Grey Gardens

Little Edie in  Grey Gardens

I am mostly against the critical valuation of real people in documentaries. I’ve written about this in the past, specifically in response to the reviews of The Imposter that judged subject Frederic Bourdin more than the film itself. I also wondered last fall whether it is okay to highlight the “best” characters of a given year in the form of the Cinema Eye Honors recognition of “The Unforgettables.” On that, I eventually came around to agreeing that memorable documentary characters deserve recognition if not a competitive prize that puts one above the rest (and the CEH don’t mean for them to be “the best,” just unforgettable). Even calling them characters makes me conflicted at times, but within the film space and narrative, that is what they are. Ranking these characters, though, or calling them “best” or “worst,” isn’t something I feel comfortable doing. However, it is more acceptable to discuss a documentary character positively than negatively. Calling someone inspiring is fair, but calling someone despicable is not. Unless their deeds are horrible enough that calling a subject such is about considering them beyond the personality they exhibit on screen (think Hitler in Triumph of the Will, Anwar Congo in The Act of Killing and really any other genocidal leader). We can think anything we want of these people privately and even discuss them amongst ourselves as part of the audience, but there’s no place for it in film criticism. So this list, which is inspired by my ongoing consideration of the Up Series for its 50th anniversary, is not intended to be a critique of any of these people (or […]

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In one of the few times that Corrina Belz’s documentary Gerhard Richter Painting breaks its present-tense, fly-on-the-wall approach to its titular subject, an archival black-and-white interview of a much younger Richter is shown. In the interview, Richter states, “To talk about painting is not only difficult but perhaps pointless, too. You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing, what language can communicate. Painting has nothing to do with that.” Belz’s film seeks to meet the artist on his own terms, providing neither a complete, contextualized biography nor a day-in-the-life diary of her subject. Gerhard Richter Painting is as elegantly simple and straightforward as its title suggests: instead of chronicling the artist’s history or delving into his personal life, the film seeks to capture the process by which the most obvious subject that defines the artist’s life is made manifest, his art. Belz’s minimalist approach to her subject is refreshing. In the movie, we are not given a “definitive” non-fiction account of Richter, but Belz attempts instead to let the subject define himself, both in the traditional fashion of verbal address (though this takes the form of impromptu confessionals during work breaks, and doesn’t revert to turning Richter into a “talking head”) and in capturing Richter hard at work constructing his paintings in an incremental fashion.

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The Week That Was

We do this every week. Because no one has time to read every great article we post here on Film School Rejects and be a productive member of society, the weekends provide us an excellent opportunity to get caught up on all the stuff that happened over the last seven days. This week we wrote a big helping of reviews, more than a few excellent, insightful editorials and as always, we were there when news broke to provide the necessary context (and snark). From Johnny Depp as a Hunter S. Thompson lizard to Oscar winners to solving your existential crisis with kids movies, this week that was had many twists and turns — all of which you’ll be glad you followed. So get set to get caught up with The Week That Was.

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Criterion Files

I had the privilege of seeing the surviving Maysles brother, Albert, do a Q&A after a public screening of Grey Gardens (1976). During the discussion, somebody asked him the inevitable question regarding how the presence of the camera changed the very subject he was documenting. It’s an interesting and essential question for any documentary filmmaker to consider, especially when one is engaging in the direct verite style rather than a traditional retrospective style, because it’s simplistic for the filmmaker to consider themselves “objective” or “invisible” when putting a camera on their subject: the presence of the camera changes things. Albert Maylsles responded with an amusing story about how the conversations the brothers heard between “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” outside the house when not filming were exactly the same as when they were inside. While this is no doubt the case as the eccentric Beales would certainly “be themselves” no matter the occasion or circumstance, with all due respect Mr. Maysles’s assessment of the question was a bit too narrow. Putting cameras within the aging walls of Grey Gardens did, in fact, change everything.

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The Library of Congress opens up its big mystical vault once a year to toss in 25 films that it deems worthy (by stirring old clapboards into a vat of rat blood and reading the star alignment). This year was a big year that honors some of the fallen members of the community – notably Leslie Nielsen, Blake Edwards and Irvin Kershner. Safely stowed away as important cultural documents, The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane!, and The Pink Panther join 23 other films that will be forever kept in the hearts of those who care to apply for a Library of Congress library card (a three-step process that includes a photo being taken). Check the entire list (which is littered with incredible movies) below:

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Check out which of your favorite television shows and movies won with this complete listing of PGA winners. Tiger Woods isn’t on here.

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DVDs I Bought This Week!

Rob Hunter loves movies. He also loves working as an assistant at the Tyrell Corporation. These two joys come together in the form of cash money payments that he receives every week and immediately uses to buy more DVDs.

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