Viewers might think Les Blank's film A Poem is a Naked Person is solely about legendary piano player Leon Russell as he is featured prominently in the title and cover design. But the documentary is more an artifact capturing Oklahoma folk culture in the early 1970s. More specifically, it captures the hot hypnotic mess of hippie blues and booze that orbits Leon Russell, which may have caused Russell and Blank to argue about its release.
Danny Garcia begins following and filming The Clash after their manager, Bernie Rhodes, has lifted the band to the heights of commercial success. Rhodes is ferociously competitive, blinding him to the idea that there is no place for success as he imagines it for The Clash. They’re part of, and play to, an angry underclass. They’re searching for an authentic voice (and find it, early on). But by the 1980's they’ve become stadium rock, their image looks bought not made, Mick Jones quits listening, quits collaborating, and Joe Strummer has a crisis of conscience.
Any film about a musician who tragically dies early is bound to be sad, but nobody’s story is only sad. Filmmaker Asif Kapadia weaves together testimonials and footage, creating a documentary that ultimately supports not only Amy Winehouse’s music but also her unique swagger.
Al Carbee’s entire home and its many ramshackle additions are filled with Barbies situated within dioramas - environments rich with every conceivable option for the doll. Filmmaker Jeremy Workman is responsible for bringing Carbee’s work to our attention. He frames Magical Universe in such a way that the artist’s eccentricities are accentuated for effect rather than in support of his art, yet over time (filming lasted 10 years) their relationship becomes increasingly tender, almost symbiotic.
In Montage of Heck, filmmaker Brett Morgen uses personal sketchbooks and videos of Kurt Cobain's, and combines them with animation that matches Cobain’s own aesthetic. There’s also footage of Nirvana and interviews with family, but what carries the film is the access it gives viewers to Cobain’s tumultuous life and unique genius.
Documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles is known for treating his subjects with distance, allowing them to show themselves in ways that make us forget that they’re being filmed. In Iris, at the age of eighty-eight Maysles films Iris Apfel, herself also at a late age. Candid and at home in front of the camera, she appears to us as if nothing is staged or otherwise manipulated.
In five episodes ("Home," "Plains," "Forest," "Oceans" and "Water") hosted by conservationist Dr. M. Sanjayan, the series covers the interaction between wildlife and humans.
Did Michael Peterson kill his wife Kathleen, or was her death--as he claims--a tragic accident? This is the question addressed by the 2005 documentary The Staircase, directed by Academy Award winning (for his previous documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning) filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean filmmaker known to take viewers on surrealist travels exploring the bizarre and bordering on the absurd (but never the senseless!). A master of late night cult classic art films, here he is at 84, energetic, articulate, full of passion and wonderment for life and for art.
Zachary Heinzerling’s debut documentary about Japanese artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara is a film that astonishes viewers not because Ushio and Noriko are wonderful artists—and they are—so much as because they’ve managed to stay married to one another. Forty years ago, a beautiful young woman came to America to study art and met Ushio, a hell-raising iconoclast who gained a bit of fame as a performance artist. Noriko fell in love.