Tag: Morgan Neville


Won’t You Be My Neighbor

April 13th, 2018 — 7:54am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Open in the United States on June 8, 2018

*****

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Film maker Morgan Neville did an extraordinary job in delving into television archival material to reconstruct the story of Mr. Rogers. If you were a child watching television in the 1960s and 70s or thereabouts or are a parent of such a child, then you must know who is Mr. Rogers is and have very warm feelings about him. He had a unique approach to children and spoke with them on their level. He was able to convey that each person has self-worth and should be treated that way. He practiced what he preached not only because he himself had graduated from a seminary but because he truly respected children of all ages.

The film was beautifully put together to give great insight into Fred Rogers. It showed how seriously he took striving for equality and mutual understanding and how that always came across.

Viewing this film was like meeting an old beloved friend from many years ago. It will be interesting to see if millennials will be able to relate to this movie when they met Mr. Rogers for the first time.(2018)

 

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Best of Enemies

July 30th, 2015 — 2:05am

***Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 10.48.44 AM

Best of Enemies

The 1968 democratic political convention was held in Chicago in a year filled with violence, political turmoil, and civil unrest. Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for president because of the controversy over the Vietnam for war. His Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination beating anti-war spokesperson Eugene McCarthy. In the Republican Convention in Miami, Florida, former Vice President Richard Nixon beat Ronald Reagan for the nomination and went on to win the election. One of the memorable aspects of this political year was a series of 10 debates between William F. Buckley Jr., conservative spokesperson and Gore Vidal, liberal spokesperson that was aired on the ABC television network during the political convention. It is these debates that are the subject of this thought provoking and revealing documentary film produced and directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon. It is ironic that when ABC made the decision to inject the debates into its TV coverage of the conventions, they were number three in the ratings and were a poor number three at that. Yet, their use of these debates propelled them to the highest ratings over the other two networks who were doing gavel-to-gavel convention coverage. This is probably the beginning of the type of news coverage which we see today which is filled with pundits discussing and debating the news on many different networks.

In 1968, there was no more well known spokesperson of the conservative points of view than William F. Buckley Jr. For many years he had a popular television program “Firing Line” where he took on people with opposing views and demonstrated his brilliance. He also was a columnist for well-known conservative magazines. Gore Vidal was an equally brilliant, articulate liberal spokesperson who not only spoke “the talk” but wrote many very successful books about American history and also penned successful novels including one well-known fiction work titled Myra Breckinridge.

As we see in this 87-minute documentary film edited by Eileen Meyer and Aaron Wickenden, these 10 debates were very fascinating to watch and were watched more than for the discussion about the conflicts of ideological viewpoints. Certainly, Buckley expressed his view that people should be more self-sufficient and shouldn’t depend on government handouts. Vidal made the point that the government has responsibility to support people in need. However, the essence of this historic debate was how these brilliant men try to take apart not only each other’s arguments but each other.

We didn’t see all the raw footage of the debate, but in a post-film discussion with Mr. Neville, one, of the director producers, he shared his analysis which counted that more than three quarters of the time, these men were trying to dissect each other, rather than carrying on a rational discussion of the complicated issues of their time. One can’t help reflect how this film reminds us that this may be how we are approaching our modern day political debates as the right and left trash each other.

It of course makes great television and there have been very few more exciting moments in live widely watched television than the culminating mutual attacks on each other that occurred in the Buckley-Vidal debates. There needs to be no “spoiler alert” here since the following moments which we will describe are well-explored in this documentary. Mr. Buckley compared the anti-war protesters (who were probably demonstrating at that very moment outside the convention hall) “to be bullying fascists.” Vidal then says, “The only pro or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” Buckley then uncharacteristically loses his temper and says, “Listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” (The fact that Vidal turned out to be “gay” was completely irrelevant especially since he was not out at that time and Buckley had used a very disparaging word in reference to him.) Another irony is that at the very moment that Buckley threatened to punch Vidal, the police outside were probably punching the protesters. In any case this documentary film gives an inside view of the meaning of this debate using commentary of people who knew the two men at that time and later in life. We learned that Vidal’s feelings and comments about Buckley, even at the time of Buckley’s death were as angry and as bitter as ever. Similarly, Buckley’s people who knew him suggest that Buckley never got over his feelings about Vidal.

A good documentary film not only presents the facts but also tries to put them in some kind of perspective. To a certain degree, the filmmakers here may have succeeded. You may need to be a student of television and politics to fully appreciate how the debate may have been a turning point in how such debates are handled in the modern media. However, if you step back you can perhaps see that our current political discourse in 2015 over ideological differences, may be getting very personal. This film presents a worthwhile lesson in these situations of what can go wrong between “The Best of Enemies.”

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, History

20 Feet From Stardom

June 6th, 2013 — 8:06pm

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 7.44.14 PM*** 

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)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Musical

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