Tag Archive | Documentary

Recommended Viewing: Author: The JT LeRoy Story

JT Leroy Story Movie Poster
All Images Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

If you enjoy the slow reveal of a real-life mystery that unfolds with greater intrigue and a higher ‘WTF’ factor than the most oblique, multi-layered David Fincher script, then Author: The JT LeRoy Story is your wet dream of a documentary film. Author is the true story of wunderkind picaresque novelist JT LeRoy and the elaborate machinations behind the facade that disguised the Literary Hoax of the Century. Because, despite being one of the most popular and critically lauded writers of an entire decade (1996 to 2006), JT LeRoy never existed: he was merely an elaborate persona created by author Laura Albert  to take credit for stories she wrote from the perspective of an emotionally and psychologically traumatize teenage boy. When the JT LeRoy books reached a level of mega-success that required LeRoy to do press and make personal appearances, Albert got to work on fabricating one of the most brilliant and convoluted schemes ever conceived in the mind of someone who was hiding behind a pretty hefty stack of neuroses.

JT and Laura
Savannah Knoop as JT LeRoy, with Laura Albert as Speedy

Backed into a corner, Albert, with assistance from her husband Greg Knoop and sister-in-law Savannah Knoop, created a physical world that JT LeRoy could move around in, with Savannah portraying JT in public (Albert had already been impersonating him on the phone for years)  and Greg playing the part of JT’s lover/roommate, Asher. Albert took on the role of JT’s handler/sidekick, the British-accented ‘Speedy‘ (Albert is American). Together, the trio fooled everyone.

JT and Bono
JT and Bono

What makes Author: The JT LeRoy story such a complete success is that you don’t need to know anything about the backstory coming into it, to become thoroughly transported into the world of Laura Albert’s dual realities, and to stay engaged and outraged as those world’s fall apart over the course of two hours.  This film is just amazing on so many levels. There’s no doubt that Albert is, well, crazy; but that doesn’t make her any less of a creative genius. The lengths that Albert and her family went to to keep the JT LeRoy ruse alive, and the degree to which dozens — if not hundreds — of huge celebrities were either authentically duped, or, like Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan, were just playing along is nothing short of mind blowing.

JT Michael Pitt Gus Van Sant
Actor Michael Pitt, JT and Film Director Gus Van Sant

Currently, Author: The JT LeRoy Story is tied with Wiener as the best documentary I’ve seen so far this year.

The Worley Gig Gives Author: The JT LeRoy Story Five out of Five Stars!

Author: The JT LeRoy Story Hits Theaters on September 9th, 2016 and will be Showing in NYC at both the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Theatre. Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, the Film has a Running Time of 110 Minutes. Watch the Trailer Below!

DVD Review: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, a Documentary About The Damned

The Damned Documentary

Coming of age in the late 1970s, I was in the right place at the right time to enjoy the character-shaping birth of British Punk Rock,  as well as having a ground zero experience of the Southern California Punk Rock movement, which was equally legendary. It was a great time to be a teenage music lover! It was also a blessing that driving up to LA to see a punk band was not always necessary, because Orange County had its own live music venue that booked both US and UK-based acts; a dive-y little joint, hidden away in an industrial neighborhood of Costa Mesa, which was called The Cuckoo’s Nest. It was at The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1979 that I first saw The Damned live, on tour in support of what is arguably still their best and most popular album, Machine Gun Etiquette. Lyrics from that album’s eponymous track now lend themselves to the title of a fantastic documentary on The Damned, Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, which  has just become available on home video. I am overjoyed to report that this film is a must-see for all Damned fans, old-school punks, rock music historians and anyone who was a punk back when the guys in Sum 41 were still toddlers.

Directed, written and produced by Wes Orshoski (Lemmy) over a three-year period, with a limited theatrical release in 2015, Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead gets absolutely everything right as it brings to life the rich history and continuing artistic impact of The Damned; a group comprised of four distinct characters who beat both the Sex Pistols and The Clash to the punch by releasing the first punk single (“New Rose”), recording the first punk album (Damned Damned Damned) and being the first of their ilk to tour the United States. But as is the case with so many pioneers, those who blaze trails often do not get to reap the financial rewards of their considerable efforts, as do those who follow in their wake. This was the case with The Damned, because while they were out doing everything first, other punk bands were building an enigmatic reputation and getting hyped up-the-ass by Svengali managers (Sex Pistols), and scoring high-paying record deals (The Clash). It is sad, because it’s true.

The Damned 1977
The Damned: Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, Brian James Circa 1977

Considered by their peers to have included the best musicians of any punk band, The Damned’s music still sounds as exciting and, to my ears, somewhat mind-blowing, today as it did when their debut album was freshly released, nearly 40 years ago. Orshoski uses archival footage of the band playing live, from their earliest shows up to the present, mixed with dozens of interviews and candid clips, to tell the story of a band who got in on the ground floor of a sociopolitical movement-turned pivotal music genre and rode a wave through countless creative reinventions and line up changes, and still have all four original members alive and well. Even Captain Sensible (real name: Ray Burns) admits “One of us should be dead.” How did it all go down? Watch and find out.

Orshoski is exhaustive in his research and coverage of  both the personal and professional history of key band members, and this makes for one of the most complete and engaging profiles of any band ever committed to film. Founding members Brian James, who was only in The Damned for one year and one album, and Rat Scabies (real name: Chris Millar), whose questionable business practices have caused great animosity and irreparable loss of professional trust between him and Captain Sensible, show up over and over again for lengthy interviews throughout the film. It should please diehard fans that Orshoski focuses mostly on the original line up, although when it comes to getting the full warts-and-all story of what went on in every incarnation of The Damned, no stone is left unturned. The result is a film which is both heartbreaking and hilarious, and endlessly entertaining.

If you’ve ever wondered “Where Are The Now?” about literally (almost) anyone who was ever in the band — and remember that The Damned has enjoyed a very fluid line up over its decades-long existence — this is the place to find out. Once Brian James left the band (before their second album — produced by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd — was recorded), and Captain Sensible took over as lead guitarist, The Damned went through bassists like Spinal Tap went through drummers. Many of those guys are interviewed for, and add great color to, Don’t You Wish…, including the late, great Lemmy Kilmister, who filled in on bass before Algy Ward joined for the recording of Machine Gun Etiquette. Other notable former members include future Culture Club drummer John Moss, who replaced Rat Scabies before the band broke up, and then reformed, in 1978.  Talk about a rich history of storied personnel! The only glaring omission is the absence of any visual presence (save for one photograph, which is on screen for a split second) or any reference at all to Patricia Morrison (ex Bags, Gun Club, and Sisters of Mercy) who joined on bass, and married Dave Vanian in 1996, remaining until she gave birth to the couple’s daughter in 2004. I can only guess that she specifically declined to participate in filming and asked that Orshoski respect her privacy by not including her at all in the project. That’s a shame.

Also being very generous with their on-screen contributions of memories and anecdotes are some of The Damned’s punk contemporaries, including Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones of The Clash, Steve Diggle of The Buzzcocks (who still perform with 2 original members), and Billy Idol (who, as the lead vocalist for Generation X, was considered to be a complete poseur by Rat Scabies). Super fans who went on to have considerable careers themselves also offer enthusiastic praise for the band’s music and influence, including Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, who admits he ripped off his on stage persona and vocal style from Dave Vanian, Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Dexter Holland (The Offspring), Keith Morris  (Black Flag, Circle Jerks), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal) and comedian/musician Fred Armisan.  It is such a blast to wax nostalgic with all of these guys while enjoying The Damned’s fantastic music, which absolutely refuses to date. High-fives all around on this one.

Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead is now available on DVD and Blu-ray at Amazon Dot Com and elsewhere.

Grade: A+

Morrison Hotel Gallery Presents: D.A. Pennebaker – Bob Dylan Don’t Look Back

Don't Look Back Poster
All Event Photos By Gail

In 1965, Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker released his enduring documentary, Don’t Look Back, which follows a young Bob Dylan emerging into worldwide prominence as the singer/songwriter of his generation. Maybe you weren’t born yet, but I was. In celebration of the 50-year anniversary of this now-legendary film – one which brings together an already iconic artist and a filmmaker who was in the process of revolutionizing the documentary, Morrison Hotel Gallery is currently hosting Don’t Look Back, a collection of photos taken of Dylan by Pennebaker during filming.

Bob Dylan

The show is thoughtfully curated and produced by industry vet Joseph Baldassare – in conjunction with MHG – and has the distinction of being the first gallery exhibit of Pennebaker’s work.

Dylan with Lyric Cards

The show features original movie posters and 18 choice image stills from the film, printed from the enhanced negative. Pennebaker, now 90 years of age, was at the opening reception and he looked great. To this day, he remains a vital cultural force. He recently screened his newest documentary, Unlocking The Cage, at The Sundance Film Festival, which will air on HBO later this year

Dylan with Donovan
Bob Dylan with Singer/Songwriter Donovan

Dylan Limo

Pennebaker and Gang
Pennebaker (Far Left) with Gallery Owners Peter Blachley (to his Right) and Henry Diltz (Center) and Fans

Says Baldassare about the show, “This exhibition at Morrison Hotel Gallery is a celebration of the artistry of both D.A Pennebaker and Bob Dylan – two pioneers that have shaped the way we see, hear and think.”

D.A. Pennebaker’s Photos from Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back, will be on Exhibit Through June 14th, 2016 at Morrison Hotel Gallery, Located at 116 Prince Street in SoHo, NYC.

Bob Dylan Exhibit Signage

Movie Review: Weiner, A Documentary That Fully Satisfies

Weiner Movie Poster

Anyone living in (or anywhere near) NYC during the city’s 2013 Mayoral campaign should be familiar with Anthony Weiner; the former US Congressman who became a walking punch line in 2011, when a sexting scandal (Weiner sent pictures of his junk to several female followers on Twitter) forced him to resign his position. Weiner’s inability to keep it in his pants was not only personally humiliating for the married congressman, but ultimately a huge loss for the citizens he represented, as Weiner had been a passionate advocate for the people during his tenure in Congress; particularly with regard to supporting civil rights for an array of minority groups, and pleading the case for healthcare for 9/11 first responders. That he had no one but himself to blame for his situation made Weiner’s resignation a shame on all fronts.

Weiner Post Cover

But America loves a good comeback story, and when Anthony Weiner staged a high profile race to win the 2013 Democratic nomination for NYC Mayor, two filmmakers, Josh Kreigman and Elyse Steinberg signed on to document the campaign from the inside. It wasn’t long, unfortunately, before his past returned to haunt him, as new sexually explicit texts sent by Weiner to women he had met online come to light. But instead of shutting down the film, Weiner encouraged Kriegman and Steinberg to keep the cameras rolling, as he forged ahead with his campaign. The result of those efforts is Wiener, a new documentary film which is so wildly engaging and surprisingly hilarious, it must be seen to be believed

When the 2013 scandal made the news, it gave me a very negative opinion of Anthony Wiener — and I was most definitely mortified for his wife,  Huma Abedin, who is also in the political arena as close advisor to Hilary Clinton. But the truth is didn’t know anything about all the good Weiner had done while in Congress until I started watching this movie. And no one was more surprised than me when, ten minutes into it I thought to myself, you know what, Anthony Weiner is adorable. As a down-to-earth politician, he comes off as genuinely charming, sincere and intelligent, with an unbelievably quick wit. He’s also a badass force to be reckoned with when it comes to facing his adversaries. Some of Weiner’s most entertaining moments occur when he gets into verbal sparing matches with those who would take him down. It is easy to understand his popularity, and why women threw themselves at him.

Weiner for Mayor
Anthony Weiner and Wife Huma Abedin in a Scene from Weiner

Wiener is consistently fascinating as it reveals the disgraced politician’s effort to come clean and spin the controversy, steadfastly refusing to quit his campaign and drop out of a race he feels he can still win, while doing damage-control on his home life with Huma and their baby son. Abedin is all over this movie, and her ability to present a united front with her husband while maintaining grace under fire, and never denying his misdeeds, is admirable and to be respected. Huma Abedin is a class act, for sure.

No one is denying that Anthony Wiener made some really bad decisions, and paid for them dearly with loss of his career and a blow to his marriage. But the film makes no judgments; it just shows you what happened, and lets you make the call. Personally, I’d like to see him try for another comeback. If he got therapy for his lack of impulse control, and remained scandal free through another campaign for office, I’d vote for him.

Weiner, which won the Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, is one of the most riveting documentaries I have ever seen, and I enthusiastically recommend it. The film opens theatrically on Friday, May 20th, 2016, and will be showing here in New York City at the IFC Center.

The Worley Gig Gives Weiner Five out of Five Stars. Watch the Trailer Below:

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Chet Zar Documentry, I Like to Paint Monsters, to Be Released on March 8th, 2016!

Chet Zar ILTPM

Do you like Monsters? I sure do. But you know who really loves Monsters? Artist Chet Zar; Chet Zar loves Monsters. But more specifically, he loves to paint Monsters.

After a four-year intensive labor of love, Director Mike Correll is ready to release Chet Zar: I Like to Paint Monsters; the definitive documentary on this compelling artist. The DVD now has an official street date of March 8, 2016, with iTunes rental date still to be announced.

Here is a peak inside what this exciting film has in store:

Enter the dark and foreboding world of Chet Zar, where apocalyptic industrial landscapes are inhabited by disturbing yet beautiful monstrosities. Sometimes gruesome, periodically funny, but always thought-provoking, Zar’s art is as enigmatic as it is frightening. But who is Chet Zar, and why does he like to paint monsters? These are the questions at the heart of this new documentary.

Chet Zar is an influential figure in the Dark Art Movement, and, given his chosen moniker “Painter of Dark,” this is no surprise. Born in 1967 in San Pedro, California, Zar was well known as the family prankster. With a passion for horror films, an innate urge to create bizarre artwork, and a superhuman work ethic, Zar seemed to be made for the special effects industry. During his time with the film industry, he designed and created creatures and makeup effects for such films as Darkman, The Ring, Hellboy and Hellboy II, and Planet of the Apes.

Even more well-known is his work with the band Tool, contributing to both their music videos and their on-stage theatrical animations. Despite his success in the film industry, Zar became disenchanted by the artistic compromises required of him. In early 2000, with the support of his family and horror author Clive Barker, Zar decided to enter the business of fine art, and pursue his passion for monsters by painting them.

Chet Zar: I Like to Paint Monsters offers an opportunity to take a journey into the mind and life of Chet Zar. Become acquainted with his thoughts, motivations, and reflections of the past as well as his projections of the future. Delve into his experiences in the film industry, his transition from early special effects into the world of computer animation, and, ultimately, his evolution into the distinctive artist he is today.

In addition to the eighty minute feature documentary, Correll and Zar have worked hand in hand with First Run Features to include much more, such as: Extended Interrogations, Chopping Block: Deleted Scenes, Rogue’s Gallery: The Art of Chet Zar, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Time-Lapses: The Creation of Six Chet Zar Paintings, and the Official Trailer — for 120 minutes total runtime! The documentary is in english, but is open to all regions, so it can be enjoyed worldwide. You can preorder your copy of Chet Zar: I Like to Paint Monsters for just $24.95 at Amazon.com!

Laura Poitras, Astro Noise at The Whitney Museum

Exhibit Signage
ANARCHIST: Israeli Drone Video Signal, 2016, by Laura Poitras (All Photos By Gail)

Laura Poitras wants you to know that you are under surveillance at all times. At all times. The artist, journalist and documentary filmmaker, who won the 2015 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award for Citizenfour, the story of Edward Snowden and the NSA Spying Scandal, has her first solo museum show opening at the Whitney Museum on Friday, February 5th, and it is an immersive, installation-based exhibit unlike anything I’ve seen previously. The show’s title, Astro Noise, refers to the faint background disturbance of thermal radiation left over from the Big Bang, which is also the name that Edward Snowden gave to an encrypted file containing evidence of mass surveillance by the NSA that he shared with Poitras in 2013.

Anarchist Series Drone and Satellite Surveillance
Selections from the ANARCHIST Series of Drone and Satellite Surveillance Images (Pigmented Inkjet Prints Mounted on Aluminum)

As you move from one gallery to the next, Astro Noise  may elicit reactions that vary between enlightening, sobering and extremely personally horrifying, but I doubt you will leave it feeling unchanged. Her work starkly documents the complex realities of the post-9/11 world, focusing on US polices concerning indefinite detention, pre-emptive war, targeted killing, torture and mass surveillance. The “War on Terror” as these strategies are collectively known, is obscured from many Americans’ daily lives, but Poitras has worked to document its complexities, primarily through her celebrated 9/11 Trilogy of feature-length documentary films.

Yankees World Series Surveillance Woman
Photo Still from O’Say Can You See

The first darkened gallery off the exhibit’s entryway features O’Say Can You See, a double video projection on a two-sided screen. The first side presents a visually seductive short film depicting slow-motion shots of people gazing at the unseen remains of the World Trade Center in the days following the 9/11 attacks.

Yankees World Series Surveillance Man
Photo Still from O’Say Can You See

Detainee Video
Photo Still from O’Say Can You See

In the same gallery, the backside of that screen shows grainy U.S. Military footage of the interrogation of two prisoners in Afghanistan, taking place during the same post-9/11 time period. This footage was so disturbing, I had to leave the room after a few minutes.

Bed Down Location Still
Photo Still from Bed Down Location

The next gallery features an immersive video installation called Bed Down Location, where the visitor can lay back on a carpeted platform (very comfy!) and gaze up at a ceiling projection of the skies where drone wars are conducted. The title of the work refers to the military term denoting where a targeted person sleeps, which is fucked up! If the exhibit is crowded when you visit, it will be worth your time to wait until a space on the platform opens up, so you can flat-back it for the 15 minutes or so that the video plays, because it is pretty crazy. I took a video, but it did not come out.

Disposition Matrix Corridor
Disposition Matrix

From Bed Down Location you will enter the L-shaped corridor of Disposition Matrix. The walls of the corridor are lined with window-like slits, each of which you can peer into to see that it contains a video or classified document. See examples below.

Memo from George Tenet

2002 Memorandum from George Tenet, then Director of the CIA, on increasing the agency’s cooperation and information sharing with the NSA.

Intercepted Signals

Animated Close Ups of Intercepted Signals Collected Through ANARCHIST, a classified program run by UK Intelligence.

Shaping Line Drawing

Line drawing by an NSA employee explaining an Internet surveillance method called “Shaping.”

Infrared Footage of AT&T Building

Infrared Footage of AT&T Building, Downtown NYC.

There was a lot worse stuff than the above, some of which I could not even look at.

Last Seen 2016

Exit the Disposition Matrix and get a face-full of Last Seen, a live-feed infrared video of everyone currently in the Bed Down Location gallery. SURPRISE!

November 20 2004
November 20, 2004 (2016); Black and White Transparencies in Light Boxes, accompanied by Digital Color Video, and Sound Narration

In 2006, Poitras was placed on a secret Government Watch List; consequently, while traveling she has been detained and interrogated more than fifty times. In the installation entitled November 20, 2004, Poitras retraces the events that lead to her being placed on that list, evoking the hidden surveillance she has experienced.

November 20 2004 Video
November 20, 2004 Video

Laura Poitras at Whitney

Laura Poitras addressed the press at the the exhibit preview held on February 3rd. She seems really cool, and I have deep respect for her work.

Laura Poitras’ Astro Noise Will be on Exhibit From February 5th Through May 1st, 2016 at The Whitney Museum of American Art, Located at 99 Gansevoort Street in NYC. This Exhibit is Not Appropriate for Children Under 15.

Astro Noise Postcard

Astro Noise Souvenir Postcard Available in the Gift Shop!

Movie Review: Stink!

Stink Animated Movie Poster

The plots of many horror films, both modern and classic, often center on the tragic fate of individuals who take an interest in suspicious matters where their attention is neither wanted nor welcome. And while things rarely, if ever, work out well for the protagonists of those films, a provocative new documentary entitled Stink! aims to benefit, potentially, every consumer on the planet by revealing hidden truths about carcinogenic chemical ingredients contained in an innumerable list of products that we all eat, wear and put on our bodies every day. The cosmetic industry, the film points out, is especially lacking in federal regulation. It isn’t at all unlikely that the Chanel No 5 cologne that you spray on your body contains some of the same ingredients as your toilet bowl cleaner. Are you horrified? You will be by the time you’re about 20 minutes into Stink!

It’s been said that it’s not about what you know or what you don’t know: it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that can hurt you. That’s what Stink! is all about. Created and directed by Jon Whelan, Stink! is one man’s quest for transparency that was prompted when Whelan noticed an overwhelmingly foul chemical smell coming from Pajamas he’d purchased as Christmas gifts for his two young daughters. Whelan was left as a single father after his wife, Heather, succumbed to breast cancer in January of 2009. A beautiful and vibrant woman, Heather Whelan makes significant posthumous appearances throughout the documentary as Jon pays tribute to her inspirational life and vows to protect their children from the the toxic chemical product additives that she, in life, was so vigilantly wary of.

While consumer product package labeling is more and more widely available, what most of us are clueless about is the fact that toxins can very easily hidden in the guise of being labeled as “fragrance,” and there are no laws that compel companies to divulge the fact that they are using toxic chemicals in their products. Yes, putting poisons in consumer products is completely legal and, in fact, it is a widespread, cost-cutting practice that’s protected by lobbyists who are hired to fight for a company’s bottom line in order to pad their own pockets. It’s disgusting. The level of bureaucratic bullshit — much of which is starkly revealed over Stink!‘s 91-minute run time, is both staggering and infuriating.

Engaging, enlightening, and scary as hell, Stink! takes you on a three-year journey from the retailer to the laboratory, through corporate boardrooms, down back alleys, and into the halls of Congress. In Stink!, the viewer follows Whelan on his dogged search for anyone willing to be accountable as he clashes with political and corporate operatives all trying to protect the darkest secrets of the chemical industry.

Troubling facts revealed by Whelan in the film include:
1. Almost 1,500 chemical ingredients are currently banned in the European Union. Only 11 of those ingredients are banned in the United States.
2. Formaldehyde, Propylparaben, Lead Acetate and other dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals are often found in cosmetic products on shelves in US retailers.
3. The FDA has virtually no authority to test cosmetics and other consumer products for unsafe levels of harmful chemicals.

Yes, even the FDA can’t save you! This film is wildly eye opening and will surely prompt you to ask the question “Is this safe to use?” about virtually every item in your home, and rightly so. As Whelen says in the trailer (below) “It’s my story, but it could be yours.” If that doesn’t scare you, trust me; it should.

The Worley Gig Gives Stink! Five out of Five Stars.

Stink! Opens in New York on Black Friday (November 27th) at Cinema Village on Second Avenue and 12th Street, and in Los Angeles on December 4th, 2015, Before Expanding to Additional Markets. Watch the Trailer Below.