The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

I’m trying not to tear my hair out; any description I give of this film will unfairly reduce it. It’s neither a schmaltzy story about finding a place to belong (a sentimental man takes great pains to save an historic family home from disrepair in a gentrified neighborhood) nor a quirky art piece (poetry reciting urban minorities framed by antique architecture). Even to consider it as much of a representation of Black culture as Smoke Signals is of Native American Indians would be too simplistic. So, I’ll simply list everything I love about it: intriguing buildup that didn’t over-explain the premise or present a confusing introduction; subtle yet intricate character development; no screamed tear-streaming performances wrought from melodramatic angst; dignity through a spectrum of characters who all represent a larger demographic without watering down their collective experience; a lyrical script that enhanced the theatrical tone given by an often stylized visual perspective; skillful cinematography that complemented rather than distracted from the flow of such a tender story; attention to detail in both set and props, which are accurate/ appropriate to time, place and situation.

Please note this isn’t for viewers with thin walls or in a setting (e.g. classroom) that may be sensitive to authentic urban language, including controversial but realistic terms.

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.

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.

Maudie (2016)

A well-meaning online discussion caught my attention: “Name a thoughtful non-romantic gesture by your significant other.” As if the two are mutually exclusive. Kindness and simplicity are vastly underappreciated. Often, excessive public displays of affection hide shallow, insecure relationships. Now we have social media to facilitate overcompensation. In contrast, those with the least appreciate it […]

Across the Universe (2007)

Though the title borrows the more popular lyric/ song title, this film could’ve been aptly named “Nothing’s Gonna Change my World”; the irony being the massive upending of life as everyone knew it prior to the turbulent 1960s. To craft a plot from a collection of music not written as a cohesive narrative is tricky enough; to seamlessly infuse the playlist with a personification of the music and events that equally influenced and inspired each other is a true work of Art. The inclusion of live musical performance, choreography, imaginative cinematography, depiction of history and socio-political commentary take this mesmerizing spectacle way beyond a Beatles-inspired musical.

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (2006)

Provenance—the backstory behind the acquisition of a piece of fine art—is crucial to determining its value. Needless to say, the idea that a trucker could end up with the work of a legend is appalling. This documentary chronicles the story of retiree, Teri Horton, who bought the ugliest paining she’d ever seen from a thrift store so she could present it to a friend, who needed cheering up; it was meant to be an oversized dart board. Eventually, it was assimilated into a collection of junk for her yard sale. An art teacher happened to remark about its distinct style, to which Ms. Horton replied, “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?” Despite the fact that the iconic artist was known to give away his art, which has been found in many unlikely random places, despite a forensic art specialist verifying fingerprints and analyzed paint samples, no one is willing to acknowledge a foul-mouthed, back woods, blue-collar worker is suddenly in possession of the genuine article.

Tim’s Vermeer (2013)

Who better to orchestrate the collaboration of Art, Science and History than famed magician, Penn Gillette? This film documents every detail of the ambitious undertaking of his friend, Tim, who by reconstructing the creation of a classic painting in painstaking detail, uses an analysis of History to actually rewrite it. It absolutely must be noted that the previously unknown details, which come to light in no way detract from the exquisite beauty of Vermeer’s artistry. Rather, they illuminate both his ingenuity and exceptional grasp of composition.

Manifesto (2015)

This movie has the audacity to be a paradox unto itself.

The filmmaker’s literal manifesto (i.e. declarative philosophical statement) about the nature of Art is embodied by various characters—all expertly portrayed by actress, Cate Blanchett—who represent striking examples of Culture influencers. They each, in turn, participate in the recitation of said manifesto. Blanchett utilizes her talent and experience to remain fully in character (voice, pitch, tone, attitude, posture) as different people in different situations while the impassioned narrative continues to demonstrate each point being made.

I’ve seen vacuous films with breathtaking cinematography. I’ve seen heart-wrenching, gut-spilling performances in the hands of an amateur director like pearls before swine. This was neither heavy-handed in its message nor obtuse in its meaning. Every element was impressively in proportion to every other and each vignette both encapsulated a specific point while contributing to the overall theme.

A thoughtful presentation of ideas that will both challenge preconceived ideas about creativity and ultimately the meaning of existence.