We arrived late and tired on Thursday, skipping our planned first film (Where Are We Headed), instead opting for beer and food at Broadway Brewing, then apples and sausage and coffee at Cafe Berlin the next morning.

Lilas and Shery lead a metal band in Beirut. Formerly a couple, they still rock out together but Lilas (not out to her family) is with a new girl visiting from Syria. Movie looks good, sensitively made. The director says she didn’t set out to make a “rock doc,” but after the band infighting and breakup and makeup and the one gig with sad attendance at a Glastonbury side stage, that’s what she made. Includes footage of the port explosion, which was the focus of another T/F movie (Octopus). Opening band Living Hour played us some mostly-light slowcore.

Watched in prep for the director’s True/False movie. An archival doc of Reagan footage, ok. Doesn’t go as far into the off-air camera-setup territory as Adam Curtis does, and we weren’t very interested in Reagan, but it was either this or Bigbug.

“Still can’t look at the audience telling that story.” Just a road trip doc with Bobcat and Dana Gould on tour, off to a rocky start with a car crash. Alternates them chatting in the car with stage performances, which I had to pause a couple times just to catch my breath. Some good attacks on Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld, with a self-deprecating edit gag. I could’ve been in this movie had I known about their Highland Inn gig – oh well, I wouldn’t have been able to pause in person, and might’ve just collapsed. Produced by Chavez’s guitarist’s brother.

One of those docs that seems to be covering an interesting situation per the description writeups (rich politician in Georgia buys giant/ancient trees and transports them over water for a private garden) but the experience of watching it is something else entirely, no facts given about the unseen owner, the garden only glimpsed at the end. Mostly we see the workers performing tree removal, the townspeople who are affected by this activity, and we hear each of these groups in idle conversation, arguing over what it all means. Visually, the movie likes playing with scale and duration, revealing things gradually, showing the reverse angle of what you’d expect. A holdover from last year’s T/F/ND/NF lineup.

Robert Koehler absolutely raved about this in Cinema Scope:

As in her astonishing debut, The Dazzling Light of Sunset (2016), Jashi’s art is complex, Chekhovian: she allows space for the viewer to realize that everyone has their reasons, to admire the sheer engineering prowess involved in this literal rape of living things from their native soil to suit the whims of an oligarch, and even permits a certain sense of beauty to bleed into the absurdist finale … What courses through every moment of Taming the Garden isn’t anger, which would be the easy way out; instead, Jashi’s movie plays honest witness to the practice of power in the 21st century, where the natural world is being remolded at irrevocable cost.

Learning about a San Franciscan fave of the Anthology Film Archives and the Visionary Film book I keep at my bedside. I’ve skimmed Broughton’s own filmmaking book Making Light of It, which I bought because of its great title, but my book collection is a shambles and I can’t find it right now.

He hangs out with other poets, including Anais Nin, starts filming with The Potted Psalm, then Mother’s Day is his solo debut. He goes to Europe with his first films and makes The Pleasure Garden in England, which goes to Cannes, where he’s presented an award by his hero (and mine) Jean Cocteau… is offered commercial film work, but turns it down, and doesn’t make another film for 15 years.

Lotta stock footage with talking heads. I respect that the doc tells its own story instead of sticking to strict chronological order, but don’t respect that it motion-graphics one of Broughton’s poems. It spends more time on his love affairs than his post-1960’s work (he had a kid with Pauline Kael, then cheerfully proclaimed homosexuality late in life).

I’d only previously seen his Four in the Afternoon, and the collab with Sidney Peterson – the hope was to watch a bunch more after this doc, but only got to one.


Loony Tom (1951, James Broughton)

Tom will not rest until he has kissed every girl in the countryside. A straightforward randy romp, with piano music and a spoken poem at the top and tail. Broughton’s friend Kermit was quite good at being a silent comedy star.

I noted at the beginning that author/narrator Donald Richie’s comment on “the people the Japanese ought to be” sounded patronizing, but I’m also vaguely aware that Richie devoted his life to Japanese culture, so I dismissed it, and appreciated the rest of this hourlong movie as the sort of outsider travelogue that Chris Marker used to make. The mountain/island scenery is wonderful – I kept watching out for the Naked Island. Unexpected inclusions: a monk who likes Sinatra, a reference to Council Bluffs. “I wish to celebrate our differences for as long as possible.” Watched with Katy (who did not get over the patronizing thing and is now anti-Richie) from the Sundance ’92 collection – this played alongside A Brief History of Time and Reservoir Dogs and twenty others I used to see every week at the video store that didn’t look appealing enough to rent, all now available for instant streaming, not quite looking appealing enough to watch.

Been a while since I’ve seen a good essay doc. Stephens is fast becoming a fave after The American Sector and Perfect Fifths – though I have concerns about her longevity (she doesn’t expand much on her brain-cloud diagnosis in the voiceover). This is archive footage shot mainly by women on travels, in which the narrator tries to locate the feminine gaze. Chapter headings, and sections devoted to each traveler instead of mixing ’em together. Bonus points for including a sloth and a toucan.


Ida Western Exile (2015)

A little bit of Georgia O’Keeffe painting mountains, but the soundtrack of a woman making calls to companies to prep for a potentially dangerous solo trip takes over the movie – and ties it to the feature about women traveling.

Documentarian, drama therapist, and legal representative round up some men who were sexually abused by priests and let them direct short films representing past traumas or wish fulfilment, scouting locations and acting in each other’s stories. Fits in nicely with Greene’s project of making semi-docs about performance and history, also seems to exemplify some utopian ideas of collaborative film directing. Alas, no screenshots since it is a netflick.

In which Varda proves she can find good cinema anywhere, by wandering down the street into all the small shops and turning her neighbors into movie stars. There’s too much of the magician, but his magic show serves to bring together the people we’ve been seeing in separate shops into one space. Since I can’t take screenshots off the Criterion channel, I’ve stolen a still from their website.