Katy and I enjoyed some oscar-nominated docs the week of the awards. This is a structurally satisfying doc about Nan Goldin’s life and art and activism through three health epidemics: the mental health crisis that took her sister, AIDS which took many of her friends, and her own opioid addiction, for which she seeks revenge through public protests to convince museums to refuse Sackler drug money.

Matthew Eng for Reverse Shot:

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed retains the impassioned clarity of Poitras’s style while enlisting its primary subject as its co-author. Goldin provides illuminating, clarifying, and always candid commentary on the many chapters of her life in one-on-one interviews with Poitras, conducted on weekends during COVID, included here under the agreement that Goldin would have final say over which of her words were included in the finished film. (She also served as a music consultant on the film, compiling an eclectic playlist that ranges from The Velvet Underground and A Taste of Honey to Lucinda Williams and The Facts of Life’s Charlotte Rae, singing the Brechtian ballad that inspired the title of Goldin’s landmark exhibition, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.) A great deal of Poitras’s film is fittingly composed of Goldin’s work, presented to the audience in the photographer’s preferred format: the slideshow, which has long been the crux of Goldin’s practice. It is a simple yet immensely effective device—its clicks evince a pleasing tactility—that lets Goldin’s photography speak for itself and enhances the attention-seizing potency of her portraiture with its stark staging, electric colors, and magnetic characters.

Won the top prize at Venice against all the big oscar dramas (Tár, Banshees, The Whale), the arthouse faves (No Bears, Saint Omer) and the would-be contenders (Bones & All, Blonde, Bardo, White Noise). This took three editors: Amy Foote (The Work), Joe Bini (Grizzly Man), Brian Kates (Killing Them Softly). We skipping Risk, not in any hurry to catch up with it, so it felt like Poitras was gone for nearly a decade.

After a light opening scene, we’re suddenly plunged into a street protest that turns violent, in high-color, stuttery shaky-cam. The filmmaker follows protests against Congo’s presidential government (which promised open elections but keeps postponing), primarily following three young guys. Christian is a fiery youth leader. Ben returns from exile, shares his individual ideas with the protest organizations. Jean-Marie was captured and tortured by the secret police, recently released. They have the same goals, just don’t always agree on tactics, and they’re getting nowhere but always feel like they’re close. All their hopes are pinned on an aging Lumumba-era politician – this is who they’d vote for, though his own positions in the present day aren’t clear. At the end of filming, Ben’s back in exile, Jean-Marie is nabbed again, and their politician has died, but the struggle goes on. This year at True/False we saw more than one movie that puts the film crew and their subjects in harm’s way, but this is the one where you feel it the most urgently.

Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker:

Preparations alternate with regular counterpushes of violence, the feeling that something must be done repeatedly butting up against the reality when attempts are made and nothing changes. This is not an excuse to just give up, simply a record of grim odds. Towards the end, we see one subject, bullhorn in hand, dropping truth in the middle of a market, but no one’s listening — they all have shopping to do, and lending an ear might be dangerous anyway. It’s a brilliant micro-image for the oft-futility and necessity of activism; a title card tells us elections delayed in December 2017 were delayed once again in December 2018. That date has yet to come, but a colleague noted the particular poignancy that the card will probably be true by then.

The most awesome/unevenly ambitious Spike Lee movie since She Hate Me. I knew in advance that Teyonah Parris (Coco in Dear White People) has a plan to deny her man (Nick Cannon) sex until he stops fighting with a rival gang led by Wesley Snipes, but didn’t know she gathers a legion of women who commandeer an army base. The social issues within a heightened, unrealistic comedic production (rhyming dialogue, dance scenes, narrator Sam Jackson) make for a great combo.

Cowriter Kevin Willmott was here last week but I didn’t go see him since my parents were in town.

Piecemeal protest doc with surprisingly great location footage and interesting scenes, each one a bit too loud and going on for too long. The pieces are mostly unsigned, but I believe Chris Marker put the project together, and some segments are either identified online, or just very easily guessed (ahem, Resnais). They mention that Joris Ivens shot on location – most everyone else stayed home and used stock footage or filmed protest marches.

“It is in Vietnam that the main question of our time arises: the right of the poor to establish societies based on something else than the interests of the rich.”


Supposed to be President Johnson:

The Resnais segment is interesting before it wears out its welcome. Bernard Fresson (of a few Resnais films, including a small part in Je t’aime, je t’aime) is playing “writer Claude Ridder” (name of the lead character in Je t’aime, je t’aime played by Claude Rich) while a woman Karen Blanguernon (Rene Clement’s The Deadly Trap) glares from the corner of his office. This segment was written by Jacques Sternberg (Je t’aime, je t’aime, of course), so perhaps Claude Ridder was his standard lead character name, since this Ridder seems too impassioned to be the heartbroken dead soul from the feature. “Ridder” monologues on the war, politics, and his own inability to make change. “A spineless French intellectual articulating excuses for his class’s political apathy,” per the NY Times.

Next, a history lesson using stock footage, photographs and comics, drawing connections to the Spanish Civil War (the Resnais had mentioned Algeria).

Then Godard, who monologues in front of a giant film camera, talking about the distance, his inability to connect with the war itself, or even the French working class, the focus of so many of his films. Since he can’t film on-location, he inserts Vietnam into his feature films. “I make films. That’s the best I can do for Vietnam. Instead of invading Vietnam with a kind of generosity that makes things unnatural, we let Vietnam invade us.”

After a jaunty music video to a protest song by Tom Paxton, a longer somber voiceover reading the words of Michele Ray who spent three weeks with the Viet Cong, showing her footage before it goes crazy at the end.

“Why We Fight,” in which General Westmoreland explains the official U.S. position on the war, filmed off a TV while someone zooms around and twiddles knobs. Title must be referencing the 1940’s U.S. propaganda film series Why We Fight, which Joris Ivens contributed to.

Anti-napalm rabbi:

Monologue by Fidel Castro, who gives his theories on guerrilla warfare and how this applies to Vietnam. The new wavers seemed to have easy access to Fidel back then.

Ann Uyen, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris discusses Norman Morrison’s setting himself on fire outside the pentagon, and what that meant to her people. “We think that in America there is another war, a people’s war against everything that’s unfair.” Then an interview with Norman’s widow, who seems in sync with Norman’s politics. This was by William Klein.

War protest zombie walk, probably shot by Klein:

Marker’s outro:

In facing this defiance [of the Vietnamese], the choice of rich society is easy: either this society must destroy everything resisting it – but the task may be bigger than its means of destruction – or it will have to transform itself completely – but maybe it’s too much for a society at the peak of its power. If it refuses that option, it will have to sacrifice its reassuring illusions, to accept this war between the poor and the rich as inevitable, and to lose it.

Greece 1963: leftist protesters against a supposedly democratic government invite guest speaker Yves Montand. Then he and another guy from the opposition party (Jean Bouise, Warok in Out 1) are clumsily killed, and it’s a race to see if the prosecuting attorney (My Night at Maud’s star Jean-Louis Trintignant) can uncover witnesses and prove it was a murder conspiracy before government-sympathist thugs kill all the witnesses. My first Costa-Gavras movie since hating Mad City in ’97, and it’s way more exciting than his plot descriptions sound, with quick, responsive camera and editing.

Trintignant kinda wins, manages to prosecute army big-shots and prove they were at least complicit in not helping to protect the murdered men. But this is bad news in the long run as the country spirals into authoritarian rule (which is why the film was shot in Algiers), getting bloody payback in postscript upon the leftists who dared to fight back – except the actual prosecuting attorney played by Trintignant, who’d return to Greece and become president 20 years later.

Montand widow Irene Papas (Mother of the River in Inquietude), standing in front of Clotilde Joano (Chabrol’s Wedding in Blood):

Doomed men in back seat, driven by Bernard Fresson (La Prisonniere, The Tenant), with shotgun Charles Denner (The Man Who Loved Women):

Warok-killer Gerard Darrieu (The Elusive Corporal, Mon Oncle d’Amerique) makes an accurate statement about birds to attorney Trintignant:

Montand-killer Marcel Bozzuffi (Le Deuxieme Souffle, Altman’s Images) tries to sneak past helpful journalist Jacques Perrin (Prince Charming in Donkey Skin):

Informant Jean Daste hides in an Elvis photomat:

Oscars for best editing (have I mentioned the editing? it’s great, with sudden flashbacks in the middle of conversations, illustrating thoughts of the people on screen) and foreign film at the oscars (vs. Midnight Cowboy, Hello Dolly), best film from the USA film critics society (vs. Stolen Kisses, La femme infidele), a couple prizes at Cannes including actor for Trintignant (vs. his own My Night at Maud’s and best-picture winner If…).

Cowritten by Jorge Semprún (The War Is Over), of course, and shot by Raoul Coutard (post-Weekend), also of course. Editor Francoise Bonnot would continue to work with Costa-Gavras as well as Michael Cimino, Roman Polanski (The Tenant) and Julie Taymor. Trying to figure out why C-G has a hyphenated name I came across a MOMA press release saying he added the dash “to create confusion.”

Armond White, throwing out the titles of some movies I should really watch:

Carrying on the tradition of the politically informed films of Francesco Rosi (Salvatore Giuliano, Hands over the City, and The Moment of Truth), which turned recent politics into complex, engrossing cinematic myths, Costa-Gavras would proceed to advance the political thriller toward a popular mode. His work paralleled that of Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers) and Elio Petri (The Tenth Victim, We Still Kill the Old Way, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion), whose political exposés were also accessible as action films. This trend was distinct from such earnest, earlier cultural movements as Italian neorealism and Russian formalism in that it permitted socially conscious, politically motivated artists to pursue personal causes, infected with the excitement of the era’s post–New Wave aesthetic.

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control was the last movie in my documentary month series with Katy, but now Jimmy is doing his own documentary month. Katy didn’t come to this one (sadly, since it was better than almost any of the movies we watched at home). Story of coal miners in Kentucky who decide to join a labor union. The mine won’t recognize the union, so they strike. Tensions escalate between the old miners and the new scab workers, finally one of the old miners is shot and killed. A day or two later the mine lets them back to work, the union in place. Then a couple months after the year-long strike, another strike, this organized by the union leaders for higher pay and safer conditions.

Wonderful story, engrossing movie, with great bluegrass music. I’ll bet Chris Marker liked it.

Won best doc at the ’77 Oscars. Barbara Kopple went on to co-direct Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, a movie I was just mocking in the video store the other day. IMDB trivia: “When filming began, the film was intended to be about the 1972 campaign by Arnold Miller and Miners For Democracy to unseat UMWA president Tony Boyle, in the aftermath of Joseph Yablonski’s murder; but the Harlan County strike began and caused the filmmakers to change their principal subject, with the campaign and murder becoming secondary subjects.”

Embassy, 1973
When I first watched Embassy in February, I didn’t like it very much, and never dreamed I’d be watching it again in three months on a commercial U.S. DVD… but here we are! Nice of First Run/Icarus to release it, but it would’ve been even nicer to provide a translation for the opening titles that claim the film was found in an embassy. Maybe it’s mentioned in the packaging. Anyway, clearer image for this not-clear-at-all film, and after watching The Battle of Chile this one is making more sense, since I know what Marker was reacting to. It’s still never gonna be a favorite film, but it’s a cool idea to make something that immediate as a reaction to current events.




The Sixth Side of the Pentagon, 1967
Filmed during “World War III: Vietnam, Bolivia, Israel” on October 15-16, 1967, a recording of the anti-war march on the Pentagon in which Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies participated. Marker gets to combine his budding obsession with anti-authoritarian political protest with his love for filming faces of people on the street. One of his most famous images was in here – an angry man shouting, his head covered in blood – I always thought that was from Grin Without a Cat. Co-director François Reichenbach would later act as cinematographer and producer on F For Fake.







Vive la baleine [Long Live The Whale], 1972
A short film about and against industrialized whale-hunting using mostly illustrations with some archive footage, saving the gruesome modern footage for the last few minutes.

Petit bestiare
Cats and owls! In and out of zoos, off and on pianos. Bullfight and the reminder that these animals are behind bars bring a touch of darkness to otherwise straightforward set of nice animal shorts.

Edit, one week later:
I unexpectedly got to see this again, in the theater in Nashville when Phantom Love was postponed. The festival guy described it as an “experimental documentary”, and that got most of the packed theater to walk out right there. A few more left immediately after the subtitled berry-mashing chant that opens the picture, and more shuffled out gradually until around the 1920’s there was only me and the two other people who stayed till the end. Movie makes me extremely happy, glad I saw it again. Was on video, though, so not real different from my home viewing, only larger.

Apr 14:
I was nervous about this one, and wouldn’t have rushed to watch it if not for the Hidden in Plain Sight connection. On one hand, it made top-ten lists last year and was featured on the front cover of Cinema Scope, a magazine that hardly ever steers me wrong. On the other hand, it’s an hour-long narration-less tour of gravesites, which sounds less than exciting.

Cinema Scope was right. A moving, beautiful film which I now want to show to everybody I know. Peaceful and contemplative, with shots of trees and fields to break up the reading of gravestones and historial markers. The graves include people I know of (Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson), people I SHOULD know but don’t know very well (Mother Jones, Sacco & Vanzetti), people whose social relevance is explained by the text on the markers (the founder of the first all-female labor union) and people and events I was inspired to look up on wikipedia (Philip Berrigan: a pioneering Vietnam War protester, Lucretia Mott: women’s rights advocate in the 1800’s, The Ludlow Massacre, when the Colorado National Guard murdered the children of striking mine workers in 1914).


Felt good to watch, moving and energizing, not morbid despite the cemetery locales and mentions of massacres and executions. Shows these past people & events, triumphs and defeats, from today’s perspective, mostly a natural perspective with no living humans in the shot, but sometimes an Exxon will be seen across the street from a cemetery, cars will be whizzing by a historical sign, a marker will be located in the parking lot of a PetCo (!). Closes with some recent protest footage with lively editing. The struggle continues.

CScope: “In addition to forging a radical remapping of the American terrain, Gianvito’s film provides its audience with the rare opportunity to pay our respects by proxy.”


JG: After September 11, 2001, “I found myself re-reading stretches of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, re-encountering some measure of what is admirable in this country’s past, the words and deeds of so many, known and unknown, who contributed to the historical struggle for a more just and egalitarian society. In time the idea took root to pay homage to this significant history, as well as to this book which continues to mean so much to so many of us, and by so doing, the hope was to draw sustenance from the sacrifices and efforts of those who came before us. Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind was intended to be a small poem to this progessive past.”