Heart wrenching, stomach churning viewing…
Frustrating documentary doesn’t do it’s fascinating subject matter justice…
Director Julian Temple has picked some cracking subjects to make documentaries about including Glastonbury, The Sex Pistols (twice) and Dr. Feelgood and in Clash frontman Joe Strummer he once again chose wisely.
The Future is Unwritten is a documentary about Strummer, not his most famous musical project The Clash so there is a lot to cover from his beginnings as a Woody Guthrie inspired folk singer through his years with the Clash and his introduction to World Music.
The problem with The Future is Unwritten is not the subject matter but the execution. Temple makes some bold stylistic decisions that don’t really pay off. The talking heads speaking so lovingly about Strummer are never properly introduced so only an expert would know who they are which makes for a frustrating watch. Most of the contributors are filmed whilst sitting around a camp fire, which rather than feeling intimate only serves to further distract from Strummer’s story.
On the flip side of this, the archive footage of Strummer is illuminating and at times inspiring and the soundtrack is as good as you would expect. As with Glastonbury though The Future Is Unwritten most of all feels a bit like an incoherent mess and a wasted opportunity.
Noel Gallagher: ‘The first day going into Creation, scrawled on the wall behind Tim Abbott’s desk in big black felt pen was ‘Northern Ignorance’ and I thought, ‘That kind of describes me, I fucking love this place already, I’ve not been here two minutes’
Following the death of Factory records founder Tony Wilson in 2007 praise was correctly lavished on both Wilson and the effect his bands had on the musical landscape. There is an argument that Creation Records have been just as instrumental. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Ride, Super Furry Animals, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub and of course Oasis all found their feet on a record label that was mostly run out of a tiny office in Hackney by ‘President of Pop’ Alan McGee and a bunch of other lunatics. Upside Down is their story…
When you have such charismatic talking heads as Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Noel Gallagher, Jim Reid (Mary Chain) and McGee himself it would be impossible not to mine some interesting stories. Danny O’ Connor does a brilliant job in piecing all the interviews together to tell what is an incredible story.
One minor criticism is it would be interesting to have more of an outsiders perspective as Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh and Joy Division bassist Peter Hook only have very brief moments on camera. The flipside to this is having read Alan McGee’s excellent book Creation Stories it becomes clear that Upside Down only tells half the story in nearly an hour and three quarters so to expect even more interviews is perhaps a bit unrealistic.
I must admit I didn’t know a huge amount about the early Creation bands until I watched Upside Down upon it’s release in 2010 but I have discovered so much great music from this documentary and it is safe to say the main draw of this project is the quite frankly astonishingly brilliant soundtrack. Which is how it should be with a film about music.
The terrifying world of sleep paralysis brought to life.
The Nightmare is a documentary focusing on 8 people’s experience with sleep paralysis. If you are not familiar with this sleep disorder then settle in for a jarring nights reading and do a Google search. Like many others I know from first hand experience that it is truly a horrifying experience.
The Nightmare attempts to showcase sleep paralysis through reconstructions and interviews with those affected. The reconstructions are so vivid and generally well made that The Nightmare is more horror film/documentary than straight up documentary.
The 8 chosen subjects are mostly engaging and interesting and the director Rodney Ascher does a good job in bringing it all together in a somewhat linear fashion but there is a niggling feeling of missed opportunity throughout.
The Nightmare had the potential to be so much more than talking heads and cheap scares. There is very little mention of the fascinating history of sleep paralysis or a scientific explanation offered or analyzed. This leaves The Nightmare like a job half done and at only 90 minutes there was definitely room for a more detailed investigation.
Despite it’s shortcomings it has to be said that while nothing can truly express how upsetting sleep paralysis can be, The Nightmare does a pretty damn good job.
Documentary explores the psychology behind teen movies.
There is a great documentary to be made about teen movies and their effect on pop culture but Beyond Clueless definitely isn’t it. Some of the theories presented are plausible – I can just about get on board with Idle Hands as an allegory for masturbation – but others are tenuous at best. Jeepers Creepers as a fable about a man’s fear of his own homosexuality? If you look for a message in everything you will find one, but that doesn’t mean it is what the filmmaker intended.
It is almost insulting to attempt to dissect modern classics like Clueless and Mean Girls by ‘revealing’ ideas that are openly discussed in the narrative. Some of the other choices of films to focus on are equally inappropriate. Does anyone really need a ten minutes exploration of Slap Her… She’s French when genre staples like American Pie, Heathers and Porky’s are completely ignored.
Narrator Fairuza Balk, herself a teen movie veteran having appeared in The Craft, makes for a smug and annoying voice over which further takes away from the rare sections of the film that are actually interesting.
Beyond Cluess? With this documentary first time writer/director Charlie Lyne was just plain clueless.
Love letter to Sheffield that also features Pulp.
I was expecting Florian Habicht’s long awaited Pulp documentary to be a history of the band in the classic music documentary style but it is actually more of a concert movie than a linear story. Interviews with all the members of Pulp are interspersed with footage of their triumphant live return to Sheffield in 2012.
While front man Jarvis Cocker has always appeared candid in interviews, he is also controlled and guarded about certain subjects and the interviews here offer nothing we haven’t heard before but as always Jarvis comes across as warm, intelligent and funny. Arguably more illuminating are interviews with the lesser known members of the band with keyboardist Candida Doyle and guitarist Mark Webber particularly interesting.
Sharing almost as much screen time with the Sheffield five piece are the people of Sheffield themselves with extensive interviews with some of the most gloriously Yorkshire folk captured on film since Kes, as well as beautifully edited shots of Sheffield itself.
While the dark period of the recording of This is Hardcore is only briefly mentioned, the live performance of the title track is electrifying, indeed all the live footage captured from Sheffield arena is really high quality and contains numerous goose bump inducing moments with every song greeted with massive enthusiasm from the adoring Sheffield crowd.
If you were expecting a Montage of Heck style warts and all expose of Pulp with this documentary you might be disappointed but part of both Pulp and Jarvis Cocker’s appeal is the air of enigmatic mystery juxtaposed with seemingly autobiographical lyrics and A film about life, death and supermarkets fits the bands curious narrative perfectly.
Powerful documentary brings us closer to the truth behind Kurt Cobain than ever before.
Two documentaries that champion art over commercialism.
Mr. Watterson is Bill Watterson the creator of much loved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. As Watterson is legendarily reclusive there are no interviews with him and barely any archive footage so instead we have extensive interviews with fans, people in the comic industry and celebrity talking heads like Seth Green. It was nice for me to hear people speak with such passion and excitement about Calvin and Hobbes, as one of my happiest childhood memories involves me reading my C & H anthology surrounded by Pic ‘n’ Mix in the sunshine…
What I found most interesting about Dear Mr. Watterson was the revelation that Watterson has never allowed Calvin & Hobbes to be licenced thus preventing any C & H toys or cartoons or anything else. This moral stance has cost Watterson millions of dollars and has stopped his creation reaching the level of popularity achieved by Garfield or Snoopy.
This brings us neatly to Harmontown which follows Community creator Dan Harmon on his tour across America promoting his eponymous podcast.
Like Watterson, Harmon has been fired from numerous projects (including Community for one season before being re-hired) for his refusal to change who he is and also because of his constant quest for honesty and perfection in his writing.
Harmontown is a brutally honest portrayal of a man trying to overcome his problems with alcoholism and a difficult upbringing by connecting with his fans and trying to help others with similar problems. As well as extensive live footage of the tour and behind the scenes extras there is also illuminating interviews with celebrities who have worked with Harmon including Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Ben Stiller and of course the cast of Community.
The whole message of the show Community was there is a place for anti social loners amongst each other and Harmontown takes this notion to the next level with Harmon and his fellow podcaster Jeff Davis playing to packed out venues night after night of misfits, dungeons and dragons enthusiasts and people who have nowhere else to go.
I found Harmontown to be much more true, funny, and honest than any episode of Community and I have a new found respect for Dan Harmon and his work.
Both these documentaries are proof that there are still people out there producing art with meaning and both these films pour scorn on anybody who is too stuck up to accept that comic strips and comedy writing are just as much of an art form as anything else.
Director Joshua Zeman explores the dark side of the urban legends in a pair of chilling documentaries.
Cropsey is the sad and intriguing story of five missing children in the Staten Island area of New York City. The local folklore states that disused tunnels beneath an abandoned mental hospital housed a child murderer and various other unspeakable horrors. Upon examination Zeman and co director Barbara Brancaccio discover this is more than just a fable. Without wanting to spoil anything Cropsey is an interesting and dark film that also includes some truly disturbing footage of an expose on mental hospital Willowbrook from 1972.
Cropsey was Zeman’s first feature and he doesn’t seem to have enough material to cover the 84 minute running time so a lot of the footage is repeated. This story could have been covered in a 45 minute TV show rather than a feature film but it is still a decent watch.
Five years later Zeman returns with another spine chilling film Killer Legends. Taking apart four of the most well known urban myths (hook handed psychopath at Lovers Lane, poisoned Halloween candy, the babysitter receives a call from inside the house and the killer clown) and turning the ‘myths’ on their head to expose the terrible truth behind each of them.
Zeman has clearly learnt a lot in the five years between films as Killer Legends is much better put together, much more interesting and is genuinely one of the most creepy documentaries I have ever seen.
Most people will be familiar with notorious serial killer John W. Gacy so that is the only segment that falls a bit flat but the rest of the film had me on the edge of my seat with it’s part crime part horror angle. Zeman and researcher Rachel Mills decide to put themselves in front of the camera which is something that has grated on me with people like Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield but Zeman and Mills let the stories tell themselves without trying to become the centre of attention.
For anyone interested in the dark and the macabre I would recommend both but if you are just looking for an interesting and well directed documentary Killer Legends will not disappoint.