Susan Morris | Reviews

DOC NYC: Profiles

Profiles of artists abounded. Anselm is Wim Wenders’ (Buena Vista Social Club, Salt of the Earth, Pina) profile of artist Anselm Kiefer. Shot in 3D, his complex and difficult artwork that often addresses Germany’s dark Nazi past, comes alive, particularly in his enormous studio in the south of France near Nimes. The film immerses you in Kiefer’s world.  

Scooter LaForge: A Life of Art, thinks an artist must have fun. Influenced by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Harris, Jackson Pollack, Surrealism and Saturday morning cartoons, he demonstrates a queer, punk-rock aesthetic in his painted clothes. These are championed by fashion icon Patricia Field, and worn by Debbie Harry, Beyoncé, and Nicki Minaj.

Nathan-ism shows the artwork on Nathan Hilu, who as a 19-year old Jewish soldier was assigned to guard Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials. In his 90s and living on the Lower East Side of NYC, he spent his days obsessively drawing what he experienced, a virtual archive. Considered an “outsider artist” the work forms a fascinating chronicle of a first-person witness to history.

The trendsetting photographer, who was also a model, beauty pageant winner and fashion designer, Bunny Yeager (1929-2014) who “popularized the bikini, invented the selfie, discovered Bettie Page, and introduced feminist agency” in provocative, sexy images in the 1950s is the star of Naked Ambition: Bunny Yeager. Using her photographic archive, her story is told with remembrances by Bruce Weber, Dita Von Teese, and Larry King. Diane Arbus called her, "the world’s greatest pinup photographer.”

Uncropped charts the long career of photographer James Hamilton, perhaps best known for chronicling the NYC cultural scene in the 1970s and 1980s. First taking portraits of musicians, he became a staff photographer at Crawdaddy! (1969-71), The Herald (1971), Harper’s Bazaar (1971-75), the Village Voice (1974-93), and the New York Observer (1993-09) and freelanced at Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and New York. Along the way he did iconic portraits of Patti Smith, Nico, Tom Verlaine, the Beastie Boys, James Brown. Liza Minnelli, Lou Reed, Alfred Hitchcock, George Romero, Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson. He took war photographs in the 1970s and ‘80s in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, Grenada, the Philippines during the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos, and in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square massacre. He next became involved with shooting film stills, first for George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Frances Ford Coppola and Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited,) and Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale). He has a fascinating conversation with fellow Village Voice photographer Sylvia Plachy about their different but complementary styles and experiences.  

How to Come Alive with Norman Mailer whose “6 marriages, 9 children, 11 bestselling books, and 2 Pulitzer Prizes” contributed to his combative life as a “hot-tempered egotist” who had public brawls, a drunken stabbing of his wife and celebrated literary career.  Mailer (1923-2007) is considered an innovator of "creative non-fiction" or "New Journalism", along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Wolfe.

Paul Muldoon: Laoithe’s Liricí/A Life in Lyrics chart the life of the Irish poet who emigrated to the U.S., won a Pulitzer Prize, and has taught at Princeton and Oxford universities.  He is recalled by such luminaries as Ruth Negga, Paul Simon, Liam Neeson, Bono, Laurie Anderson and Paul McCartney who also write and sing his work in the film.  His writing has been used as lyrics in both rock music and opera.  

Obsessed with Light is about the remarkable career of the Belle Époque “fairy of light,” American dancer Loïe Fuller (Marie Louise Fuller,1862-1928) who innovated with movement, fabric, and especially electricity and light (she even had a glass floor built so she could be lit from below). Fuller attempted to copyright her dances since she was much imitated, and sued in court beginning in 1892. Her rise, which began at the Folies Bergère in Paris, coincided with the beginning of cinema, and her Serpentine dance became the subject of early filmmakers including Georges Méliès and Alice Guy Blaché, often hand-colored. Fuller’s impact on contemporary artists is highlighted with examples from the work of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Taylor Swift, Bill T. Jones, Shakira and William Kentridge.

Shari & Lamb Chop are Shari Lewis (1933-1998), the ventriloquist who changed children’s television and won Peabody and Emmy Awards and her sock puppet Lamb Chop (whose companions are Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy). Born Phyllis Naomi Hurwitz, her father, an education professor at Yeshiva University, was named "official magician” by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Trained to be a performer at an early age, Shari was schooled in acrobatics, baton twirling, juggling, ice skating, piano, and violin.

The life of Norwegian actor Liv Ullmann - A Road Less Travelled is divided into three chapters: “The Actor,” “The Storyteller,” and “The Traveller.”  The first discusses her relationship, personal and professional with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman (Persona [1966], Cries and Whispers [1972], Scenes from a Marriage [1973]) and her subsequent successful film and stage work including two Academy Awards nominations. “The Storyteller” chapter showcases her work as a writer of books Changing (1977) and Choices (1984), from which she reads excerpts, and her directing of film and theater (Cate Blanchett and Jessica Chasten talk about being directed by Ullmann.) The third chapter focuses on her work with UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and its offshoot, the Women's Refugee Commission.  

Merchant Ivory begins with director James Ivory making documentaries in India, and meeting his life and producing partner Ismail Merchant (1936–2005) at a screening at the Indian Consulate in New York. They formed the company that is the film’s title, making 44 films, most scripted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and music by Richard Robbins, including A Room with a View, Howard’s End, and The Remains of the Day, many best known as lavish period dramas, often Edwardian, and often based on the literature of writers such as Henry James and E.M. Forster. Ivory, who is still active at age 95, won an Academy Award for writing Call Me By Your Name (2017). Merchant Ivory includes interviews with many of the actors in their films including Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Waterston, Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter, often describing cobbling productions together out of nothing, and the differing temperaments of the principals, a calm Ivory compared to a quicksilver, problem solving “pirate” that was Merchant.

Films Mentioned:
Anselm, directed by Wim Wenders
Scooter LaForge: A Life of Art, directed by Ethan Minsker
Nathan-ism, directed by Elan Golod
Naked Ambition: Bunny Yeager, directed by Dennis Scholl & Kareem Tabsch
Uncropped, directed by D.W. Young
How to Come Alive…with Norman Mailer, directed by Jeff Zimbalist
Paul Muldoon: Lathe’s Liric/A Life in Lyrics, directed by Alan Gilsenan
Obsessed with Light, directed by Sabine Krayenbühl & Zeva Oelbaum
Shari & Lamb Chop, directed by Lisa D'Apolito
Liv Ullmann - A Road Less Travelled, directed by Dheeraj Akolkar
Merchant Ivory, directed by Stephen Soucy

Posted in: Arts + Culture

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