Travis, an ace photographer and committed activist, explores his own sordid family history, which only gets more shameful as he goes on, trying to atone for the crimes of his heritage by at least bringing them to light. Travis was in the room, reading live narration and triggering clips, making the experience more interesting and confrontational. His research leads him through some truly fiction-sounding scenarios – he’s told to quit searching and is chased out of town, and eventually digs up multiple rapes and another murder. This one has been written up extensively, and more elegantly than I can manage.

A. Taubin from Sundance:

Set in the deep South, in the small town of Dothan, Alabama, where S.E. Branch, a white supremacist and Wilkerson’s great-grandfather, shot and killed a black man named Bill Spann in Branch’s grocery store. Branch was charged with murder, but the case never went to trial and he suffered no consequences … How is it that some people escape the racism and misogyny in which they are raised (Branch abused his wife and daughters and likely killed more than one black man) and some cling to it as their reason for existence? Wilkerson doesn’t offer an answer. But raising the question — at this moment when families are torn apart by what they believe America is and should be — is more than enough.

J. Cronk:

What he found, and what we watch and listen to him deliberate upon, was not news of a single murder, but an entire history of racism and brutal violence against the local black community. Branch, he discovers, was an outspoken bigot linked to multiple instances of violence and abuse against black men and women. With only a pair of vague news clippings and Spann’s death certificate as evidence, Wilkerson proceeded to trace the entwined fates of the Branch and Spann families … The futility of this quest is the crux of the film and the aspect of the project that most plagues Wilkerson, whose narration is in a constant state of second-guessing, self-indictment, and flat-out shame at the extent of the atrocities … When, in the course of his research, Wilkerson discovers that his mother’s sister is a practising white supremacist, the film takes on an increasingly disturbing urgency.

V. Murthi:

Wilkerson isn’t being disingenuous in his emotions or approach, but some of the moves on display feel too forced to be truly effective, especially when they’re juxtaposed next to others that are above board. This is the one film I feel most conflicted about. On one hand, I’m not sure I should judge an individual’s personal, politically motivated expression, but on the other hand, I can’t lie and say that there weren’t times when it made me feel uncomfortable outside the scope of Wilkerson’s perceived intentions. With that being said, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? was one of the very best things I saw at the festival precisely because it got under my skin.

A bunch of… things. Sometimes it seemed like the movie was taking different aspects of Baltimore life/history/politics and rat life/history/infestations and tying them together into a beautiful conspiracy web, and sometimes it seems like the pieces did not fit together but he doggedly left them in the movie.

The part everyone’s talking about is the movie’s discussion of “redlining” (via sci-fi voiceover), preventing certain (ahem, black) areas of town from getting investment and development, and how the redline maps from eighty(?) years ago line up closely to today’s maps of the city’s worst poverty, education, etc. The part nobody’s really talking about is the drag racing footage, or why he takes the very effective opening title scene of a rat trying to escape a trash bin and repeats it later in the movie.

Other bits from most-to-least-relevant:

– city employee who treats rat infestations and speaks the movie’s premise (the rat problem in Baltimore is really a people problem)

– scientist who studied population concentrations by building a rat High-Rise and documenting civilization collapse

– video game footage textured with Baltimore aerial maps, giving a post-apocalyptic meltdown feeling, discussing how the universe creeps in through the seams of the imperfect 3D environment

– rat hunters (couple of guys with baseball bat and fishing pole, and one with an array of guns)

– rat’s-height roving drone cameras, both real and VR

– a couple watching TV with their pet rats

– stylistic quirks (clicking sounds on edits, piercing electronic noise, white flashes)

Relevant:

Less Relevant:

The ending, in which Baltimore is leveled and begun again, bothered Katy, who says that suddenly telling an obviously fictional story and presenting it on equal ground as the rest of the segments calls all the movie’s facts into question.

Our screening was preceded by a short talk by Sarah Jeong which started by pondering a possible plot hole in the Star Wars film series (both the jedi and the empire have “long-distance” video chat capabilities, so why do the rebels fly around with their precious plans on a physical disc?), then presuming it’s because all the best communications technologies are held by governments and regular shmoes have no access to intergalactic data transmission, ending with a plea for modern net neutrality – genius.

Jordan Smith:

Rat Film embraces an off-kilter essayistic form that digs through the city’s legislative history of systematic segregation (in its way reminding me of Robert Persons’ mournful General Orders No. 9) and rat-infested back alleys of the city’s tenements, subversively suggesting along the way that the countless minorities left amongst the wreckage of unjust codification have been little more than rats in a failed experiment run by white bodies. Meticulously researched and eerily presented by an ethereal Siri-like voiceover, Rat Film’s crushing thesis lands with a serious crunch that reminds of the death and detritus that’s been institutionalized since the city’s inception.

J. Fox:

What really gives Rat Film its charge is its interest in mapping, and in the ways that maps intervene on the world by representing them. The rat provides a convenient metaphor for the social, or at least the social envisioned as a disease-spreading mass — intellectual, economic, racial or microbial — that must be contained … When Rat Film engages a number of actual maps, from those redlining diagrams to 3D urban real estate models and VR platforms, it does so in order to stretch them to their pre-programmed limits, revealing those spots where they fray at the seams. What is left at the end is a world of precarity, one of predominantly African-American people made precarious by these instruments of social engineering, and of a world in need of new models for living.

Daniel Kaluuya (my favorite Black Mirror actor) is dating Allison Williams (my fourth-favorite Girls actress), comes to visit her parents Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford and brother Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral) in an aggressively white suburb. At first there’s the socially-awkward but not overtly threatening kind of racial tension: dad brags about his Obama support and all the white family’s employees are black. But things get weirder after the mom hypnotizes Kaluuya and now he can’t tell if he’s being paranoid or if there’s a conspiracy, until it’s too late and he’s tied to a chair in the basement being prepped for brain surgery, so the highest bidder (blind Stephen Root) can flee his aging white body and live fifty more years inside Kaluuya’s.

A finely crafted thriller, and I’d never in a million years guess it was from the writer of Keanu. I could tell that Peele had made a super-effective movie when the white Nebraska audience at my crowded screening erupted in cheers when Allison Williams got shot (or maybe she’s just their least-favorite Girls actress as well). Betty Gabriel (The Purge 3) and Marcus Henderson (Insidious 4) play the grandparents play-acting as servants (she’s especially good – coldly suspicious then briefly vulnerable). Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12 and Atlanta, Snoop in Straight Outta Compton) is the party guest who yells the title line at Kaluuya when a camera flash wakes him from “the sunken place.” And comedian Lil Rel Howery is Kaluuya’s buddy in the TSA who gets all the best lines.

Some of the reception has focused on whether it’s a scary/effective horror movie, which is the same kind of horror-purist bickering that lowered appreciation for Cabin in the Woods and The Witch. Come on everyone, break out of your genre holes. Peele more accurately calls it a “social thriller,” and says he’s working on four more.

Alan:

One minute in, this movie that will play every mall in America makes it viscerally clear that it’s not black guys who are scary — it’s neighborhoods packed with sheltered dopes who quake at the very thought of black guys … Get Out is searing satire, with scary/comic riffs on slavery and assimilation, but it’s also a smashing crowd-pleaser of a horror film, complete with mad science, cult-like crazies and a creep-out homage to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin … But even as Peele brings the house down, we see the serious toll of all this horror on Chris’ face and body. Neither the movie nor anybody watching can take it all as a joke.

Worth the eight-hour length, which is extremely high praise for a documentary miniseries about a topic that didn’t interest me at all until all the rave reviews and awards started flowing in. Although after sitting through the whole thing I don’t have much to say about it besides agreeing with whichever critic recently said it’s greater as journalism than filmmaking. We were most interested in the pre-murder episodes, about OJ’s adventures in racist America, and how the perception of him changed, than in rehashing the glove fiasco.

A. Muredda, from his fascinating comparison of the two big O.J. movies, which ends with a giant backhanded compliment to The People vs. O.J. Simpson:

For Edelman, Simpson registers as a calculating, charismatic man whose self-written Horatio Alger myth leading up to the murders happened to coincide with critical moments in race relations in late 20th-century America, despite his near total lack of interest in politics. Sociologically astute, methodical, and committed to being non-exploitative in its paralleling of Simpson’s trial with a history of police brutality and civil rights violations dating back at least as far as the Watts riots of 1965 … each episode grapples with a structural contradiction between Simpson’s professional and personal life and the toxic racial context around him.

“You know what the people are. You know that the inner compass that should direct the soul towards justice has ossified in white men and women … White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country’s infinite abundance with Negroes.”

I’m not fully convinced that Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abe Lincoln is realistic – he seems too wise and charming, too capable and upright, too able to manipulate fellow politicians who ought to know better, too perfectly Spielbergian. But that kind of politics sure felt good to watch in the present day when leaders of the “Party of Lincoln” run our government like cartoon villains. This is actually covered in the film when TL Jones dresses down a spineless adversary: “The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you’ve attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself the Democratic Party.” Even after all the acclaim I wasn’t sure it’d be that captivating a film, but every performance is on point, the story is true-ish and meaningful and inspiring, there’s drama and humor and it’s got the best lighting I’ve seen in any movie all year.

Opens unexpectedly with post-battle David Oyelowo talking to the president. Besides Lincoln and his wife Sally Field and son Joey Gordon-Levitt there’s David Strathairn as the hesitant secretary of state, James Spader and John Hawkes as the president’s lobbyists sent to change senators’ minds (via bribery if necessary), Tommy Lee Jones (with a hairpiece so ridiculous he makes a joke of it himself) as a radical leftist senator. Walt Goggins and Adam Driver pop up, and Stephen Henderson of Fences, and Jackie Earle Haley and hundreds more.

Soldiers sent to meet the confederate delegation:

I didn’t know who James Baldwin (writer/activist) was, nor one of the friends/subjects of his unfinished manuscript, Medgar Evers (killed for working for the NAACP to integrate schools). So I watched this half as history lesson and half as experience, taking in Baldwin’s great language and experiences, the director’s intercutting of film history (Baldwin commented regularly on the movies), and Sam Jackson’s narration in a low, very un-Sam-Jackson voice.

M. Sicinski:

Baldwin’s prose focuses on his memories and observations of these three pivotal men, but also veers into other related questions: his sense of duty to leave his expat life in Paris behind and return to America at the height of the Civil Rights movement; the historical legacy of slavery and the culture of the South; the psychopathology of the white man; and his becoming reconciled with his position as a “witness,” a man of letters in the midst of a historical epoch too often cemented by bloodshed.

Sicinski comments positively on Peck’s filmmaking – M. D’Angelo counters:

The conceit of structuring this film around Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript requires Peck to find images to accompany the words … and he does a thuddingly literal job … Most of this just isn’t a movie — it’s a visual audiobook.

Second of the oscar-nominated documentaries we’ve seen at the Ross this month. We’re almost through the O.J. doc, about to watch Life Animated, and we’ll see if we can get to 13th before True/False.

“What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?”

Memorial screening for Gene Wilder. I haven’t seen this in over 20 years, and probably that was a cropped, edited-for-TV version. It’s kind of a half-assed movie with plenty of stupid scenes, but also quite hilarious and wonderful at times.

Cleavon Little (Vanishing Point) dupes thug Mongo with a candygram:

Brooks probably carefully positioned the pen for this shot:

One complaint: Madeline Kahn’s Marlene Dietrich impression is so awful that I looked up how she managed to get cast in Young Frankenstein afterward, but it turns out she was oscar-nominated for this. Except for Picnic at Hanging Rock and I guess Shampoo, it was an extremely masculine year at the movies, so perhaps there weren’t enough entries.

Ends as a backlot romp with Dom DeLuise, of course:

Uncle Yanco (1967)

“Above all, man is nourished by what’s marvelous.”

While in California, Agnes introduces herself to a relative, who is an awesome weirdo (it must run in the family), a painter and builder living on a Sausalito houseboat inspiring all the local hippies. She shoots and edits this encounter with her usual verve, including slates and rehearsals, capturing and restaging realities.


Black Panthers (1968)

Good images of a Panther rally protesting the imprisonment of Huey Newton – mostly straightforward reportage and interviews with lively editing. It’s less vibrant as a film than her others, possibly because her tourist crew wasn’t trusted by the panther community.

David Myers shared cinematography credits on both of these films. He’d become an acclaimed rock doc photographer beginning a couple years later with Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, including at least three Neil Young movies, a Grateful Dead concert film, The Last Waltz, Louie Bluie and Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara.

Dumont sure has a great sense of picture composition. The last movie of his I watched was in a familiar mode: long-take elliptical arthouse cinema. But what is this? A comedy with no jokes, a miniseries detective story with no resolution. On the basis of Hors Satan alone, if you told me Dumont made a comedy miniseries, this is pretty much what I would’ve imagined, but the reality of it still comes as a surprise.

All the actors are unknowns, and at least the casting director deserves a mighty round of applause for the interesting new faces on display. I did kinda tire of the extremely twitchy Inspector, who is visiting a coastal town with his dim assistant Lt. Carpentier to solve a murder – then a new murder occurs every episode, all spiraling around the family of P’tit Quinquin, who is generally more interested in hanging out with his racist buddies and bike-riding with his girlfriend Eve.

Premiered at Cannes, watched here during Cannes Month two years later. Film of the year according to Cahiers, so there must be more to it than I noticed… or maybe it’s just their ideal situation of a sharp-eyed arthouse auteur joining the Peak TV revolution.

“All the suspects have been murdered.”

Mike D’A:

Would have preferred an ending that feels less like a resigned shrug, personally, and fewer antics involving Quinquin’s brother … and I wish I could get that fucking “Cause I Knew” song out of my head for even ten minutes.

M. Sicinski:

Dumont shows us a world bigoted and illiberal enough that most anyone would harbour sentiments similar to those that prompted the murderer to kill … by the time we have reached the final episode, and the fourth murder, there is no hope for identification, and certainly no hope for resolution, much less justice.

Gotta read his great Cinema Scope article again after watching Dumont’s L’humanité.