Abel Ferrara – Mulberry St. (2010)

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Synopsis

In this film, Bronx-born director Abel Ferrara energetically documents Manhattan’s Little Italy during the famed San Gennaro feast. As Ferrara explains, the feast “brings all the characters out.” He introduces viewers to Butchie the Hat, Cha Cha, Baby John, and others, who reminisce about the pre-Giuliani feast as prepare for the annual “invasion” of tourists. Actors and musicians including Danny Aiello and Matthew Modine make appearances. Continue reading

Gerhard Benedikt Friedl – Hat Wolff von Amerongen Konkursdelikte begangen? aka Did Wolff von Amerongen Commit Bankruptcy Offenses? (2004)

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Quote:
The most remarkable discovery in recent German-language cinema: Gerhard Friedl’s first feature is a hypnotic visual puzzle at the interface of documentary, essay film and pulp fiction. On the soundtrack: an unflinchingly ‘objective’ account of the labyrinthine genealogies, criminal involvements and afflictions of Germany’s economic leaders in the 20th century. On the screen: pans and tracking shots through European financial centres, production sites and landscapes. The sheer depth and crispness of these images is a treat in itself; a transformation into cinégénie of what artists like Candida Höfer or Jeff Wall have done by means of still photography. At times, image and sound are aligned, at others they just miss each other. They invariably suggest correlations. Paranoia? Irony? Can the prosaic, criminal state of affairs of a modern economy be depicted at all? Pierre Rissient, the French film historian, puts the film where it belongs: “Fritz Lang would have loved it!” Continue reading

Ben Hopkins – 37 Uses For A Dead Sheep (2006)

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portrait of the Kirghiz tribe, living a quasi-Iron Age existence in one of the remotest places on earth.

37 Uses For A Dead Sheep is a documentary with a sense of humour. However, as he recounts the eventful history of Central Asian tribe the Pamir Kirghiz, director Ben Hopkins stays on the right side of Borat-style ethnic mockery, treating his subjects with affection and esteem. He also turns a few of them into film stars in a range of reconstructions that entertainingly reveal the community’s journey over the last century or so.

Evocative title, that. Could the film itself possibly match it? Director Ben Hopkins finds the Pamir Kirghiz, a small Central-Asian tribe now living in eastern Turkey, and works together with them to craft a fleet-footed, intriguingly pomo documentary about this little-known group of nomads. Hopkins uses the tribes people to reenact moments from their history (shot in grainy 16mm), then shoots himself shooting them, then interviews them about it, while intercutting it all with images of their life today, in a village the Turkish government pretty much settled just for them. Oh yeah, there’s also a framing device in which the director talks to an old Kirghiz man about—you guessed it—all the things they can do with a dead sheep. It’s all very meta, but once Hopkins reveals the odd backstory of this people, pingponging between the Great Powers (Russia, China, the U.K.) who controlled their homeland at various times, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate approach to this material. The result is an inventive look at some truly unwitting victims of history’s relentless, unforgiving march. Continue reading

Hal Hartley – The Book of Life (1998)

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from movie martyr:

Set on the eve of the millennium (December, 31, 1999), Hal Hartley’s The Book of Life manages to send up the notion of the apocalypse in Hartley’s typically offbeat way. The film, which is shot on digital video, follow Jesus (Martin Donovan) as he wanders around Manhattan, pondering whether or not he should unleash his judgment upon the world. He is accompanied by Magdalena (P.J. Harvey) who is his personal assistant and confidante. In a little over an hour, with only about a half dozen main characters and only the barest special effects, Hartley weaves a fugue of hope, resignation, and a generalized sense of millennial tension. Few writers are better than Hartley at spinning memorable dialogue, and his stuff here is as good as anything that he’s turned out. For example, when Jesus calls Lucifer (Thomas Jay Ryan) on his cell phone, he greets him with a simple, “It’s me…” Hartley always underplays things, even when the world’s about to end. Continue reading