Coming to DVD today, Friday, January 17:
BETTY: THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT
Melbourne, Indielisboa, In-Edit, Revelation Perth, Festival Del Popoli, Indie Memphis
On the pioneering but mysteriously short-lived career of 1970s funk queen Betty Davis.
For a brief time in the early 1970s, Betty Davis was the queen of funk. Though unfairly better known as Miles Davis’ wife, she released three albums and attracted notoriety for her raunchy lyrics and suggestive stage antics. By the end of the decade, however, she left the music industry and moved to Pittsburgh. Director Phil Cox explores Davis’ career, making an argument for her importance and influence on those that followed, and approaches her disappearance as a great mystery. Unfortunately, the film – clocking in at under an hour – doesn’t allot enough room to fully develop either of these threads, opting instead for teases of Davis’ presence and unnecessarily obtuse semi-experimental flourishes, leaving her to remain an intriguing but still elusive figure in the end.
New to DVD this week:
THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING
Nantucket, True/False, CPH:DOX, Provincetown, New Zealand, Jerusalem, Melbourne, Athens, Adelaide
A privileged look into the intersection of high art and commerce.
My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.
Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, January 15:
Toronto, London, Warsaw, AFI Fest, Hamptons, Rio
An exploration of post-Soviet Russia through oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
In his latest film, Alex Gibney tells the unusual story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s transformation from plutocrat to thorn in Putin’s side, but that’s just one level of this smart, dense, and intriguing project. The prolific director’s larger intent, and one that he successfully fulfills, is to cogently detail the development of Russia after the USSR from a nascent democracy to an autocratic state, using Khodorkovsky’s background as a guide. Tracing his ascent in the wild chaos of the early 1990s, when he amassed a fortune by taking advantage of his countrymen on the road to privatization of the nation’s most valuable resources, the film explains how Khodorkovsky and his small circle of fellow oligarchs began to exert political influence, and essentially handpicked minor KGB official Putin to succeed Yeltsin. But the shifty new president started to clash with the oligarchs, seizing back power, and eventually arresting the critical Khodorkovsky on trumped up charges and subjecting him to ridiculous show trials before sending him to Siberia. Emerging after a decade of imprisonment with unexpected moral authority – given his past – Khodorkovsky now supports pro-democracy efforts while living in exile in London, deeply critical of the increasingly authoritarian turn Russia has taken over Putin’s seemingly endless reign. Gibney paints a complex portrait of the man and his country, in all of its contradictions, making for a satisfying and thought-provoking film.
Coming to theatres today, Friday, January 10:
IDFA, Sheffield, Docaviv, Docs Against Gravity, Dokufest, BAFICI, Guanajuato, Camden, Hamptons, Diagonale, Moscow, San Francisco Green
An exploration of terrestrial locations impacted by humanity in the Anthropocene.
Geyrhalter’s work is known for its careful composition and static camera, creating often breathtaking tableaux. In his latest film, he visits seven sites of large-scale mining and construction in the US, Canada, and various locations in Europe, including a salt mine turned into a radioactive waste storage repository. In addition to capturing the massive nature of these locations, and the dramatic changes wrought by humanity on their landscapes, Geyrhalter zeroes in on a more microlevel, interviewing various construction workers, engineers, and, in the final stretch, an indigenous Canadian protestor, about their roles relative to this transformative – and largely destructive – activity. Through his gentle probing, he yields philosophical and ethical reflection, in addition to frankly practical acknowledgement of the world’s insatiable desire for more as the main driving force for the scale of such work.
Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, January 10:
DOC NYC 2018
San Francisco Jewish, Santa Barbara, RiverRun, Greenwich, Tel Aviv Human Rights, Big Muddy, Cleveland, Sarasota, Minneapolis-St Paul
The filmmaker confronts her personal demons around Germany, Israel, and Palestine.
I wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Ofra Bloch, a New York-based psychoanalyst specializing in trauma, was born in Jerusalem to a Jewish family that emigrated to Palestine in the 1920s. Disturbed by the resurgence of fascism and anti-Semitism around the world, Ofra travels to Germany, Israel, and Palestine to confront her own deep-seated feelings about Germans and Palestinians, and the tensions between the Holocaust and the Nakba. In the process, she explores the nature of resistance and the possibility of hope.
New to VOD this week:
Luke Dick and Casey Pinkston
DOC NYC, Lone Star, deadCENTER, Nashville, San Antonio
A musician explores the history of the infamous Oklahoma City strip club in which he grew up.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
Once upon a time, in downtown Oklahoma City, a seedy strip club called the Red Dog Saloon was an emblem of the 1970s oil boom. It also served as the childhood home of award-winning musician Luke Dick and his infamous go-go dancing mother Kim. Combining funky animation, archival footage, and interviews with Red Dog regulars, this quirky, high-spirited film reconstructs the culture and times of the strip club, as well as the circumstances that led to Kim and Luke’s unorthodox life there.
Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, January 7:
ROTHKO: PICTURES MUST BE MIRACULOUS
American Masters (October 2019)
A biography of the influential abstract expressionist artist.
I previously wrote about the doc here.