Tag Archive | Documentary

Recommended Viewing: We Are X, The Death and Life of X Japan

We Are X Movie Poster
Above Image Courtesy of We Are X Film Dot Com. All Other Photos By Gail

When the most popular heavy metal band in Japan came to New York in October of 2014 to play a show at Madison Square Garden, they managed to sell out the legendary arena, despite being virtually unknown in America. X (known stateside as X Japan), got their start in the 1980s as a glam metal band, doing their best to shock audiences with their outrageous stage show and equally over-the-top, gender-bending physical appearances that included flamboyant rock fashions, wildly theatrical hairstyles and Kabuki-esque make-up. But what critics who initially dismissed the band as all style and no substance didn’t realize was that these guys could play their asses off, and were selling the type of rebellious image that repressed Japanese audiences couldn’t wait to buy. Now, an award-winning documentary, We Are X,  aims to bring the myth and enigma that is X Japan into your consciousness.

X Japan Concert Ad

Critics say that the mark of a good documentary is when its story is accessible to, and can be fully enjoyed by, audiences who are completely unfamiliar with its subject matter. Using the career-milestone Madison Square Garden concert as a jumping off point, and circling back to that show (which I attended) at the film’s end, Director Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) has succeeded wildly at crafting a career-spanning Rock & Roll fable that will surely hook those who’ve never even heard of X Japan right from its opening credits.

Yoshiki at MSG
Yoshiki on Stage at MSG

Told primarily from the viewpoint of founding member Yoshiki; X Japan’s drummer, composer and charismatic leader, We Are X is both the story of the band’s groundbreaking 30-year career, and also the life story of Yoshiki, who turned to music as a child as a means to cope with the suicide of his father. Forming X as a teenager with school friend Toshi, who became the band’s lead singer, Yoshiki was driven to succeed by existential questions that haunted him from his father’s death; namely “What is my purpose?” and “why am I here?”

Yoshiki and Stephen Kijak
Yoshiki and Stephen Kijak Discuss the Film at a Post-Screening Q&A Here in NYC

Embracing a ‘Do or Die’ sensibility, X Japan became not just an innovative and successful rock band, but a cultural force as powerfully influential as that created by The Beatles decades before them. Not only have they achieved phenomenal record sales and concert attendances, but band members’ personal brands are associated with products as diverse as credit cards, wine, comic book superhero alter egos, and dolls made in their own likenesses. X Japan is also credited with spearheading the uniquely Japanese Visual Kei movement.

X at MSG
X Japan on Stage at MSG

The band’s great successes, however, were tempered with equally great tragedies. As a counterpoint to the celebratory  moments, the film carefully explores the suicides of two seminal band members, Hide (in 1998) and Taiji (in 2011), which shattered the lives of both X Japan’s surviving members, and devastated their fans, one of whom was driven to suicide because of the news. We Are X is a true life Rock & Roll story that really has everything.

Yoshiki and Toshi
Yoshiki and Toshi Rocking It Back in the Day!

Despite the intense personal/personnel drama, career challenges and many heart-rending moments, We Are X is also good fun, and thoroughly entertaining. One of my favorite parts happens towards the film’s end, when Yoshiki and Toshi are reunited in 2007, ten years after the singer abandoned X Japan to join a mind-controlling cult. Yoshiki recalls hanging out at the Palladium in Hollywood, where the friends were approached by two guys looking to buy drugs. One of the men asked the duo if they knew where they could score some X (meaning the psychedelic drug, Ecstasy). Yoshiki, whose grasp of the English language is obviously much  better now than it was back then, laughs when he recalls replying to the guy, with complete sincerity, “We are X!” Hilarious.

We Are X opens in theaters nationwide on Friday October 21st, 2016.

Grade: A+

X at MSG
X Japan On Stage at Madison Square Garden, October 2014


Exclusive Video: Yoshiki of X Japan Plays Swan Lake

Yoshki Plays Swan Lake
Yoshiki at the Crosby Street Hotel in NYC (All Photos and Video By Gail)

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an intimate press screening and party for the upcoming theatrical release of the award-winning documentary, We Are X, which explores the amazing history of Japanese rock band X (known as X Japan in the US), focusing on the group’s charismatic drummer and founder, Yoshiki Hayashi. The documentary is just fantastic, and you can read my review on this site closer to the film’s release date in late October!

Yoshiki was present at the screening, and sat with director Stephen Kijak (Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) for a Q and A about the film before treating press and fans in attendance to a brief piano performance, featuring both original compositions and some of his favorite classical pieces.

In the above video, Yoshiki is concluding one of his own compositions before segueing into a passage from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Please Enjoy!

Yoshki of X Japan

Yoshiki will be playing two nights with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in January 2017. Visit This Link for tickets and more information!

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:


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!