Tag Archives: Documentary

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

18 Jul

‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain’ provides a tasting menu of takes on the late chef

By Tom Meek Thursday, July 15, 2021

Anthony Bourdain stars in Morgan Neville’s documentary, ROADRUNNER, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of CNN / Focus Features

It’s uncanny how alive Anthony Bourdain appears in Morgan Neville’s documentary about the celebrity chef, raconteur and intrepid traveler, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.” Not because it’s good to see his familiar, avuncular mug grabbing at life with zest and glee, but because of his self-reflective inner probing that feels as if he’s chiming in on his own life and death in the present – something that’s impossible, as Bourdain committed suicide in 2018. Still, his input is eerily prescient.

Neville steers carefully around much of that headline-grabbing act and in doing so raises more questions than answers, which is certain to leave those seeking closure unsatisfied.

With credits including “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018) and the Oscar-winning “20 Feet from Stardom” (2013), Neville does a yeoman’s job of getting us the fast what-to-knows: Bourdain was a heroin addict who early on labored in P-town seafood shacks and rose to fame at the age of 43 with “Kitchen Confidential” (published in 2000), an insider’s tell-all about sex, drugs and egos in the go-go New York City restaurant biz. He struck TV fame with “A Cook’s Tour,” “No Reservations” and finally “Parts Unknown,” culinary travelogues with the ever-curious Bourdain digging into the culture and politics of destinations close and far away. What many might not know is that Bourdain hardly traveled at all until doing those shows, and later became agoraphobic.

Neville employs a tight fist in curating who chimes in with reflections. Those giving us glimmers include Bourdain’s TV producers, fellow celebrity chefs Éric Ripert, who was with Bourdain in Strasbourg when he died, and a very emotional David Chang. Also in the mix of close friends are artist David Choe and musicians John Lurie and Josh Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age. Then there’s Bourdain’s past relationships. His second wife, Ottavia Busia Bourdain, gets plenty of screen time but offers little to deepen our understanding. Strangely absent is Bourdain’s first wife, Nancy Putkoski, to whom Bourdain was married for 20 years. Asia Argento, Bourdain’s paramour during his final years, appears only in archival footage. As Neville and several talking heads paint it, the Italian actress and filmmaker was a force of chaos on the set of “Parts Unknown” when Bourdain brought in her and renowned cinematographer Christopher Boyle to shoot a few episodes. The film also sets up Argento as the catalyst for his suicide – the Courtney to his Kurt, if you will. While many chime in that Anthony killed Anthony, others say Bourdain was addicted to Argento, and there’s a front page tabloid splash right before his final act revealing Argento holding hands with another man. All of the above is told in a mere whisper, and you wish Argento was given the lens to share her side of the story.

Also missing from the film is Bourdain’s sense of epicurean love and wonderment. The film is slickly crafted and propelled by music, namely the title track by Boston-based Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and some cool ditties by Lurie and Homme. It’s a celebration of life that leaves many parts of its enigmatic subject unknown.

Weed & Wine

17 May

Comparing cultures in her doc ‘Weed & Wine,’ Cambridgeport’s Cohen found the relationship

By Tom MeekThursday, May 13, 2021

Cambridgeport director and producer Rebecca Richman Cohen presents her documentary “Weed & Wine” on Saturday as part of the Independent Film Festival Boston. (Photo: Weed & Wine)

The bridge between law and documentary filmmaking has strong precedent in the Boston area. Cantabrigian Frederick Wiseman, whose filmmaking style is pretty much the embodiment of cinéma vérité, was teaching law at Boston University when he set off to make “Titicut Follies” in 1967; Mary Mazzio was working as an attorney at Boston’s Brown Rudnick when she decided to go to film school and make socially conscious films (“A Most Beautiful Thing,” “Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon”). This week, the virtual run of Independent Film Festival Boston brings focus to Cambridgeport filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen, who graduated Harvard Law School and now lectures there. On Saturday, the IFFB will screen her third documentary “Weed & Wine.”

Cohen, like Wiseman and Mazzio, is driven by the human side of her subjects. The continent-spanning film that details two families, the land they work, the challenges they face and the tradition of agriculture across generations began as a late-night conversation about terroir in a Parisian wine bar. Cohen describes the French-originated concept of terroir as “the way the land expresses itself in agricultural produce and the history and tradition of that land.” On the rooting of the project, Cohen says, “I woke up the next morning and still thought it was a great idea.”

One of the challenges in making the film was finding a French vigneron family to partake; many found the juxtaposition of wine grape growing and cannabis agriculture off-putting. “People kept telling me I was comparing apples and oranges,” Cohen said via Zoom, “but in the end, it was about family.” Ultimately Cohen gathered with the Jodreys in Humboldt County, California, and the Thibons of France’s Rhone Valley. The patriarch of that Californian cannabis farm, Kev Jodrey, is a New England transplant (you can hear a trace of it in his accent) and has been growing his product outside legal boundaries for years. The Thibons, on the other hand, have been tending to the same vineyards for hundred of years.

Cohen fell into filmmaking by happenstance while attending Brown University. “I got a job as an assistant editor when I was studying aboard in college, because I couldn’t figure out what else to do. Then I got hooked. After college, I worked for Michael Moore as an assistant editor on ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’” Cohen’s other documentary features include “War Don Don” (2010), which puts the Serra Leone justice system under a microscope, and “The Code of the West” (2012), which looks at medical marijuana growers in Montana as regulations and policies are reevaluated.

French vintner Hélène Thibon in “Weed & Wine.”

Cannabis farmer Kevin Jodrey in “Weed & Wine.”

Before making “War Don Don,” Cohen had been in Serra Leone using her legal knowledge in a humanitarian capacity. “I’m not an attorney,” Cohen points out quickly. “I’ve never taken the bar.” The subjects she lectures on, human rights and humanitarianism as told through the lens of documentary films, and using video and media as evidence and advocacy, seem to meld seamlessly with her social focus behind the camera.

It took nearly five years to make “Weed & Wine” since Cohen imbibed the idea in that wine bar. One of the realizations the filmmaker had along the way was that her thesis about land focus shifted some, becoming more about those using the land and their kinship to it and each other. Cohen said that sense of family and community became increasingly meaningful to her because during the filmmaking process she became pregnant and had a child. “A total pandemic child,” she says of her 15-month-old.

Covid delayed the release of “Weed & Wine” for nearly a year. Cohen had imagined that the Jodreys and Thibons would meet in person at the premiere or a festival screening; instead that happened by Zoom, Cohen says with a tang of sadness. “But the funny thing is,” she says, “is what do you think was the first thing they talked about? The weather. What else do farmers talk about?”

One of Cohen’s key cinematic influences is “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control,” Cambridge filmmaker Errol Morris’ 1997 documentary about a lion tamer, a robotics expert, a topiary gardener and a specialist in naked mole rats. Interestingly too, one could argue that Morris has a link to law; before coming to filmmaking he was a private investigator, a skill that helped mightily when digging into the gunning down of a Texas police office in “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), a film that helped get an innocent man out of jail. What resonated with Cohen about Morris’ film was the juxtaposition of diverse endeavors and the common themes that linked the subjects. “It’s kind of a bit like what we did with ‘Weed & Wine,’” Cohen says.

Cohen wants to next examine mass incarceration in conjunction with such social movements as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. One thing Cohen was adamant about during our interview was that film is a collaborative process, mentioning that the film would not have been possible without her committed team of producers and crew – and the final product is impressive in terms of production values and synergy. Screenings of “Weed & Wine” will be accompanied by a prerecorded Q&A.

Gunda

9 May

‘Gunda’: Intimate portrait of a pig on a farm, lingering images you’ll never want to leave

By Tom MeekFriday, May 7, 2021

Viktor Kosakovskiy might be one of the most engrossing filmmakers you’ve never heard of. Part of that’s likely because he’s a documentary filmmaker – and those documentaries are about unassuming subjects such as water, or a sow on a Norwegian farm. That 2018 work about humans’ dance with water, “Aquarela,” was a stunning achievement in “how did they get those shots” videography, made even more compelling by deft editing and a driving score. His latest, about the pig named in the title “Gunda,” is equally captivating, even if the perilous power of Mother Nature’s wrath doesn’t loom in every scene.

Shot in deeply layered black and white, “Gunda” follows the seasonal cycle of a sow on a farm, birthing a liter of piglets and rearing them from pink (I know it’s black and white, but bear with me) and squirming, endlessly suckling little oinkers. Throughout the film, shot in long, lingering takes that turn the mundane into a riveting, can’t-turn-away event, we never see a farmer – or any human, for that matter. We see the wheels of a tractor, but for the most part it’s just Gunda and her brood, who seem to have free range of the farm and surrounding forest; we occasionally meet some barnyard friends in Mr. Duck, Mrs. Moo, her bestie, and a one-legged chicken, among the many. It’s “Charlotte’s Web” or “Babe” (1995) sans the anthropomorphic cuteness.

How Kosakovskiy gets at the heart of his subject and makes us feel – and we do feel, if not take on Gunda’s maternal instincts as if we were there caring for her cute brood – clearly has much to do with patience and composition. No one would equate the Russian-born auteur to the great Frederick Wiseman, whose hands-off, fly-on-the-wall style is pretty much the definition of cinéma vérité; but the long takes and observation of rhythms and beats of life, drunk in and deeply felt, are poetically similar, even though the filmmakers’ subjects and effect remain vastly different. “Gunda,” like “Aquarela,” is best seen on the big screen for its masterful cinematography’s attention to framing, depth of field and shadows.

How “Gunda” moves in the final act will come as no surprise, but should give you a bit more pause the next time you’re debating soy or pork bacon for your BLT.

City Hall

5 Nov

Cambridge documentarian Frederick Wiseman turns his camera on Boston for a sprawling four-hour immersive portrait of the city.

Tom Meek for the Patriot Ledger
November 3, 20202

For his 45th documentary feature Frederick Wiseman trains his lens on his native Boston to record all things municipal unfolding in the cement encased corridors of Gerhard Kallmann’s infamous Brutalist facade. The retrospective of how we operate and function in the Hub is an engrossing four-and-half-hour watch (yes, you heard that right) that amazingly goes by in a blip and serves as something of an eerie — and taunting — time capsule. Shot during 2018 and 2019, one segment has Mayor Marty Walsh and authorities preparing for the Wold Champion Red Sox Duck Boat celebration. Later we see fans chanting “Mookie, Mookie, Mookie.” Betts famously left us in 2019 and recently performed his heroics in the 2020 World Series for that team we vanquished in 2018 (the L.A. Dodgers), and all that Wiseman’s camera captures, strangely feels from another era as the city bustles in pre-COVID normalcy — one can only imagine what a 2020-2021 version of “City Hall” might look like.

The Government Center delve unfolds in a series of chapter-esque meanders between the micro and macro with plenty of shots of Boston’s iconic skyline and landmarks to root you. The rendering should make plenty of Beantowners proud and Walsh, seemingly ever aware of the camera, comes off crisp, progressive and inclusive — a shining illumination that may pose something of an extra hurdle for upcoming challenger Michelle Wu and others. In Wiseman’s classic observant, cinema verite style (fly-on-the-wall) there are several long takes of municipal proceedings such as the budget review where presenters effusively tout the investment in infrastructure as a win-win because it not only betters the community, but also makes the city’s debt more appealing to bond investors. It’s a cut-and-dry matter that under Wiseman’s eye is more interesting and accessible than it sounds, but “City Hall’ is most affecting when following the day-to-day operations of front liners, namely the 311 help center workers trying to iron out neighborhood issues or city magistrates mitigating parking tickets — an anxious expecting father who parked in front of a hydrant and an incredulous old-schooler who didn’t know there was resident parking along Congress Street — and then there are those out in the community removing trash and providing subsidized veterinary care.

What’s truly amazing to note too is that Wiseman, at the age of 90, is still cranking out documentaries on a near annual basis and does all the editing to boot. For those not familiar with the works of the Academy Award honored documentarian, a law professor at BU and Brandeis before picking up the camera, they’re slice of life exposés that quietly drink in their subjects without question, preface or prod the way you might get from a Michael Moore (“Roger & Me,” or “Fahrenheit 9/11″) or Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”). The result conjures an uncanny sense of intimacy; there’s no barrier, you are organically and viscerally part of the scene. “City Hall” in scope and focus feels like a natural addition to the the director’s unofficial community series that began with “Aspen” (1991) and includes “Belfast, Maine” (1999)” and “Jackson Heights” (2015). Must see Wiseman films in my not-so-humble opinion are “Boxing Gym” (2010) and his controversial first film, “Titicut Follies” (1967) about the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, which, because of its graphic nature, was banned from being shown in Massachusetts until the early 1990s.

The most moving and telling scenes in “City Hall” are those steeped in earnest reveals and communal conflict. Talking to veterans afflicted by addiction and PTSD, Walsh shares candidly his dark days as an alcoholic. The connection both onscreen and in the room is immediate and palpable, something that doesn’t quite register as much when Walsh underscores his Irish heritage as a bridge to a Latino community. Then there’s the Thanksgiving feast for those challenged by Down syndrome and similar arresting disorders where Walsh and crew dutifully serve expectant diners and cap it all off with dancing. Wiseman never lets his lens sway you, but if you don’t have a bittersweet bump inside you, you probably didn’t flinch when Old Yeller died. The big rub in the film comes during a community outreach meeting run by a predominately Asian coalition of businessmen seeking to institute a recreational cannabis facility in a predominately Black and brown section of Dorchester. The two sides talk at each other, the rhetoric’s tinged with the annoyance of not being heard and there’s the clear fear of being taken advantage of, with the city and the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission — who are not in the room — taking the brunt of the shots. It’s a telling back and forth that raises the question of equitable economic development and how to earnestly empower a community in the process without gutting them.

One of the things that makes Wiseman’s films so captivating is the sense of cadence and human rhythm he imbues them with. “Boxing Gym” and his 2009 ballet troupe portrait “La danse” are driven by repetition and pursuit of form. In “City Hall” there are mesmerizing long takes of mattresses and barbecue grills being obliterated and compacted by a garbage truck’s compressor and long spindly tree limbs are methodically pulled in and consumed by a restless wood shredder — activities quite mundane and everyday, that in Wiseman’s purview magically become hypnotic wonderments. Also too, Wiseman’s longtime collaborator, cinematographer John Davey artfully finds Escher-esque motifs and reflections within reflections amid our familiar facades. His upward angled framings cut aesthetic portraits of old Scollay Square and the bland Saltonstall building in ways one might not have imagined possible. “City Hall” in the end, is a dutiful reflection of who we are, where we came from and a piquant insider look into the vast municipal neural net that keeps us humming as a community.

I am Greta

25 Oct

‘I Am Greta’: Young environmentalist speaks; Whether we listen lies beyond director’s lens

By Tom Meek
Friday, October 23, 2020

The documentary “I Am Greta,” about teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg and the lengths she goes to spotlight the climate crisis, is a testament to commitment and passion. It’s also a film that feels like it only scratches the surface about its subject, her family and, more so, her cause.

The film centers on Thunberg’s Atlantic crossing in a carbon neutral yacht to give a speech to the United Nations’ climate summit in New York. She won’t fly “because of the enormous climate impact of aviation.” Filmmaker Nathan Grossman tags along, but first sets us up with some of Thunberg’s grassroots activism, including sitting on streets with signs calling out global plunder by carbon-consuming corporations and world powers. We also get a smattering of barbs from Trump, other globally positioned strongmen and climate change deniers – whose pockets Thunberg would say are lined by big carbon – disparaging the young activist. One talking head even digs in on Thunberg’s Asperger’s, tagging it as a flaw and dismissing her as a young girl with a weakness. Thunberg says the neurological condition allows her to “see through the static,” and seems to handle the pressure pretty well. She’s also a kid, and there are plenty of scenes with her and her father (the mother remains largely offscreen), who accompanies her to most of her speaking engagements. Grossman has quite intimate access to their interactions, even when Thunberg, in a dour mood, won’t get out of bed at her dad’s behest.

What will probably most enlighten the audience is Thunberg’s fiery eloquence. Half of it’s in her native Swedish, but when Thunberg gets up before the UN speaking in English, it’s sharp, well-honed rat-a-tat rhetoric: “I want you to panic, I want you to act as if the house is on fire” and “humanity sees nature as bottomless bag of candy” and some generation shaming (“You’ve stolen my dreams and my future, how dare you!”). It’s there finally that the film does something to take up Thunberg’s cause, serving up the hard reflection of one generation putting the next in jeopardy.

Grossman’s style for the most is Frederick Wiseman-like, fly-on-the-wall. It’s captivating to let Thunberg be herself and us observe quietly, but from an insight and understanding perspective there remains a frustrating remove. It’s Thunberg in the end in the end who punches through. She’s heard, but did the world listen?

Desert One

23 Aug

‘Desert One’: Rescue attempt in Iran was daring, but risk and repercussion dig in with Eagle Claw

By Tom Meek

Barbara Kopple’s meticulous dissection of the failed Operation Eagle Claw mission, launched in 1980 to rescue Iranian hostages, serves as a gripping connect-the-dots weave of history, harrowing personal testimony and world-shaping events. Without much judgment the film dials back to the 1950s when Iran was the hot, oil-rich country Western powers jockeyed to get in on. Later the CIA helped topple a brief nationalist government in a coup d’état and reinstall a shah, and Kopple’s doc delivering a montage of him in chummy photo ops with every president from Truman onward. The doc also subtly metes out snippets of the shah’s abysmal, brutal human rights record. Then comes the defining moment of the overthrow, the extreme hatred for America and the takeover of the U.S. embassy – that final event told by several staffers and military personnel who would become hostages, recalling the chaotic mayhem of angry Iranians scaling the gates and storming the building.

The now infamous Iranian hostage crisis would become a 444-day ordeal. That extraction mission – the first Delta Force operation – was green-lit by then President Jimmy Carter, and its failure, as the film has it, was the key to him being swept out of office by Ronald Reagan. Carter and his VP, Walter Mondale, appear in the film, as do several of the commandos who recall the surreal scene in the desert outside of Tehran where several Sikorsky Sea Stallions that couldn’t handle the sandstorms failed, leading to the ultimate decision to abort. The evacuation, for those who don’t recall, would go horribly awry, and eight military personnel would wind up burnt alive. Before that, when the Delta Forces arrived at the remote location, a busload of civilians happened bizarrely upon them in the middle of the night and had to be taken hostage by the commandos. Then several other vehicles arrived; there was confusion, a skirmish and a massive explosion. I don’t want to give aways all the details, but Kopple does a great job of stitching together a thrilling narrative with archival footage, personal accounts from those who were there in the desert (one marine, tough and on point, breaks down on camera; one of those Iranian citizens from the bus recalls his own experience of being held without knowing why) and to re-create the drama in the desert, Kopple smartly opts to use animation much as Ari Folman did with “Waltz with Bashir” (2008) and Randall Christopher did with “The Driver is Red” (2017) – the former about an Israeli incursion into Lebanon and the latter about the hunt for Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. In all three cases, animation creates a provocative abstraction to put you on the scene more viscerally than a dramatic recreation might. It’s a brilliant mix of media forms that seamlessly deepens the global and human context of what transpired. Kopple won Oscars for her first two documentaries, “Harlan County U. S. A.” (1976) and “American Dream” (1990), both depicting labor disputes in middle America. Since then Kopple’s lens has been trained on such diverse and unique topics as Woody Allen and his union with Soon-Yi Previn in “Wild Man Blues” (1997) and the Dixie Chicks’ media battle over statements opposing then President George W. Bush in “Shut Up & Sing” (2006). Kopple’s latest is something new and powerful, not just because of the implied what-ifs, but because of the heroism, sacrifice and personal tales of survival.

Represent

14 Aug

‘Represent’: Embedded with three campaigns, women from all over the hard-to-navigate map

By Tom Meek


Another politically themed doc this week (along with “Boys State”), “Represent” looks at women running for political office in the Midwest. Under the observance of Hillary Bachelder’s lens, Myya Jones, a 22-year-old, tries to spark a youth movement by running for mayor of Detroit; Bryn Bird, a farmer and working mother in small town Ohio, seeks a township trustee post; while Julie Cho, a Korean immigrant, runs as a Republican candidate for state representative in a liberal Chicago suburb. The timelines aren’t all that linear, but most interesting is Cho, who, ostensibly because she is not a typical GOP candidate (“rich, white male”) is abandoned by the party during her campaign but also takes veiled racial pokes (she’s in an interracial marriage) from the liberal opposition – “Why don’t you go run in the Korean neighborhood?” To which she notes to the camera that only the left gets away with that kind of racism these days. Her idealism to embed and change the party feels like the right quest, but lack of support and the attacks she faces on the trail take their toll. Her frustration and weariness are palpable, and yet she remarkably soldiers on. We catch up with Bird already in office and making policy, some of which is not popular, and in one telling scene she remarks on how one of her jobs affects the other when formerly loyal customers, rankled by her policies and communal decisions, walk by her stand at a farmers market without a hello. What’s remarkable about Bachelder’s doc is the degree of access and trust she gains from her subjects. You could call it “Girls State: The Real World Edition.”

“Represent” shows as part of the the Brattle Theatre’s Virtual Screening Room.

Boys State

14 Aug

‘Boys State’: Re-creating America in miniature, dominated by right whites (then comes a twist)

By Tom Meek

Directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’ immersion into the Girls and Boys State mock political programs, which have for decades turned out leaders of tomorrow such as Bill Clinton, Ann Richards and Dick Cheney, is both an eye-opener and a reason for pause. For “Boys State” the documentarians embedded in 2017 with the Texas chapter, where 1,100 17-year-olds assemble for a fortnight in the capital, divide into two parties (Nationalist and Federalists), develop platforms and elect a governor – the highest official rank to be reached, and the final act of the educational event sponsored by the American Legion.

Sounds pretty wholesome and promising, right? And it is, on one hand (the passion for politics and democracy, a clear win), but at times the hooting, testosterone-amped crowd of mostly white lads (“I’ve never seen so many white people ever,” one African American attendee reflects) eerily calls to mind the tiki torch marchers in Charlottesville. The agendas too feel skewed to the right – pro-gun, pro-life (“if there’s a rape, we don’t punish the child, we find the rapist and castrate him!”) and “back the blue.” Given the lack of color, it’s refreshing to see a son of undocumented parents rise to run for governor, bolstered by a somber, reflective approach rather than shouted platitudes such as “freedom!” and “a vote for me is a vote for all!” The use of Instagram and other social media is impressive, though it’s often mean, personal and racist. Drinking in “Boys State” instills a sense of hope, and dread. It’s a slice of America if lived on a landlocked “Lord of the Flies” isle, where you know boys will be boys.

Creem: America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine’

14 Aug

‘Creem: America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine’: In on the joke, and at least once on with the band

By Tom Meek

The original title to this nostalgic dial back was “Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine,” the “Boy Howdy” being the rock magazine’s identifying icon, conjured up by legendary cartoonist Robert Crumb (allegedly in exchange for the mag covering the costs of a medical treatment). The posted title of Scott Crawford’s documentary reflects the storied magazine’s sub-banner, an intentional eff-you to “Rolling Stone,” which launched a few months earlier. As the talking heads in the film have it – including former editors and writers there – “Rolling Stone” was a highbrow culture magazine, while “Creem,” named after the rock group Cream, was just about rock ’n’ roll and adoringly true to its Detroit roots throughout its 20-year existence. It was posture and pose versus edgy, raw ardor.

Interestingly, one of those talking heads recalling Creem with such zeal is film director Cameron Crowe (“Singles,” “Jerry McGuire”) whose experience as a Rolling Stone writer gave him the seeds for the bittersweet rock romance “Almost Famous” (2000). Another ardent fan, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, grew up close enough to bike down to Creem’s offices (described as “aesthetic squalor”) and rues that he never made the pages of the mag. Other rewinds about drop-ins from Detroit rock royalty such as Iggy Pop, Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper dot the film; one time, a Creem journalist embedded with the band Kiss onstage for a show.

The Creem reflected in film feels much like the early days at the Boston Phoenix that I heard about when I joined back in the early 1990s – underground culture, alternative music and cult films, all done for peanuts by hustling journos who’d rather be at a late-night gig and write about it the next day than pull down big dollars as a stolid nine-to-fiver. It was about passion and the vibe, and Crawford gets his finger on that. The film would make a nice double bill with “Other Music,” which also played the Brattle’s Virtual Screening Room this year. The personalities at Creem – including publisher Barry Kramer and critic and editor Lester Bangs, who both died before the magazine flamed out – were clearly a strong and agitated olio. As one surviving commentator said of its legacy and embraced irreverence, “either you’re in on the joke or you were the joke.” Rock on.

A Most Beautiful Thing

29 Jul

Pulling together: Boston filmmaker tells story of first Black rowing team

Boston filmmaker Mary Mazzio’s documentary “A Most Beautiful Thing,” which recounts the travails of the first Black high school crew team in the country, was supposed to open in theaters back in March but the COVID-19 swell altered that and still holds a lingering effect on the film’s release. AMC, the theater chain that Mazzio has an arrangement with, has yet to get back up and running and so Mazzio, with her finger on the pulse of social issues and more topographically, in light of the George Floyd slaying and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, is pushing ahead with the film’s release on Xfinity Friday, July 31, and releasing on other major streaming platforms at staggered future dates — Sept. 1 on Peacock and Oct. 14 on Amazon Prime.

Mazzio, a former Olympic rower, notched her unique arrangement with AMC when the theater was exploring means to address complaints that most films exhibited carried unflattering stereotypes of people of color and underrepresented communities, and as a result was actively seeking more positive and aspirational material. “Positively diverse,” is how Mazzio said (then) CEO Gerry Lopez described it. It was a natural fit as AMC snapped up several of Mazzio projects like “Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon” (2009) that detailed a business plan competition with teen entrants from high-crime, inner city communities like Harlem, Compton, Chicago and Baltimore, and “Underwater Dreams” (2014), which chronicled teens of undocumented parents who come together and go head-to-head against MIT in an underwater robotics competition.

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