierry was immediately enamored by the thrill of the counter culture he had stumbled into.  When he returned to LA he sought out Shepard Fairey (whose Obey Giant and Obama "Hope" images should be familiar to everyone).  Shepard and Thierry struck up a friendship and the two spent many late nights bombing the city.  As Shepard puts it, Thierry may have been kind of weird, but he was a valuable asset to have along as a lookout and he was always willing to scale the tall buildings necessary to find the best spots to post art.

Due to his relationships with Shepard and Invader, Thierry met many other street artists and, because of his ever present video camera, became the de facto documentarian of the growing movement.  But the one artist who eluded his lens was the subversive English artist Banksy - a man whose gall and ingenuity (he hung his own paintings in the Tate Modern, MOMA, and the Met) had made him the best known name in the street art world.  As fate would have it, it was Banksy who, new to LA and in need of a guide, one day called Thierry.  Banksy was intrigued by the odd Frenchman and bought into Thierry's desire to document the movement.  So for the first time, Banksy allowed someone to capture his process and application.  After Banksy's "Barely Legal" art show in LA brought in millions of dollars and spelled the coming out party for street art, Banksy told Thierry it was time to release his documentary to the public.  Not really knowing anything about filmmaking, Thierry took a stab at it - cutting together 90 minutes of free flowing ideas and imagery.  As Banksy put it, the film was utter shit.  So Banksy asked Thierry to leave the tapes with him (to ostensibly create this documentary) and told Thierry to go home, work on his own art, and put on his own show.  Thierry did exactly that, building a street art factory and cranking out thousands of pieces of art under the moniker Mr. Brainwash.  His 2008 "Life is Beautiful" show earned him over $1 million and marked his overnight entry to the ranks of elite street artists. It also earned him the scorn of the very people whose trust he had worked so hard to earn: the artists who had labored years to find the success that Thierry rode to fortune.

This extremely interesting film is important for a number of reasons - not the least of which is as pure documentation.  Because of issues of questionable legality, street artists are notoriously distrustful of cameras.  But through his perseverance, Thierry proved both trustworthy and useful enough to the artists to earn his place.  'Who is the crazy French guy with camera?' quickly turned into, 'We're going out, call Thierry.'  The explosion of the street art movement at the turn of this century and its subsequent transition to the big money world of art collectors is comparable to the French Impressionist movement at the turn of the last century.  Without Thierry's odd need to film every aspect of his life, this level of documentation simply would not exist.

Or would it?  The subversive nature of street art can't help but lead to a certain level of healthy skepticism.  Might Thierry just be a pawn - another contribution in Banksy's invented narrative of the movement he has already played such a role in creating?  Thierry is quite the captivating character.  The meteoric rise of the Mr. Brainwash brand raises numerous questions about the intersection of art criticism and commercial consumption.  Can art be considered successful if it is popular to the public but not accepted by the community of artists?  Questions like this are certainly not new, but the film provides an interesting context for their further exploration.

One way or another, Banksy is responsible for the creation of Thierry and Mr. Brainwash. This film is either Banksy taking credit, or pleading his excuse.

Exit Through the Gift Shop  Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus


New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review


Movieline (Stephanie Zacharek) review [8/10]


James Bowman review [alex roberts]


Cinematical (Kevin Kelly) review  at Sundance, with Banksy?


Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young]


Hollywood Jesus [Elisabeth Leitch]


Cinema Blend [Katey Rich]


The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review


The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review


Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]


Eye for Film (Amber Wilkinson) review [3/5]


Daily Film Dose [Blair Stewart] (Brian Orndorf) review [C]  also seen here:  Briandom [Brian Orndorf]


RopeofSilicon (Brad Brevet) review [B-]


Hallie Newton: Banksy Makes A Documentary, Art World Still Confused  Hallie Newton from The Huffington Post, April 19, 2010


Shepard Fairey Swears to God the Banksy Movie is Not a Hoax ...  Julian Sancton from Vanity Fair, April 16, 2010


BANKSY - SWINDLE Magazine  Feature and interview by Shepard Fairey from Swindle magazine, August 2006


Moment of Truth: Banksy is Selling, But Are You Buying?  S.T. VanAirsdale interview with one of the film’s producers John Sloss, from Movieline, April 15, 2010


Entertainment Weekly review [A]  Owen Gleiberman


Variety (Peter Debruge) review


Time Out Chicago (Ben Kenigsberg) review [4/5]Time Out Online (Dave Calhoun) review [4/5]


The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review [4/5]  March 4, 2010


The Guardian (Jeremy Kay) review  January 26, 2010


Banksy's pop-up cinema isn't the only art event on Leake Street  Ben Walters from The Guardian, March 1, 2010


Banksy runs risk of public unmasking at Bristol show  Paul Gallagher from The Observer, August 30, 2009


Banksy sees red over climate change  Haroon Siddique from The Guardian, December 21, 2009


Banksy in line for Oscar nomination  Esther Addley from The Guardian, November 19, 2010


Banksy targets LA ahead of Oscars  Andrew Pulver from The Guardian, February 17, 2011, images here:  Banksy tags Hollywood - in pictures


Artist Banksy’s dig at banks  The Times Online, May 18, 2007


How to sell Banksy — hire some strippers   Luke Leitch from The Times Online, October 6, 2007


Banksy street art makes him a tidy profit  Lucy Bannerman from The Times Online, October 25, 2007


Banksy caught in the act for first time  Patrick Foster from The Times Online, October 31, 2007


Banksy: Off the wall  Carol Midgley from The Times Online, November 1, 2007


Banksy 'caught red-handed' in art prank   Nico Hines from The Times Online, November 19, 2007


Banksy brings graffiti to Bonhams   Richard Brooks from The Times Online, November 25, 2007


Let us spray: Banksy hits Bethlehem  from The Times Online, December 3, 2007


How profit of Banksy was finally recognised  from The Times Online, December 26, 2007


Art Attack  The Times Online, January 14, 2008


Banksy wall art may top £200k on eBay   Simon Crerar from The Times Online, January 14, 2008


£200,000 online bid for graffiti, plus wall   Dalya Alberge from The Times Online, January 15, 2008


Bryan Appleyard on art on the web   Bryan Appleyard from The Times Online, January 20, 2008


‘Banksy’s ideas have the value of a joke’   Matthew Collings from The Times Online, January 28, 2008


How Banksy made graffiti popular with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt   Lindsay Baker from The Times Online, February 3, 2008


Banksy’s whitewashed work returns   from The Times Online, February 16, 2008


Banksy hosts underground tunnel show   Luke Leitch from The Times Online, May 2, 2008


The man who gave birth to Banksy   from The Times Online, June 8, 2008


The Times of London  The artist formerly known as Banksy, by Ben Hoyle from The Times Online, July 14, 2008


Banksy's banned for vandalism   from The Times Online, October 24, 2008


Banning work is good for a cultural guerrilla   from The Times Online, October 24, 2008


Banksy backlash as acclaimed work defaced  from The Times Online, April 7, 2009


Banksy creates ‘self-portrait’ on office block   from The Times Online, May 11, 2009


The Times of London review  Exit Through the Gift Shop at the Berlin Film Festival, by Wendy Ide, February 15, 2010


The Independent (Kaleem Aftab) review [4/5]


The Independent (Anthony Quinn) review [3/5]


The Boston Phoenix (Brett Michel) review


San Francisco Chronicle [G. Allen Johnson]


Lisa D'Amato Likes Balls, Jason Bentley "Not Sure" About Elephants  Caroline Ryder from LA Weekly, September 15, 2006


Mr. Brainwash Bombs L.A.  Shelley Leopold from LA Weekly, June 12, 2008


L.A. 'Street Artist' Mr. Brainwash Takes Manhattan (With a Velvet Rope, Of Course)  Barbara Celis from LA Weekly, February 15, 2010


Banksy Revealed? - Page 1 - Art+Books - Los Angeles - LA Weekly  Shelley Leopold from LA Weekly, April 8, 2010


Faux Hookers, Bartending Kids at Banksy Premiere  Karina Longworth from LA Weekly, April 12, 2010


Celebrities Caught Tagging at Banksy Premiere  Liz Ohanesian from LA Weekly, April 14, 2010


Banksy in L.A.: Popular British Graffiti Artist Leaves His Mark in ...  KTLA News, April 14, 2010, video report seen here:  Video, also accompanying Photos


Hanky Banksy  Letters from Readers from LA Weekly, April 15, 2010


Movie Reviews: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Handsome Harry  Aaron Hillis from LA Weekly, April 15, 2010


Movie review: 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan from The LA Times, April 16, 2010


Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]


New York Times (registration req'd)  Jeannette Catsoulis, April 16, 2010 


Truth Lies Somewhere in Between   Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, February 12, 2010


Banksy Puzzles With 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' -  Melena Ryzik from The New York Times, April 13, 2010


Mr Brainwash creates artwork for Madonna Album cover  Art Republic


Celebration (Madonna album) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Madonna Greatest Hits Celebration Album Cover PICS |


Madonna's Greatest Hits Album


Local Street Artist Lands Madonna Album Cover


Blonde Ambition: Madonna and Britney Spears kissing mural


Banksy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  Graffiti artist Banksy website


Banksy - Shop


Images for "Banksy"


Warhol vs Banksy  Pollock Fine Art


The work of urban artist Banksy  9 image slide show photo gallery, from The Times Online


Pictures: Banksy  10 image slide show photo gallery, from The Times Online


Banksy Street Art Cans Festival  11 image slide show photo gallery, from The Times Online  Contemporary Art website


Bar-Lev, Amir


Amir Bar-Lev to Direct Jerry Garcia Biopic DARK STAR  Collider, July 22, 2010


Amir Bar-Lev's Jerry Garcia biopic hits a snag »  Joshua Brunsting, August 6, 2010


Sundance '10 | Amir Bar-Lev Deconstructs the Hero Myth in 'Tillman ...  indieWIRE interview at Sundance, January 8, 2010


THE FOG OF WAR | The Filmmaker Magazine Blog  Jason Guerrasio feature and interview from Filmmaker magazine, July 20, 2010


The Tillman Story director Amir Bar-Lev | Film | Interview | The ...  Noel Murray interview from The Onion A.V. Club, August 19, 2010


Jonathan Kim: ReThink Interview: Amir Bar-Lev, Director of The ...  Jonathan Kim video interview of the director, August 22, 2010 on YouTube (7:43)


Amir Bar-Lev - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Great Britain  USA  (82 mi)  2007


Exclaim! [Travis Mackenzie Hoover]

Prodigy or pretence? That’s the question surrounding four-year-old Marla Olmstead and her alleged genius for abstract expressionist painting. But though the issue of whether or not she painted her increasingly expensive canvases is at this documentary’s surface, its heart is a thornier tale of media fiction and the elusive nature of truth.

The ball gets rolling when an apparently benevolent “family” reporter first prints the tale of Olmstead and her parents, then larger news outlets pick up the story and Marla’s paintings begin to sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The befuddled toddler is suddenly in the middle of a major media frenzy, which takes a darker turn when 60 Minutes reports — on suspiciously thin evidence — that her father Mark actually coached her.

What starts as a study of a child phenomenon transforms into a challenge to her work’s authenticity, as well as the news world’s need to first build stories and then change them to keep them interesting. By the end, director Amir Bar-Lev is scrutinising himself for his complicity in creating the myth and interfering in his subjects’ lives, making for an uniquely searching and uncommonly tense viewing experience.

Almost nothing is known for certain: evidence points towards and away from fraud, and stories are told that may be true or may be created to justify the print-and-television feeding frenzy. About all we know for sure is that Olmstead’s dealer is a jerk, and even he has opinions that disturb the idea of what abstract art is and why anyone should care.

Make no mistake, this is one troubling movie with enough thematic strands to keep you occupied long after you leave the theatre.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]


Four-year-old Marla Olmstead became an art-world sensation when her abstract paintings started selling for thousands of dollars and the media turned her into a personal interest story celebrity: the preschool Pollack. When a "60 Minutes" feature suggested she didn't paint them herself, or at least not without help, the public turned on the parents with such hostility that you'd think they had been convicted of some unspeakable crime.

"My Kid Could Paint That" isn't their story, or rather it isn't simply their story. It's a dissection of how the media found and fed and nurtured the story in their insatiable need for content to fill their news hours and talk shows, how it just as quickly turned on them and transformed the story from celebration to vilification, and how the public turned right along with them. Evidence has a very minor role in this media trial.

Director Amir Bar-lev investigates the boundaries between public and private that are blurred by the media's need for stories and as he confronts the motivations and responsibilities of the media he faces those same questions, sometimes right on screen.

Did Marla paint those canvases herself or didn't she? While the question hangs over the documentary and evidence is lined up on both sides, Bar-lev offers no definitive answer and, ultimately, it's beside the point.

Does the answer change the value of the paintings? Is it all about what's on the canvas or the notoriety behind it? Is his responsibility as a filmmaker to deliver a good story or an accurate story? What about his responsibility to the family?

Like the best of the new wave of American documentaries, it becomes about far more than the human-interest angle at the center of the story, yet Bar-lev never forgets about them. It only makes the provocative story all the more involving.

The Village Voice [Nathan Lee]

An irresistible subject for a documentary: The charming celebrity of Marla Olmstead, an artist from upstate New York whose talent for impossibly confident abstractions triggered a media frenzy and five-figure price tags. Unveiled at a local coffee shop, Marla's middling AbEx doodles might not have inspired more than a glance at the milk-and-sugar station were it not for the astonishing revelation that their maker was all of four years old. Supposedly.

An unexpected development: Growing suspicions that Mark Olmstead, Marla's father and an amateur painter himself, may have lent more than encouraging words to his daughter's endeavor. Dazzled by the media attention (and, one presumes, the money), he was stumped by the inevitable backlash, unable to offer convincing proof of his daughter's sole authorship.

An inevitable talking head: "There's this large idea out there that abstract art and modern art in general has no standards, no truths," says Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic of The New York Times and running commentator on the cultural implications of the Marla mystery in My Kid Could Paint That. "That if a child could do it, it pulls the veil off this con game."

What began as a human-interest story for filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev led down stranger paths than the Duchampian conundrums of modern art. The Olmsteads, desiring an ally to tell their side of the story, granted Bar-Lev intimate access to their household, and My Kid Could Paint That is foremost a study in a most unusual and unsettling family dynamic. Mark's eagerness to exploit Marla's fame is poised against his wife Laura's reluctance and intuition that theirs is a situation bound to get out of control. Meanwhile, little Marla bears no sign of distress over her extraordinary circumstances, making her innocent poise all the more poignant.

Confronted with increasing media scrutiny and skepticism, Mark produces a DVD purporting to record the start-to-finish creation of a Marla masterpiece. Bar-Lev counters with altogether more persuasive evidence to the contrary via split-screen comparison of canvasses. Are Mark and Laura lying? If My Kid Could Paint That is the record of a con, its artists are supremely confident practitioners. Is Marla, as the parents claim, simply too shy on camera to work in her true style? Evidence points to some level of assistance, but no conclusions are drawn. "Your documentary will be a lie," Kimmelman says to the camera, speaking to larger questions of authenticity raised by Bar-Lev; "it's how you decided to tell a particular story."

Mike D'Angelo   #3 on his  2007 Top Ten List


DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) review [4/5]

Pajiba (John Williams) review

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

Edward Copeland on Film

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

PopMatters (Rachel Kipp) review

Slant Magazine review  Fernando F. Croce

Ruthless Reviews ("potentially offensive")  Matt Cale (Chris Barsanti) review [3.5/5], Choices for the Cognoscenti   Harry Chotiner


My Kid Could Paint That  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

Eye for Film (Anton Bitel) review [4/5]

DVD Talk (Francis Rizzo III) dvd review [4/5]

DVD Talk (Chris Neilson) dvd review [4/5]

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3.5/4]

DVD Verdict (Erich Asperschlager) dvd review

Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer) capsule review [A]

The New York Sun (Bruce Bennett) review

One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [B+]

Bina007 Movie Reviews [Kent Turner]

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

Time Out London (Trevor Johnston) review [4/5]

Time Out New York (Joshua Rothkopf) review [3/5]

Time Out Chicago (Hank Sartin) review [4/5]

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [2/5]


San Francisco Chronicle review  Kenneth Baker


Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review


Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]


The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review


THE TILLMAN STORY                                          B                     89

USA  (94 mi)  2010

People have asked, "Why is Pat so special that so much attention is given to his death"? I understand that question. Thousands of soldiers and Marines have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of their families have also been lied to, yet those deaths have not received the attention Pat's did. And Pat's death continues to be in the news.

Pat's story initially became news because he was well known for having played in the NFL. The government used his fame to create propaganda for the war. Pat is not more important or special than any of the others who have fought in these wars, but the truth of what happened to Pat — and to every soldier who has died — is important. The truth shines a light on systematic corruption, incompetence and lack of accountability in the military and in government.

Over the last five years, the Pentagon and Congress have had numerous opportunities to hold accountable those responsible for the coverup of Pat's death. Each time they've failed. The government didn't just lie to us; it lied to a nation.

—Mary “Dannie” Tillman


Here’s a documentary about a recent newsworthy event where the audience already knows the outcome, as it was plastered all over the front pages, which makes it all the more difficult to make a compelling film that continues to hold the audience’s attention.  The real surprise here is not what happened to Pat Tillman, a pro football player for the St. Louis Cardinals, who after 9/11 enlisted into the U.S. Army Rangers along with his brother, Kevin, turning down a multi-million dollar contract to serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was eventually killed in 2004 by fratricide, or friendly fire, but that his story of selfless patriotism and heroism was immediately co-opted by various organizations and used as propaganda to help promote their respective causes, not the least of which was the American Armed Forces which immediately used him as a poster boy to help recruit young soldiers.  What we discover surrounding this film is an arrogance of war that includes a wholesale contempt for the truth.  While on the same battlefield where Tillman was killed, but ten minutes away, his brother Kevin was immediately quarantined by the Army and no one was allowed to tell him or his family what happened.  The initial reports announced that Tillman was killed in an act of valiant heroism, killed by the Taliban while saving the lives of his men, even constructing his final words “Let’s take the fight to the enemy!” that he was alleged to have shouted at his troops, which was the Army version reported at the family funeral.  But once the family got their hands on the 3000 pages of documents used by the Army to conduct their investigation of his death, most of it was lined out, suppressing the names of all the officers and individual soldiers interviewed, leaving the family wondering what really happened, where it soon became clear the Army, in direct violation of military regulations, burned Tillman’s uniform, body armor, and diary, all the evidence that could be used to determine what actually happened instead of the fabricated version touted by the military that immediately awarded Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion to corporal for his valor, apparently figuring the family would be happy with nationwide adulation.


What is clear is that from day one, the Army has continued to misrepresent the truth about how he died and instead glorified Tillman into some kind of larger than life, mythical war hero.  When meeting the members of the Tillman family, from his mother Dannie, his father Patrick Sr, his brothers Kevin and Richard, and widowed spouse Marie, their family has a commendable history of service in the armed forces that Pat Tillman may have wanted to live up to.  Also since his brother enlisted at the same time, it’s possible he may have joined to protect his younger brother.  His actual reasons were never made public, as he was a private man who never wanted glory.  Instead he was a guy who rode a bicycle to the Cardinal training camp and never owned a cell phone, an avowed atheist who studied all the religions in order to show due respect for each, while studying Emerson, Homer, and even Noam Chomsky, where the picture his family paints of a quiet, reflective individual is radically different from the flag waving, Rambo-like status that quickly took shape in the media, very similar to the Jessica Lynch story, the Army private who was reportedly captured and being tortured in a hospital, requiring the heroic rescue of a special ops team whose mission was mysteriously delayed until after the arrival of an Army cameraman who could film the rescue live, all fodder for the evening news which ran the story as fed to them, only to discover afterwards that none of it was true, as she was never captured or tortured, but was wounded and being well taken care of in a hospital, with no need for any special forces.  Lynch afterwards accused the government of embellishing her story as part of a concerted propaganda effort to gain support for the war, a claim Tillman could not make in death.  His family was obviously uncomfortable with how Tillman was being misrepresented at the memorial service orchestrated by the Bush Administration that included high ranking Army officers and political dignitaries, where his younger brother Richard took the podium during the live coverage and countered “He’s not with God, he’s fucking dead.  He’s not religious.  So thanks for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead,” causing the networks to immediately shut down their live feed.   


A few month’s later, the Army changed their story and announced he was killed in the heat of battle, calling it “the fog of war” from friendly fire, continuing to herald his heroism on the battlefield. Tillman’s mother, who was a schoolteacher, initiated a relentless barrage of phone calls trying to figure out how to identify the names in the Army report, literally spending several years of her life doing this, eventually quitting her job.  Mostly she came up empty until she discovered Stan Goff, a retired special-ops expert who is an author who runs an Army-related website:  Stan Goff.  While Goff never knew Tillman, his experience in Special Forces helped the family understand the mindset and vernacular used by combat soldiers in describing the events in the report.  What they attempted to do was fill in the names and missing pieces for all the blacked out details in order to make the report more understandable.  Director Bar-Lev even returns to the canyon where Tillman was shot and reconstructs the events of that day, where his unit was unfortunately separated due to a broken down vehicle.  When Tillman heard a blast and attempted to climb a hill to join and protect the other half behind him, he was mistakenly shot by his own men.  As to why highly trained Rangers would shoot at Tillman who was about 40 yards away, reportedly shouting out at them “I’m Pat Fucking Tillman!,” several soldiers remarked in the report that they were “excited” and “wanted to stay in the firefight.”  Unlike the Army which still contends they received incoming rounds of mortar attack, Goff and the family ultimately concluded there was no credible evidence the Rangers were ever under attack, but it was more likely a gun that simply misfired and the over-reactions of trigger-happy 19-year olds.  When they finally identified a moving target off in the distance climbing up a hill, they moved in for the kill.  “It was not a fog of war. It was a lust to fight.”


After several years of getting stonewalled from military inquiries, Tillman’s father, a lawyer, fired off a blistering letter where point by point he discounts the accuracy and credibility of the Army’s official report, basically calling it a fraud and accusing the military investigators of a cover-up.  Two days later, an Associated Press reporter received an anonymously leaked top-secret memo sent by General Stanley McChrystal to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, top Pentagon Generals and senior White House officials within days of Tillman’s death which acknowledges his death by “friendly fire,” but also warns of potential political damage should this become public knowledge.  All of which suggests that military officials were aware of this while they were concocting various fabrications on live TV as early as the memorial service.  3-star General Philip Kensinger, who spoke at the memorial service, was singled out for blame precisely because he was retired, though he is seen on camera expressing amazement that after a career of following orders that he was singled out for following this one.  This led to a sham Congressional hearing which the family attended, moderated by California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, where Kensinger and most of the Republicans were not present, but one by one the highest ranking 4-Star Generals in the land, including McChrystal, Richard Myers and John Abizaid, as well as then retired Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, used the words “I don’t recall” some 82 times in their testimony, with no follow up questions whatsoever, only polite comments about holding the military in high regard, allowing cover for the  military to continue to avoid telling the truth while escaping any kind of accountability.  Ironically, it was General McChrystal, despite knowing the true circumstances of Tillman’s death, who signed the order to award him a Silver Star, claiming “devastating enemy fire.”  Years later McChrystal was promoted to head all of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  Ultimately, no soldier was ever held responsible for Tillman’s death, no Bush Administration official was ever held accountable for inventing a false scenario surrounding his death, which was probably created ahead of time in the event he was killed, as he was the highest profile soldier in the Armed Forces, the only one to receive a personal letter from the Secretary of Defense commending them for enlisting, or for inventing Jessica Lynch’s fake heroic rescue, even staging it on camera, or for fabricating the trumped up lies that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, a country that attacked no one and had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, not that the truth matters.      


Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

Six years after he was killed by American soldiers in Afghanistan, the facts about Pat Tillman's death are still surfacing, a tribute to the lengths to which the military and civilian administrations went to bury them. Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) grabs a shovel and digs deep, turning up first-person accounts that Tillman's death was less a matter of friendly fire than pure recklessness, the acts of unseasoned and uncontrolled troops more concerned with discharging their weapons during a potential firefight than being sure of what they were shooting at. (The movie's original title, I'm Pat Fucking Tillman, refers to his last words, a vain attempt to stop his comrades in arms from blowing him away.) Tillman emerges as a complicated figure, an avowed patriot who gave up a promising football career to enlist after Sept. 11, yet passionately questioned the conduct of the war, reading Noam Chomsky in his bunk. He refused all interview requests about his enlistment, not wanting it to be used for political purposes; he was a private celebrity. The military continues to claim that the misreporting of Tillman's death — initially claimed as a combat fatality, and exploited to boost the war effort in exactly the way he disdained — was the result of a series of errors, but if nothing else, The Tillman Story should put that lie firmly in the ground at last.

Time Out New York review [4/5]  David Fear

Everyone knows about the life and death of Pat Tillman: the square-jawed all-star football player who walked away from a career with the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. Army Rangers. While serving a second tour of duty in Afghanistan in April 2004, he was killed fighting the Taliban; a less spin-ready story involving friendly fire eventually emerged. So the problem that documentarian Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) faces is how to tell this tale without simply recycling angles already done to death by CNN reports and angry op-ed pieces.

That Bar-Lev gives equal time to Tillman’s family and their outrage offers a compelling parallel narrative to the soldier’s own; it’s the reclamation of this hero from the jaws of government PR-martyrdom that seals the deal. The film treats the so-called supersoldier like nothing more than a man—one who drank beer, took dangerous risks, felt disillusioned by the military and yet honored his commitment. Such a simple but revolutionary idea still can’t quite overcome Bar-Lev’s shaky grasp of filmmaking (his doubling back on chronology in the name of tension often causes only confusion). Yet by focusing on the human being, The Tillman Story balances cynical and inspirational aspects in equal measure. Pat’s demise—and the media debacle around it—seems that much more tragic and enraging.

The Onion A.V. Club review [A-]  Noel Murray

The title for Amir Bar-Lev’s well-researched, deeply moving documentary about Pat Tillman is just fine as it is, since the “story” part of The Tillman Story refers in part to the attempts to turn the “friendly fire” death of the former NFL star and Army ranger into pro-enlistment myth-making. But one of Bar-Lev’s earlier titles would’ve been just as good: I’m Pat _______ Tillman. That title alluded to Tillman’s reported last words: “I’m Pat fucking Tillman!,” shouted repeatedly from the hilltop toward his overheated comrades, roughly 40 yards away. The old title also references the 3,000-word report the Tillman family received from the military, which had so many names and places redacted that it took years for the Tillmans to fill in the blanks and find out exactly how they’d been lied to. Mostly though, the old title, like the new one, speaks to the way people on both the left and the right (but mostly the right) have tried to project their own beliefs onto a man who kept his close to the vest.

Bar-Lev (who previously made the excellent My Kid Could Paint That) employs the conventional documentary format of talking heads, file footage, and insert shots, but he assembles it skillfully, presenting the Tillman The Patriot narrative first, then going back to show a more complicated man, whose real reasons for abandoning his lucrative football career to enlist in the military have never been fully revealed. Along the way, Bar-Lev blasts the media for merely parroting what the authorities tell them, and effectively accuses a succession of investigative bodies of entering outright, obvious lies into the public record. Most of the material in this movie has been seen, heard, or read before, but never with this level of useful illustration. For example, words can’t properly describe the rousing footage of Tillman’s younger brother speaking at Pat’s memorial service. After John McCain and other political and military leaders spoke about Pat being in “a better place,” the younger Tillman took the stage with a pint of ale, thanked everyone for coming, then said, “By the way, Pat isn’t with God, he’s fuckin’ dead. He wasn’t religious.” In the propaganda-filled realms of politics, sports, and the military, that kind of no-bullshit-allowed truth feels cathartic. No wonder the Tillman family has spent much of the last 10 years fighting for it.

The Pat Tillman Myth - Newsweek  Jennie Yabroff from Newsweek magazine, August 5, 2010

Watch just a few seconds of the footage the major news outlets ran nearly nonstop in the weeks following Pat Tillman’s death and you’ll get a crash course in Mythmaking 101. Flags wave. Slo-mo footage of the pro football player turned Army Ranger is intercut with still photographs from his life. Stirring music swells, while a somber-voiced narrator intones that Tillman was an “unflinching patriot” who gave his life for his country. It’s the narrative that was propagated by George W. Bush when he said, “Pat Tillman loved the game of football. Yet he loved America even more.”

Did he? The reality is, only Tillman’s family knows why he gave up his football career to join the Army, and only a few of the troops present on the day he died know the exact circumstances of his death. A new documentary, The Tillman Story, questions our need to idolize Tillman, and our desire for tidy answers about why he decided to enlist in the Army and what happened the day he died. Filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev scrupulously avoids the sort of speculation and psychoanalyzing that the media engaged in following Tillman’s death, yet he employs some of the same techniques as the news reports he criticizes. All of which raises a question: can a film that aims to counteract propaganda avoid becoming propaganda itself?

We are used to a certain degree of artifice in works of fiction—art, Picasso said, is the lie that tells the truth—but from their earliest days documentaries have manipulated facts and images just as much as narrative films. In 1922’s Nanook of the North, filmmaker Robert Flaherty staged scenes, demanded theInuit actors hunt with traditional spears instead of the guns they normally used, and even changed the name of the lead character (Allakariallak of the North just didn’t have the same ring to it). In the ensuing years, documentarians began using vérité techniques with the aim of presenting a more “realistic” view of their subjects. The handheld camerawork, fuzzy sound quality, and lack of narration gave vérité films a patina of authenticity, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t every bit as manipulative as their more polished counterparts.

“It’s impossible for a film not to have an opinion,” says Bar-Lev, who also directed Fighter and My Kid Could Paint That, “and the best films are the ones that allow room for the audience to decide whether they agree with the perspective of the film.” Bar-Lev traces the evolution of the Tillman myth from the first reports of his death, attributed to rebel fighters, to the revelation that he was killed by friendly fire and his family’s attempts to ascertain the circumstances of his death. But rather than uncovering any answers, he’s more interested in exploring our need to lionize Tillman.

Bar-Lev unapologetically paints Tillman’s family with the same heroic colors he accuses the media of bestowing on Tillman himself. He doesn’t question the family’s assertions that the military tried to cover up the truth behind Tillman’s death. “The story is about a family that’s looking for justice,” he says. “They want the people responsible for this criminal negligence [in Tillman’s death] to be held accountable, and they want who Pat was to be affirmed and to be recognized, and to have his legacy not be something he would’ve been revolted by. I’m totally, unabashedly on their side on both those things, and the film is made in order to help that cause.”

With its somber narration (by the actor Josh Brolin), rousing soundtrack, and smooth camerawork, The Tillman Story looks and sounds more like a newsmagazine segment than either of Bar-Lev’s previous films. “This is definitely a more conventional film,” he says. “We eschewed anything too unconventional in order to give the film the fighting chance for our hopefully very subversive notions to get across. But I don’t think we did the things I’m accusing the mainstream media of.” Whether the film gets closer to the truth or adds another layer of obfuscation is up to audiences to decide. But it reminds us that no movie, news segment, or non-fiction book presents an unvarnished version of reality.

Cineaste  Gary Crowdus, 2010


Popdose [Robert Cashill]


The Village Voice [Melissa Anderson]


Pajiba (Dustin Rowles) review


World Socialist Web Site (Fred Mazelis) review


The Tillman Story | Reverse Shot  Storyteller, by Anna Thorngate from Reverse Shot  Chris Barsanti


Cinematical [Christopher Campbell]


Critic's Notebook [Robert Levin]


The Parallax Review [Mark Dujsik]


The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review  Michael Lee


James Bowman review


Slant Magazine (Nick Schager) review


filmsoundoff [alex roberts] Arts review  Greig Dymond [Stephen Saito]

One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [B+]


ReelTalk (Diana Saenger) review


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review


RopeofSilicon (Brad Brevet) review [B+]


Siffblog [Kathy Fennessy]


Cole Smithey [Cole Smithey]


Boxoffice Magazine review  Ray Greene


The Hollywood Reporter review  Justin Lowe


Entertainment Weekly review [B+]  Owen Gleiberman


Variety (Dennis Harvey) review


Philadelphia Daily News (Gary Thompson) review [B+]


On Movies: How myth-makers distorted Tillman's death ...  Steven Rea from The Philadelphia Inquirer


Philadelphia Inquirer (Carrie Rickey) review [3.5/4]


San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [4/4]


Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review  August 20, 2010


Getting to the truth of Pat Tillman's death - Los Angeles Times   Michael Ordoña, August 18, 2010


Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review


The New York Times (Stephen Holden) review  August 20, 2010, also here:  Pat Tillman, Hero and Victim, by Amir Bar-Lev


‘Tillman Story’ and ‘A Film Unfinished,’ Wartime Lies  Whitewash in Wartime, by Ari Karpel from The New York Times, August 13, 2010


Pat Tillman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Pat Tillman Foundation


Tillman's Bold Career Move  Mike Freeman from The New York Times, July 14, 2002


PRO FOOTBALL; Ex-N.F.L. Player Is Killed In Combat  Bill Pennington from The New York Times, April 24, 2004


Ex-NFL player Tillman killed in Afghanistan - World news -  April 26, 2004


Combat Death of N.F.L. Star Is Laid to American Troops  Warren E. Leary from The New York Times, May 30, 2004


The death of Pat Tillman: military mythmaking and the “war on terror”   Patrick Martin from the World Socialist Website, December 14, 2004


Who Killed Pat Tillman?  Michael I. Niman from The Humanist, January/February 2006


2 Years After Soldier's Death, Family's Battle Is With Army  Monica Davey and Eric Schmitt from The New York Times, March 21, 2006


Pat Tillman’s family speaks out against latest whitewash of “friendly fire” killing in Afghanistan  Tom Carter from the World Socialist Website, March 29, 2007


Retired General Is Censured for Role in Tillman Case  Neil A. Lewis from The New York Times, August 1, 2007


The Raw Story | Censured general evades subpoena to appear before ...  Michael Roston from The Raw Story, August 1, 2007


Waiting for the Truth on Corporal Tillman  Editorial from The New York Times, August 4, 2007


After the Pat Tillman Cover-Up, Hard Questions  Letter to the Editor from The New York Times, August 5, 2007


Generals Don’t Need a Watchdog  Jack Jacobs op/ed essay from The New York Times, August 8, 2007


NATIONAL BRIEFING: THE MILITARY: Request For Release of Tillman Documents  The New York Times, August 14, 2007


Panel Hears About Falsehoods in 2 Wartime Incidents  Michael Luo from The New York Times, August 25, 2007


A Son’s Death, a Mother’s Agony, a Country’s Shame  George Vecsey from The New York Times, May 8, 2008


Mary Tillman denounces cover-up of son’s “friendly fire” killing in Afghanistan  Joseph Kishore from the World Socialist Website, May 12, 2008


Who Spread False Tales of Heroism?  Editorial from The New York Times, July 16, 2008


Nonfiction Chronicle  Tara McKelvey reviews Mary Tillman’s book, Boots On the Ground By Dusk, from The New York Times, July 20, 2008


Tillman’s Presence Is Still Strong  Karen Crouse from The New York Times, January 30, 2009


Commander's Ouster Is Tied to Shift in Afghan War   Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker from The New York Times, May 11, 2009


MAN IN THE NEWS; A General Steps From the Shadows  Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti from The New York Times, May 12, 2009


Switch Signals New Path for Afghan War   Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti from The New York Times, May 12, 2009


New Commander for Afghanistan  Editorial from The New York Times, May 13, 2009


No Food for Thought: The Way of the Warrior  James Dao from The New York Times, May 16, 2009


Nomination of U.S. Afghan Commander Revives Questions in Tillman Case  Thom Shanker from The New York Times, May 25, 2009, which includes a timeline of events seen here:  A General’s Role in the Aftermath of a Famous Corporal’s Death


The Good Soldier  Dexter Filkins on Jon Krakauer’s book, The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, from The New York Times, September 13, 2009


Talk of Deceit Where Honor Is Taught  Charles McGrath on Jon Krakauer’s book, The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, from The New York Times, September 16, 2009


From N.F.L. to Afghanistan, Following the Call to Arms  Janet Maslin book review, Jon Krakauer’s The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, from The New York Times, September 23, 2009


Revisiting the Pat Tillman Story, and McChrystal's Role -  Toni Monkovic from The New York Times, June 23, 2010


This New Pat Tillman Documentary Will Make McChrystal's Retirement ...  Jennie Yabroff from Newsweek magazine, July 1, 2010


Pat Tillman's mother on Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal: I told you ...  Mary Tillman from The LA Times, August 8, 2010


Pat Tillman's Father To Army Investigator: 'F--- You... And Yours ...  Sam Stein from The Huffington Post, August 12, 2010


Pat Tillman's War | Mother Jones  Elizabeth Gettelman from Mother Jones magazine, September 3, 2010


Why Pat Tillman's Death Matters | The LA Progressive  Dick Price, September 10, 2010


Bardem, Juan Antonio


Juan Antonio Bardem - Director - Films as Director:, Other Films ...  Katherine Singer Kovács from Film Reference

A pioneer figure in Spanish film, Juan Antonio Bardem is also one of Spain's most consistently political filmmakers. In his early movies Esa pareja feliz and Bienvenido Mr. Marshall , co-directed with Luis Garcia Berlanga, he broke with prevailing Francoist film traditions that emphasized militarism, folklore, literary adaptations and costume dramas. Bardem and Berlanga chose instead to present scenes of contemporary Spanish life and used humor to describe and criticize aspects of Spanish society. With Bienvenido Mr. Marshall the two directors were recognized as leading filmmakers and, along with others of their generation, they set out to revitalize the Spanish film industry and to rescue Spanish films from mediocrity. At a meeting held in Salamanca in 1955, they drafted a statement of principles in which Bardem wrote: "After 60 years, Spanish cinema is politically futile, socially false, intellectually worthless, aesthetically valueless and industrially paralytic." Bardem went on to note that Spanish cinema "had turned its back on reality . . . (and was) totally removed from Spanish realistic traditions [as found] in paintings and novels."

Bardem and other filmmakers who attended the meeting at Salamanca also deplored the lack of general film culture in Spain, noting that it was not possible to see 95 of movies made abroad. Bardem felt that it was important for Spaniards to keep abreast of worldwide trends in filmmaking and especially to become familiar with Italian neo-realism. This was the single most important influence in the development of his own cinematic style. Both in his movies and in his writings he remained faithful to the tenets of neo-realism. In order to foster a film culture in Spain, Bardem founded Objetivo, a cinema journal that was eventually banned by the government. During its brief existence, Objetivo nevertheless became a rallying point for Spanish cineastes, raised the level of film criticism in Spain and informed readers about prohibited films. Several years later, in yet another effort to ensure the autonomy and integrity of Spanish film, Bardem joined with Berlanga, Carlos Saura, and other directors and founded a production company, UNINCI, which operated until 1962, when it was closed down for co-producing Luis Buñuel's Viridiana. Because of these endeavors as well as his political outspokenness, Bardem was arrested seven times during the Franco years. He nevertheless persisted in his efforts to make political films in Spain. In spite of his lack of favor at home, he won many prizes at film festivals around the world and directed co-productions in Italy, France, Argentina, and Bulgaria.

Bardem is most closely associated with films that chronicle the negative effects of Francoism on the psyche of Spaniards of different classes, regions and social milieus. In several films he dramatizes the alienation fostered by Francoism by focusing on a single individual who often bears Bardem's own given name—Juan. This Spanish everyman feels frustrated and stifled in a closed society. He attempts to find outlets through hobbies, intrigues, and even through radio contests, but all means prove unsatisfactory. In the course of his efforts, Juan is led to reevaluate himself and the world around him in order to find new options. The films depict the choices that each Juan makes, becoming increasingly critical of individuals who act selfishly, cowardly, or who refuse to take a stand. These general themes continue in the movies Bardem has made since the death of Franco.

Juan Antonio Bardem > Overview - AllMovie  biography from Sandra Brennan


Juan Antonio Bardem  profile from NNDB - Juan Antonio Bardem, Spanish film director, writer ...  The File Room


Spain mourns death of veteran director Juan Antonio Bardem | News ...  Jennifer Green from Screendaily, October 31, 2002


Obituary: Juan Antonio Bardem | World news | The Guardian  Ronald Bergan from The Guardian, November 2, 2002


Pudovkin and the Censors: Juan Antonio Bardem's Muerte de un ciclista  Jo Evans from Hispanic Research Journal, June 2007 (pdf format)


Sex and the censors: the femme fatale in Juan Antonio Bardem's ...  Jo Evans from Screen, 2007 (opening page only)


DEATH OF A CYCLIST (Muerte de un ciclista)          A-                    94

aka:  Age of Infidelity

Spain  Italy  (88 mi)  1955


After 60 years, Spanish cinema is politically futile, socially false, intellectually worthless, aesthetically valueless, and industrially paralytic. Spanish cinema has turned its back on reality and is totally removed from Spanish realistic traditions as found in paintings and novels.

—Juan Antonio Bardem, in Salamanca, 1955


An interesting relic from the Franco era in Spain that is memorable on several counts, as the writer/director Juan Antonio Bardem is the uncle of modern day actor Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, No Country for Old Men, Before Night Falls) and the film won the Fipresci prize at Cannes in 1955, a time when the director was actually serving time in prison for political offenses.  Public outcry led to his release, but he was arrested several more times in his lifetime.  The director was a Communist and ardent anti-Fascist who never left Spain during the Franco regime, so certainly this film may be seen through his politicized eyes examining the complacency of the Spanish bourgeois society under Franco, where fear is a common denominator that keeps people silent and in lockstep, and might be seen as his version of Buñuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962), filtered through the psychologically paranoid lens of Hitchcock, giving it the feel of a horror film.  It features beautiful Italian actress Lucia Bosé, the winner of Miss Italy 1947 (which included other contestants Gina Lollobrigida, Silvana Mangano, Eleonora Rossi Drago and Gianna Maria Canale) and star of Michelangelo Antonioni's THE STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR (1950).  Her beauty alone is striking and is central to the film as she plays María, a pampered and spoiled socialite who is comfortably married to a rich industrialist Miguel (Otello Toso) whose wealth allows her to live a life of extravagance and luxury while she is secretly having an affair with an unambitious assistant college professor Juan (Alberto Closas), whose influential family arranged for his position.  Their wealth gives them the ability to hide their secrets. 


In the opening scene, on a flat country road that extends endlessly across an empty landscape, a lone figure on a bicycle is struck by a car driven by Juan and María who quickly decide to scurry away like rats rather than help the man.  The rest of the movie revolves around this single event, where the two choose to conceal their affair rather than save a man’s life, a decision that haunts them when they learn the man died on the side of the road.  In one of the strangest possible changes in mood, they immediately find themselves at a swank, upscale party where the mysteriously strange piano player, Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla), claims he saw her with Juan on the road that day and seems to relish the idea of playing a song entitled “Blackmail,” where the interplay between the two of them is choreographed like a song.  The subsequent dread at the thought of being exposed and “losing everything,” which plainly means their privileged position in society, starts gnawing away at each of them, but in a different way.  Juan visits the working class village where the dead man lived, a striking contrast of Italian realist poverty to the protected palatial estates of the wealthy, and in this manner seems to reconnect to the world around him, perhaps seeing for the first time the role social divisions play in Franco’s society, while María is seeking protection from the man she sees as an extortionist, growing more hysterical at the thought of what she stands to lose, especially from a vile bottom feeder like Rafa, who is a repulsive, Iago-like figure that dwells in a cave-like world of rumors and “dirty little secrets.”  Also an art critic, he seems perfectly at home in the dreamlike atheistic dissonance of modern art, where he finds nothing remotely peculiar or understandable in the harsh abstractions or formless expressions, but his blood curdles at the idea of always being treated as an outsider, so using devious, underhanded means to expose the hypocrisy of the rich comes natural to him, as this represents a new breed of Franco citizenry that spies on and exposes the moral ills of society, keeping the public safe from itself. 


This all comes to a head in a superb nightclub scene of Flamenco singing, where Rafa, drunk from liquor, seems to be setting the trap whispering in people’s ears, while María grows more frantically suspicious by the second, in a feverish montage of close ups shown in a maniacal energy that suggests madness or delirium.  The film benefits greatly from unusual cuts and a modern sound design, not to mention faces accentuated by white light, turning Bosé’s face into a highly fragile porcelain figurine.  Bardem elevates the hysteria of fear to unseen heights, turning this into a Hitchcock homage to horror, as everything that follows slowly unravels from its hinges, as Bosé’s María truns into a woman-in-black femme fatale who senses only the darkest ulterior motives.  It’s an unusual bit of movie hysteria, all shown in a taut 88 minutes, where the finale was altered due to the concerns of the national censors, where we’ll perhaps never know the original intentions of the director.  The clarity of the image is superb, where it has been suggested Bardem may have had the only 35mm camera in all of Spain.  As it is, it’s a startling social critique using sharp jagged edges shining the light on some of the darkest days in recent Spanish history, using a scathing noirish melodrama to expose how the wealthy will cling to any corrupt or immoral means to hold onto their privileged status in life, where greed and selfishness are their birthright, and supporting Franco allowed their opulent lifestyles to continue unabated.   


Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) capsule review

Ironically, Juan Antonio Bardem (1922-2002) might be better known today as the uncle of actor Javier Bardem than as the master of sound and image that he is. Antifascist filmmakers who stuck around during Franco's reign are often forgotten outside Spain—unlike Luis Buñuel, who came back just long enough to make a few films and then left again. A communist, Bardem stayed, struggled, and was jailed more than once; he was in prison when he won an award at Cannes for this creepy, claustrophobic 1955 melodrama. An adulterous couple (Alberto Closas and Lucia Bosé) in a country-club milieu accidentally run over a cyclist and flee out of fear that their relationship will be revealed; their guilty paranoia opens many sores while awakening the man's social conscience. As in Bardem's still greater Calle Mayor (1956), Death of a Cyclist follows the antifascist strategy Henri-Georges Clouzot used in Le Corbeau for Vichy-era France, transposing the ugliness of power relations in a repressive society to the spheres of sex and gossip. In Spanish with subtitles. 99 min.

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) dvd review [3/4]

Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem (uncle of Javier), this film has the local distinction of being one of the first films featured at the first San Francisco International Film Festival. Until now, it has been difficult to find in the United States. Inspired by the Italian neo-realists, the film begins abruptly with the central action: A bicyclist is injured by a speeding car. The occupants, Juan (Alberto Closas, left) and the elegant Maria (Lucia Bosé), get out, and she decides that they should leave the cyclist to die and speed away. Bardem enlists the audience into a complicity with the guilty, so that we find ourselves rooting for them to get away with it. Stylistically, Bardem is fond of shots that look up at the protagonists, which perhaps also has the effect of aggrandizing them. His compositions are stark and evocative. He also has a way of changing scenes without using an establishing shot, so that for brief moments we're dislocated in an interesting way. From an upper floor, a man will look down at a scene of poverty in a street. The camera will return to his face and then, from the same angle, show people in a wealthy district. For a second, we think we're still in the poor neighborhood, but what Bardem has done is force us to link the two worlds. The film is a leftist commentary on bourgeois Spain under Franco, but its passion and sensitive observation transcend its political intent. Criterion's digital transfer is exemplary.

Slant Magazine review  Fernando F. Croce

Death of a Cyclist is Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem's response to a national cinema he famously denounced as "politically ineffective, socially false, intellectually worthless, aesthetically nonexistent, and industrially crippled." Fittingly, his portrait of the complacent and disaffected upper class during Franco's regime opens with a crash, as adulterous couple María José (Lucia Bosé) and Juan (Alberto Closas) accidentally run over a man on a bicycle and, fearing discovery, leave the wounded cyclist behind. The man's death brings guilt upon Juan's shoulders, yet it also precipitates a painful new awareness: A former idealist hollowed out by the country's civil war, he comes to see the emptiness of his bourgeois ways as well as experience a renewal of his rebelliousness. María José, on the other hand, has no intention of trading the gilded cages supported by her husband Miguel (Otello Toso) for spiritual redemption, and soon becomes the femme fatale promised by the film's noir-tinged strains. The most intriguing aspect of Bardem's social critique is the way Juan's increasing need for exposure is contrasted with the sardonic insinuations of Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla), the slimy art critic whose observations on his decadent companions ("All the ugly things you hide, I dig them up and lay them before you") show that, within bourgeois circles, even self-critical impulses have become utterly corrupted. Unfortunately, many of Bardem's insights are blunted by his unsubtle technique, which provides redundant dialogue ("A new bracelet versus a thousand impoverished customers" is typical party chatter) and enough shock cuts for an entire John Frankenheimer retrospective. (Bosé's presence irresistibly invites comparison with Story of a Love Affair, but where Michelangelo Antonioni dissected his couple's alienation with a diamond-cutter's delicacy, Bardem for the most part merely parades it unilluminatingly.) Explicitly designed as a shock to the system, Death of a Cyclist too often settles for academic subversion.

Raging Bull Movie Reviews (Mike Lorefice) review [3.5/4]

Hoping to avoid the revelation of their lengthy affair, a couple abandon the cyclist they ran over rather than try to save his life. Bardem, whose symbolic socially conscious films and writings frequently landed him in Franco's prisons, is very critical of the way things work in Spain (not that it's much different anywhere else). Juan (Alberto Closas) and Maria Jose (Lucia Bose) happen to have money and a position in high society due to their family connections, while the man who dies from their neglect is poor so the authorities don't really care about capturing his killers. This functions as a metaphor for the way the bourgeois and Franco prop each other up, as well as depicting the inhumanity of a society that allows for such ridiculous gaps between the rich and the poor. Juan & Maria always loved each other, but she married for standing while he was off at war. Their affair is the highlight of her boring life, but it's only good because there's no possession and it comes with that certain amount of danger that doesn't present any real threat. The accident introduces a complication that causes their love and every other aspect of their life to crumble. Guilt eats away at Juan & Maria, but Maria is largely concerned that her husband will discover her adultery. She doesn't care that it would hurt him, but the disclosure would reduce her social standing. Her torment is greatly increased when revenge thirsty critic Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla) toys with blackmailing her as a way of attaining her monetary level. Rafa is allowed to attend their circle's functions because he supposedly represents art, but since he'll never be wealthy these spoiled selfish snobs will never accept him, and that eats him up. Like many of Bardem's films Cyclist is really about the character named Juan. He actually has a conscience and is so distracted by his guilt he embarrasses and fails a good student Matilde (Bruna Corra) because he's not in the mood to pay attention to her presentation. When she protests and the school rallies against the system - specifically the nepotism that got Juan his job and keeps him in high standing - he realizes he's lost track of his values and ideals. These two events bring things to a head for him, causing him to realize his hopes and dreams were thrown away long ago and his life is little more than an oppressive lie. He sees his old fire and quest for justice in her (and some of her supporters), and wonders if he really wants to do the wrong thing just because he has the power to get away with it. Stylistically this doom- laden psychodrama is a combination of film noir and neorealism. The cruelly ironic ending where the evil woman gets her comeuppance was forced by the censors, but I actually like it as a startling bit of poetic justice.

User reviews  from imdb Author: jotix100 from New York

Juan Antonio Bardem's "Muerte de un ciclista" was discovered in a Cannes Film festival where it received the International Critics' Award, where it was shown out of competition. Spain was living the years after the Civil War under the Franco regime. The Catholic church dominated everything in the country. It was indeed a miracle the film even was screened! The film aroused curiosity because of the way it was received outside the country. The censure deemed it a "gravely dangerous" film, thus limiting a possible audience.

Mr. Bardem was part of a Communist minority that didn't leave the country after Franco came into power. He, and several other film makers decided to stay and make films in which a lot of symbolism was insinuated in the stories they presented. The director despised the Spanish bourgeoisie, who supported Franco in order to justify their excesses. This film came out of an impoverished Spain in which one notices the contrasts between the classes immediately.

Maria Jose, the beautiful society matron, and Juan, a man from a good family, but who hasn't amount to anything, were having an affair. As the story opens, we watch the car where they are traveling during a rainy and overcast day on a lonely stretch of a country road. Maria Jose, who is driving her car, accidentally hits the cyclist. Juan gets out of the car to see the condition of the cyclist. Noticing he is in bad shape, he tells Maria Jose, who is horrified. She prefers to leave the man on the road to fend for himself as they flee the scene of the crime.

The accident is a catalyst in their illicit relationship. Maria Jose cares more about her good name and her status in society and what it will do to her and her husband. Juan, on the other hand, struggles with his own conscience. To make matters worse, Juan, a university professor makes the mistake of shutting up one of his female students who is working a math problem. Maria Jose's life takes a turn when Rafa, a critic that moves in her circle, insinuates he knows about her affair, without coming out in the open.

Their guilt play tricks on the lovers. Their love suddenly is challenged by Rafa, who is a dangerous man. Rafa will stop at nothing in his desire for Maria Jose as it appears he will try to black mail her at all costs. Jose, who can't live with his conscience anymore decides to turn himself in. Maria Jose will not let him; she will do anything to stop him, even hitting him deliberately with her own car. Maria Jose, in her frenzied state, almost hits another cyclist, in avoiding hitting the man, she ends up going off the bridge.

Mr. Bardem, who contributed to the screen play of the film with Luis Fernando de Igoa, wanted to show the hypocrisy of the upper classes in their collaboration with Franco. He also pointed out to the nepotism that was rampant during those years the way that Juan gains a position thanks to his influential brother. Matilde, the young female student, and her class mates at the university, point out to the new type of citizen that would question the system under Franco.

The sublime Lucia Bose, one of the most beautiful faces in the Italian cinema of the years after WWII, is one of the best things in the film. She is equally matched by Alberto Closas, who gives his Juan the right tone for his character. Carlos Casaravilla, makes a wonderful villain, Rafa, the man who is a parasite and envies the moneyed types that tolerate him and use him. Bruna Corra, who is seen as Matilde, has some good opportunities.

The black and white cinematography by Alfredo Fraile shows us the Spain of the 1950s that evokes some of the best Italian masters of the era. Isidro Maiztegui's musical score works well with the film. Ultimately this film stands together with another Juan Antonio Bardem's masterpiece, "Calle Mayor", as two of the most important works of the Spanish cinema, bar none, an achievement if considered the times in which they were done.

Cineaste  A Second Look: Death of a Cyclist, by Robert Koehler


PopMatters (Marco Lanzagorta) review [Criterion Collection]


No Ripcord [Gary Collins]


Criterion Confessions [Jamie S. Rich]  Criterion Collection


Turner Classic Movies dvd review  Sean Axmaker


Turner Classic Movies review  Felicia Feaster


Death of a Cyclist (1955) Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem  Brian Dunn from In Review Online


Starving Dog Reviews [Shawn S. Lealos]


The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]


Accelerated Decrepitude: September 2006  Tom Warner from Accelerated Decreptitude, September 27, 2006


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  Criterion Collection


Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3.5/4]  Criterion Collection (Jon Danziger) dvd review  Criterion Collection


DVD Town (Christopher Long) dvd review [Criterion Collection]


DVD Verdict (Michael Rubino) dvd review [Criterion Collection]


DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov) dvd review [3/5]  Criterion Collection


DVD ("Fusion3600") dvd review [Criterion Collection]


What's An Internet?  Aaron

User reviews  from imdb Author: harrisoncohen from United Kingdom

User reviews  from imdb Author: Michael DeZubiria ( from Luoyang, China


Classic Film Guide review


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review
DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze
Obituary: Juan Antonio Bardem | World news | The Guardian  Ronald Bergan from The Guardian, November 2, 2002


Death of Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista): program note from 1957 San Francisco International Film Festival website


Juan Antonio Bardem - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Spain  France  (99 mi)  1956


Time Out review

Calle Mayor is adapted from a classic novel of Spanish provincial life by Carlos Arniches, which had previously been filmed in the '30s. Bardem's version of this bitter tale of a woman's oppression was made at the height of Francoism, and had to carry an unconvincing foreword claiming that the story could happen 'anywhere'. When a group of idle young men decide as a joke that one of them should seduce an unmarried woman in her mid-30s, she becomes smitten by him, and the situation turns sourly serious. Bardem's neo-realist pretensions look a trifle thin now, but the film's portrait of a town riddled with prejudice and hypocrisy still packs a weighty punch. The central performance by the un-Spanish seeming Betsy Blair is especially touching.

User reviews  from imdb Author: primogose from Spain

OK, I can understand why this movie had such an impact on some segments of 50's Spain; it was almost the first neo-realistic movie made on the country, and its attitude and principles were far away from the films that the Spanish industry made on the post-civil war years.

But it's very derivative of Rossellinni, and specially De Sica's movies of the 40's & 50's. It's just an attempt of doing what the European left-winged filmmakers of that period thought was right and meaningful: to denounce society's injustices.

I'm not against social concerned films, like the ones that directors above mentioned did, but sure i don't like to be preached from someone who thinks he's right and moral, and that's the way i felt seeing this film. Said that, i had to to confess i always have in mind the (very discursive) scene on which the old professor tells that boredom is just one of the biggest social problems, that leads people to do very cruel and insensitive things. Contradictory, but only in a way; just because i do agree with that idea i just can't justify that someone puts himself above someone else like the professor (obviously Bardem) do with the "not so young" gang of "good-for-nothing" men.

Finally i didn't like the despairing final; it seems like Betsy Blair's character has ceased to exist not taking the train to Madrid. Does that mean that leaving for a big city is going to settle provincial people problems? Why can't she take this like something that needs to reaffirm herself? I'd rather see a more open final.

Anyway, great Betsy Blair. It's a shame she didn't had the chances she deserved: "Marty" is my 50's favorite drama, and she is wonderful here too. Maybe she's not that ugly like some other user said, but when you see a film you always expect an incredible good-looking woman, and she was not, so to me she's believable on that kind of roles.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Red-125 from Upstate New York

"Calle Mayor" (1956) (US title "The Lovemaker") was written and directed by Juan Antonio Bardem. The film stars the extraordinary Betsy Blair, who had just received an Ocscar nomination for her work in "Marty" (1955).

The plot of this film, although set in provincial Spain, has overtones of "Marty." Ms. Blair is cast as Isabel, an unmarried woman in her 30's. Isabel--and the people on Main Street--have decided that she will be forever unloved and unmarried. Then, several of the bored men of the town decide to play a cruel practical joke--one of them will declare his love for Isabel, promise to marry her, and then reveal the hoax at the last minute.

The joke moves forward as planned, and during the middle of the of the movie, Isabel blossoms as she finds herself in love with, and seemingly loved by, a handsome young man.

Ms. Blair is an extraordinary actor, and she is able to give us a portrait of a woman who is capable of great romantic love, although she's been deprived by circumstances of any opportunity to express this emotion. It is to director Bardem's credit that he recognized Ms. Blair's talents, and was able to utilize these talents to the fullest in this film.

Other reviewers have commented on the difficulty of an attractive woman like Betsy Blair playing a woman who is considered unattractive and unmarriageable. (Of course, this problem also arose in "Marty.") Ms. Blair was in Rochester for the screening of "Calle Mayor" at the High Falls Film Festival and this question was raised by a member of the audience. She replied that this was, indeed, a problem, but that she tried to overcome it by having a relatively unattractive hair style, and wearing dresses that were prim and plain. My thought is that a great actor like Ms. Blair was able to transcend the problem. When we see her in "Marty" and "Calle Mayor," we accept the fact that the other characters in the movie don't consider her attractive. We also accept the fact that both women don't consider themselves attractive, or, at least, don't consider themselves attractive enough.

The plot of the movie plays itself out in a fascinating and compelling fashion. The film closes with a final shot of Ms. Blair that is absolutely breathtaking. For me this shot ranks alongside the final shot of Greta Garbo in "Queen Christina" as one of the most memorable endings of any film I've seen.

The disgraceful witch hunt blacklist of the 1950's kept Betsy Blair from doing all the work of which she was capable, and kept us from the pleasure of seeing this work on the screen. We are fortunate that her immense acting skills are preserved for us in "Marty" and "Calle Mayor." "Marty" is readily available; "Calle Mayor" may be hard to find. Finding it is worth the effort--it's a film not to be missed.

Bardot, Brigitte – French actress


Brigitte Bardot  NNDB biography

Arguably film's first sex kitten, Brigitte Bardot grew up in a wealthy, conservative French Catholic family. She was named for her mother's favorite doll, and as a child wore braces on her teeth and glasses to correct astigmatism. Bardot began studying ballet at the age of five, and at 13 she danced alongside Leslie Caron at the Conservatoire Nationale de Danse. At 14, she blossomed and was photographed for the cover of Elle magazine. At 15, Bardot met her future first ex-husband Roger Vadim, and attempted suicide when her parents refused permission for her to marry until she was 18. They married when she turned 18, and divorced five years later.

She moved from modeling to acting, and played a 17-year-old nymphet (at 22) in Vadim's And God Created Woman, a role that made Bardot known internationally. She embodied a natural yet innocent sexuality that was a precursor to the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s. The actress eschewed the Catholic principles of her childhood, saying "It is better to be unfaithful than to be faithful without wanting to be." Brigitte Bardot was one of the first women to wear a bikini, and later she and her friends would be the first to sunbathe topless at St. Tropez in the late 1960s. She was the first international star to be as popular as any homegrown pinup in the US.

Long prone to depression, Bardot has attempted suicide multiple times. "I really wanted to die at certain periods in my life. Death was like love, a romantic escape. I took pills because I didn't want to throw myself off my balcony and know people would photograph me lying dead below." On her 26th birthday she attempted her most publicly known suicide attempt, swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills and slitting her wrists.

Bardot retired from films at 39, to focus on her love of animals and her increasingly odd political activism. She sold her home, her jewels, and other personal effects in 1986 to start the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, which works for animal rights across the world. She has been outspoken to the point of causing international offense on the behalf of animals, and once stole a mynah bird on a French street because its owner, whom she beat with an umbrella, was "abusing" it by giving it a hamburger and fries.

Political incorrectness has dogged Bardot in recent years, being fined by the French government no fewer than four times in recent years for "inciting hatred" with her books. Her views that gays are "fairground freaks", that racially mixed marriages are an abomination, and that France is being "Islamized" have been problematic, as has her denunciation of the ritual slaughter of sheep during the Muslim feast of Eid. Bardot was an outspoken supporter of France's failed fascist presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Home :: Brigitte Bardot :: French Actress, Model, and Singer  a tribute website


A Tribute To B.B. ~ Welcome to This Brand New Website dedicated to Bardot!


Classic Movies


All-Movie Guide: Brigitte Bardot  Jason Ankeny


A Tribute to Brigitte Bardot  another tribute website


Brigitte Bardot - The Red List  Pt. 1


Brigitte Bardot - The Red List  Pt. 2


Denny Jackson's Brigitte Bardot Page  including gallery images - Brigitte Bardot   gallery images


Altavista Image - Brigitte Bardot   gallery images


Brigitte Bardot Gallery  Lenin Imports Gallery Images


French actress Brigitte Bardot  Silver Beauties Gallery


Google Images - Brigitte Bardot   gallery images


J.S.R. Pages   gallery images


Brigitte Bardot - Films as actress:  Film Reference, John Baxter, updated by Rob Edelman


Brigitte Bardot Interview in 1956  audio interview by the BBC


BB @ 60  a book review, by David Watts from the West Australian Newspaper, December 1995


Bardot, Brigitte  And God Created Woman, by Gerald Peary, August 1999


Eat, Memory: Bardot’s Little Helper    Frederic van Coppernolle from the New York Times, November 5, 2006


New DVDs  Dave Kehr reviews the 5-film Brigitte Bardot Collection from the New York Times, August 7, 2007


PopMatters DVD Film Review Feature | Incomplete Coquette: The ...  Bill Gibron reviews the Brigitte Bardot DVD Collection


Brigitte Bardot - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Barker, Clive



Great Britain  (94 mi)  1987


Time Out review

In the bare bedroom of a London suburban house, bored sensualist Frank Cotton solves the mystery of a Chinese puzzle-box and enters a world of exquisite cruelty presided over by the Cenobites, glamorous sadists with a penchant for ripped flesh, steaming viscera and flayed muscle. Later, restored to life by his brother Larry's blood, Frank rises half-formed from a pool of slime. When Larry's wife (and Frank's ex-lover) Julia agrees to provide the human meat he needs to put flesh on his bones, the three become involved in an infernal triangle... Barker's dazzling debut as a director creates such an atmosphere of dread that the astonishing visual set pieces simply detonate in a chain reaction of cumulative intensity. His use of the traditional 'teenage screamer' heroine (Larry's daughter) tends to undercut the unsettling moral ambiguities of the adult triangle, and the brooding menace of the Cenobites is far more terrifying than the climactic rollercoaster ride. These are small quibbles, however, in a debut of such exceptional promise. A serious, intelligent and disturbing horror film.

Foster on Film

When Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julie (Clare Higgins) move into the old family house, they don't know that Frank (Sean Chapman), Larry's brother and Julie's lover, will soon return from the dead and hide upstairs.  It is left to Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) to deal with murderous Frank, traitorous Julia, and the demonic cenobites who are unhappy with Frank's escape from hell.

One of the best horror movies, Hellraiser changed the genre.  Before it, there was a string of Satan-themed fright films, but after it "evil" could come in more ambiguous and varied forms.  Writer/director Clive Barker invented his own mythology.  That mythology has stuck with me since first viewing, presenting more successfully than any Lovecraftian movie a vision of things best not seen.

Frank spent his life searching for something "more," something truly exciting, and found a puzzle box that opens gates to worlds beyond understanding, worlds no one would want to understand.  The forces on the other side of those gates are not traditional devils and have honor mixed with their cruelty.

The plot is engaging, the acting is excellent, and the camera work is astounding considering the budget, but it is in imagery that this film excels.  The cenobites, lead by Pin Head, are makeup marvels.  Pin Head has rightly become an horror icon and Doug Bradley's portrayal, particularly his voice, is perfect for the powerful, amoral demon.  When he says "We have such sights to show you," I find myself wondering how extraordinary those sights would be, and how horrifying.  The dangling chains, hooks, and blood add to the atmosphere.  On top of all that is Christopher Young's majestic score.  This is gory filmmaking at its best, but not for the easily unnerved.  "No tears, please. It's a waste of good suffering."

It is followed by the excellent: Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and then by the lesser Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, Hellraiser: Bloodline, Hellraiser: Inferno, Hellraiser: Hellseeker, Hellraiser: Deader, and Hellraiser: Hellworld. 


Building a Better Bomb: The Alternatives to Suspense  Peter Gelderblom from 24LiesASecond, January 7, 2005 (excerpt)

The opposite to a threat lurking in the shadows is the kind that taps you on the shoulder and thrusts its tongue in your mouth. In the suspense camp, this kind of frontal assault is seen as more or less a dead end. “There is no terror in the bang,” Hitchcock said, “only in the anticipation of it.” Hitchcock experimented with subtle gore in his time, but as a rule he believed suggestion had greater impact. What could be creepier than one’s own imagination?

Well--maybe a lack thereof. A new breed of filmmakers was less convinced of the public’s ability to form their own picture and filled in the gaps for them. And it has to be said: some of all time’s most terrifying movies could not for the love of God be typified as “less is more” material. The tolerant spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s opened up the door to new levels of carnage and exploitation, spawning a wide range of cinematic subgenres, from the zombie flick and the splatter movie to the Italian giallo and the occult thriller. Some of them were grounded in harsh realism, while others delved deeper into the fantastique for some old-fashioned grand guignol. Unapologetic nasties like Night of the Living Dead (1968), Straw Dogs (1971), The Last House on the Left (1972), The Exorcist (1973) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) pretty much put aside the idea that implying is more effective than showing. Across the Atlantic, European shock maestros Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento dispensed with suggestion altogether by serving piles of gore on a platter. No anticipation there: the audience is thrown before the wolves barely halfway into the first reel. Just the grueling details--on the double please!

Whereas Hitchcock usually chose to keep his audience in the know at the cost of revelation, this radical movement excelled in what Clive Barker, writer and director of Hellraiser (1987) and Nightbreed (1990), called “the Revelation Response”: the appeal of the morbid and surreal. “Appeal” may seem an odd word in reference to horrors designed to appall, but this paradox is integral to a concept that no longer strictly revolved around throwing the monster out, but embraces the monstrous as a part of ourselves - or in the case of Barker: invites a bunch of them over for an orgy in the dungeon to celebrate "the intricacies of perversity."

This time, Hitchcock’s bomb under the table is exploding right before our very eyes and we’re forced to witness the anatomy of destruction. Hell unfolds in slow motion as we face the biggest threat of all: the Bitter End. We see body parts twitching, we smell the stench of burned skin and we hear the victim next to us utter his last breath. This is as close to a rendezvous with the Grim Reaper as we can get without actually having to stop living for it. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is just the introductory scene. If our stomach is up to it, we can stick around to watch the decomposing corpses transform into flesh-eating creatures of the night...

Needless to say, this no-holds-barred mentality could not count on a lot of affection from the refined critical establishment: hence the generalization that an inordinate application of the gross and grotesque indicates an incapacity for building tension. That’s about as crude a statement as saying that pornography is unable to arouse. What it all boils down to, like it frequently does, is taste. There is plenty of tension left in the explicit, and the tremendous anxiety these graphic confrontations generate in the spectator can be attributed to our ambiguous response to the question: How much farther will this movie go, and do I really want to go there? Sure I do! Like hell I don’t! The Revelation Re