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Jun
04
    

My expectations for The War Room were all wrong. I had assumed that if a camera crew could go behind the scenes of almost any political campaign it would reveal the cynicism at the bottom of contemporary American politics. Behind the scenes, after all, is where focus groups decide a candidate’s positions and consultants package the candidate’s best image for public consumption. So any behind the scene’s documentary had the likelihood of producing a very cynical film.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
Jun
04
    

This three-hour scientific spectacle was the BBC television event of the year in late 1999. It garnered an estimated 52 share, meaning more than half of all the TV sets that were switched on in England tuned to the show when it aired (roughly 19 million viewers). The following April, “Walking with Dinosaurs” made only a little less of a splash in the U.S., on the Discovery channel.

The program made use of the very latest in paleontological knowledge and theory as well as animation techniques, combining computer graphic animation, animatronics, and live location shots from the California State Parks and the Bahamas to Tasmania and Chile into a (nearly) seamless whole that enthralled its viewers. Its sly “storytelling” approach to dinosaurs’ lives made it something more—and perhaps less—than a true-life nature special or scientific study: more to the average viewer, less to the hard scientist and dinosaur aficionado.

Click here the full review by David Loftus.


 
Jun
04
    

“Best Cinematography” is an Oscar that probably means very little to the average citizen who watches the annual Academy Award broadcast to find out who got Best Actor and Best Film. It means a lot more to industry insiders who know the value of the work, and is a winning buzz-subject for outsiders who want to sound knowledgeable.

But most of us could name only a handful of greats off the top of our head: Toland, Nykvist, Willis, Wexler. Visions of Light, a co-production of the American Film Institute and NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, attempts to heighten the general viewer’s understanding of cinematographers and their work. It offers more light than substance, perhaps, but is a lovely 95 minutes nonetheless.

Click here for the full review by David Loftus.


 
Jun
04
    

The shooting death of a police officer is a sensational subject. Most audiences would expect a documentary made about a police officer’s shooting death to be sensational also. But Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line is not sensational in any traditional sense. Instead, it is a masterful film that slowly reveals a hidden universe by simple allowing everyone involved—criminals, judges, police officers, and witnesses—to talk and then talk some more. Slowly, the viewer is pulled into the surreal world of Randall Adams (the accused), David Harris (the accuser), and a small Texas town’s justice system.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
Jun
02
    

When I first heard about a filmmaker who had shot video for two years while working at Columbia House corporate headquarters, I assumed that he was using a hidden camera. I was wrong. He showed up for his first day of work with a video camera, and when no one objected to being filmed, he proceeded to bring it to work everyday for the next two years. His name is Chris Wilcha.

Using the video he accumulated while working in the Columbia House corporate culture, Chris Wilcha created the film The Target Shoots First. His experience forces him into a personal examination of what it means to be part of a music corporation when your roots are punk and your perceived goal isn’t to advance through the corporate ranks.

Click here to read the full review by Joshua Davis. 


 
Jun
02
    

On Thursday, June 7, ITVS will present Store Wars, an assertive program that explores what happens when the mega-store Wal-Mart comes to town. This hour-long program will speak to millions who have seen a Wal-Mart arrive and radically alter their neighborhood; it will also speak to millions of others, many who are unaware that Sam Walton’s mega store is coming to their neighborhood soon, like it or not. Store Wars covers the fallout that occurs when a large corporation—Wall-Mart—decides to open a new store in one small town—Ashland, Virginia.

Click here to read the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr. 


 
Jun
02
    

“It’s amazing what you can endure when you must.”

Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg speaks those words in Speaking in Strings, a documentary that traces her rise to fame through interviews, concert footage, and clips from various television appearances. While the quotation is used to describe Salerno-Sonnenberg’s life, I found it doubly meaningful as enduring this film was a trial in itself.

Click here for the full review by Mark A. Nichols.


 
Jun
02
    

MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON

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In 1914 on the eve of World War I, a British explorer named Ernest Shackleton embarked on an expedition to cross Antarctica on foot.  He believed Antarctica the last frontier for exploration, and gathered 28 crewmembers to accompany him on his ship the Endurance.  “I think he considered it the last great Antarctic adventure,” noted his granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton, “to cross the Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea, a distance of about 1800 miles.”  Everyone knew the expedition would be dangerous, perhaps deadly, but no one expected the horrendous journey that followed. Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance recounts the nearly two years of perils experienced by the captain and crew that became heroic, despite that fact that they never came close to reaching their original goal.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
Jun
02
    

Because of the United States’ longstanding embargo against Cuba, Americans often fail to recognize its vast influence upon their culture. Before 1960, Americans frequently traveled 90 miles south of Florida for vacations, just as they visit Jamaica today, where they openly enjoyed Cuban music, cuisine, and its legal gambling. By the turn of the 20th century, Cuban music had also arrived stateside on phonograph records; later, Cuban musicians themselves, like Desi Arnaz, arrived. Latin music would add new textures and rhythms to jazz and introduce a plethora of new dance steps like the tango and the rumba. Roots of Rhythm, narrated by Harry Belafonte, explores the origins of Latin music, its growth within Cuba, and finally, its influence on jazz and popular music in the United States.

Click here to read the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
Jun
02
    

…Even love of country is not deeper than the love we have together…

The first words from Barbara Sonneborn’s Regret to Inform, sung by a Vietnamese war widow, perfectly characterize this 1998 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary. Centered around the filmmaker’s journey to Vietnam twenty years after an enemy mortar killed her husband, Regret to Inform shares the stories of American and Vietnamese women who lost loved ones to the war.

Click here for the full review by Mark A. Nichols.


 
Jun
02
    

Chris Maker has been directing documentaries for over 50 years now, and One Day In The Life Of Andrei Arsenevich is his latest masterwork. The film offers a poetic eulogy to his friend, Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky is internationally known for films such as The Mirror, Solaris, and Stalker, and the viewer meets him in the mid ‘80s as he shoots and edits his last film, The Sacrifice.

As the film begins the viewer meets a dying Tarkovsky, reunited with his family after five years in exile. It appears, at first, that this will be a film about their reunion, but it slowly settles into a mediation on the themes and images of Tarkovsky films. The interlocking of his ideas and obsessions, set beside the stark imagery of his films, slowly reveal the inner core of the artist. Read the rest of this entry »


 
Jun
02
    

“The era was summed up in the comforting slogan so soothingly repeated by the solid majority of Americans, but-and this significant fact is forgotten-heard with teeth-grinding frustration by the rest: ‘I like IKE.'”

- Dan Wakefield

America has always seemed to provide an outlet for the weird, the different, and the malcontented. In a general way, that meant that a dissatisfied city dweller in the 19th century could pack his family up in a wagon and head out West. But it also meant that anyone dissatisfied with the status quo had an outlet to do his or her own thing. When Roger Williams fell out with the Puritans of Massachusetts, Rhode Island was born; when John Humphrey Noyes envisioned every man being married to every woman, the Oneida community was founded; and when Eugene V. Debs viewed the mainstream political parties as unrepresentative, the Socialist Democratic party was formed.

Of course mainstream America didn’t like these non-conformists, and never missed an opportunity to repress, jail, or snuff them out. Nonetheless, the ideas of these small bands of renegades slowly seeped into the culture, leaving their influence on the next decade or generation.

Betsy Blankenbaker’s New York in the Fifties drops in on one feisty group of dissidents who traded the suburbs, big cars, and fast food of middle America for be-bop jazz, free love, and an allegiance to the written word. Based on Dan Wakefield’s book of the same name, the film focuses on the life and times of a number of poets, artists, and musicians caught in a whirlwind of drunkenness, discovery, and radical politics. New York in the Fifties not only captures a unique place and time, but also offers the missing link between the “silent generation” and the counter culture of the sixties.

Wakefield and company were ready to trade in the American Dream for something richer and wilder than business degrees, corporate jobs, and families, and New York promised a taste of the forbidden. Hailing from middle class backgrounds in middle America, Columbia, the beatniks, and the club scene must have seemed like a lethal dose of salvation. Here, one met at the White Horse Tavern, drank too much, and argued about characters in Hemingway and Faulkner books. Here, one could watch Kerouac read at the Vanguard, catch Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot, or sit in on lectures by C. Wright Mills or Mark Van Doren.

One of the fascinating aspects of New York in the Fifties is that Wakefield and his friends formed a clique that existed separately from the beatniks. Indeed, the Columbia crowd didn’t even like the beats. One group valued educational institutions; the other got kicked out of them. One labored over the written word; the other believed the first draft was the best. One found New York a great adventure; the other searched America’s highways for new experiences. “… I resented being labeled because of my age first as ‘silent’ and suddenly as ‘beat,'” wrote Wakeman, “when my own life and work … had little in common with the life or literary style exemplified by what Seymour Krim called Kerouac’s ‘non-stop gush.'”

New York in the Fifties paints a black and white portrait of a rich historical moment that leaves the viewer wistfully thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to travel back to a time that worshipped the written word and cherished be-bop jazz?” But nostalgia is a dangerous drug. It tempts one to juxtapose one’s own era against a golden, and untouchable, era of the past. The 1950s only come out better if one leaves out McCarthy, the birth of the modern conservative movement, the H-bomb, and Pat Boone. Still, it’s fun to take a short respite by watching New York in the Fifties .

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
doanechristine@msn.com


 
Jun
01
    

Over a 14 year period, workers removed a half million tons of stone, digging as deep as a 120 feet, to carve the four presidents on Mount Rushmore.  The scale was, and is, unprecedented.  Washington’s face spans 60 feet, his nose 20 feet, and each eye, 11 feet; Roosevelt’s mustache spreads another 20 feet, while Lincoln’s mole requires a mere 16 inches.  The total cost, most of it footed by the federal government, was only $989,992.32, more than repaid by the 50 million visitors since 1930.

Mount Rushmore tells the story of the project and the man who made it possible.  Ego, drive, and vision marked Gutzon Borglum.  The intemperate artist turned sculptor made his reputation in the early 1900s fashioning pieces like the bust of Abraham Lincoln that Teddy Roosevelt displayed in the White House.  A commission to carve a Confederate memorial at Stone Mountain in Georgia, however, ended in disaster.  Progress on the 1500-foot memorial proved sluggish and money was always in short supply.  When the backers accused Borglum of mismanaging funds, he destroyed the models for the memorial and walked away from the project.  His reputation reached an all-time low.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
Jun
01
    

College sophomores, fundamentalists, and zoologists still enjoy arguing over whether or not humans descended from apes.  Indeed, the teaching of evolution has led millions of god-fearing parents to home-school their children and avoid vacationing in the Galapagos Islands.  To good Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals, the question that loomed large during the Scopes’ trial in 1925 hasn’t changed much.

In July of that year Clarence Darrow, famous defense attorney and avowed agnostic, lined up against William Jennings Bryan, three time presidential candidate and three-time loser.   Newspapermen overran the local hotels while hucksters and ministers sold their wares on the street.   WGN radio broadcast the event live and nationwide, and even the cynic and satirist H.L. Mencken showed up for the greatest show in Dayton, Tennessee.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
Jun
01
    

It’s an American tradition that compels millions of families to gather ‘round the tube and root for their favorite contestant each year.  Families watch as 51 women, one from each state (and Washington D.C.), parade in evening gowns, bathing suits, and participate in a “talent” contest.  Indeed, as some children aspire to be sports and movie stars, this annual event inspires 10,000 young women to enter 1200 state and local beauty pageants each year in the hopes of becoming Miss America.  Like the Super Bowl and the Emmys, the contest has become part of America’s mythological consciousness, a point of pride and societal longing.   

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.