Forced Perspective: A Profile of Artist Derek Hess

If you’re an extremely talented, massively prolific, and commercially successful artist like Derek Hess, you want your documentarian to do justice to yourself and your work—to mirror the passion and dedication and authenticity you bring to your work, and consequently, to those who view it.

That’s just what director/editor Nick Cavalier has done for Cleveland-based Hess with his film, Forced Perspective.

Of necessity there are two convergent foci to Cavalier’s film: Hess and the personal demons that propel his work, and that make his work connect deeply with his viewers. Consequently, the words ‘depression’ and ‘bipolar’ are heard throughout the film. The psychologist in me is immediately triggered, yet I know better than to pursue the psychological issues proffered in the film, than to entertain reductionist thoughts. You, the lucky viewer, can and will do your own analysis.

Instead, I find myself in awe of, and admiration for Hess’s talent and dedication, and for the countless numbers of people his work and story have profoundly impacted.

Music is another of the film’s virtues that struck me. Cavalier and his producers employed the work of five composers to produce a soundtrack that perfectly reflects the depth and power of Hess’s art.

Speaking of which, Hess is not just prolific in numbers, he is prolific in media. Hess has produced concert flyers and posters, t-shirts, multi-media pieces that incorporate used 8-track cassette cases, CD cases, fine art, and human skin. His fans take prints of his work to the tattoo parlor, and the resident artist burns the piece, or pieces.

There is much more to learn about Derek Hess. I highly recommend you see Cavalier’s portrait of this passionate and inspiring artist to garner that much more for yourself.

Forced Perspective is a Kino Lorber release.

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Casablancas: The Man Who Loved Women

‘In May 2011,’ the film begins, ‘John Casablancas met his friend Hupert Woroniecki in New York City. They spent three days locked in a studio and recorded his life story. What neither knew at the time was that John would die of cancer two years later, in 2013—making this recording a unique posthumous testimony on one of our most glamorous eras.’

Casablancas is an autobiography of John Casablancas who founded the legendary model agency Elite. Although a character study—which is, ideally, intrinsic to autobiography—the theme, physical beauty, is the seemingly polar opposite of a noble human character.

Those of a certain age may remember a 1960 episode of the nascent ‘Twilight Zone’ entitled Eye of the Beholder. A woman is lying in a hospital bed, in a dark hospital room. Her face is covered in a white cloth dressing. In a desperate attempt to look beautiful—or at least normal—she just had her 11th plastic surgery. This is her last chance. The story’s dialog between patient and care-givers focuses on her desperation, the tragedy of the hideous face with which she was born. When the cloth dressing is removed she is grief stricken, the surgery failed. In the requisite Twilight Zone ironic, painful twist, the camera reveals a beautiful woman, and the faces of those ‘normal-looking’ caregivers are hideous, ghoulish.

John Casablancas was born into wealth, and provided a seemingly idyllic education filled with beautiful girls, skiing, soccer, and international travel. His first attempt at any sort of occupation was to join the United States Marines. He was dismissed, of course, at the outset. He then speaks of the sequence of events that led to the founding—and initial floundering of—his company, Elite Model Management.

Casablancas took to that business like the proverbial duck-to-water. He was an effective competitor. So much so that all the U.S. major management agencies united to sue him based on various allegations regarding business practices. The suits—also known as ‘model wars’—took two years to litigate, and gave Elite priceless publicity. On his path to industry dominance, Casablancas became a media darling seen on the cornucopia of television talk shows in North America and Europe.

I was engaged, moved by this character and his story—the exceptional success and pleasures he enjoyed, and the unending conflict he experienced between living the life of family man, and the life of a playboy ensconced in the upper socio-economic strata of Western society. Some may mock the implied pain of this conflict. I do not measure emotional pain.

Stories about womanizers provoke thoughts and passionate discussions of ethics and morals. Whatever your standards, this film leaves the viewer with a few images and stories of a life well-lived without apologies—and that one unavoidable regret.

Casablancas is a First Run Features release.

Homeland: Iraq Year Zero

“No way to live in peace, not under Sadam, not after him.”
A distinguished Iraqi gentleman as he views a collaterally destroyed home.

France-based Iraqi filmmaker Abbas Fahdel has single-handedly produced a monumental documentary film.

Homeland: Iraq Year Zero is his coverage of the Iraqi people before and after the 2003 bombing and invasion. The Kino Lorber version is a two-disc set—Before the Fall, and After the Battle, five and a-half hours of life at those times.

Fahdel’s camera covers his extended family, friends, street scenes, markets, food kiosks, conversations about the minutiae of their lives, conversations about the war to come, and the war that came.

We see Iraqis watching television—seeing propaganda songs about Saddam Hussein, children’s shows, and anti-war protests in other countries. They knew the protests were in vain. Fahdel’s 12-year old nephew Haidar steals every scene, every shot in which he appears. He quickly becomes the embodiment of the film’s story.

The Kino Lorber box set includes a booklet, Lessons of Darkness, by Robert Greene. Disc One includes an ‘Extra’ of Fahdel being interviewed. He speaks French, and his companion interprets in English. His presentation is as powerful as his film.

The Mama Sherpas: Midwives Across America

Brigid Maher’s The Mama Sherpas introduces the practice of nurse-midwives. The film covers their work in four birthing centers. The primary purpose is to promote this work and, in so doing, help reduce the number of unnecessary Cesarean births—and humanize our approach to the birthing process. Psychological pain, side-effects, scaring, and costs are all reduced. Midwives even know techniques to reduce the need of an episiotomy during childbirth. One birthing center reported that over a three-year period 93% of one thousand births were vaginal. The national rate is approximately 68%.

Legendary, pioneering midwife Ina May Gaskin makes a brief appearance. At film’s end we learn that midwives are licensed to practice in five states, but nurse-midwives are able to practice in all fifty states. The point, this integrative approach is accessible.

The film includes several births. Just witnessing a birth on screen has a profound impact. I’ve seen several so far, and it never ceases to evoke powerful emotions.

How many people have witnessed births? It was only in the second-half century of my life that I saw them—via documentary films. Witnessing a human birth should be close to a requirement for adolescents. The Mama Sherpas is an ideal way to raise teenagers’ consciousness of birthing.

The Kino Lorber DVD includes deleted scenes.

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Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story

The Kino Lorber Sound of Redemption disc was one of a pile of ten recently-received DVDs. I nonchalantly got to the disc, and found myself unexpectedly moved by this story of a troubled master.

Frank Morgan lived a life of crime, addiction, and incarceration peppered by short or long periods of masterful alto jazz playing. N.C. Heiken’s documentary of this life is as emotional a film as I have seen since beginning my odyssey through the documentary film world. This emotion derives from the many friends, fans, and family members who speak with joy and sorrow about their time with Morgan.

Sound of Redemption is structured around a musical tribute by contemporary jazz masters filmed at San Quentin—one of Morgan’s homes-away-from home. Morgan’s narrative along with experiences and perspectives provided by interviewees paint the stark reality of absent and abusive parents, deeply rooted racism, and a magnificent talent that tore through layers of pain and darkness.

That talent, this beautiful music shines throughout the film, evoking the joys and sorrows of a life lost and redeemed.

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Hannah: Buddhism’s Untold Story

Hannah Nydahl is a formerly unsung hero of Buddhism—Tibetan flavored. She and partner Ole studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism intensely and devoted their lives to spreading the principles and practices of this philosophy or religion—depending on your perspective.

Produced and directed by Marta György Kessler and Adam Penny, Hannah tells the couple’s epic story—their travels, adventures, and gratifying success in creating Buddhist centers around the world. The focus is on Hannah because of the power of her presence, the compassion and joy she exudes.

There is a tremendous amount of information in this film, and no want of Sanskrit and Tibetan names and words. This is code for turn on your subtitles, and don’t hesitate to rewind if you miss something. Also, I would have remixed the sound with the music a little softer to enhance our hearing of the words. But, that is nowhere near a deal-killer in this film. Hannah and its subject, Hannah, will stay with you the rest of your lives.

There is so much to the story of Hannah and Ole that I heartily suggest you view the Kino Lorber disc’s special features and consult the film’s site to learn more about their accomplishments.

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Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

With Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead director/co-writer Douglas Tirola has given us a delightful, fascinating, entertaining story about the rise and fall of the seminal humor magazine “National Lampoon” (1970-1998). There are two foci in this history: The stories and characters involved in the publication, and the immeasurable impact the magazine and its creators had on the evolution of comedy and its biker friend, satire.

We’re talkin’ movies, theater, radio, and recorded media—those were the kinds of productions generated by the magazine under its name. The humor was over-the-top, no holds barred, and hyperbolic. Subsequent humorists and satirists were inspired and influenced by the humor—as well as the magazine’s success. “National Lampoon” is mother to ‘Saturday Night Live.’

Inspired by the nation’s oldest humor magazine, “Harvard Lampoon”, “National Lampoon” was created by Douglas Clark Kenney ’68, and Henry Nicholas Beard ’67. Their personal stories and partnership form the core narrative of the film. Surrounding this core is a dizzying display of imagery and appearances by at least 65 performers, writers, and business people.

Here are a few names: Meatloaf, Harold Ramis, P.J. O’Rourke, Bill Murray, John Landis, Marshall McCluhan, Christopher Guest, John Goodman, Chevy Chase, Kevin Bacon, Judd Apatow, Billy Bob Thornton, and John Updike.

You may find Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead on Netflix.

Enjoy!

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First Position: Dancing for a Chance

First Position opens with the following text: Youth America Grand Prix is the world’s largest ballet competition that awards full scholarships and job contracts to dancers age 9-19

Aran, Rebecca, Jules, Michaela, Joan, and Miko are the six dancers producer/director Bess Kargman follows to the completion of a year’s competition—out of the thousands who initially auditioned. Aran, Jules, and Joan are males. (Joan is from Columbia.)

Kargman’s camera flies around the world capturing the stories of the dancers and their families. Michaela’s, 14 at the time, is the most astonishing. She was born into civil war in Sierra Leone, in west Africa, and witnessed the ubiquitous horrors. Her parents were killed. Michaela and her sister Mia were adopted by an American couple.

This thoroughly engaging documentary is Kargman’s first feature. Her film seems the work of a seasoned veteran. The ending has the dramatic tension of a Hollywood thriller, and the dancing, of course, is spectacular.

I found First Position on Netflix. You can also find it on Amazon.

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Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

Over the decades legendary auteur, Werner Herzog, has become quite the documentarian. When I spotted his documentary coverage of the internet—Lo and Behold—on Netflix, I was hesitant to press play. The internet is ubiquitous, and is the subject of non-stop media coverage and social dialog. What’s new?

As always, my resistance was met with ‘I am so glad I watched this film.’

Through interview, image, and rumination Herzog escorts the viewer through critical aspects of the cyber takeover of our world. Some of the topics covered are the lethal aspects of trolling and addiction, the internet’s origin, hacking, the internet’s social-psychological impacts, and a ‘Carrington Event’—the name given to very large solar storms. English astronomers Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson observed and recorded such an event on September 1-2, 1859.

Learning about this event I felt Herzog had buried the lead.

Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed. The solar flare gave telegraph operators electric shocks. Telegraph pylons threw sparks. Papers close to the wires incinerated. Some telegraph operators were able to send and receive messages despite disconnecting their power supplies. One of the film’s interviewees reported that this kind of event happens occasionally, and that the Earth’s electronic equipment could fail as a result of a Carrington Event. Add this to giant meteor strikes and gamma ray bursts as a few non-human phenomena that would destroy our human world—or turn it into a Mad Max movie. There you go Roland Emmerich, add that to your long list of Projects In Development.

I found every scene in Lo and Behold either emotionally charged and/or fascinating. I am so glad I watched this film.

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Yarn: Adorning the World

With interstitial narration written and performed by Barbara Kingsolver, Yarn profiles several yarn artists from several countries. We hear from and see the work of yarn graffiti artists, installation artists, and circus performers. In addition to a great variety of art work, we hear quite a variety of personalities speaking of their lives and art.

In addition to yarn graffiti, we are treated to a yarn-covered train; a yarn-covered mermaid swimming with dolphins, a dog, and two cinematographers; a giant net in and around which children play; and many more yarn-enshrouded objects.

The Kino Lorber documentary is directed by Una Lorenzen, and co-directed Thordur Jonsson and Heather Millard. The film is well crafted, features perfectly fitting music, and has a great little bonus feature of yarn animation.

You have two websites to chose from: http://www.yarnfilm.com/ or http://yarnthemovie.com/

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