Inequality For All- nf This is an amazing documentary that is all about Robert Reich who presents as clear an explanation of the economy- where it has been and where it is going, as we have ever seen. He makes it clear why there is big disparity between the 1% and the 99% in the U.S. and what that should really mean to all of us. Reich was Secretary of Labor and a key advisor to Bill Clinton. He started in polities in the Carter administration and more recently teaches at University of California at Berkley. In fact, a good part of this film is directly from his class lecture at that school. His discussion, his graphs, his examples and his logic come across crystal clear, as does his sincerity. He makes the point, with very easy to understand facts and figures, that this country has thrived when there was less disparity between the wealthy and the middle class and how when the middle class earnings flattened out and the very wealthy began to make more money than ever, the economy of the US took a nose dive (i.e. in 1929 and 2008). Reich not only spoke with articulate people in the middle class who have seen their savings erode but he also spoke with a multimillionaire who acknowledges that he and others like him invest most of their money abroad in hedge funds (not in creating new jobs in this country). We also get the views of Warren Buffet who ridicules the tax structure in this country where he pays less percentage of his income on taxes than does his secretary(13% vs 36%). Mitt Romney paid 11%. We see how in the 1980s, women entering the job market saved the middle class by providing a second income for middle class families, but now as globalization takes the jobs out of the US and automation limits employment, that won’t save the economy anymore. The middle class has to have disposable income to buy products in order for our economy to thrive. The rich people can only buy so many cars, pillowcases or other products. The shrinking middle class income is putting the economy of this country into deep trouble. Trickle down economics clearly doesn’t work. On top of all this the recent Supreme Court “ Citizens United “ case now supports the wealthy to basically put unlimited funds into political campaigns which makes it even more difficult to make any change. Obviously this is heavy stuff. Perhaps the most uplifting part about this depressing picture is the commitment of Reich to tell the story and his optimism that the next generation will make the changes that are necessary. No matter what part of the political spectrum you come from you should see this film. Whether you think you agree or disagree with this guy, you will be enriched by the insight into these complicated economic issues. The movie, directed by Jacob Kornbluth is well done, with illustrative archival clips, good close-up views into the character of many of the people who appear in the film and appropriate music that moves this film along. As all good documentaries should do, it also leaves you with a good website, Inequalityforall.com which shows you how you can get involved. (2013)
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me- If you love Elaine Stritch, dramatic actress, singer, musical comedy star and Broadway legend you will want to see this documentary. If you want to meet a remarkable 87 year old star who speaks her mind and is not afraid to tell you she that still needs the love of her audiences, you will want to see this documentary. While one might think that the filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa had always been an avid fan of the subject of this film, you will be surprised to learn that this was not the case. In fact, her interest was stimulated by their mutual hairdresser, who suggested that Stritch would be the ideal subject for a documentary. Karasawa then unearthed everything she could about this woman and ultimately convinced Ms. Stritch to let her do the film. Stritch, who never does anything half way granted the filmmaker full access to her life and embraced the project with the intensity and humor, which is so much a part of her character. The film is not a retrospective review of this amazing person, although it certainly gives you ample glimpses of her star-studded career. But rather it is the story of an elderly woman facing the challenges of life with concerns about her health and memory who nevertheless is still up for another show, another concert, another rehearsal, another review, all with energy and, yes, with great vitality. And this woman can still sing! It is exciting to see her rehearse with her music director as she prepares for her latest cabaret performance at the famed Café Carlyle as she lives in her suite at that same hotel. You can almost hear Frank Sinatra singing New York New York as she hustles down a Manhattan street. All of this is quite real as is her hospitalization at Mount Sinai Hospital for hypoglycemia related to her diabetes. The camera doesn’t miss a beat nor does Ms. Stritch. Two unforgettable moments are the look on a young Stephen Sondheim’s face as a young Elaine Stritch nails one of his songs and another moment when an older Stritch marvels how Sondheim’s words so often captured her own feelings. We come away from this film with a picture of the legend, who once turned down JFK’ s offer to join her at her apartment one evening. A woman who could never find a love to replace her 10 year marriage to John Bay actor and playwright who died in 1982 of a brain tumor and every year still send English Muffins from her husband’s family muffin business to hundreds of her friends. A woman who has been nominated for multiple Tony’s, Emmys and what have you and a woman who is now sure to be unforgettable to new and old fans thanks to this film. (2014)
Tim’s Vermeer- rm- Johannes Vermeer is a Dutch painter who lived 350 years ago. He is known for his magnificent paintings of mostly indoor scenes with exquisite photo like detail capturing shadows and variations in light as good if not better than any of the master painters of that time. Tim Jenison is a successful businessman and inventor who develops the idea that Vermeer may have been using a little ”magic” in creating his paintings. He did this by using some tricky optics with a mirror and a variation of camera obscura. Jenison postulated that Vermeer was reflecting the light from the subject through a small hole on to a mirror and then to the canvas where he could perfectly match the color paint over the reflection, which resulted in the unusual realism which the painter achieved. Jenison’s best friend is Penn Jilette the well know magician showman who collaborates with Jenison along with Penn’s performing partner Teller who directs the film as they team up to make this documentary. Jension, only using the technology of the painter’s time period, not only constructs the optic device that he believes Vermeer must have used but he recreates the studio where he painted in the exact dimensions as possible. He then builds a setup to copy and reconstruct the detailed background including the costumes of the subjects in Vermeer’s classic painting The Music Lesson using models to pose as they were in the painting. Now here is the amazing part, Mr. Jenison, who notes that he is not an artist, but using brushes and paints that were around 350 years ago meticulously matches the exact colors and paints them on the images being reflected on his canvas. It takes him over 4 months of almost continuous painstaking work but this non artist creates a painting which seems to very closely resemble Vermeer’s masterpiece and his unusual realistic style. The entire procedure was documented by a film crew, with Penn narrating and Teller directing the movie. They also bring in the well known British painter David Hockney who acknowledges that on the basis of the picture which Tim Jenison has created, he has made the case that he has discovered the secret to Vermeer’s success. This in one sense would seem to discredit this master although he should be credited at least for his composition. There is no known record of the artist being familiar or experimenting with optical devices that were available at the time. Apparently there are also no known writings about any other artist at that time or subsequently who use this technique, which makes this all more remarkable. To further support this theory, Jenison discovered a very faint blue outline on some object in the Vermeer painting which would have no reason to be there but could have been created by a chromatic abnormality of the mirror. We would imagine that if the nobles of the time had discovered that an artist could paint such realistic perfect reproductions, they might be in quite demand (although maybe an artist who produces more creatively flattering portraits would be chosen). We know that some artists today will paint over photographs but we believe that x-ray techniques would uncover the underlying picture if they claimed them to be original paintings. We wonder if a devious contemporary would-be artist might be able promote himself as a master when he was only secretly using this technique? In conclusion, perhaps it is fitting and perhaps ironic that the magician showmen Penn and Teller have produced a documentary film, which may have discovered an important magic trick that has gone undiscovered for more than 3 centuries! It took them 80 minutes to demonstrate how they believe Vermeer pulled it off. Perhaps they could have done it with a short twenty-minute documentary but nevertheless it is sure to make big ripples in the art world. (2014)
Facing Fear-sp We doubt very much that most of the readers of this blog will see this short documentary film (20 minutes) that has been nominated for an Academy Award. However, when it turns up on TV you should take the time to see it and if you are involved with educating people about bullying, overcoming prejudice and similar issues, you will want a copy of this DVD when it comes out.
As a 13 year-old, Mathew Boger was literally thrown out of his house when he told his mother that he was gay. He ended up spending most of the next few years living in the street of Los Angeles. Tim Zale grew up part of neo-Nazi Skinhead gang with a large tomahawk hair cut on his mostly shaven head. He and his buddies would cruise the streets of Los Angeles getting into fights and bullying some of the homeless people they encountered. This was to be the case late one night in front of a well- known LA hamburger place where Zale and his pals encountered Boger alone in the street. They beat him up and while he was on the ground Zale delivered kicks to head and face with a boot that had a razor in the toe. They left him believing he was dead.
Boger survived, but the hate and persistent anger at his attackers was part of his fantasy life for many years. Both young men moved on with their lives. Zale went to school, ultimately received a Masters Degree and had a family. His thinking began to change when he saw some of his hate and prejudice towards various groups being verbalized by his own son. Boger established a long-term relationship and eventually got a job as an administrator in charge of tours at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. By coincidence, Zale began to volunteer to give tours and lectures to the public at this iconic museum, which is best known for graphic depiction and personal stories of the horrors caused by Nazis during the Holocaust. During his time there Zale would share how his thinking had evolved over the years. One day they both were lecturing a group together and by the details Zale was describing of his youth, Boger realized that Zale was part of the group that almost killed him. They began to have private discussions and both immediately knew that it was Zale who delivered the nearly fatal blow to his new colleague at the museum and left him for dead twenty-five years before.
Director and Producer Jason Cohen very skillfully weaved the narrative told by both men with very effective images of the streets of Los Angeles. There were some photographs of Zale and his buddies in their earlier days as skin-heads but there were no photos available of Bogart as the homeless street kid. Miraculously, Bogart’s sister had some old films of him as an infant and a small child with his very attractive mother. Credit should also be give to Director of Photography Svetlana Cvetko, who won an Academy Award for Inside Job and veteran Editor and Co-Producer Tom Christopher who has worked in the past with George Lucas and others.
The tremendous value of this film is to watch up close the ruminations of Bogart and Zale as they examine their feelings about each other and what happened in the past. Bogart’s incredible journey to forgive not only Zale but also his mother is quite remarkable. Zale’s task to face Boger and ask for forgiveness and then also to forgive himself is also quite dramatic as well.
We cannot think of a better teaching tool to show to students as well as victims and perpetrators of prejudice. It can only be a wonderful instrument to stimulate discussion, self-reflection and insight. The filmmakers, having received this unexpected recognition of an Academy Award nomination, plan to have their work available to those who want to see it and use it for these purposes. For more information about the film you can go to their website: http://www.facingfearmovie.com/ (2014)
Blackfish –sp - Many of us have taken children to one of the Sea Worlds or other similar aquariums around the world and enjoyed with them the wonderful antics of the gigantic beautiful killer whales, known as orcas or blackfish, as they interacted with their talented trainers. This documentary film directed and written by Gabriela Cowperthwaite will change your understanding of that experience and may kill any desire to pay any such future visits. The film consists mainly of up close and personal interviews with several former Seaworld trainers intermixed with video clips of these killer whales (which can also be properly identified as very large dolphins ) both in nature and in captivity. We come to understand that they actually are quite intelligent with larger and more complex brains than humans (seemingly in the part of the brain related to emotions), have methods of communicating by sound and are very family oriented as they exist in pods in nature. We follow the capture of one “small” baby whale, known as a calf as he is separated from this family much to their despair. This one is named Tilikum and we see video footage of him growing up and performing in captivity as we see others also in this position. They are trained by being confined to small places especially at night, rewarded by food (fish) or punished by the lack of it and molded into performing artists who seem to happily be interacting with their trainers to the delight of the public especially screaming appreciative children. Or are they?? We learn of some tragic “accidents” and see video clips of very clear incidents where trainers are injured and even one very experienced popular trainer, Dawn Branchaeau is actually viciously attacked and killed by Tilikum who is now the star of the show. It is suggested that we may be seeing frustrated dangerous animals who are living in unnatural circumstances. While the spokespersons for this multi billion-dollar industry has been trying to cover up and minimize these events, we learn of quite a different version. This film reminds us on one hand of the award wining film, The Cove. It may also be considered in the tradition of the great documentaries that first exposed the cigarette industry and certain aspects of the food or oil businesses. As in these cases, the things that have to be rectified don’t easily change. Just recently OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) successfully sued Sea World to keep trainers behind barriers during shows. However this may be a drop in the bucket in an attempt to return these beautiful creatures to their natural habitat. In fact, they are now being artificially inseminated and bred in captivity. The full story is yet to be written but this documentary will open your eyes. (2013)
20 Feet From Stardom sp- This is a great title for this documentary about the often unsung backup singers who could really sing! Starting in the late 50s into the 60s up to contemporary times so many great pop artists brought in usually black back up singers to highlight their music. Many got the training doing gospel singing in their churches and quite a few were daughters of preachers. The late Gil Frisen, a long time Chairman of A&M records, originated the idea for this documentary film and he worked with filmmaker Morgan Neville who directed this unique project which covered a subject which has had very little media exposure. This reminds us of another excellent film we saw a couple of years ago titled The Wrecking Crew which told the story of usually anonymous session musicians. The stars of this current film will probably also be be unknown to most viewers but they clearly articulated their lives and there was lots of their great music in it. Of particular note are Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Gloria Jones, Judith Hill, Tata Vega along with some others. In addition there were up close and personal interviews with musical icons such Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Bette Midler and Stevie Wonder who unequivocally expressed their admiration of the talent of these singers and how important they were to the success of the well known stars. So often “ the hook” or the main theme which we remember was put across by these talented performers. In the personal interviews with the backup singers we felt a mixed message of how they loved singing and were usually quite content to blend and be part of musical history of the last 50 years, yet they contemplated and some tried to breakout while most never made an individual name for themselves with the public. We learned how the notorious music producer Phil Spector in his original famous Christmas Album unfairly attributed the work of Darlene Love to the Crystals and how Ms. Love felt about this. We also learned about how supportive veteran music producer Lou Adler was to many of these performers. Credit has to be given to Director Morgan Neville for digging up so many great video clips which featured the performances of the backup singers doing their best work 20 feet from stardom with Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker, David Bowie and one outstanding video which featured a young Ray Charles grooving at the piano with his famous Raelettes backup group. While the film has to be enlightening for even the most informed pop music afficianado, it is the great music throughout this 90 minute documentary which makes it so enjoyable and something that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who digs pop music. (2013)
Stories We Tell rm- What if you found out that the man you thought was your father was really not your father? This is part of the complicated journey that Sarah Polley experiences as she uncovers the secrets of her family. Being a filmmaker, an Academy Award nominated one (Away From Her) Ms Polley decides to make this documentary film so all characters in her family story can tell their version of the truth. All that is except the central and most interesting player, her mother who has died of cancer when Ms. Polley was still a young girl. Her siblings, other relatives and friends add to the picture that is mainly painted by the two main men in her mother’s life both of whom have been writers/producers/actors, so they express themselves quite vividly. There is something fascinating in seeing hidden family secrets being unearthed and being laid out before us. One of us has explored this very theme in the blog PsychiatryTalk.com and it has remained the most visited entry in the almost four year history of this blog. One of the main ideas highlighted in this film, that a father would still love a child even if he found out when she was a grown young woman that he did not plant the seed, seems not to be a great revelation. In fact, the interviews and the emerging insights were quite repetitive which should not be surprising when the filmmaker who is a central object of the film had to have directed the editing. However the film was not without it’s redeeming moments, one of which included a foreshadowing movie clip of the mother as a young woman performing the song “Ain’t Misbehaving.” Another memorable snippet was when one of siblings seems to have an epiphany that perhaps the fact that three children became divorced shortly after learning of their mother’s unfaithfulness to their father, might be significant. This movie has to have been cathartic for the filmmaker and some of her family. It may even live on as an example of how to use the in depth interview as a search for the truth of hidden family secrets. We don’t think it makes the grade as top notch entertainment for the rest of us. (2013)
Renoir- rm - This movie becomes an enjoyable stroll through a museum filled with the paintings of French Impressionist Pierre- Auguste Renoir. However, instead of looking at the beautiful colorful paintings of this master you are watching a film about him and the people around him living on his picturesque farm on the French Riveria. The photography and the lighting , so often during the magic hours preceding sunset along with the delicate colors and the characters gracefully moving through the French countryside or in the period living quarters, transport the viewer into so many of Renior’s paintings. The screenplay is written by writer/director Gilles Bourdos and is based on the writing of the painter’s great grandson Jacques Renoir. The movie takes place in 1915 during World War I and opens as Andree (Christa Theret) a young beautiful girl with red hair comes to work as a model for the aging Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet). His wife having recently died, he is surrounded by women of various ages who act as his housekeeper, cook and assistant with the suggestion that some may have been previously his models or even more than that. Shortly thereafter his oldest son Jean Renoir (Vincent Rottiers) returns from the WW I battlefield to recuperate from a leg injury. We also meet young Coco Renoir (Thomas Dorot) the sulking youngest son of Renoir and learn of another older son who is also in the military. The story revolves around the role of Andree becoming the inspiration of the elder Renoir and his appreciation of her beauty and velvety skin, which is amply framed in the movie. At the same time there is her connection to son Jean and we get glimpses of them planning their possible future together. But alas, while Andree has aspirations to be an actress and plants the seed that Jean should become a filmmaker (which of course he did but beyond the time frame of the film), this young man is determined to return to fighting in the Great War. Whether you did or did not know the reality not exactly shown in the film that Andree was actually the muse for both father and son, will not influence your appreciation of this film. The almost 2 hour movie was easy to digest and the storyline mattered very little as the true effect of this movie was a visceral sense of this old master mixing colors, putting down his whirling brush strokes and capturing the beauty of the people and the countryside surrounding him. (2013)
No Place on Earth – sp Just as you think that you have seen every type of Holocaust film, a movie such as this one comes along. It not only tells the story of the survival of a group of Ukrainian Jews who hid for 511 days in the world’s deepest caves in the Ukraine but it will push all your buttons when several of them, including a 91 year old energetic gentleman, return with their grandchildren 67 years later to visit the their old, darkened, dingy home which in some places was over 50 feet underground. Film maker Janet Tobias, who has been a producer for 60 Minutes and Prime Time Live, learned about this story when a colleague showed her a National Geographic article that Chris Nicola, a New York State Investigator who has a serious hobby of exploring caves all over the world, had written. Nicola, during one of his vacations, explored this unusual deep gypsum cave in the Ukraine and came across some human artifacts, which included a shoe, a cup, and some buttons. He returned to the area for the next couple of years asking the local people if they knew about where they had come from. Most did not, but one person said it might have something to do with the Jews. Nicola embedded key words in his web sites meant to attract people searching for their genealogy related to the Holocaust and these specific caves.. This ultimately led him to make connections with the actual survivors, most of who were living in Canada. This included Esther Stermer who wrote a book about her experience titled “We Fight to Survive” She said she wrote this book so her grandchildren would know about what they had been through during World war II. Little did she know, thanks to Ms. Tobias and this film, she would actually accompany her grandchildren back to this hidden cave and watch her granddaughter descend into the deepest depths to visit this special place in her family history. This film is actually a modified docu-drama. Part of the film includes getting know several of the survivors as they narrate the film in an articulate at times emotional manner giving us a feel for their fortitude, determination and even their sense of humor. We see how the decision is made by the family matriarch to pack up as much of their belongings as possible and flee to avoid deportation (which would have ultimately led to their extermination). We feel the experience through the eyes of a 70-year-old woman as a 4 and 5 year old. Interspersed with this narration, we witness a reenactment by Hungarian/Ukrainian actors, adults and children as they crawl through barely lit crevices and help us understand what it was like to live there, interacting with each other and risking their lives to bring food to their hiding places. There is one close call after another along with heroism, good luck but most of all the will to live. This combination of a documentary with actual actors was quite an accomplishment to effectively pull off. We knew the people narrating the story survived, but we were still on the edge of our seats. We didn’t quite anticipate the emotional reaction we would have when we saw this band of elderly people return to these caves with their families and could show their grandchildren a place that was truly like no place on earth and their most remarkable survival experience. (2013)
Postscript: If you are interested in some of the untold stories of survivors of the Holocaust I recommend that you consider reading a remarkable book which I reviewed about a year ago in my Psychiatry Blog as well as in BookRap.net
This film by Director Dror Moreh is one of five films featured documentaries nominated for an Oscar in 2012. It is mostly talking heads interviews with the last 6 Directors of the Shin Bet which is the secret Israeli security agency and has a motto, Defender that shall not be seen. This is a highly secret agency in which only the names of the leaders are known. As we initially watched this film unfold it seemed that it might be a propaganda piece to support Israel’s actions in regard to the Palestinians. To the contrary, it turned out to be a serious but insightful discussion of the seemingly endless and at times hopeless conflict between the Israel government and the discontented Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Each of the subjects of the film were past Directors of Shin Bet and had the responsibility for the internal security of Israel. They made life and death decisions, developed highly sophisticated and intricate data gathering operations through human resources and high tech equipment. Once it became clear the Palestinians were conducting deadly terrorists activities heralded by blowing up a bus and killing numerous innocent people, Shin Bet conducted thousands of heavy duty interrogations and carried out assassinations of known Arab terrorists. The film showed via a camera in the sky, following a vehicle known to contain a confirmed important terrorist leader and possibly some other people. The decision process and ultimately the dropping of a bomb on that vehicle was shown from the aerial view. Another story that was told was the successful murder of a notorious terrorist by the use of a cell phone with an explosive device in it. Footage was also shown of the incident where Shin Bet captured Israeli right wing fanatics who were intent on blowing up the Temple on the Mount (the main point of Arab worship in Jerusalem) after being encouraged by some orthodox rabbis. The complicated Israeli politics were demonstrated as many of these people were ultimately released without punishment. On the other hand, the persistent desire of the Palestinians to make Israel suffer was clearly shown and the absence of any desire by them to accept the existence of Israel is well known. The one man who might have stood a chance of somehow forging a solution to this seemingly unsolvable dilemma, Yitzak Rabin, was himself assassinated by a right wing Israeli much to the dismay of Shin Bet who had the responsibility of protecting Rabin. The most surprising message that we gleamed from this fascinating film is that just about each of these patriotic leaders of Shin Bet seemed to feel that no matter what the terrorists continue to do, the Israeli government should continue to try to talk to their leaders. They seem to say this at the same time, as it is clear that the next series of Shin Bet leaders will carry out their tasks with dedication and at time deadly precision. We have no idea how director Dror Moreh convinced these men of secrets to share their experience and views but the result is an unusual and revealing documentary film. (2012)