Tag Archives: 2022 Reviews

You Will Go to the Moon: A NASA film festival

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 23, 2022)

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-43.png?w=1200&ssl=1

53 years ago this week, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. I know-you’ve heard this story a million times; don’t worry, I’ll keep this short.

For those of us of “a certain age”, that is to say, old enough to have actually witnessed the moon landing live on TV… the fact that “we” were even able to achieve this feat “by the end of the decade” (as President Kennedy projected in 1961) still feels like a pretty big deal to me.

Of course, there are still  big unanswered questions out there about Life, the Universe, and Everything, but I’ll leave that to future generations. I feel that I’ve done my part…spending my formative years plunked in front of a B&W TV in my PJs eating Sugar Smacks and watching Walter Cronkite reporting live from the Cape.

It is in this spirit that I have curated a NASA film festival for you. Blast off!

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-44.png?w=800&ssl=1

Apollo 11– This 2019 documentary was a labor of love for director Todd Douglas Miller, who also produced and edited. Miller had access to a trove of previously unreleased 70mm footage from Apollo 11’s launch and recovery, which he and his production team was able to seamlessly integrate with archival 35mm and 16mm footage, as well as photos and CCTV. All audio and visual elements were digitally restored, and Miller put it together in such a way that it flows like a narrative film (i.e., no new voice-over narration or present-day talking heads intrude). The result is mesmerizing.

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-47.png?resize=1536%2C864&ssl=1

Apollo 13– While overly formal at times, Ron Howard’s 1995 dramatization of the ill-fated mission that injected “Houston, we have a problem” into the zeitgeist is still an absorbing history lesson. You get a sense of the claustrophobic tension the astronauts must have felt while brainstorming out of their harrowing predicament. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton have great natural chemistry as crew mates Lovell, Swigert and Haise, and Ed Harris was born to portray Ground Control’s flight director, Gene Kranz.

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-48.png?w=630&ssl=1

The Dish– This wonderful 2000 sleeper from Australia is based on the true story behind one of the critical components that facilitated the live TV images of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon: a tracking station located on a sheep farm in New South Wales. Quirky characters abound in Rob Sitch’s culture-clash comedy (reminiscent of Bill Forsythe’s Local Hero). It’s not all played for laughs; the re-enactment of the moon-landing telecast is genuinely moving. Sam Neill heads a fine cast. Director Sitch and co-writers Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, and Jane Kennedy also collaborated on another film I recommend checking out: The Castle (1997).

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-49.png?resize=1536%2C872&ssl=1

The Farthest–  Remember when NASA spaceflights were an exciting, all-day news event? We seem to have lost that collective feeling of wonder and curiosity about mankind’s plunge into the cosmos (people are too busy looking down at their phones to stargaze anymore). Emer Reynolds’ beautifully made 2017 documentary about the twin Voyager space probes rekindles that excitement for any of us who dare to look up. And if the footage of Carl Sagan’s eloquent musings regarding the “pale blue dot” that we call home fails to bring you to tears, then surely you have no soul.

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-50.png?w=770&ssl=1

For All Mankind– Former astronaut Al Reinert’s 1989 documentary was culled from thousands of feet of mission footage shot by the Apollo astronauts over a period of years. Don’t expect standard exposition; this is simply a montage of (literally) out-of-this-world imagery with anecdotal and philosophical musings provided by the astronauts. Brian Eno composed the soundtrack. A mesmerizing visual tone poem in the vein of Koyaanisqatsi.

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-51.png?resize=1536%2C1001&ssl=1

In the Shadow of the Moon– The premise of this 2007 documentary (similar to For All Mankind) is simple enough; surviving members of the Apollo moon flights tell their stories, accompanied by astounding mission footage (some previously unseen). But somehow, director David Sington has managed to take this very familiar piece of 20th century history and infuse it with an exhilarating sense of rediscovery.

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-52.png?w=728&ssl=1

The Right Stuff– Director and writer Philip Kaufman’s 1983 film (based on Tom Wolfe’s book) is a stirring drama about NASA’s Mercury program. Considering the film was modestly budgeted (by today’s standards), it has quite an expansive scope. The rich characterizations also make it an intimate story, beautifully acted by a dream cast including Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Barbara Hershey, Fred Ward, Pamela Reed, Lance Henriksen, Scott Wilson, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum, Harry Shearer and the late Levon Helm.

BONUS TRACK!
Singing us out… Moxy Fruvous.

 

15 Big Ones: A Summer Mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 16, 2022)

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-38.png?resize=1536%2C1024&ssl=1

No, you’re not imagining things:

Millions of Americans are once again in the grips of dangerous heat. Hot air blanketed Europe [in late June], causing parts of France and Spain to feel the way it usually does in July or August. High temperatures scorched northern and central China even as heavy rains caused flooding in the country’s south. Some places in India began experiencing extraordinary heat in March, though the start of the monsoon rains has brought some relief.

It’s too soon to say whether climate change is directly to blame for causing severe heat waves in these four powerhouse economies — which also happen to be the top emitters of heat-trapping gases — at roughly the same time, just days into summer.

While global warming is making extreme heat more common worldwide, deeper analysis is required to tell scientists whether specific weather events were made more likely or more intense because of human-induced warming. (A team of researchers who studied this spring’s devastating heat in India found that climate change had made it 30 times as likely to occur.)

Even so, concurrent heat waves seem to be hitting certain groups of far-flung places with growing frequency of late, for reasons related to the jet stream and other rivers of air that influence weather systems worldwide.

[via The New York Times – June 24, 2022]

Oy. I picked a bad week to live in an apartment with naught but a box fan and a tray of ice cubes to keep me cool. Hot damn, summer in the city. Speaking of which-here are a few of my fave songs of the season. You’ve heard some a bazillion times; others, not so much.

Enjoy!

First Class – “Beach Baby” – UK studio band First Class was the brainchild of singer-songwriter Tony Burrows, who also sang lead on other one-hit wonders, including “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” (The Edison Lighthouse), “My Baby Loves Lovin’” (White Plains), and “United We Stand” (The Brotherhood of Man). This pop confection was a Top 10 song in the U.S. in 1974.

Jade Warrior– “Bride of Summer” – Here’s a summer tune you’ve never heard on the radio. This hard-to-categorize band has been around since the early 70s; progressive jazz-folk-rock-world beat is the best I can do. Sadly, original guitarist Tony Duhig passed away in 1990. His multi-tracked lead on this song is sublime.

Bananarama– “Cruel Summer” – A more melancholy take on the season from the Ronettes of New Wave. I seem to recall a rather heavy rotation of this video on MTV in the summer of ’84. The video is a great time capsule of 1980s NYC.

The Beatles – “Good Day Sunshine” – The kickoff to Side 2 of Revolver finds Paul McCartney in full cockeyed optimist mode. Everything about his song is “happy”, from the lyrics (I feel good, in a special way / I’m in love and it’s a sunny day) and the bright harmonies, to George Martin’s jaunty ragtime piano solo. Paul has said that he was inspired by the Lovin’ Spoonful.

Pink Floyd – “Granchester Meadows” – This is from one of Pink Floyd’s more obscure albums, Ummagumma. Anyone who has ever sat under a shady tree on a summer’s day strumming a guitar will “get” this song, which is one of David Gilmour’s most beautiful compositions. I love how he incorporates nature sounds. Aaahh…

Joni Mitchell– “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” – The haunting title cut from Joni’s 1975 album, co-written by drummer John Guernin (who also plays Moog). The song also features Victor Feldman on keyboards and James Taylor on guitar.

Sly & the Family Stone– “Hot Fun in the Summertime” – A quintessential summer song and an oldies radio staple. And don’t forget…I “cloud nine” when I want to.

Mungo Jerry– “In the Summertime” – It wouldn’t have worked without the jug.

Marshall Crenshaw– “Starless Summer Sky” – In a just world, this power pop genius would have ruled the airwaves. Here’s one of many perfect examples why.

The Isley Brothers– “Summer Breeze” – Yes, I know Seals & Crofts did the original version, but the Isleys always had a knack for making covers their own.

The Lovin’ Spoonful– “Summer in the City” – All around, people lookin’ half-dead/walkin’ on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head. Written by John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian and Steve Boone, this 1966 hit is a clever portmanteau of music, lyrics and effects that quite literally sounds like…summer in the city.

XTC– “Summer’s Cauldron/Grass” – A mini-suite of sorts, all about summer romance, lazy days, and the uh, things we did on grass. Produced by Todd Rundgren.

Blue Cheer– “Summertime Blues” – Eddie Cochran wrote and performed it originally, and the Who did a great cover on Live at Leeds, but for sheer attitude, I’ve got to go with this proto-punk (some have argued, proto-metal) classic from 1968.

The Kinks– “Sunny Afternoon” – This poor guy. Taxman’s taken all his dough, girlfriend’s run off with his car…but he’s not going to let that ruin his summer: Now I’m sittin here/ sippin’ at my ice-cooled beer/ lazin’ on a sunny afternoon…

The Beach Boys– “The Warmth of the Sun” – This song (featuring one of Brian Wilson’s most gorgeous melodies), appeared on the 1964 album Shut Down Vol 2. Atypically introspective and melancholy for this era of the band, it had an unusual origin story. Wilson and Mike Love allegedly began work on the tune in the wee hours of the morning JFK was assassinated; news of the event changed the tenor of the lyrics, as well as having an effect on the emotion driving the vocal performance.

Inconceivable differences: Battleground (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 9, 2022)

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/image-31.png?resize=1024%2C577&ssl=1

41% of Americans believe Jesus will come back by 2050.

Rolling Stone journalist, from the 2022 documentary Battleground

If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.

-from Hannah and Her Sisters, screenplay by Woody Allen

When I switched on the news and saw a coterie of fresh-faced female activists literally cheering the Supreme Court’s reactionary ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, I reflexively yelled at my TV (imitating Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) …

“Who ARE you people?!”

Well…

The rollback of abortion rights has been received by many American women with a sense of shock and fear, and warnings about an ominous decline in women’s status as full citizens.

But for some women, the decision meant something different: a triumph of human rights, not an impediment to women’s rights.

“I just reject the idea that as a woman I need abortion to be successful or to be as thriving as a man in my career,” said Phoebe Purvey, a 26-year-old Texan. “I don’t think I need to sacrifice a life in order to do that.”

The Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a political victory, accomplished by lobbyists, strategists and campaign professionals over the course of decades. But it was also a cultural battle, fought by activists across the country including those in the exact demographic that abortion-rights advocates warn have the most to lose in the new American landscape: young women.

Often pointed to by anti-abortion leaders as the face of the movement, a new generation of activists say they are poised to continue the fight in a post-Roe nation. Many, but not all of them, are Christian conservatives, the demographic that has long formed the core of the anti-abortion movement. Others are secular and view their efforts against abortion as part of a progressive quest for human rights. All have grown up with once unthinkable access to images from inside the womb, which has helped convince them that a fetus is a full human being long before it is viable.

Many believe the procedure should be banned at conception — that even the earliest abortion is effectively murder. But they embrace the mainstream anti-abortion view that women are victims of the abortion “industry” and should not be prosecuted, putting them at odds with the rising “abolitionist” wing of the movement calling for women to be held legally responsible for their abortions. And overwhelmingly, these young women reject the notion that access to abortion is necessary to their own — or any woman’s — success.

That’s nice. So…who ARE you people?

In my 2013 review of the documentary Let The Fire Burn, which recounted what led up to a 1985-gun battle between Philadelphia police and members of the MOVE organization (resulting in the death of 11 of its members, including 5 children), I wrote:

Depending upon whom you might ask, MOVE was an “organization”, a “religious cult”, a “radical group”, or all the above. The biggest question in my mind (and one the film doesn’t necessarily delve into) is whether it was another example of psychotic entelechy. So, what is “psychotic entelechy”, exactly? Well, according to Stan A. Lindsay, the author of Psychotic Entelechy: The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology, “it” would be:

…the tendency of some individuals to be so desirous of fulfilling or bringing to perfection the implications of their terminologies that they engage in very hazardous or damaging actions.

In the context of Lindsay’s book, he is expanding on ideas laid down by literary theorist Kenneth Burke and applying them to possibly explain the self-destructive traits shared by the charismatic leaders of modern-day cults like The People’s Temple, Order of the Solar Tradition, Heaven’s Gate, and The Branch Davidians. He ponders whether all the tragic deaths that resulted should be labeled as “suicides, murders, or accidents”.

Now, I’m not drawing a direct comparison between the “new generation of [anti-abortion] activists” mentioned in the New York Times piece to members of The People’s Temple or the Branch Davidians; although the anti-abortion movement does share certain theological roots, and its history is not violence-free (clinics bombed, doctors murdered).

One thing apparent in Battleground, Cynthia Lowen’s timely portrait of three pro-life activists (Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, and self-described “atheist/liberal/pro-lifer” Terrisa Bukovinac, executive director of the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising) is her subjects’ evangelical fervor for their political cause. Put another way, these chirpily hell-bent Christian soldiers all appear to have supped deeply of the sacramental Flavor-Ade.

Lowen opens her documentary with chilling audio-only excerpts (that I’ve never heard before) from a closed-door meeting held 40 days before the 2016 elections between then-candidate Donald J. Trump, members of his inner circle and leaders of the religious right:

Male 1: We’ve all been paid handsomely by the Trump organization.

Male 2: I don’t know about you, but let me just tell you, I do what Mr. Trump says, right? [laughter]

Trump [entering the room]: Hello, everybody. [half-jokingly] This is real power! […]

Steve Bannon [addressing the religious leaders]: The key that picks the lock to this election…is you. Conservative Catholics and Evangelicals who have not voted, who have not been motivated to vote, have to come to the polls. If we don’t win on November 8th, it’s because Evangelical and Catholic leaders have not delivered. Your fate is in your own hands. […]

Pastor Robert Jeffress: There is only one candidate running in this election who is pro-life, pro religious liberty, pro-conservative Justices to the Supreme Court, and there is only one candidate who treats the views of conservative Christians with respect…and that candidate is Donald Trump. […]

Trump: And this president could choose, I mean it could be five. It’s probably going to be three. It could very well be four, but it could even be five Justices. So you get a Hillary Clinton in there, and it’s over. […]

There’s more, but if you were awake and cognizant during the 4 (endless) years of the Trump administration, you’ve already had a major spoiler as to whether that promise was kept.

The anti-abortion forces had another (arguably even more powerful) political ally—Senator Mitch McConnell, who is shown in the film addressing a Susan B. Anthony List meeting:

As Senate Majority Leader, one thing that I get to do that the other 99 [senators] don’t get to do is to decide what we’re going to do. [pauses for laughter] And obviously, that was on full display when I decided not to fill the Scalia vacancy. [cheers and applause].

Oh, that Mitch…he’s a caution, isn’t he?

McConnell may have been winking at the choir with his braggadocio, but the power that one man holds in context of America’s increasingly polarizing culture wars is frightening. As Lowen points out in her Director’s Statement, “Abortion is the low-hanging fruit that compels anti-choice voting blocks to the polls, and what’s at stake is a much broader agenda: the end of separation between church and state. Outlawing abortion is just the beginning.”

Battleground is a thought-provoking, well-made study, but it’s a bit of a dilemma as to whether I can “recommend” it…it’s almost too close to this week’s headlines for its own good (“Tell me something I don’t know.”) Political junkies likely will not find its lede revelatory; namely, that there has been a well-organized, highly motivated political machine laser-focused on overturning Roe v. Wade for decades.

That said, now that it appears anti-abortion activists are one step closer to their coveted “post-Roe nation”, it’s critical “someone” (in this case, a filmmaker) bears witness and documents that moment Reality caught up with the cautionary adage “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

Like we did last summer: Top 15 Rock Musicals

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 2, 2022)

https://i1.wp.com/cdn2.lamag.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2019/08/rnrhs1_newworldpictures.jpg?ssl=1

Ah, July 4th weekend. Nothing kicks off Summer like an all-American holiday that encourages mass consumption of animal flesh (charcoal-grilled to carcinogenic perfection), binge drinking, and subsequent drunken handling of explosive materials. Well, for most people. Being the semi-reclusive weirdo that I am (although I prefer the term “gregarious loner”), nothing kicks off summer for me like holing up for the holiday weekend with an armload of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll musicals. For your consideration (or condemnation) here are my Top 15. Per usual, I present them in no ranking order. For those about to rock…I salute you.

Bandwagon – A taciturn musician, still reeling from a recent breakup with his girlfriend, has a sudden creative spurt and forms a garage band. The boys pool resources, buy a beat-up van (the “Band” wagon, get it?) and hit the road as Circus Monkey. The requisite clichés ensue: The hell-gigs, backstage squabbles, record company vultures, and all that “art vs commerce” angst; but John Schultz’s crisp writing and directing and mostly unknown cast carry the day.

Indie film stalwart Kevin Corrigan stands out, as does Chapel Hill music scene fixture Doug McMillan (lead singer of The Connells) as a Zen-like road manager (the director is one of McMillan’s ex-band mates). The original soundtrack is an excellent set of power-pop (you’ll have “It Couldn’t Be Ann” in your head for days). Anyone who has been a “weekend rock star” will recognize many of the scenarios; any others who apply should still be quite entertained.

The Commitments – “Say it leoud. I’m black and I’m prewd!” Casting talented yet unknown actor/musicians to portray a group of talented yet unknown musicians was a stroke of genius by director Alan Parker. This “life imitating art imitating life” trick works wonders. In some respects, The Commitments is an expansion of Parker’s 1980 film Fame; except here the scenario switches from New York to Dublin (there’s a bit of a wink in a scene where one of the band members breaks into a parody of the Fame theme).

However, these working-class Irish kids don’t have the luxury of attending a performing arts academy; there’s an undercurrent referencing the economic downturn in the British Isles. The acting chemistry is superb, but it’s the musical performances that shine, especially from (then) 16-year old Andrew Strong, who has the soulful pipes of someone who has been smoking 2 packs a day for decades. In 2007, cast member/musician Glen Hansard co-starred in John Carney’s surprise low-budget hit, Once, a lovely character study that would make a perfect double bill with The Commitments.

Expresso Bongo– This 1959 British gem from Val Guest undoubtedly inspired Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners– from the opening tracking shot giddily swooping through London’s Soho district coffee bar/music club milieu, to its narrative about naive show biz beginners with stars in their eyes and exploitative agents’ hands in their wallets. Laurence Harvey plays his success-hungry hustler/manager character with chutzpah. The perennially elfin Cliff Richard plays it straight as Harvey’s “discovery”, Bongo Herbert.

The film includes performances by the original Shadows (Richards’ backup band), featuring guitar whiz Hank Marvin (whom Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page have cited as a seminal influence). The smart, droll screenplay (by Julian More and Wolf Mankowitz) is far more sophisticated than most of the U.S. produced rock’ n ’roll musicals of the era (films like The Girl Can’t Help It and Rock Rock Rock do feature priceless performance footage, but the story lines are dopey).

A Hard Day’s Night– This 1964 masterpiece has been often copied, but never equaled. Shot in a semi-documentary style, the film follows a “day in the life” of John, Paul, George and Ringo at the height of their youthful exuberance and charismatic powers. Thanks to the wonderfully inventive direction of Richard Lester and Alun Owen’s cleverly tailored script, the essence of what made the Beatles “the Beatles” has been captured for posterity.

Although it’s meticulously constructed, Lester’s film has a loose, improvisational feel; and it feels just as fresh and innovative as it was when it first hit theaters all those years ago. To this day I catch subtle gags that surprise me (ever notice John snorting the Coke bottle?). Musical highlights: “I Should Have Known Better”, “All My Loving”, “Don’t Bother Me”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, and the fab title song.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch – It’s your typical love story. A German teen named Hansel (John Cameron Mitchell) falls for a G.I., undergoes a less than perfect sex change so they can marry, and ends up seduced and abandoned in a trailer park somewhere in Middle America. The desperate Hansel opts for the only logical way out…he creates an alter-ego named Hedwig, puts a glam-rock band together, and sets out to conquer the world. How many times have we heard that tired tale?

But seriously, this is an amazing tour de force by Mitchell, who not only acts and sings his way through this entertaining musical like nobody’s business, but directed and co-wrote (with composer Steven Trask, with whom he also co-created the original stage version).

Jailhouse Rock-The great tragedy of Elvis Presley’s film career is how more exponentially insipid each script was from the previous one. Even the part that mattered the most (which would be the music) progressively devolved into barely listenable schmaltz (although there were flashes of brilliance, like the ’69 Memphis sessions).

Fortunately, however, we can still pop in a DVD of Jailhouse Rock, and experience the King at the peak of his powers before Colonel Parker took his soul. This is one of the few films where Elvis actually gets to breathe a bit as an actor (King Creole is another example).

Although he basically plays himself (an unassuming country boy with a musical gift from the gods who becomes an overnight sensation), he never parlayed the essence of his “Elvis-ness” less self-consciously before the cameras as he does here. In addition to the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” song and dance number itself, Elvis rips it up with “Treat Me Nice” and “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains A punk version of A Star is Born. This 1981 curio (initially shelved from theatrical distribution) built a cult base, thanks to showings on USA Network’s Night Flight back in the day. As a narrative, this effort from record mogul turned movie director Lou Adler would have benefited from some script doctoring (Slap Shot screenwriter Nancy Dowd is off her game here) but for punk/new wave nostalgia junkies, it’s still a great time capsule.

Diane Lane plays a nihilistic mall rat who breaks out of the ‘burbs by forming an all-female punk trio with her two cousins (played by Marin Kanter and then-15 year-old Laura Dern). They dub themselves The Stains. Armed with a mission statement (“We don’t put out!”) and a stage look possibly co-opted from Divine in Pink Flamingos, this proto-riot grrl outfit sets out to conquer the world (and learn to play their instruments along the way).

Music biz clichés abound, but it’s a guilty pleasure, due to real-life rockers in the cast. Fee Waybill and Vince Welnick of The Tubes are a hoot as washed up glam rockers. The fictional punk band, The Looters (fronted by an angry young Ray Winstone) features Paul Simonon from The Clash and Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols.

The Phantom of the Paradise – To describe writer-director Brian DePalma’s 1974 horror schlock-rock musical take-off on The Phantom of the Opera as “over the top” would be understatement.

Paul Williams (who composed the memorable soundtrack) chews all the available scenery as ruthless music mogul “Swan”, a man with a curious predilection for insisting his artists sign their (somewhat long-term) contracts in blood. One who becomes so beholden is Winslow (William Finely) a talented composer hideously disfigured in a freak accident (and that’s only the least of his problems). Jessica Harper plays the object of poor Winslow’s unrequited desire, who is slowly falling under Swan’s evil spell.

Musical highlights include the haunting ballad “Old Souls” (performed by Harper, who has a lovely voice) and “Life at Last”, a glam rock number performed by “The Undead”, led by a scene-stealing Gerrit Graham camping it up as the band’s lead singer “Beef”.

Quadrophenia –The Who’s eponymous 1973 double-LP rock opera, Pete Towshend’s musical love letter to the band’s first g-g-generation of most rabid British fans (aka the “Mods”) inspired this 1979 film from director Franc Roddam. With the 1964 “youth riots” that took place at the seaside resort town of Brighton as catalyst, Roddam fires up a visceral character study in the tradition of the British “kitchen sink” dramas that flourished in the early 1960s.

Phil Daniels gives an explosive, James Dean-worthy performance as teenage “Mod” Jimmy. Bedecked in their trademark designer suits and Parka jackets, Jimmy and his Who (and ska)-loving compatriots cruise around London on their Vespa and Lambretta scooters, looking for pills to pop, parties to crash and “Rockers” to rumble with. The Rockers are identifiable by their greased-back hair, leathers, motorbikes, and their musical preference for likes of Elvis and Gene Vincent.

Look for a very young (and much less beefier) Ray Winstone (as a Rocker) and Sting (as a Mod bell-boy, no less). Wonderfully acted by a spirited cast, it’s a heady mix of youthful angst and raging hormones, supercharged by the power chord-infused grandeur of the Who’s music.

Rock and Roll High School – In this 1979 cult favorite from legendary “B” movie producer Roger Corman, director Alan Arkush evokes the spirit of those late 50s rock’ n’ roll exploitation movies (right down to having 20-something actors portraying “students”), substituting The Ramones for the usual clean-cut teen idols who inevitably pop up at the prom dance.

I’m still helplessly in love with P.J. Soles, who plays Vince Lombardi High School’s most devoted Ramones fan, Riff Randell. The great cast of B-movie troupers includes the late Paul Bartel (who directed several of his own films under Corman’s tutelage) and Mary Waronov (hilarious as the very strict principal.) R.I.P. Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show– The decades have not diminished the cult appeal of Jim Sharman’s film adaptation of Richard O’Brien’s original stage musical about a hapless young couple (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) who stumble into the lair of one Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) one dark and stormy night.

Much singing, dancing, cross-dressing, axe-murdering, cannibalism and hot sex ensues-with broad theatrical nods to everything from Metropolis, King Kong and Frankenstein to cheesy 1950s sci-fi, Bob Fosse musicals, 70s glam-rock and everything in between. Runs out of steam a bit in the third act, but with such spirited performances (and musical numbers) you won’t notice. O’Brien co-stars as the mad doctor’s hunchbacked assistant, Riff-Raff.

Starstruck-Gillian Armstrong primarily built her rep on female empowerment dramas like My Brilliant Career, Mrs. Soffel, High Tide, The Last Days of Chez Nous and Charlotte Gray; making this colorful, sparkling and energetic 1982 trifle an anomaly in the Australian director’s oeuvre. But it’s a lot of fun-and I’ve watched it more times than I’d care to admit.

It does feature a strong female lead , free-spirited Jackie (Jo Kennedy) who aspires to be Sydney’s next new wave singing sensation, with the help of her kooky, entrepreneurial-minded (and frequently truant) teenage cousin Angus (Ross O’Donovan) who has designated himself as publicist/agent/manager. Goofy, high-spirited and filled to the brim with catchy power pop (with contributions from members of Split Enz and Mental as Anything). Musical highlights include “I Want to Live in a House” and “Monkey in Me”.

Still Crazy– Q: What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? A: Homeless! If that old chestnut still makes you chortle, then you will “get” this movie. Painting a portrait of an “almost great” 70’s British band reforming for a 90’s reunion tour, Brian Gibson’s 1998 dramedy  Still Crazy does Spinal Tap one better (you could say this film goes to “eleven”, actually).  Unlike similar rock ‘n’ roll satires, it doesn’t mock its characters, rather it treats them with the kind of respect that comes from someone who genuinely loves  the music.

Great performances abound. Bill Nighy stands out in a hilarious yet poignant performance as the insecure lead singer of Strange Fruit. Prog-rock devotees will love the inside references, and are sure to recognize that the character of the “lost” leader/guitarist is based on Syd Barrett. Still, you don’t need to be a rabid rock geek to enjoy this film; its core issues, dealing with mid-life crisis and the importance of following your bliss, are universal themes.

Foreigner’s Mick Jones and Squeeze’s Chris Difford are among the contributors to the original soundtrack. I also recommend Gibson’s 1980 debut Breaking Glass (a similar but slightly darker rumination on music stardom). Sadly, the director died at age 59 in 2004.

Tommy –There was a time (a long, long, time ago) when some of my friends insisted that the best way to appreciate The Who’s legendary rock opera was to turn off the lamps, light a candle, drop a tab of acid and listen to all four sides with a good pair of cans. I never got around to making those arrangements, but it’s a pretty good bet that watching director Ken Russell’s insane screen adaptation is a close approximation. If you’re not familiar with his work, hang on to your hat (I’ll put it this way-Russell was not known for being subtle).

Luckily, the Who’s music is powerful enough to cut through the visual clutter, and carries the day. Two band members have roles-Roger Daltrey as the deaf dumb and blind Tommy, and Keith Moon has a cameo as wicked Uncle Ernie (Pete Townshend and John Entwistle only appear briefly).

The cast is an interesting cross of veteran actors (Oliver Reed, Ann-Margret, Jack Nicholson) and well-known musicians (Elton John, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner). Musical highlights include “Pinball Wizard”, “Eyesight to the Blind” “The Acid Queen” and “I’m Free”.

True Stories – Musician/raconteur David Byrne enters the Lone Star state of mind with this subtly satirical Texas travelogue from 1986. It’s not easy to pigeonhole; part road movie, part social satire, part long-form music video, part mockumentary. Episodic; basically a series of quirky vignettes about the generally likable inhabitants of sleepy Virgil, Texas. Among the town’s residents: John Goodman, “Pops” Staples, Swoosie Kurtz and the late Spalding Gray.

Once you acclimate to “tour-guide” Byrne’s bemused anthropological detachment, I think you’ll be hooked. Byrne directed and co-wrote with actor Stephen Tobolowsky and actress/playwright Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart, Miss Firecracker). The outstanding cinematography is by Edward Lachman. Byrne’s fellow Talking Heads have cameos performing “Wild Wild Life”, and several other songs by the band are in the soundtrack.

The Big Heat: The 10 Sweatiest Film noirs (and Neo-noirs)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 25, 2022)

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “Hotter than the 4th of July”?

Just as temperatures were heating up for about half of the U.S. population [in late May] the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its monthly climate trends report . The main takeaway? Prepare for a scorcher of a summer.

The agency said that above-normal temperatures are likely across almost all of the lower 48 states in June, July and August, except for small areas in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Plains.

The Northeast, from Delaware to Maine, has the highest likelihood of being extra-hot, along with parts of the West. The agency also forecast lower-than-normal precipitation for much of the West, which means it’s unlikely that the severe drought gripping the region will end.

[…] The climate pattern called La Niña is likely responsible for some of the above-normal heat. But it’s important to remember that, generally, it’s hotter than it used to be.

Oy.

So…with the mercury already soaring  in many sections of the country I I thought I would curate a Top 10 “hot” noirs binge-watch…should you be so inclined. Hot-as in sweaty, steamy, dripping, sticky, sudoriferous crime thrillers (get your mind out of the gutter). If you’re like me (and isn’t everyone?) there’s nothing more satisfying than gathering up an armload of DVDs (along with a 12-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper) and spending a hot weekend ensconced in my dark, cool media room (actually, I don’t have a “media room” nor any A/C in my apartment…but I can always dream). So here you go (alphabetically)…

https://i0.wp.com/image.tmdb.org/t/p/w780/o8wqyVw3s31vXVWG4R8Gd4Twail.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

Body Heat – A bucket of ice cubes in the bath is simply not enough to cool down this steamy noir. Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 Double Indemnity homage blows the mercury right out the top of the thermometer. Kathleen Turner is the sultry femme fatale who plays William Hurt’s hapless pushover like a Stradivarius (“You aren’t too smart. I like that in a man.”) The combination of the Florida heat with Turner and Hurt’s sexual chemistry will light your socks on fire. Outstanding support from Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J.A. Preston and an up-and-coming young character actor named Mickey Rourke.

https://i0.wp.com/static01.nyt.com/images/2016/06/21/watching/cool-hand-luke-watching-recommendation/cool-hand-luke-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-v2.jpg?resize=474%2C267&ssl=1

Cool Hand Luke – “Still shakin’ the bush, boss!” Paul Newman shines (and sweats buckets) in Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 drama.  Newman plays a ne’er do well from a southern burg who ends up on a chain gang. He gets busted for cutting the heads off of parking meters while on a drunken spree, but by the end of this sly allegory, astute viewers will glean that his real crime is being a non-conformist.

Highlights include Strother Martin’s “failure to communicate” speech (Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson’s screenplay is agog with classic lines), Harry Dean Stanton singing “The Midnight Special”, that (ahem) car wash scene and George Kennedy’s Best Supporting Actor turn. Also in the cast: Ralph Waite, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, Anthony Zerbe, and Joy Harmon steaming up the camera lens as the “car wash girl”.

https://i0.wp.com/m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BOWNhZWRiZjAtY2VmOC00YmE5LTkzZDYtY2U5Yzc2YmQ2MTUxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjkxMjM5Nzc@._V1_.jpg?resize=474%2C325&ssl=1

Dog Day Afternoon – As far as oppressively humid hostage dramas go, this 1975 “true crime” classic from Sidney Lumet out-sops the competition. The AC may be off, but Al Pacino is definitely “on” in his absolutely brilliant portrayal of John Wojtowicz (“Sonny Wortzik” in the film), whose botched attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank turned into a dangerous hostage crisis and a twisted media circus (the desperate Wojtowicz was trying to finance his lover’s sex-change operation).

Even though he had already done the first two Godfather films, this was the performance that put Pacino on the map. John Cazale  is at once scary and heartbreaking as Sonny’s dim-witted “muscle”. Keep an eye out for Chris Sarandon’s cameo. Frank Pierson’s tight screenplay was based on articles by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore.

https://i0.wp.com/i.pinimg.com/originals/41/03/af/4103afcb2e52fe3bc13d6f9c8452b7ea.png?w=474&ssl=1

High and Low– Akira Kurosawa’s multi-layered 1963 drama is adapted from Ed McBain’s crime thriller King’s Ransom. Toshiro Mifune is excellent as a CEO who risks losing controlling shares of his company when he takes responsibility to assure the safe return of his chauffeur’s son, who has been mistaken as his own child by bumbling kidnappers.

As the film progresses, the tableau subtly shifts from the executive’s comfortable, air-conditioned mansion “high” above the city, to the “low”, sweltering back alleys where desperate souls will do anything to survive; a veritable descent into Hell.

While the film is perfectly serviceable as an absorbing police procedural, it delves deeper than a standard genre entry. It is also an examination of class struggle, corporate culture, and the socioeconomic complexities of modern society.

https://forgottenfilmcast.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/the-hot-spot-1.png?w=474

The Hot Spot – Considering he accumulated 100+ feature film credits as an actor and a scant 7 as a director of same over a 55-year career, it’s not surprising that the late Dennis Hopper is mostly remembered for the former, rather than the latter. Still, the relative handful of films he directed includes Easy Rider, The Last Movie, Colors, and this compelling 1990 neo-noir.

Don Johnson delivers one of his better performances as an opportunistic drifter who wanders into a one-horse Texas burg. The smooth-talking hustler snags a gig as a used car salesman, and faster than you can say “only one previous owner!” he’s closed the deal on bedding the boss’s all-too-willing wife (Virginia Madsen), and starts putting the moves on the hot young bookkeeper (Jennifer Connelly). You know what they say, though…you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Toss in some avarice, blackmail, and incestuous small-town corruption, and our boy finds he is in way over his head.

https://i0.wp.com/miro.medium.com/proxy/1*Rqe6bzgxwc4wHn7whWr2Xg.jpeg?resize=474%2C266&ssl=1

In the Heat of the Night – “They call me Mister Tibbs!” In this classic (which won 1967’s Best Picture Oscar) Sidney Poitier plays a cosmopolitan police detective from Philly who gets waylaid in a torpid Mississippi backwater, where he is reluctantly recruited into helping the bigoted sheriff (Rod Steiger) solve a local murder. Poitier nails his performance; you can feel Virgil Tibb’s pain as he tries to maintain his professional cool amidst a brace of surly rednecks, who throw up roadblocks at every turn.

While Steiger is outstanding here as well, I always found it ironic that he was the one who won “Best Actor in a leading role”, when Poitier was the star of the film (it seems Hollywood didn’t get the film’s message). Sterling Silliphant’s brilliant screenplay (another Oscar) works as a crime thriller and a “fish out of water” story. Director Norman Jewison was nominated but didn’t score a win. Future director Hal Ashby won for Best Editing. Quincy Jones composed the soundtrack, and Ray Charles sings the sultry theme.

https://i0.wp.com/m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BYzM2N2ZmZTctOTM5Mi00MzUyLWIyOGQtZTcyNDA5Njc4ZWMyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTE2NzA0Ng@@._V1_.jpg?resize=474%2C284&ssl=1

The Night of the Hunter – Is it a film noir? A horror movie? A black comedy? A haunting American folk tale? The answer would be yes. The man responsible for this tough-to-categorize 1957 film was one of the greatest acting hams of the 20th century, Charles Laughton, who began and ended his directorial career with this effort. Like many films now regarded as “cult classics”, it was savaged by critics and tanked at the box office upon initial release (enough to spook Laughton from ever returning to the director’s chair).

Robert Mitchum is brilliant (and genuinely scary) as a knife-wielding religious zealot who does considerably more “preying” than “praying”. Before Mitchum’s condemned cell mate (Peter Graves) meets the hangman, he talks in his sleep about $10,000 in loot money stashed somewhere on his property. When the “preacher” gets out of the slam, he makes a beeline for the widow (Shelly Winters) and her two young’uns. A disturbing (and muggy) tale unfolds. The great Lillian Gish is on board as well. Artfully directed by Laughton and beautifully shot by DP Stanley Cortez.

https://i0.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/-pxc4Q84JOR0/XSipDOJXN4I/AAAAAAAARNA/ukLzuQcE93woVow1-_zeg-LJ9xZLrZK0gCLcBGAs/s1600/The_Postman_Always_Rings_Twice_1.jpg?resize=474%2C307&ssl=1

The Postman Always Rings Twice  – A grimy (but strapping) itinerant (John Garfield) drifts into a hot and dusty California truck stop and” last chance” gas station run by an old codger (Cecil Kellaway) and his hot young wife (Lana Turner). Sign outside reads: “Man Wanted”. Garfield wants a job. Turner wants a man. Guess what happens.

An iconic noir and blueprint for ensuing entries in the “I love you too, baby…now how do we lose the husband?” sub-genre. Tay Garnett directs with a wonderfully lurid flourish. Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch adapted their screenplay from the James M. Cain novel.

https://i0.wp.com/eyegiene.sdsu.edu/2016/fall/touchlamp.jpg?w=474&ssl=1

Touch of Evil– Yes, this is Orson Welles’ classic 1958 sleaze-noir with that celebrated and oft-imitated tracking shot, Charlton Heston as a Mexican police detective, and Janet Leigh in various stages of undress. Welles casts himself as Hank Quinlan, a morally bankrupt police captain who lords over a corrupt border town. Quinlan is the most singularly grotesque character Welles ever created as an actor and one of the most offbeat heavies in film noir.

This is also one of the last great roles for Marlene Dietrich (“You should lay off those candy bars.”). The creepy and disturbing scene where Leigh is terrorized in an abandoned motel by a group of thugs led by a leather-jacketed Mercedes McCambridge presages David Lynch; there are numerous flourishes throughout that are light-years ahead of anything else going on in American cinema at the time. Welles famously despised the studio’s original 96-minute theatrical cut; there have been nearly half a dozen re-edited versions released since 1975.

https://i0.wp.com/pics.filmaffinity.com/The_Wages_of_Fear-553467916-large.jpg?resize=474%2C356&ssl=1

The Wages of Fear / Sorcerer–The primeval jungles of South America have served as a backdrop for a plethora of sweat-streaked tales (Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God come to mind), but Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 “existential noir” from sits atop that list.

Four societal outcasts, who for one reason or another find themselves figuratively and literally at the “end of the road”, hire themselves out for an apparently suicidal job…transporting two truckloads of touchy nitro over several hundred miles of bumpy jungle terrain for delivery to a distant oilfield.

It does take some time for the “action” to really get going; once it does, you won’t let out your breath until the final frame. Yves Montand leads the fine international cast. Clouzot co-scripted with Jerome Geronimi, adapting from the original Georges Anaud novel.

https://i0.wp.com/homemcr.org/app/uploads/2017/09/Sorcerer.jpg?resize=474%2C267&ssl=1

If you’ve already seen The Wages of Fear, you might want to check out William Friedkin’s 1977 action-adventure Sorcerer, which was greeted with indifference by audiences and critics upon initial release. Maybe it was the incongruous title, which led many to assume it would be in the vein of his previous film (and huge box-office hit), The Exorcist. Then again, it was tough for any other film to garner attention in the immediate wake of Star Wars.

At any rate, it’s a well-directed, terrifically acted “update” of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 film noir (I refer to it as an “update” in deference to Friedkin, who bristles at the term “remake” in a letter from the director that was included with the 2014 Blu-ray).

Roy Scheider heads a superb international cast as a desperate American on the lam in South America, who signs up for a job transporting a truckload of nitroglycerin through rough terrain. Tangerine Dream provides the memorable soundtrack.

Tribeca 2022: Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T. Rex ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/image-30.png?resize=1024%2C576&ssl=1

Flying saucer, take me away. In 1971, the year before Bowie brought Ziggy Stardust to Earth, T. Rex landed the glam rock mother ship with their breakthrough album Electric Warrior. Originally formed as the duo Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1967, songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Marc Bolan and percussionist/obvious Tolkien fan Steve Peregrin Took (aka Steve Porter) put out several albums of psychedelia-tinged folk before splitting in 1970. Mickey Finn replaced Took, and Bolan recruited additional personnel and shortened the name to T. Rex in 1970.

Bolan’s coupling of power chord boogie with pan-sexual stage attire turned heads, making him the poster boy for what came to be labeled “glam-rock” (although, to my ears Bolan’s songs are rooted in traditional Chuck Berry riffs and straight-ahead blues-rock…albeit with enigmatic and absurdist lyrics). Tragically, Bolan died in a car accident in 1977 at 29. An amazingly prolific songwriter, he left behind a substantial catalogue and a legion of fans.

Ethan Silverman’s film traces Bolan’s career, weaving in footage from the sessions for the 2020 multi-artist tribute album Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T. Rex (Silverman was also involved in the production of the album). In addition to archival Bolan interviews and T. Rex performances (much of the latter taken from Ringo Starr’s 1973 Born to Boogie doc), tribute album participants like U2, Nick Cave Joan Jett, and Rolan Bolan weigh in. There are also comments (some archival) from Gloria Jones, Elton John, David Bowie, Billy Idol, Tony Visconti, Ringo and Cameron Crowe.  While it may not be a definitive portrait, it’s a heartfelt nod to a rock icon whose lasting influence cannot be overstated.

Tribeca 2022: Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/image-31.png?w=1020&ssl=1

Andrew Jenks’ documentary connects the dots between two uniquely American traditions: Appalachian folk art, and shoppers trampling each other at Black Friday sales (“USA! USA! USA!”). But seriously…Cabbage Patch Kids. I’m old enough to remember the phenomena, but when they hit store shelves in the early 80s, I was in my mid-20s and too old to care.

Irregardless, I found some parts of the origin story weirdly fascinating, particularly the brick-and-mortar “hospital” where purchasers could view their doll’s “delivery” (from a head of cabbage) and then sign official “adoption papers” (more akin to Motel Hell than a Disney movie). And then there were the plagiarism lawsuits. Not essential viewing, but if you’re in the mood for a fun wallow in 80s nostalgia, you’ll dig it (hey…it’s even narrated by Neil Patrick Harris).

Tribeca 2022: Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/image-32.png?resize=1024%2C702&ssl=1

Several years ago, I saw Tom Jones at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Naturally, he did his cavalcade of singalong hits, but an unexpected moment occurred mid-set, when he launched into Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”. Jones’ performance felt so intimate, confessional and emotionally resonant that you’d think Cohen had tailored it just for him. When Jones sang, I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice, I “got” it. Why shouldn’t Tom Jones cover a Cohen song? I later learned “Tower of Song” has also been covered by the likes of U2, Nick Cave, and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

A truly great song tends to transcend its composer, taking on a life of its own. The reasons why can be as enigmatic as the act of creation itself. In an archival clip in Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s beautifully constructed documentary, the late Cohen muses, “If I knew where songs came from, I’d go there more often.” Using the backstory of his beloved composition “Hallelujah” as a catalyst, the filmmakers take us “there”, rendering a moving, spiritual portrait of a poet, a singer-songwriter, and a seeker.

Tribeca 2022: The Integrity of Joseph Chambers ***½

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/image-33.png?resize=1024%2C577&ssl=1

This psychological thriller has a slow burn, but really gets under your skin. Early one morning, a white-collar father of two (Clayne Crawford) rolls out of his warm bed and readies himself to go deer hunting. His half-awake (and concerned) wife reminds him he has never gone hunting by himself and has limited experience with firearms. Undeterred, he insists that the best way to get experience is to “just go out and do it.” After stopping at a friend’s house to borrow his pickup truck (and a rifle), he heads for the woods. What could possibly go wrong? Anchored by Crawford’s intense performance, writer-director Robert Machoian has fashioned a riveting tale infused with a dash of Dostoevsky and a dollop of Deliverance.

Tribeca 2022: Lakota Nation vs. The United States ***½

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 18, 2022)

https://i0.wp.com/digbysblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/image-34.png?resize=1024%2C577&ssl=1

The history of the Black Hills is a microcosm of America’s “founding” …discovery, expansion, exploitation, and genocide (and not always in that order). I put “founding” in quotes because, of course, “someone” was already here when Columbus (and eventually, the Pilgrims) landed. In the case of the Black Hills (1.2 million acres encompassing adjoining sections of South Dakota and Wyoming), those residents were the Očéti Šakówiŋ (aka the Sioux Nation).

Writer-director-narrator Layli Long Soldier makes it clear in the introduction to her film that it is not going to be a chronological history, with reenactments of key events. In other words, don’t expect a Ken Burns joint here…but that’s a good thing, because essentially her documentary is a tone poem that embodies the spirit of the Oyate people and beautifully conveys their deep connections to the Black Hills (after all, Long Soldier is a poet).

There is plenty of history in the film; sadly, most of it bleak, revealing an endless string of broken treaties and general lack of respect for sacred land (from the Indian Wars of the 1800s to President Trump’s boorish Fourth of July rally at Mt. Rushmore in 2020). But Long Soldier holds out hope for the future as well, with profiles of longtime Native American activists and a new generation of community leaders and organizers. Powerful.