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It's the Anvil gambit: Take a band 25 years or so past its heyday but still bent on living the dream and stick them in a documentary that starkly illustrates the gulf between their onetime potential (Anvil, of course, being heavy metal's ultimate also-rans) and the vastly diminished circumstances of the present. In other words, make a nonfiction This is Spinal Tap.
Everyday Sunshine gives the treatment to Fishbone, ska/punk/soul/metal mavericks with roots in the L.A. hardcore scene and a silo's worth of documentary fodder amassed over the band's three-decade history. It's not an especially great documentary, but its directors could hardly go too wrong by choosing such a flamboyant subject. Singer/sax player/theraminist Angelo Moore is an engaging lunatic who dresses to the nines just to check the mailbox.
Critics adored Fishbone but mainstream success eluded them, and with each successive album released they seemed less certain of who their audience was. It's significant that guitarist Vernon Reid is among those interviewed here (along with, um, Tim Robbins and the ubiquitous Flea). Like Fishbone, Reid's group Living Colour was an all-black rock band somewhat vexed over its inability to reach a black audience.
What documentaries like this always add to a band saga is the meta-ish promise of redemption, restored success and bigger audiences in the future. If The Story of Anvil and This Is Spinal Tap are anything to go by, moving to Japan might not be a bad move. (AS)
Showing: Wilma Theatre, Friday Feb. 11, at 10:15 p.m.
I once read about a boarding school in Austria that doubles as a national ski academy of sorts, where alpine prodigies as young as 7 or 8 go to hone their craft in hopes of one day representing their country in its most popular sport. In Los Angeles, a new school has a similar goal, except the sport is skateboarding.
Students at the Venice Boarding School are required to skateboard, and Lines, the 27-minute documentary by Joselito Seldera about the school, introduces us to some of the students who hope to one day become professional boarders.
Unfortunately, the film fails to capture the character of the school or its students. It's a clunky documentary that desperately needs a narrator to move the story along. Instead, we are left clueless about the history and background of the school's formation and unattached to any of the students when it comes time for the climatic competition.
There's a lot of footage of the students doing what skateboarders do at the school's on-site skate park, but almost nothing about the academics. We get quick glimpses into the lives of a few of the teenagers, but overall Lines feels like a clumsy and hastily edited infomercial for the school. (DL)
Showing: Former Pipestone Mountaineering location, Friday, Feb. 18, 7 p.m.
And Everything Is Going Fine
Steven Soderbergh's delicately crafted documentary sets out to provide Spalding Gray's final monologue—a daunting task considering Gray's body was pulled from New York's East River in 2004 after an apparent suicide, and that Gray made a career of being an exceptional and singular storyteller. A native New Englander with a noticeable accent, Gray was known for riffing on intimate details of his own life that were both laugh-out-loud funny and darkly tragic. He often performed while sitting at a wooden desk with only a glass of water, a microphone and a notebook. His shows exposed both the writer and the man, with very little distraction.
Soderbergh doesn't mess with the formula. By editing together staged monologues, one-on-one interviews and home movies, the director manages to seamlessly present Gray on Gray as if Gray had written it all out himself; almost no one else speaks in the film. It's a remarkable accomplishment by Soderbergh.
More remarkable: The viewer is given a glimpse of not only Gray's gifts as a storyteller, but also the ever-present issues that would ultimately lead to his death. By talking constantly about his life, and making some sort of sense of it for the benefit of the audience, viewers learn that Gray's mother went crazy and committed suicide. Gray himself battled clinical depression. He talked a lot about mortality.
"Everyone knows they're going to die, but no one really believes it," he says at one point.
You get the sense Gray did, and it's part of what made him—and makes this film—so powerful. (SB)
Showing: Wilma Theatre, Thursday, Feb. 17, at 9:45 p.m.
Sayed Kashua: Forever Scared
Sayed Kashua is an Arab writer and journalist who lives in Israel and writes in Hebrew, and his day-to-day life reflects the paradox and controversy that he has in some ways encouraged. To say he's a conduit for criticism from both sides is putting it lightly. "The Arabs think I suck up to the Jews, and the Jews think I'm anti-Zionist," he says early on in this 54-minute documentary by Dorit Zimbalist.
Zimbalist filmed Kashua over a period of seven years last decade, capturing Kashua as he deals with discrimination, works on his new book and speaks to both Jewish and Arab audiences. There are a few too many mundane scenes that slow down the film's pace, but overall Kashua is an interesting subject. He's entertaining when cracking jokes about his predicament, but even better when defending Israel's Arab population to groups of students. To see him get fired up and to engage with teenagers about the genesis of the conflict and the root of what causes suicide bombers is both educational and compelling. That Kashua can turn around and satirize the subject, as he does in his books and weekly newspaper column, makes it all the better. (DL)
Showing: Wilma Theatre, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2:15 p.m.
There is something compelling about H.L. "Doc" Humes, with his introductory line—"Ladies and gentlemen and fellow bums"—and his strange fascination with clouds. There's also something completely off-putting about him, a guy who even Norman Mailer describes as "vain and intellectually arrogant." A guy who comes to dinner at people's houses and ends up crashing there for three days, a guy who seems more interested in lecturing his adoring student disciples than paying much attention to his own three daughters. But the writer, beatnik and co-founder of the Paris Review gets fair treatment in this documentary by his daughter, Immy Humes. Despite a tumultuous childhood, the filmmaker tenderly creates a portrait that unveils her father's quirks, pitfalls and genius.
Besides Mailer, the film includes interviews with Paul Auster, Timothy Leary and George Plimpton, all attesting to Humes' great strengths and weaknesses. Stories about how the Paris Review evolved (and, sometimes, devolved) and the search for Doc's long lost film (called Don Peyote) add drama to the portraiture. It's also a fascinating peek into the beat and Yippie era—the passionate politics, the riots, the long drug-induced nights—through the story of one man who lived it.
By the end it's clear that despite his madness and self-centeredness, Doc was a very interesting, intelligent person with an overwhelming desire to change the world. (EF)
Showing: Pipestone Mountaineering, Monday, Feb. 14, 7:00 p.m.
A word of advice to future filmmakers: If anyone ever offers you a Super 8 camera, think twice before accepting. Definitely twice if they're trying to sell it to you—you'll be throwing good money after bad soon enough. There is no richer, more evocative medium for recording memories, but nowadays you'd be hard put to find a more recklessly expensive one, either.
For a three-minute cartridge of color film, $15 is a damn good deal. For mail-in processing (no sound, and by the way you're going to need to find a projector to watch the footage), add another $25 or so, including shipping both ways to the only facility in North America that still processes it. Want the footage digitized so you can edit on a computer? Add another $10. The bulb in your pawn-shop projector is certain to burn out the first time you use it (add $60–$75 to replace), and chances are you'll have spent this much this far only to discover you had no idea what you were doing with that free camera, which naturally didn't come with a manual. Hmm. Some of those other buttons must do something.
But if you luck out with a good camera and know what you're after, as Summer Snapshot director Ian McCluskey did when he loaded up a vintage Wagoneer with friends and some vintage cameras with (now discontinued) Kodachrome for a trip to the river, the look simply cannot be improved upon. Only Super 8 could have captured this sunny, uninhibited day in all its glistening fleshtones and glittering sun-dapples the way McCluskey and his friends remember it. Tellingly, their reminiscences describe the quality of the film as much as the events of the day. This is why simulated Super 8 sequences still pop up all the time in Hollywood movies: Anyone knows this is what memories really look like. (AS)
Showing: Wilma Theatre, Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 9:45 p.m.