A Brief History of Time (1991)- Errol Morris

 ★★★★

 

Stephen Hawking is more than a brilliant man. He is inspirational, determined, unparalleled, and then after all of that, he is also one of the most intelligent people of his (or any) generation. Errol Morris’s documentary “A Brief History of Time” (1991) is not really about “time” at all, at least not in the way one might imagine. It is a documentary about the extraordinary life of Hawking, and about his time spent here in our solar system. A Brief History of Time (1991)Yes, he is a theoretical physicist, famed author, and cosmologist that has paved the way in his field over the last 60 years, but he also has achieved a level of significance for continuing to live and thrive despite having a motor neuron disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

As a documentarian, Errol Morris is a legend. From his earlier films such as “Gates of Heaven” (1978) and “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), all the way through his Academy Award winning film “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (2003), you can always be sure that experiencing one of his films will be both entertaining and educational. “A Brief History of Time”, quite simply, is sensational. The only downside is that it is in fact so brief. With a running time of 80 minutes, it is hard to delve into either Stephen Hawking, or into his ideas and theories. A Brief History of Time (1991)It actually feels more like part one in a series, rather than the entire production. In addition to the interviews with those who have worked and lived with him, “A Brief History of Time” is graced with a rich and soothing score from Philip Glass that could just as easily serve as the score to a documentary into space exploration.

Nevertheless, this 80 minute, insightful glimpse into Hawking and his life is captivating to experience. Interesting is too small of a word. Exhilarating is perhaps more accurate. When going into the movie it is easy to have some ideas about what Hawking might say, but his open-minded philosophy is both surprising and welcomed. “A Brief History of Time” is the kind of film that stays with you. Witnessing Hawking and sharing in just a few of his thoughts will remain in your mind, giving you something to think about for days- even if you aren’t sure you always understood what he was talking about.

Pina (2011)- Wim Wenders

★★★★

 

“dance, dance, otherwise we are lost”

 

I know nothing about contemporary dance. I just want to clear that up right from the start on this one. I do, however, claim to be a lover andPina (2011) admirer of ALL kinds of films, and therefore, I would be remiss to avoid any film simply because its subject matter didn’t appeal to me. “Pina” (2011) is a documentary film about famed contemporary dance choreographer, Pina Bausch. Film director, and long time friend of Bausch, Wim Wenders had always talked about collaborating with her on a project. Just days before they began filming in June of 2009, Bausch died of cancer. At first the project was set aside, but after some time Bausch’s company of dancers and Wim Wenders Pina (2011)decided to make the film as a tribute to her and her life’s work.

The film itself was made in 3D, and I am sorry that I didn’t get to see it that way. Luckily, this release from The Criterion Collection includes a 3D disc for those with the capabilities to enjoy this film the way Wim Wenders intended. Without 3D it is still an amazing sight to behold. Like I said before, I know nothing about contemporary dance, but what I did learn while watching “Pina” is that even if this isn’t your idea of entertainment, by giving this extremely personal film a chance you a sure to find something interesting, redeeming and in the end, quite thought provoking.

The film is broken up into different sections, each highlighting a performance of one of Pina Bausch’s more famous pieces. Where not all of Pina (2011)these segments will necessarily appeal to everyone (including myself), by having such a wide selection to see, it is easy to find something interesting, and even moving for everyone. In between each performance, different members of Pina’s troupe talk briefly about their experiences working with her throughout their lives. It is these short segments that make up the most personal part of the film. All of the dancers are used to expressing themselves through their art, and I assume that it must have been more difficult for them on a personal level to sit down and share their thoughts through words.

Now the real reason I was intrigued by this film was because Wim Wenders has always fascinated me with his extremely moving and insightful films in the past. He not only has Pina (2011)made insightful documentaries such as “The Buena Vista Social Club” (1999) and “Tokyo-Ga” (1985), but he has also made some extremely stirring and down right breathtaking feature films like “Paris, Texas” (1984), “Wings of Desire” (1987) and “Land of Plenty” (2004). His unique approach to storytelling is unparalleled today, and he has become one of just a handful of directors who consistently leaves his audience in a semi-catatonic state of mind-numbing thought provocation.

I don’t know how these dance sequences were performed in the past, but in the film some of the dances take place in the Tanztheater Wuppertal, where Pina Bausch worked throughout her career, and other sequences were done on location in the city of Wuppertal, Germany. The location shooting in this film is extraordinary and I would guess that the Pina (2011)same excitement and beauty would be more difficult to achieve if I was watching these same dancers live in their normal performing environment.

“Pina” was a much more intense film than I was expecting. Wenders has taken this opportunity to examine and share the art of his friend with those of us who rarely go out to see contemporary dance. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and it is easy to see why. It is a miraculous cinematic achievement, and something that I am glad I took the time to experience.

Side by Side (2012)

 ★★★

 

The debate between the use of digital film and photochemical film is just beginning. The documentary, “Side by Side” (2012) was madeSide by Side (2012) with the simple idea of educating today’s movie loving audience on the history and differences between these two very different ways to make a film come to life. Directed by Christopher Kenneally, “Side by Side” is an in-depth look into the reasons that some of today’s top directors have already made the switch to digital filming, as well as why others believe that photochemical film is the only “true” way to create a movie.

This documentary is hosted by Keanu Reeves, as he interviews some of the leading innovators in the field of digital filmmaking. He also talks with many big name directors who have quickly adapted themselves and their craft, believing that digital is no longer our future Side by Side (2012)but our present. These directors include George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, David Fincher, Danny Boyle, Robert Rodriguez, the Wachowskis and David Lynch.

The one aspect in which “Side by Side” is lacking is in defense of photochemical filmmaking. Very few of those interviewed in this movie are still faithful to the photochemical process, and those who do prefer that method seem almost villainized for being short-sided or stubborn. Of course, maybe there aren’t that many people refusing to adopt the “new” way of doing things. There are also some brief discussions withSide by Side (2012) cinematographers who seem to be just as affected as the directors in this change, but even they don’t get the opportunity to voice their concerns about the digital future on a substantial level.

Anyone who considers themselves a fanatic about movies and the way they are made should find this documentary enlightening, even if just for the history lesson on both processes. “Side by Side” is extremely educational, but with a running time of 98 minutes, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re just getting the tip of the iceberg on a subject that has already become important.

Ingmar Bergman on Bergman Island: A Birthday Celebration

★★★

 

Ingmar Bergman was born on July 14, 1918.  In the next 89 years he made many highly regarded movies, and is often cited as being one of the greatest film directors that has ever lived. Not everyone thinks he is great, but most true movie lovers that I’ve talk to can appreciate him in some fashion. Many of today’s greatest directors consider his movies to be among the biggest influences in their careers.

Eight months ago I had never seen any of Ingmar Bergman’s movies. I have absolutely no excuse for this, but for one reason or another I had missed all of them. I began by watching Wild Strawberries (1957), and I was speechless when it was over. It was breathtaking in every way imaginable. I quickly moved on and started watching some of his easier to find movies like Cries And Whispers (1972), The Seventh Seal (1957), and The Magician (1958). It was then that I realized I Bergman Islandwas actually watching a large piece of cinematic history pass before my eyes.

I decided to slow tings down a bit and enjoy his movies, rather than just trying to watch as many of them as I could. Since that point, I have seen a few more Bergman movies, including my favorite one thus far, Smiles Of A Summer Night (1955). I will continue to watch as many Bergman movies as I can get my hand on, but I have now seen everything that my local library carries. Perhaps it’s time to venture to some other libraries.

For Bergman’s birthday I was going to watch one of his movies and discuss it, but instead I found a documentary that Marie Nyrerod made in 2003, titled Bergman Island. It was an intimate journey into the thoughts of a great filmmaker, and allowed him to reflect on his life as well as his movies. He spoke candidly about his turbulent childhood, and even had memories of his first cinematograph and the exact way in which it was acquired.

He also spoke of his five wives, his nine children, and his failures as both husband and father. Then Bergman went on to Bergman Islanddiscuss many of what he considered to be his best directorial work, both on the screen as well as the stage.

Overall, it was an insightful look into his life and the demons that he lived with on a daily basis.

Bergman Island was a well-constructed documentary that was much more personal than I had expected. When discussing a director as popular as Ingmar Bergman I expected it to cover the high points of his life, in order to reveal his greatness. Instead it was more of an “anything goes” kind of interview, where everyone could be honest about the events in his life.

However you feel about Bergman as a filmmaker, there is no mistaking his impact on the cinematic world. I certainly have enjoyed watching his movies, and hope that other movie lovers will continue to give his movies a try in the future.

George Harrison Living In A Material World

★★★

 

I think everyone in the world knows who the Beatles are, but how much does the average person know about each one of the Beatles individually? I heard that Martin Scorsese was making a documentary about George Harrison and I wondered why he would invest so much of his (extremely valuable) time on a person that the world already knows so much about. What Martin Scorsese showed me, is that I knew nothing about George Harrison.

This documentary, George Harrison Living In The Material World, was an in depth look from his childhood all the way through his death in 2001. It briefly covers his young childhood, but then quickly gets to the “Beatles years”. There are lots of videos and interviews with The Beatles, including some studio sessions where it is interesting to watch the dynamics of the group.

The majority of the documentary takes place in the post Beatle era and features interviews with family and friends, including Eric Clapton, Phil Spector, Terry Gilliam, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr. I never saw so many sitars in one movie!

George HarrisonMartin Scorsese has collected more footage of George Harrison’s life than I knew even existed. It was quite in-depth and immensely entertaining to watch. All though I have always enjoyed the Beatles and their music, I never understood the impact that George had on the group, as well as other musicians around the world. His life is beautifully captured in this two part documentary that is listed at 227 Minutes, although it didn’t feel that long.

The only thing that I felt was missing from this documentary was some performances. There certainly were bits and pieces of different performances, but there were no full song performances. I suppose he could have included songs, but then it would have run four or five hours, so I guess I really don’t have any reason to complain.

If you are interested in learning more about George Harrison’s life then I would suggest checking this documentary out.