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Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

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Still shot of Manfred Kirchheimer’s nonverbal documentary Stations of the Elevated, which depicts the graffiti and anxious ambience of New York City in the late 1970s.

There’s a story about a documentary created by my sister’s friend Manny Kirchheimer. For years, though admired by critics, Stations of the Elevated could not be distributed because it was not possible to meet the price set by a jazz musician’s widow for use of the music.

Then a film buff from Artists Public Domain discovered the artistic, wordless evocation of a New York moment tucked away on a shelf.

As Joel Rose reported at NPR in 2014, “The first film to point a camera at the graffiti movement in New York City was Stations of the Elevated, which debuted at the New York Film Festival in 1981.

“The film hasn’t been seen much since, except by generations of graffiti fans and writers who watched it on VHS tapes. Now it’s being re-released on the big screen. …

Stations of the Elevated is not a documentary in the usual sense. It’s only 45 minutes long; there’s no narrative and hardly any dialogue. The camera follows subway cars painted from top to bottom with vibrant graffiti compositions over a soundtrack of jazz by Charles Mingus. One critic compared Stations to a nature film, in which director Manny Kirchheimer stalks graffiti-covered subway cars in their native habitat.

” ‘He went big-game hunting, and he caught the big game, you know?’ says graffiti writer Lee Quinones, whose work is featured prominently in the film. … ‘This is the first film of its kind that captured a beautiful golden age where a lot of these cars were being painted, and that urgency,’ he says. ‘He was able to capture that, and way before the established art world even got a pulse that this was going on underneath their feet.’

“Kirchheimer … was born in Germany and fled to New York with his parents in 1936. He was in his late 40s when he shot Stations of the Elevated in 1977. He didn’t know anyone who wrote graffiti, and he’d never given it much thought.

” ‘As a matter of fact, there was a great deal of graffiti around that I didn’t pay much attention to,’ Kirchheimer says. Then he found himself driving up to the Bronx early in the morning, and he saw the trains running overhead.

” ‘They would come by and it would be screaming full of colors — just gorgeous,’ he says. ‘The smart thing I did was shoot it all outdoors. Most of the lines are indoors, and the way most people see these paintings was indoors. Doing it outdoors gave a whole other perspective.’

“It was a grittier time in New York’s history, when the city could barely afford to clean subway cars, inside or out. Most straphangers considered graffiti writers a nuisance, or worse. But Kirchheimer was focused on ‘elevating’ their work. …

” ‘The genre, if there is one, is one that goes back to the beginning of cinema. That’s the city symphony,’ says Jake Perlin, who is reissuing Stations of the Elevated through his company, Artists Public Domain. …

Stations of the Elevated contrasts the painted subway cars with outdoor advertising on billboards — giant images of cigarettes, alcohol and semi-nude women. Artist Quinones says the film captures something essential about a moment in the history of the graffiti movement, and of New York City, which is long gone.” See more at NPR, here.

You may also check out Criterion for a review by Joshua Brunsting: “This short documentary contains some really beautiful richly colorful photography of the elevated subways and the neighborhoods around them circa 1980. It’s filled with impressionistic scenes of subway cars, passengers and track workers, junkyards, neighborhood kids, billboards – scenes of everyday life. Interludes of Mingus drift in and out along with background subway announcements and ambient noise and conversation.”

And now that Artists Public Domain has settled the music rights question, you can get the movie here.

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I added Ello to my social media a while ago but am only now beginning to explore it. A kind of Facebook without ads, it seems to be preferred by people in the arts. Lately, Ello has been publishing interviews with particularly interesting users.

Here are excerpts from Ello Chief Marketing Officer Mark Gelband’s interview with Ben Staley.

“Ben Staley is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker, storyteller, photographer, and professional adventure-haver. His striking portraits and nature photography are a constant source of inspiration to the Ello team. …

“Mark: I started paying really close attention to your work when you were documenting the film you’re making about ships and welders. Could you tell us more about that project?

“Ben: The project is called ‘Starbound’ and it’s about a boat of the same name. The boat is a catch processor that fishes on the Bering Sea. It’s a top performer but the factory was outdated and inefficient and they were losing money. The construction project would lengthen the boat, making it as environmentally friendly as possible and saving the jobs of the 100+ crew members. The owners are doing it for the best reasons. They could have taken the easy way out and and saved a lot of money up front and had no risk, but they undertook this incredible challenge because they care about the environment and their employees and their families. …

“For me as a storyteller it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture this process and tell their story. The family that owns the boat are incredibly committed and hardworking people and they will willingly spend more money and take on this risk to do things the right way. …

“Picking a 240 foot-long boat up out of the water, cutting it in half and sticking 60 foot section in the middle, welding it back together and putting it back in the water. All in the space of a couple months. The hard work, skill and craftsmanship are incredible. …  I’ll be making the first trip to sea with the boat later this summer and hope to have the doc done by end of year. …

(more…)

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Photo: Greenfusefilms.com

Vanessa Gould, the sister of one of Suzanne’s elementary school buddies, is a documentarian. A while back, she made a Peabody-winning film about makers of advanced origami called Between The Folds. More recently, she was given unheard-of access to the New York Times obituary desk.

Her parents just sent an e-mail about the resulting movie and what Vanessa has been up to in general.

“Vanessa recently worked on Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously, a nine-part series tackling the challenges of climate change. … Vanessa was a producer on several of the stories and did additional cinematography on others. You can see most of her work in episodes three (“Super Storm Sandy”) and nine (“Chilean Andes”). Episode three, “The Rising Tide” with Chris Hayes, airs tonight, Sunday, April 27, at 10 pm on Showtime. … Here are links: http://www.yearsoflivingdangerously.com and https://www.facebook.com/YearsOfLiving. …

“Soon after making Between The Folds, one of the artists in the film passed away. Vanessa alerted the Times of his death, aware that it was unlikely they would run an obituary. And yet – somewhat amazingly – they did, and she assisted them in the unusual process of putting together an editorial obituary. Only three or four such obituaries are written by the NYT staff each day. The whole story of how these obituaries are selected and written, as well as the social history they tell, became her fascination. Hence OBIT will be her next film. Check out these links: http://www.obitdoc.com, http://www.greenfusefilms.com, and www.vanessagould.com.”

I wonder if OBIT will show to what extent the obituaries of famous people are written before they shuffle off this mortal coil. Come to think of it, do any newspapers let people submit their own obit in advance? I recently read a hilarious one that a small paper accepted from the deceased at the insistence of his grandson. It revealed a guy with a terrific sense of humor — not a bad tribute.

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On Sunday, my husband and I decided to see what’s new at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln.

A favorite in the biennial show of New England artists was Laura Braciale of Manchester, NH. It took me a minute, but when I realized she had displayed everyday objects along with what they looked like once she had turned them into art, I thought, Yes, art really is in everything if you look.

The blurb about her says, “close observation reveals subtle differences between the three-dimensional structures and their two-dimensional renderings. …  Her works engage a question concerning representation—which image is more ‘real’? As both her items and her illustrations occupy the same physical reality, however, Braciale’s work suggests that neither is more real than the other.” (Sigh. I’m not really fond of the way museums write.)

In a different DeCordova exhibit we saw three tintype photo portraits by the late David Prifti, Suzanne’s high school photography teacher. (A solo show in Winchester, Mass., goes through March 2, here.)

The biggest surprise was a documentary about Laos, a country we are interested in largely because of the the mystery books of Colin Cotterill. (Read one of my posts about him, here.)

The film, Route 3, shows a small mountain town that, having been leased to China for 75 years, was utterly destroyed to make way for casinos, hotels, entertainments, and jobs for Chinese people alone. Hard to imagine selling a part of your country like that, but Laos is desperately poor.

The documentary was by Patty Chang and David Kelley, who live and work in Boston and Brooklyn.

The DeCordova says on its website, “Blending the genres of documentary and road trip films with surrealist cinematic passages, Patty Chang and David Kelley present a compelling trip through the physical and psychological landscape of a community in transition. … Enlisting the help of tour guides and local entrepreneurs in this tightly controlled area, the artists immersed themselves in this community to create a unique portrait of a changing society.” More information on the artists here and here.

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Andrew Sullivan‘s Nov. 24 “Face of the Day” leads one to a delightful website about a photography adventure in Siberia.

“Two years ago,” writes Sasha Leahovcenco, “I had the amazing opportunity to go literally to the end of the earth to photograph people who never had their photo taken.

“At schools, churches, homes and hospitals I could give people a moment to forget their troubles and just smile for the camera. But while shooting with nomadic reindeer herding families it was me who was most deeply touched by the experience. For although my hosts had few material possessions they shared with me something rare in the world – a sense of peace and satisfaction with life.

“This March we are going back on a new journey across Chukotka. We are going to travel over 1,000 miles and reach out to the most unreached places in Chukotka. We will visit people who have never had visitors in their life, stopping by every village and tribe on the way, giving them warm clothes, shoes, gifts, and simply showing them grace and love.

“The very exciting part of the trip will be taking pictures of the natives, printing them on the spot, and handing them to the villagers. This will be the very first time that these people had ever had their photo taken. …

“Our documentary film about this journey, will bring the voices of this land to people all around the globe. We hope to engage humanity’s deep rooted fascination with nature and desire to understand humanity. Perhaps by getting a glimpse of this nomadic way of life we will reflect on this modern world and what in our lives is truly important.”

Check it out here.

Photo: Sasha Leahovcenco

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On Saturday we watched the documentary Urbanized, about urban planning.

Although there were many discouraging notes (Mumbai slums, Beijing smog, destructive construction in Stuttgart), there were enough positive ones to give hope.

I liked the grassroots gardening efforts in Detroit, pedestrian/bike paths in Bogota (while cars were relegated to mud), miraculous transformations of aging infrastructure (the High Line in Manhattan), lighted paths in Cape Town, and bicycle commuting in Copenhagen.

The point was made that walkability (one of my favorite topics, as readers know) and similar quality-of-life improvements in cities can be hugely beneficial to the planet just because cities are so big and changes there affect so many people.

Doug Foy, who helped get Boston Harbor cleaned up and now consults with New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, has spoken at my workplace a few times. He likes to talk about how New York avoided buying a whole new water supply simply by partnering with plumbers unions to get standard toilets gradually replaced with low-flush toilets.

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A guy at the office reads a different blog I write, a blog for work, and knows the types of stories I like. Recently he e-mailed me about a new documentary in which the solutions to our economic problems are tackled by “just folks.” Add this to the growing list of proofs that “one and one and 50 make a million.”

“In Fixing the Future, host David Brancaccio, of public radio’s Marketplace and NOW on PBS, visits people and organizations across America that are attempting a revolution: the reinvention of the American economy. By featuring communities using sustainable and innovative approaches to create jobs and build prosperity, Fixing the Future inspires hope and renewal in a people overwhelmed by economic collapse.

“The film highlights effective, local practices such as: local business alliances, community banking, time banking/hour exchange, worker cooperatives and local currencies.” That’s what the film’s website says anyway. Read more. And if you see the movie, please let me know.

 Photographs: http://fixingthefuture.org

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Those of us who go to work on the commuter rail or on the subway (the T) have a love-hate relationship with our public transportation system. Probably more love than hate since we forgive everything, always reminding ourselves how much more we would hate sitting in road traffic listening to the same news headlines repeated multiple times. We just make sure to carry a book and snacks in case of train breakdowns.

Take tonight. When I got down to the platform, the numbers of commuters seemed ominous. Even more ominous was the recorded message that kept telling us our train was “arriving” even though we know it never says “arriving” more than once for any train.

My boss said, “Don’t you have the option of taking the commuter rail from North Station?” Good point. I set off on foot, caught a number 4 bus, and landed at North Station in reasonable time, but for a later train.

The country badly needs good mass transit, and I think focusing on cars, gas, and roads is misguided. We riders get mad at the T and often complain about how it spends its money, but man, it sure is old and beat up! It’s held together with string — and the efforts of people who work all night on repairs to try to get the system functioning by 5:30 a.m. every day.

Now the T has made a 45-minute documentary on its night-time moles. If you don’t have time for the whole documentary, here’s a taste.

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Gene Sharp (founder of the Albert Einstein Institution and the go-to guy on nonviolent revolution) is proof that one and one and 50 make a million. Sharp is one man, but his writings have had a powerful influence on many of the players in the 2011 Arab Spring and democracy movements elsewhere.

Today I went with Jane’s family to see a movie about Sharp at the Boston Film Festival. (Jane’s cousin, Ruaridh Arrow, directed it.) It’s a remarkable film. There were interviews with organizers of nonviolent change in Serbia, Ukraine, Egypt, Syria, and beyond. The documentary was interspersed with news footage and video from recent uprisings around the world. A key message is that change takes strategic planning (you can’t wing it) and is a kind of armed resistance, only people are armed with ideas for undermining the pillars that support an oppressive regime. In addition to conducting research on the subject of nonviolence, Sharp has offered a list of 198 techniques that effect change.

After a standing ovation, a frail Gene Sharp, 83, his assistant, Jamila Raqib, and nonviolent-change trainer Col. Robert Helvey, retired, came up on the stage with the director and took audience questions. Raqib was asked about the funding for the Albert Einstein Institution, which operates out of a small space in East Boston. She said that likely funders back off because the ideas do relate to overthrowing a government. The institution is struggling.

I wish you could have been there to hear a young woman stand up and say that she is Egyptian and took  part in the January uprising. She said the overthrow of the government was easy but the rebuilding is hard. She wanted to know if any studies had been done comparing the transitions to democracy of other uprisings. When Sharp said that studies had yet to be done, I couldn’t help thinking what a good use of new funding such research might be. The film itself was funded by large and small donations from around the world through Kickstarter, which I blogged about here. Perhaps it can kickstart nonviolent change elsewhere.

Update: Gene Sharp died at his home in East Boston on January 28, 2018. He was 90.

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Remember all the talk-show ridicule of the woman who sued McDonald’s and won big bucks for coffee that was too hot? Well, it turns out she was sitting still, she was badly burned, and McDonald’s had failed to correct the scalding temperature in spite of 700 complaints.

Now attorney Susan Saladoff, who believes that the tort-reform posse was defining the tone of the discussion, has made a movie countering the frivolous-lawsuits-run-amok mantra. She argues persuasively that lawsuits like the one in Hot Coffee protect the little guy from corporations run amok.

A review at American Prospect says, “no matter how many times the suit was used in Jay Leno monologues there was nothing funny about it. Liebeck [the complainant] was not careless, but spilled the coffee when she, as a passenger in a parked car, took the lid off the cup. The spill did not cause a trivial injury, but severe burns that required multiple operations and skin grafts to treat. McDonald’s, which served its coffee at 180 degrees [your home coffee maker is at 135 degrees], had received more than 700 complaints from customers, constituting a clear warning, but it nonetheless required its franchises to serve it at that temperature without warning customers.”

Stella Liebeck sued only after the medical bills overwhelmed her. Little of the settlement was left her after costs, and she didn’t live long to enjoy it.

More comments at AndrewSullivan.com.

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Having blogged about the troubling documentary “Waiting for Superman” here, I thought you might be interested in hearing about a school district that has found one way to overcome a significant barrier to quality education.

The documentary’s critique of U.S. public education centers on the inadequacy of teacher evaluation and the near impossibility of firing bad teachers.

Montgomery County (MD) doesn’t have that problem. Can you guess why?

Deep, broad collaboration. Critical constituencies are in on the evaluation and the decisions about coaching and firing.

A June 5 NY Times story by Michael Winerip, “Helping Teachers Help Themselves,” explains.

“The Montgomery County Public Schools system here has a highly regarded program for evaluating teachers, providing them extra support if they are performing poorly and getting rid of those who do not improve. The program, Peer Assistance and Review — known as PAR — uses several hundred senior teachers to mentor both newcomers and struggling veterans. If the mentoring does not work, the PAR panel — made up of eight teachers and eight principals — can vote to fire the teacher. … In the 11 years since PAR began, the panels have voted to fire 200 teachers, and 300 more have left rather than go through the PAR process, said Jerry D. Weast, the superintendent of the Montgomery County system, which enrolls 145,000 students, one-third of them from low-income families. In the 10 years before PAR, he said, five teachers were fired. ‘It took three to five years to build the trust to get PAR in place,’ he explained.”  Read more here.

Having started out my work life as a teacher, I feel pretty strongly that teachers have been given a bad rap lately and that most are experienced, creative, and deeply dedicated (and overworked and underpaid). My daughter-in-law is also a teacher.

But there is no doubt that the bad apples are hard to fire and that every year that they get away with bad teaching turns thousands of children off the whole idea of education, to the lasting detriment of the nation. So I hope everyone will think about the PAR program described in the Times and how they might help influence school policy.

I will post comments sent to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com.

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