Watch Farley Granger in “Celluloid Closet”

We lost the actor Farley Granger a couple days ago, to natural causes, and of course it means people will be revisiting his films in memory. The likely top picks will be his Hitchcock classics, “Strangers on a Train” and “Rope,” but for me “Celluloid Closet” was the immediate place to go. It’s a brief appearance, I think his last on screen, as he talks about “Rope,” a scene from which is also featured.

He shows up around the 0:45 mark in the clip below:

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Listen to a Track from the SXSW-Winning Score for “The City Dark”

One of my favorite documentaries out of SXSW this year is Ian Cheney’s “The City Dark,” a film that explores the fading night sky, which we take for granted, and the problems with artificial light polluting our lives and planet (residents near an Upper West Side Duane Reade store in NYC know this well lately). The doc took home a prize for best documentary score, which is by Brooklyn’s The Fishermen Three (collaborating with producer Ben Fries), and now you can sample one of the great tracks from that score (here or here). Titled “Western Space Dance,” it’s kind of like if AIR did something with a plucky western score-style guitar. Strangely enough, a twangy song by All India Radio just came up on my Pandora mix, which is also quite comparable.

I mentioned the score in my review for Cinematical:

Compared to ‘King Corn,’ ‘The City Dark’ is a less informative and seemingly less crucial doc, but on an aesthetic level I enjoyed it a lot more. It has a kind of abstract and new age-y tone, rendered by the jangly ambient techno score by The Fishermen Three and Cheney’s quiet, contemplative voice-over narration.

Check out the trailer for the doc, which also features some of the music, after the jump.

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Trailer: “Doctor Kong” (aka the Faux Sequel to “King of Kong”)

Technically “Doctor Kong” is no more a sequel to Seth Gordon’s “The King of Kong” than, say, “We Were Here” is a sequel to “The Times of Harvey Milk” or “Shine a Light” is a sequel to “Gimme Shelter.” But I’m still going to think of it as “The King of Kong Too,” at least until I see it. The new doc was directed by Alexis Neophytides, who recently was a P.A. on Liz Garbus’ “Shouting Fire,” and follows the story of Dr. Hank Chien, a New York gamer who (I think still) holds the record for highest Donkey Kong score, having topped both “King of Kong” characters, Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell.

It doesn’t look quite as good as Gordon’s film, lacking a semblance of the rivalry story appeal of “The King of Kong,” but I am curious. I guess I missed its debut at Brooklyn’s bowling alley bar, The Gutter, last month. Next stop is The Midwest Gaming Classic at the Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield Hotel this weekend.

Watch the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Segment of Ric Burns’ “New York”

Today is the 100th anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which took the lives of 146 garment workers and led to reform in building safety and working conditions in New York City.

A couple new documentaries have been released this year, one an episode of PBS’ “American Expeience” titled “Triangle Fire,” the other an HBO production titled “Triangle: Remembering The Fire,” which premiered earlier this week (and appears to already be on YouTube).

But I’d like to share the segment on the incident from Ric Burns’ classic miniseries “New York: A Documentary Film.” Re-watching it now is choking me up. David Ogden Stiers should narrate all of history, by the way. Here is part 1 of the segment, followed after the jump by part 2.

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Hear Elizabeth Taylor in Oscar Winner “Genocide”

Embarrassing as it is, I have to admit I’ve never actually watched a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, who died this week. She was that kind of Hollywood icon that made you feel like you’d seen all her work, even if you hadn’t. Seriously, it came as a huge surprise that I hadn’t seen any of her films in their entirety. Although, I guess I don’t usually like the kinds of heavy dramas she regularly appeared in, so maybe it’s not that shocking.

Another film I’ve never seen in full is Arnold Schwartzman’s “Genocide,” which won the documentary feature Oscar in 1982. It features narration by Taylor and Orson Welles. He does the more dominant voice of God stuff, while she handles the reading of letters. According to writer Rabbi Marvin Hier in the companion book Genocide: Critical Issues of the Holocaust, A Companion to the Film Genocide, Taylor was convinced to do the film by then-husband Senator John Warner and refused pay because the project was “very special to her, since she regarded the Jewish people as her people, and wanted to identify personally with the tragedy of the Holocaust.”

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Richard Leacock’s Lesson and Legacy

“Screw the tripod. Screw the dollies. Screw all the stuff.”

Richard Leacock, who died yesterday, speaks on the freedom of Direct Cinema in the following video, which also features Robert Drew:

Read the documentary legend’s obituary and some reactions to his death in Eric Kohn’s indieWIRE piece (which I contributed to).

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Short or Reality Series

Here’s something that just occurred to me while watching Cindy Meehl’s “Buck,” the documentary about a horse whisperer that won an audience award at Sundance and is now getting standing ovations at SXSW: some docs shouldn’t be features, but it’s sometimes hard to say if they should instead be a short or a TV series.

On the one hand, I really don’t think there’s enough of a story in “Buck” to play out near 90 minutes. It repeats itself a lot, particularly regarding its explicit metaphoric anti-abuse message. On the other hand, Buck Brannaman is such an amusing and likable character, and his on-the-road job is so episodic, that I could see his life further followed as a reality program.

I wonder how many other docs that seem ill-fit as features are the same, could go either other way.

Miami 2011: “How to Start Your Own Country”

Did you know the inventor of the Segway now leads his own country? And it’s in the Long Island Sound? This is one of the things to be learned from Jody Shapiro’s “How to Start Your Own Country,” an amusing and enlightening documentary about micronations, with particular focus on the future of frontier-breaking. Dean Kamen, the Segway guy, owns North Dumpling Island, which he calls the Kingdom of North Dumpling, and though technically, legally still part of New York State, it has officially seceded from the United States (with a non-aggression pact signed by President George H. Bush), has its own constitution (supposedly hundreds of years old) and is self-sufficient and completely carbon-neutral. It helps that Kamen is a billionaire. He also doesn’t rule over anyone else.

Shapiro jumps from one micronation to the next in the film, some more eccentrically run than others, while generally addressing the whole issue of the “country club” mentalities of the United Nations, the European Union, etc. Places like North Dumpling and the Principality of Sealand (a former British fort in the North Sea that was originally taken over by pirate radio broadcasters) are basically aligned with more familiar states like Palestine and Liechtenstein. Then there are the more eclectic, utopian concepts, such as the territory-less, location-variable New Free State of Caroline, which seems to blur the line between cult and state. It also best exemplifies the doc’s attention to the connection of state and state of mind.

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Tribe Called Quest Doc Hitting Theaters via Sony Pictures Classics

Of all the docs showing at Sundance this year, Michael Rapaport’s “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” was the only one friends back home were curious about. Maybe I just know more people into hip hop than are into chimps, physician-assisted suicide or the New York Times. Fortunately, those friends can soon see for themselves that it’s one of the best music docs in some time. Sony Pictures Classics has picked up distribution rights to the film, hopefully for theatrical release sometime this year.

Here is an excerpt from my review for Cinematical:

Obviously fans of A Tribe Called Quest are going to appreciate and enjoy this documentary, but as merely a minor follower of their music I think I can attest that it transcends that base audience. Once Rapaport brings us up to speed with more recently shot footage covering a behind the scenes peek at Tribe’s participation in the 2008 Rock the Bells tour, the confrontational moments have a dramatic power not unlike those seen in Ondi Timoner’s widely accessible ‘Dig!’


Miami 2011: “Magic Trip”

I mentioned in my Miami International Film Festival doc preview that Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney’s “Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place” was not one of my most anticipated. I hadn’t heard good buzz at Sundance on the film, and I’m not a huge fan of Gibney lately anyway. Also, his doc on Hunter S. Thompson, “Gonzo,” was a huge disappointment for me, so I was expecting something similar here. Well, I found myself at a screening of the film last night, and I didn’t hate it. It’s far more satisfying than the Thompson film. But I also came away wondering what it’s really about, if anything. If it’s just a way of finally presenting the footage that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters shot during their iconic 1964 psychedelic bus trip, I wish it was much simpler.

It’s a shame the old films, which don’t look nearly as bad as I’d heard, don’t feature synched audio. That would have made for something great, left alone save for some expert editing to give it a narrative flow. Enough people have read Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” to fill in the specifics of what’s going on, and if not then it could at least be a mere verite record of the time and events. But Gibney and company love voice-over, so I’d never imagine them letting material like this go without lots of narrated commentary. At least the voice-over stuff here is more directly from people involved and relatively contemporary of the footage itself. Of course, I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t recently recorded interviews if Ellwood hadn’t mentioned it after the screening.

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