Spettacolo (2017)

If there can be autobiographies, why not autodrama? Every year a rural Italian town writes and performs a play; what began as a means of recording history evolved into social commentary. It was never satire merely for laughs but what happens when meanings and motivations change? The irony is in the meta.

The purpose tradition serves is as varied as opinions about it. While it can preserve culture and thus unify a community, the very same can seem burdensome. There’s no easy answer to whether you should stick it out to protect history from being lost to modernity or embrace the future, which threatens/ promises to assimilate everything you’ve always known.

Since documentary filmmaking is mostly decisions about what to include, editing will spin a situation in a certain direction. Not that the tourists who visit the annual production don’t interpret things from their own perspective but surely for people to tell you about themselves in their own words goes beyond mere ritual…

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Cameos are fun; even more so when they’re by historic figures, who shaped the world’s Art and Culture. The City of Lights shines brightly in this whimsical tale of a screenwriter, who’s struggling to find inspiration for his first novel. He mysteriously finds himself transported back to the 1920s at midnight throughout the duration of his vacation with his fiance, who doesn’t share his nostalgia. Though heavily romanticized, there’s great fun to be had in recognizing the various icons along with the main character, who’s just as surprised by who he runs into along the way.

What the Deaf Man Heard (1997)

That it was originally made by a greeting card company shouldn’t dissuade you from giving this a chance. Before Hallmark (or anyone else, for that matter) had an entire channel, they made dramas that aired on network TV. In this clever story, a boy finds himself alone on a bus, which arrives at a small town depot. Unaware of how frightened he is, everyone assumes the boy is deaf and mute (except, perhaps, the local rum runner). He plays the part out of convenience and grows up privy to all the town’s secrets. Instances of prejudice against his supposed handicap notwithstanding, he enjoys being the keeper of information… until circumstances require eyewitness testimony to catch a con artist who’s been scamming the town.

Catch-22 (1970)

War is absurd in many ways, especially the unique subculture that forms in isolation. The very qualities that make this depiction stand alone keep it from being a favorite. Though adaptations of the novel abound– it’s easy to see why an Air Force pilot would be desperate for a diagnosis of “crazy” so he can get out of future missions– never has such a notable cast been assembled.

And unlike like modern stories that mostly highlight the seeming thrill of combat, this film’s non-linear structure gives a surreal quality to an ordinary routine, in which trauma blends with even the most mundane tasks, such as clerical duties and laundry. Unlike depictions of war that debuted around the same time (e.g. MASH), rather than merely utilize sarcasm, its unflinching dry humor highlights the same dark comedy found in the desperation, resourcefulness, futility (and, of course, the irony) of hollow victories.

Helvetica (2007)

A movie about a font?? The history and evolution of typefaces is surprisingly complex. That we hardly (if ever) pay this one any mind is a testament to its prevalence. Some graphic designers love it; some hate it. But none can deny that its utilitarianism filled a void. Far beyond the fact of its existence, this fascinating documentary explores the nature of artistry and the creative process, the function of design and the impact of marketing, which is equally indicative of and influential to our culture.

The Iron Giant (1999)

This easily passes for a children’s movie given its young main character and sentimental tone. However, the historic context is noteworthy. Long before adventures were musical– certainly before computer animation, cartoons (such as the earliest depiction of the original superhero, Superman) were infused with a wariness of technology, especially in the era of McCarthyism.

This story captures the intrusion of industrial experimentation upon optimistic innocence, a concept lost on kids. Moreover, the military’s response to a creature capable of humanesque emotions will likely be disturbing to young viewers. But for a relatively mature audience, the theme of self-sacrifice will underscore the sweetness of friendship between a boy a robot during a time when the world needed it most. Perhaps it still does.

Saving Banksy (2017)

Whether or not you appreciate graffiti or even have a creative drive, existential questions arise about the nature of Art– mainly appropriation– and its place in Society.

Current street artists are generations of graffiti painters emerging from a covert subculture of gangs and indiscriminate vandals. To embellish a blank surface, they risk being shot/ stabbed by gangs or arrested by the authorities, one artist being imprisoned for 8 years.

The most famous street artist is the elusive, Banksy, who rose to prominence in San Francisco for images featuring simple yet poignant social commentary. Since few murals aren’t painted over to satisfy city officials who threaten massive fines and put liens on any property that leaves the images intact, they’re being removed to sell at galleries. Now fans were confronted by a new and confusing issue: vandalism and tagging of Banksy’s graffiti.

Trying to donate any of the world’s iconic pieces to a museum is a challenge (e.g. time constraints, artist permission, funds for scaffolding and lead abatement upon removal of historic material, transport, restoration, etc.), which is the primary focus of this film. “I have people who want to buy it for seven hundred thousand dollars but I can’t give it away for free.”

By the way, the DVD’s special feature– a deleted/ behind the scenes featurette– is interesting as a documentary in and of itself.

One, Two, Three (1961)

Don’t say I didn’t warn you: crisscrossed boisterous action and frenetic dialogue at breakneck speed are not for the faint of heart!

Mac, a driven Coca-Cola exec assigned to West Berlin is desperate to advance, which will ensure relocation to a better city, though he doesn’t share his wife’s preference. He agrees to host his boss’ teenage daughter, who turns out to be impudent and headstrong. Her antics, along with Mac’s priorities, further strain his troubled marriage.

Already juggling a mistress and business negotiations with some reluctant Russians, Mac finds himself the ringmaster of his own circus when the young socialite disappears. Then turns up married. To a Communist. And her parents announce they’re on their way to retrieve her. With only 24 hours to turn a Red beatnick activist into a Blue blooded Count, everyone springs into action to save the day (and thus their own skins).

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005)

Yes, an unlikely competitor defies the odds by overcoming a significant injury. However, when it comes to Sonador, his main backer is a child. Though Cale Crane grew up around horses, racing is actually in her blood; the ranch on which she grew up may be empty but it hasn’t seen its last horse, yet. Training a potential champion becomes a family affair, which garners more than luck and money.

Grizzly Man (2005)

A fair & balanced tribute to a quirky guy obsessed with wildlife, especially bears. To some he was a troubled soul seeking purpose; to others he seemed inspirational. To a few he was simply a nuisance. No matter how you regard his passion, there’s no doubt he died doing what he loved: living like a Grizzly.