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Zack Mosley [Celluloid 10.15.13] documentary



Finding Vivian Maier
d: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel

The late street photographer Vivian Maier was unknown and forgotten until director John Maloof purchased a box of film at an auction house in Chicago for a few hundred bucks. He discovered something amazing: thousands of photographs of world-class quality, shot by a mysterious woman who proved hard to clearly identify, let alone track down. But Maloof was persistent, buying up the rest of Maier's stuff and piecing together a life through 100,000 unprinted (sometimes undeveloped) negatives, hours of Super 8 film and audio tapes, and boxes upon boxes of personal belongings. His investigation led him to several well-off families that employed Maier as a nanny, all of them with stories of an eccentric and private woman who had a Rolleiflex around her neck at all times. The central question of Finding Vivian Maier is a compelling mystery: why did someone as formidably talented as Maier never pursue photography as a career? Would she have approved of her posthumous fame, or this documentary for that matter? Maloof acknowledges these questions but plows forward anyway, intent on solving a partly unsolvable mystery and sharing Maier's work with the world. There's no question that Maloof has dedicated himself to this cause, but would she have wanted it this way? Propriety issues aside, this is a compelling story and a fine piece of detective work. Ultimately Maier's striking work does the talking for her, conveying a full range of human experience. The world is indeed a better place for her exposure.


Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
d: Nicholas Wrathall

I'm not going to pretend like I knew much about Gore Vidal prior to watching this film, but I left the screening with a charming introduction to a novelist/essayist/historian/screenwriter/pundit/politician/gadfly who defies easy categorization (and some additions to my Goodreads "to read" list.) This documentary follows a fairly standard trajectory, taking us from Vidal's silver spoon formative years to the physical deterioration of his final days and touching on all the career and personal highlights in-between. Although it attempts very little in the way of formal daring, Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia benefits from Vidal's prominence as a public figure, his frequent TV appearances and director Nicholas Wrathall's seemingly unlimited interview access. Much of Vidal's life was lived in out in the open (for example, his "The City and the Pillar" bravely featured a sympathetic portrayal of a gay protagonist in 1948, and he made no bones about his homosexuality in the ensuing controversy) and the wealth of material makes good fodder for the editing suite. The most entertaining thing about this film is Vidal himself, a caustic wit with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of devastating one-liners, and a remarkably clear and consistent worldview. Maybe it's easy to be witty when you're right all the time. One wonders where the equivalent intellects of today are hiding.

Liv & Ingmar
d: Dheeraj Akolkar

Liv Ullman and Ingmar Bergman are two of the most fruitful collaborators in cinema history. Ullman acted in twelve Bergman films (also directing two of his scripts) and several of them are masterpieces. They met on the set of one of those masterpieces (Persona) in 1965, fell in love, and left their significant others to live together on Fårö Island, where they raised a daughter. Their romantic relationship only lasted five years, but they continued to work together until shortly before Bergman's death in 2007. Liv & Ingmar is Ullman's account of the relationship, consisting of interviews and passages from her memoirs. She describes an emotionally abusive love affair that softened over the years and developed into a collaborative friendship. Bergman ultimately told Ullman “you are my Stradivarius”, which she took as “the greatest compliment (she) ever received” and not literally as “you are an object I enjoy playing with”. As a student of Bergman/admirer of Ullman, Liv & Ingmar delivered enough content to sustain my interest, but the technical quality of this documentary is consistent with a middling DVD/Blu Ray Special Feature. Director Dheeraj Akolkar raids Bergman's catalogue for visual accompaniments to Ullman's recollections, making sometimes out-of-context connections between the fiction and the fact with Max Von Sydow and Erland Josephson as stand-ins for Bergman. These clips are supplemented with original footage (mostly arty HDR photography from Fårö Island and Ullman's home in Norway) and a treacly piano score. Overall Liv & Ingmar strains too hard to be poetic, but Ullman and Bergman never had to strain. They were brilliant together, and you don't need this documentary to tell you that.

Michael H – Profession: Director
d: Yves Montmayeur

If you've seen any of Michael Haneke's movies, you've probably wondered what the man himself is like. A filmmaker who treats his audience like a dog that crapped on the kitchen floor, Haneke rubs our noses in life's ugly truths and wins Palme d'Ors for his trouble. His films touch deep nerves, addressing dark and depressing subject matter with the cold, detached eye of a scientist peering into a microscope. As it turns out, Haneke is a genial and charismatic personality, demanding on set but never coming off like the cruel misanthrope that is suggested by his narrative choices. And maybe that's not as contradictory as it seems, as filmmaking is apparently his personal form of therapy. He discusses his methods fairly candidly, from picking his projects (and rejecting Hollywood offers), to writing his scripts (and cutting back anything extraneous), to working with actors (and showing them how it's done). When probed for the meaning of his work, Haneke resists interpreting himself, as he should. All that we need to know is provided within his films, and interpretation is something the viewer must grapple with alone. Director Yves Montmayeur has been following Haneke around for years, filming behind-the-scenes footage and recording interviews with Haneke and his frequent collaborators. Michael H – Profession: Director has an interesting structure, proceeding in reverse chronological order through the films, from Amour to The Seventh Continent (with some notable exceptions: Funny Games U.S. and The Castle). This structure gradually reveals the extent to which the director's artistic sensibilities were in place, fully formed, from the very beginning of his narrative feature work. This is a must-see documentary for anyone who has ever had their buttons pushed by Michael H.

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