For so long, I’ve thought of Scientology as a joke – you know, some crazy religion made up by a sci fi writer who once said that the only way to make money was to start a religion. It just all seemed dodgy and I felt that if you got sucked in, too bad. Then I read this book and wow. It’s a pretty comprehensive history along with interviews of ex-Scientologists and it’s really a pretty horrible thing. The amount of abuse (physical, emotional), the genuinely insane things that have happened and, really, even just the horror. It’s a fascinating read, and lead to the equally fascinating documentary. For me, I read it with amazement and disgust, but also hope that perhaps it wasn’t true. Certainly, there are plenty of footnotes throughout noting that various people claimed certain things hadn’t happened, but for me this didn’t take away from it at all. It’s exhausting.
Comedian Dave Chapelle decided to throw a block party in Brooklyn, New York. This is Brooklyn pre-hipsters and he’s making it free with a whole heap of big names – Kanye West, Erykah Badu, the Fugees, the Roots, Common and so many more. He brings people from across the country including a college marching band from Ohio and they get to have a fabulous party. It’s so ace. The documentary covers the setup, Dave’s planning, meeting with the eccentric couple with the amazing house on the street, backstage, the music. It’s so fun and so ace.
In 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded a live album over two nights in a church in LA. It was filmed however, due to technical difficulties, it was not released. Until now – after a series of setbacks, it has finally been cut and released. And it is wonderful. It’s fabulous to see the power and strength of Franklin singing live, and it’s fabulous to see the reactions of the choir and the audience as they witness this album being recorded. There still are some technical issues, including, it seems, perhaps a lack of good visual coverage at times, but it doesn’t detract from the wonderful film.
Rodney Bingenheimer is known as the Mayor of Sunset strip. He’s a radio presenter (what appears to be both quite unsuccessful and also extremely influential, which is a mystery). He’s lived most of his life in Hollywood following celebrities. He comes across as a weirdo, but a weirdo that has spent much of his life sleeping with beautiful women and making careers. Somehow – after watching the documentary, it seems like a lot of people feel that he has a lot of power over their careers, but I can’t see how this happens. There is a lot of found footage as well as interviews with a wide range of famous people including David Bowie, Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani, Alice Cooper, the list goes on.
When I started watching it I thought “Wow, what an odd guy, but he’s found his place in the world. Shame he seems so lonely.” But as it went on, he seemed creepier, and there was an interview with one of his close friends who is clearly a sexual predator creep and it just turned yuk. Overall, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Remember krumping? I wonder what happened to that? Rize is a documentary surrounding some of the dance culture of South Central LA around a decade after the riots that happened in response to the outcome of the trial of the police who beat Rodney King to death in 1992. Specifically, the rise of Clown groups who put on clown makeup and attended kids parties to dance which then led to krumping. Groups who would get together and dance. It was aggressive, but it was an alternative to so much of the street violence that was happening.
It’s a fabulous documentary that I remember watching when it was first released. This is a world a long way from suburban Melbourne. Watching it again now makes me wonder what happened to these guys. I’ve just had a look – Tommy the Clown, the guy who started it all, has a website, runs an academy and there was a Battle Zone event just last year. Cool.
So, I know about Roller Derby. That part of skate culture has been on the rise in recent times, and it’s for strong, tough women, and it’s stylish and cool and there are great outfits and names and… but this isn’t about that. In the US, skate rinks are closing and this doco presents two key reasons. Firstly, that developers and the like are offering the owners of the land massive amounts of money to rezone for profit. The second is racism – large groups of African-American people getting together for what is known as ‘Adult Nights’ – all night skate parties that look like an insane amount of fun. That’s probably simplifying it, but it is the way it comes across. Filmmakers Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler follow the story of some of the people for whom skating is a way of life – a way to be with friends, to relieve the tension of everyday life and to have a good time.
There’s a lot in this 89-minute documentary, but I wanted more, especially more of the skating. What I’d love is if the film makers were able to release either an extended cut or perhaps just a whole heap of the footage. It’s amazing that each city has their own style and to see these styles coming together. The history of the rinks is also fascinating. It really made me want to strap on some wheels – though probs best not.
Amy Winehouse. What a voice. What a talent. What a tragedy. I remember being blown away by her Black to Black album, and then she became this huge joke – a druggie who fought against the paparazzi and gave terrible performances – and then she was gone. And it was awful because she was young and watching this documentary, you see how little chance she had. Bad advisers who were after their own wealth creation, who wanted to milk her for everything she had and didn’t take care of her. It is such a tough film to watch partly because you know what happens to her, and the downward spiral is painful. But also because you know that so many people treated her badly and those who really wanted to save her didn’t have a hope. But oh! The songs! See it.
Amy won an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Documentary, Feature, and was nominated for Best British Film.
David Farrier is a journalist – the type of journalist who does short television reports on the quirky and unusual in New Zealand. So when he hears about a competitive tickling competition, he is intrigued, and only more so when his enquiries are met with a number of mysterious, homophobic and aggressive correspondences from the organisation. Then threats of legal action, including three representatives flown over from the US to put him and co-film maker Dylan Reeve off the story. And then the story becomes so much more than tickling.
If you like strange stories that veer off in unexpected directions, check this out. It’s funny, but also strange and, at times, hilariously unbelievable.
If you don’t know the music of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, stop reading this, go to iTunes or your music platform of choice and listen to all of her music. All of it. Now. She is just amazing – I’ve been enjoying her live shows for years, so when I saw this doco was playing at MIFF, there was no chance I was going to miss it. And it broke my heart a little.
As I hadn’t read the blurb, I assumed it would be about her background – where she came from, how she got involved with Daptone Records, that type of thing. Instead, it followed her shortly after she had surgery for pancreatic cancer, and how she recovers and returns to performing. I don’t know how well it would go for someone who doesn’t know Sharon Jones and her music, but for a fan, it’s hardgoing but worth it.
It seems to be increasingly common that teenage girls are being sexually assaulted and having evidence of this then spread via social media or text message. Boys too, I’m sure, and not just teenagers. Audrie and Daisy focuses on two such cases; one girl went on to take her own life, and the other battled for a long time to get some kind of legal action taken around the situation.
The way the documentary was put together, it was able to capture the gravity of what happened without sensationalising it, and for this reason I think it would be good for use in schools. It recognises that the girls had been under the influence and therefore, in some people’s mind, they had contributed to what happened to them. When this attitude is shown by those in law enforcement, especially the man (whose two young daughters are shown in the film) who is supposed to be investigating this sexual assault, the film audience reacted audibly – and a room full of people making sounds of disgust gave me some hope that the world may, one day, be okay.