Years ago there were competing films about Studio 54 and you think that would have been enough for this topic but here we are forty years later and we are still talking about the famed iconic club. This time, Matt Tyrnauer has directed a documentary that is so vivid that it will probably the definitive documentation of not only that club, but of that carefree era – someone described it as the hedonistic era between the birth control pill and AIDS. I don’t know how Tyrnauer compiled all his material, but he has a knack for choosing footage that best showcase how it was during that time. Plus, what adds value here is the presence of Ian Schrager, the ‘silent partner’ during those times. Steve Rubbell was obviously the more gregarious face of the club, and he thrived int he presence of all the major celebrities of the time (We see a young Michael Jackson being interviewed praising him to high heavens) I loved seeing all the pictures and videos of Liza, and Bianca Jagger, and Andy Warhol, and all the icons of the time. And the fashion – still very relevant, if you ask my opinion. I really can’t say that I learned a lot from this movie – except maybe that President Obama pardoned Ian Schrager before leaving office in January 2017 – but that is only because I have been fascinated by this topic for a while. I was born a little too late for its heyday, but I remember going to the space for a private party there in the late 80s and I could swear you could still feel the energy of the club. Rubell succumbed to AIDS in 1989, but there are most other names and faces who perished after that era. In some small way, this film keeps them alive.
A trans gendered Filipina was murdered by an uniformed American serviceman, and that is the back bone of P J Raval’s documentary ‘Call Her Ganda,’ (Call Her Beautiful) Filipinos have this love-hate relationship with the LGBT community – gays dominate society and their popular culture, yet the religious upbringing of most countrymen shuns them. They tolerate them but have a ‘not in my backyard’ policy towards them. In 2014, Jennifer Laude was murdered at a motel by a uniformed American, and it sparked a case that interested the people. At the center of it is the country’s ‘Visiting Forces Agreement,’ which protects American personnel accused of crimes, wherein they still fall under the jurisdiction of the American military. The documentary goes into the case specifically, up to its conclusion – wherein Joseph Pemberton, the American accused is found guilty of homicide (a reduced sentence) There was notion that he would be coddled by the American military, and that seems to be the case, as he got special treatment instead of going to the local jail.
It’s an interesting case, and obviously struck a chord with me as it happened in Olongapo City, which is where my family used to have a business. It also shows how Americans still try to bull doze their way into other countries by influence (Can you imagine if this happened in Singapore with their strict laws?) The documentary is a bit thin, and I wish had dug deeper into Jennifer’s life, as they had access to her family. But this was a very interesting watch.
I was at an event a couple of days ago and met this woman who told me that I should see Heather Lenz’s documentary ‘Kusama Infinity’ When I asked her why, she answered “because it’s a great movie.’ Okay, sure. The film focuses on the life and art of Yayoi Kusama. Told through interviews, the film mostly focuses on the art more than the woman, although we get a glimpse of who she is via her own words. Her art is quirky and oddly mesmerizing. As my friend says, these are the perfect backdrops for the selfie generation. Of course, they are much more than that, and we get to hear her inspirations, and her processes: a polka dot is not really just a dot. Still, the subject is a little sterile, perhaps: the biggest scandal here is that Andy Warhol once stole her ideas. Kusama suffered through mental issues, but that isn’t really a stretch for any artiste.
I have a friend who is a big movie lover and he has been imploring me to watch the documentary ‘Three Identical Strangers.’ He asked me if I knew anything about it, and I said that the only thing I knew about it is that it is about twins or triplets who found each other. He said, ‘Good, because the less you know about it going in, the better.’
He was right. This film is a thriller with the happy ending in the front. I was still out of the US when this story first broke out in 1980 about triplets who found each other by chance. They have been separated at birth and were reunited when one of the brothers attended found himself in the same college as the other brother. This was a feel-good story, with the ‘cute’ commentary of how they are all alike, they smoke the same cigarette brand, nature vs nurture! To capitalize on their celebrity, they even open their own restaurant in SoHo named ‘Triplets’
The film gets darker quickly, We find there’s more to them just being separated by the agency, as we find that they are part of a larger sinister scientific experiment. And the film goes into how children inherit depressive natures of their parents. I bet you will feel enraged and horrified as I was. I felt very uneasy after watching the film, and wonder how many other people out there, unaware that they have been part of this ‘experiment.’ And this makes for a real compelling watch. I have to call my friend and tell him, you were right, and thank him for the recommendation.
When I saw ads for ‘Whitney,” I thought to myself: didn’t I see this film before? Well, it turns out I was kinda right – there was an earlier documentary about her life, and I remember it was on Showtime. This is a different one (there are always competing ones, I just saw today that there is another Christopher Robin film) and is directed by Kevin Anderson. I didn’t know if I wanted to see this, but there was an LA heatwave, and two hours inside the movie theater sounded good.
I am glad I did – this was a well-done take on her life. Just like the earlier documentary, it focuses on the road to her demise – how did it get there, what really happened, etc – and her life here is as sad. (An older lady sitting behind me probably uttered ‘So sad’ more than a dozen times) Houston was such a special woman, with a God-given voice that touched hearts, and to this day I can and do listen to her songs regularly. Ultimately, like all great artists, she had a troubled soul, and in the end was unable to fight her demons. And those demons would be drugs, and poor life choices – entrusting her matters to the wrong people (His father squandered her millions, for example) Add to that her inability to accept her sexual orientation (her hairdresser said she was definitely bisexual) and you have got the worst recipe for a disastrous life. The big reveal in this piece is the revelation that she and her brothers were sexually molester by her aunt, the singer Dee Dee Warwick, and unfortunately, that’s just a small footnote in a life full of triumphs and tragedy. The film doesn’t dwell much on her artistry – that’s probably a film still waiting to happen – but I can imagine it is hard not to focus on the salacious matters of her life. This film, even as it clocks at 120 minutes, is never boring because Whitney is never boring, and that is what makes her, and this film, special.
For the longest time, I have been wanting to read Scotty Bowers’ book ‘Full Service,’ which is one of those tell-all/confidential reads about the sexual escapades of Hollywood celebrities from the mid-century. But, to be honest, I am not really very familiar with the actors and actresses of that era. So when I found put that there is now a documentary about Bowers (and his stories) I thought this is probably the next best thing, and at least, the time commitment here is much shorter.
The documentary, directed by Matt Tyrnauer, is a fascinating film, even and maybe especially for me who is just a ‘casual’ observer. Bowers used to work at a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard, and that is where he procured the mostly male (and some female) prostitutes that he supplied to some of the big stars of the day. He talks about how Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were lovers, and how he supplied at least 250 women for Katherine Hepburn. His critics have been vocal about how he has no proof about these claims, and that these people are not really here to defend themselves. This documentary doesn’t really take a stand either way, but you do see that Bowers is certainly eccentric – he’s a pack rat, and a spendthrift, and maybe a bit of an exaggerator. Like do I really believe Cole Porter requested fifteen guys to perform oral sex on? Yes, I do, but it’s the fifteen that makes me raise my eyebrows. Still, the movie is certainly NOT boring, and the salacious details are certainly titillating.
I didn’t think I would love ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor,’ the documentary about Mr. Fred Rogers/ Even though everyone I know has raved about it, I never really watched the show, and the couple of times I did, I just didn’t like it – it felt too slow, like the kind of show that made kids want to take naps in the afternoon after watching. But I was at Arclight and it was the movie that perfectly matched the time I wanted to go, so…
And I was a sobbing mess by the end of the film. Truly, his life is something that should be celebrated, and I am glad this documentary is there for people to see, and I am elated that this is a hit, and everyone is watching it. Basically, the film tracks him and how he started his show from nothing but just his vision and talent. Compared to what kids are watching nowadays. the show defines ‘simple,’ but as well know, in simplicity is clearness of message – and he just wanted to spread his brand of acceptance and love. And of course, as we can see in the documentary, Republicans hated him because they didn’t like that he was giving that message that everyone should be special as they are – they were picketing his funeral, even. The one thing I got from this is his message will never go out of style and in this crazy combative divided world we live in now, we can all use a little bit of what he is preaching. I think everyone should see this film, and not just watch it, but understand and internalize his message. I bet the world will be a more peaceful place.