Netflix’s new documentary ‘Disclosure’ has never been timely and should be required viewing during Pride Month. If there was ever an eye-opening documentary, this would be it. The film, directed by Sam feder, looks at trans representation in films throughout history, from the silent films of D W Griffiths to the current landscape. it shows us how badly represented trans people have been in history. It’s so weird, because I have seen most of the films featured in the film, and it feels like I am looking at those films with new eyes, and I kick myself for not looking at it that way before, ads I am a member of the LGBTQ community myself. It is made up of interviews with trans people, and how these films have shaped how they see themselves in society – how trans people have been portrayed for comedic purposes most of the time, and how their representation have been mostly negative – prostitutes or murderers, giving society a most narrow view. It covers a lot of things, though sometimes too much that. it doesn’t give a viewer time to think and absorb their points. But darn it if it isn’t essential viewing for everyone.
Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick’s ‘On The Record’ was the talk of Sundance early this year. Oprah Winfrey originally executive produced this documentary but pulled her name out last minute – this would have been part of her overall deal with Apple + but HBO Max bought the rights and is one of the features they are releasing as they debut the new streaming service (there are so many now, it seems) I still think that there is more to the story with her pulling her support for the film.
This documentary mainly focuses on Drew Dixon, a woman who worked for Russell Simmons at Def Jam Records. She had real passion for hip hop and had a good eye and ear for talent. She was the head of A & R for the label when she claims she was sexually assaulted by Simmons at his New York City home. She went to work for Arista Records later and was subjected again to sexual harassment from LA Reid, who took over from Clive Davis after the latter stepped down.
I veer towards believing her. Her story seems to be credible, and you can see the trauma and hurt in her eyes, still. Simmons and Reid both deny her allegations, and the documentary seems to almost mention that in passing. I have to say that it would have made for a more balanced film if more of both sides were shown, But what we have here is compelling enough. Ultimately, we either trust or believe what we see (or not)
As much as a jazz vocals fan I am, I am not as well-versed with instrumental jazz artists. Of course, I know some of Miles Davis’ work, and love his early output, when he was doing more lyrical interpretations of jazz standards. His later, more ‘improvisational’ work allude to satisfy me, but that’s just more taste. So I was coming into the documentary ‘Miles Davis: Birth Of the Cool’ with a little bit of excitement, and the thirst for knowledge about him and his artistry. Directed by Stanley Nelson, the film feels very informative – it’s a chronological telling of his life and work, and indeed it is quite educational, as we learn more about the person through interviews from people he knew and worked with, underscored by his musical work (although most of it is abridged, encouraging viewers to take notes and check it out for themselves) I found a lot of the anecdotes fresh – most of what I saw I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t know, for example, that he had an affair with Juliette greco when he was in Paris right after the end of the second world war. Like most real artists, Davis had a lot of personal demons – he used drugs heavily in episodes of his life, and his wife suffered from domestic violence. A lot of the personal stuff seemed a tad glossed-over – this is not the kind of juicy gossipy unworthy of its subject. Over and over everyone says that Davis defined and is the epitome of cool – salacious information would probably sully that. In that end, the film is truly suited for PBS, so it’s straight-laced and informative.
Ryan Murphy, again, produced the new documentary ‘A Secret Love’ on Netflix and just like the earlier ‘Circus of Books,’ it is wonderful and a testament to power of gay love, and well, any kind of love. The film, directed by Chris Bolan was supposed to debut at SXSW Film festival in Texas, but that shuttered after the pandemic. It is about a couple, Pat and Terry, who meet in the 40s, and, at the start of the film, had been together for almost 66 years. They tell their love story, with Pat being on of the first female baseball players in the All American Teams, which was the basis for the Penny Marshall Movie ‘A League Of Their Own.’ For decades, they have made their home in the Chicago area, and now have to face obstacles from aging – Pat has been experiencing tremors, and their home has started to be an unsafe place for both of them. Terry is resistant at first, unable to let go of the life they have shared together there. This seems like a simple story, and it is, as we see their struggle as they grow old together – and finally able to marry. The last fifteen minutes of the film is heartbreaking, as we see them finally move to an assisted facility, and then get married. ‘Love is love’ is not just a saying, this film is the embodiment of it. Don’t proceed to watch without tissues.
Rachel Mason directed the Netflix documentary ‘Circus of Books,’ about the popular porn bookstore in Los Angeles. Tt turns out, she has a personal connection to the subject. Her parents, Barry and Karen Mason, were the proprietors of the one-time largest distributor of gay porn in the country. In this moving and engrossing documentary, she explores the beginning (and eventual ending) of the family business. Who would have thought that a nice Jewish couple were the owners? Barry answered Larry Flynt’s newspaper ad looking for secondary distributors for his Blueboy Magazine, and before they knew it, they were the owners of Book Circus in West Hollywood, taking over from its troubled business owners. And we see the business grow (eventually expanding to Silverlake and Sherman Oaks) But of course, the bookstore had other significance in the gay community – it was a place where gay people can interact with other gays, a haven where they can feel that they were not alone in the world. The back alley, dubbed Vaseline Alley, was a huge cruising spot as well. Porn was huge in the 80s and we see the couple move to production, eventually producing Matt Sterling productions fo Jeff Stryker films.
But there’s a deep personal story to the documentary as well. When their kids were growing up, they were very tight-lipped about the business, as they didn’t want to be a distraction for their kids growing up. Karen is pretty religious, and that dichotomy is explored here as well. They are a very sensitive couple, and some of the most touching scenes are when Barry would take about friends and colleagues that passed during the AIDS epidemic. And wouldn’t you know it, but they also have two queer children, and we see Karen go through hardship in accepting them, to being proud PFLAG members.
In a lot of ways, the book store is a perfect backdrop for how gay life has changed over the years, and with the internet moving content to online, there was no choice but to eventually close the store – we see the bittersweet ending at the end of the documentary. There is a silver lining, though – Chi Chi Laroue has rented the space and transformed it to ChiChi’s Circus, now a gallery/store space, still for queer content.
To most, Vlentine’s Day is a day for flowers, chocolates, and romantic dates. But to some people, it is a remembrance of a horrible day – when in 2018 a gunman shot young men and women at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Can you imagine that feeling? In Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi’s ‘After Parkland,’ we how some people most affected by the tragedy deal with it just soon after, and how the incident inspired them to try to make a change.
It’s devastating. I found myself sobbing in various parts of the film, and sometimes it was a little too hard to take. There is focus on two fathers – Andrew Pollack, who lost his young daughter Meadow, and Manuel Oliver, who lost his basketball playing son Joaquin. The two have different approach to change – Pollack tries to get new safety legislation approved and even goes to meet Trump and Betsy Devoes in Washington, with both looking bored while speaking to him. Oliver works as a Creative Director, and uses his son’s image for an organization he started, ‘Change The Ref,’ which opts to get rid of the lawmakers who are complacent to the broken system we have,
The film also focuses on David Hogg, who rose to fame via March for Our Lives, and has been ridiculed by the Republican Party because of it. We see him take a gap year before going to Harvard just to he can galvanize his cause of getting the youth to register to vote.
The film is quite powerful, and if it doesn’t inspire you to do something about the world we are living in, then I don’t know what else can.
I was never a huge fan of Taylor Swift, though, of course, she has been in my peripheral. I had her records of course (back when I used to collect them as physical pieces) and her songs are on my playlists, but I never stop and truly listen. But after watching ‘Miss Americana,’ I have a new found respect for her. I admit I am guilty of sometimes dismissing her, and I often cite the alleged Quincy Jones quote that he told her ‘a hook doesn’t make a song’ (I don’t know if that is an authetic quote, to be honest) But we see a glimpse of Swift in this documentary that is of a woman coming into her own, and I admire this woman. I think my doubt of her stems that she is from country music, and a lot of those folks seem to be conservative and anti-gay but here she shows herself to be not just a champion of equal right, but a fierce and loyal one. (“How can I go on stage and shout ‘Happy Pride Month’if I don’t take a stand) And when she sees the how horrible Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn is in her home state of Tennessee, she is implored to take a stand on her Instagram addressing her twelve million followers – against her management team, who tells her to not do it. You gotta give her props for that.
Still, you can tell she decides what she wants to share. Where is this ‘squad’ of friends that she reportedly has? And we really do not see this young man who she is supposedly in love with. To me, I am not heartbroken about not seeing those things but I bet her loyal fans are. But no mistake, this was an engrossing documentary that gave me a glimpse of a woman I can support, and you know what? It made me play and appreciate her new album, ‘Lover.’
War is never easy to look at, and war is front and center in Waad al-Kateab’s documentary ‘For Sama.’ This is simply one of the most harrowing watches for me, and there were times I wanted to up and leave in the middle of watching it. This is centered in the city of Aleppo in Syria, under the corrupt Assad regime, who continually bombed the rebellious forces in the city with the aid of the Russians. Using that as a backdrop, the documentary documents the filmmaker as she struggles with everyday life with the resistance. It’s a wonder of all wonders that in the middle of all this chaos and strife, she falls in love with a young doctor, and has a child, Sama. This film is a love letter to her child, a sort-of explanation for her on why she stayed in Aleppo. As I said, it’s a tough watch, and the middle part can be exhausting as we get to see over and over and over the ravages of this war. But for me, this is an eye-opener. I will not pretend to know a lot about what is happening in that region, and this film made me want to do more to educate myself.
Thoughts on two documentaries:
I was a little lukewarm over ‘Judy’ as a film so I was glad I liked the new documentary ‘Sid & Judy,’ directed by Stephen Kijak. This is a great film that centers on Garland’s third marriage, though it briefly touches her earlier histories. Garland is obviously a complex character, and they show a bit of that in this film in a mostly dignified manner. I liked that the events did not feel sensationalized and they worked with some great footage including some great spoken word recordings by Garland and Luft themselves. Some dialogue is recreated by Jon Hamm and Jennifer Jason Leigh and they did not feel too cheesy. The video footage here is great, and we do hear and see a lot of Garland in action doing what she does best. And it is not too much if a depressing film.
That wasn’t the case with ‘Honeyland,’ which is a very interesting, but also very sad film. Set in rural Madeconia, this film by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, is about a woman, Hatidze, who does beekeeping the old-fashioned way. She also cares about the bees – only takes half their honey, for example so they can all live harmoniously. When new neighbors come in, we see them wreck havoc on everything. It is disheartening to seeher live through this, all the while she is taking care of her elderly mother. Scenes where she goes to the market to barter her honey for food make my heart melt. I found myself thinking about her even after seeing the film. I wonder how she is now.
I recently saw two documentaries that had a lot of things in common, both were about historical issues in two Asian countries: China and The Philippines.
The first one is Nanfu Wang’s ‘One Child Nation,’ which centered on China’s policy from 1979 of families only being allowed to have one child. Something needed to be done then on the country’s overpopulation, so the government issued a law curbing population. Wang is herself a child of those times, so she had some personal stake in it. But she also found out the ramifications of that policy. Doctors were performing late-term abortions by the hundreds of thousands, for example. Plus, a lot of female newborns were being given away by families, but since no one wanted female children, most times these newborns were left to die at the markets. Later on, these babies ended up being old in the open market, brought to the United States for adoption in exchange for money. Some of these effects were really disturbing, and tested my squeamish factor. I thought the film was very thought provoking, and opened my eyes on an issue that I didn’t know existed.
Since I am a Marcos baby, there really weren’t a lot of surprising revelations in me from watching Lauren Greenfeld’s ‘The Kingmaker.’ Greenfeld’s pat subjects have always been the rich and their downfall, so it must have been fascinating for her to have the chance to interview Imelda Marcos – this, after all, is a woman who owns a Picaso, a Michaelangelo, and a Monet. But in the course of making the film, she found something else – that the Marcoses are slowly inching back to regain political power in the Philippines. Some people have described this as sort of a dark Cinderella Story, and it’s very apt. You can see how savvy Imelda can be, and how she can easily charm you. I have a friend who know nothing about her and left the theater utterly buying everything she was selling. Greenfeld presents a very balanced subject here, giving equal time to her opponents and detractors, and gives an impartial view of the subject. The film is quite interesting, even for me who has semi-intimate knowledge of these affairs.