The Fog of War

Not rated yet!
Director
Errol Morris
Runtime
1 h 35 min
Release Date
9 December 2003
Genres
War, Documentary, History
Overview
Using archival footage, United States Cabinet conversation recordings, and an interview of the 85-year-old Robert McNamara, THE FOG OF WAR depicts his life, from working as a WWII whiz kid military officer, to being the Ford Motor Company's president, to managing the American Vietnam War, as defense secretary for presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
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VJ Morton7
Right Wing Film Geek



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  • TIFF Day Five (with grades from Day 8)

    TIFF Day Five (with grades from Day 8)

    Again, we’ll start short, with my grades from Day Eight at Toronto:

    GOD IS BRAZILIAN (Carlos Diegues, Brazil, 2003) — 3
    THE SINGING DETECTIVE (Keith Gordon, USA, 2003) — 7
    GUEST ROOM (Skander Halim, Canada, 2003) — 7
    THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS (Lars Von Trier and Jorgen Leth, Denmark, 2003) — 9
    GOZU (Takashi Miike, Japan, 2003) — 8

    And here are the capsules from Day Five, with major spoilers for DOGVILLE and A TALKING PICTURE

    DOGVILLE (Lars Von Trier, Denmark, 2003, 9)

    All right … this is The Big One. The capsule I was dreading having to write. The film people are gonna be scratching their heads over next year. The film U.S. conservatives will blast someone called “Rightwing Film Geek” for thinking it’s one of the best films of the year. It was widely derided by the U.S. press at the Cannes festival in May as an anti-American rant by an ignorant man who had never been here. And not for no reason, mind you.

    The vast 175-minute body of this film portrays the reaction of the residents of Dogville to the arrival of the stranger Grace, played by Nicole Kidman, and her involvement and eventual estrangement from the town. It’s easy to see how the usual suspects would interpret this in all sorts of ways (some of them invited by Von Trier, my favorite working filmmaker). But DOGVILLE is much richer and more complex than that (the unfortunately crude and literal closing credits notwithstanding), and Von Trier the artist-prankster is too good to make something dismissable or without formal brilliance.

    On the one hand, DOGVILLE, performed on an “Our Town”-style stage where chalk outlines define the houses and streets and there are only a few props, is too unspecific to be convincing as a national portrait. DANCER IN THE DARK had the same “problem” — while clearly and specifically set in the United States, it really belonged in the world of movie melodramas and worked like gangbusters as a weepie (imagine watching TOP HAT for information about Venice, rather than enjoying Fred and Ginger’s dancing, for the sense of what I’m getting at). In the same way, the main body of DOGVILLE is so stylized, not so much general and unspecific as defiantly anti-specific (it literally screams “artificial set” at every instant), that it’s impossible to take seriously in realistic terms as social criticism.

    Also it’s impossible to take seriously the closing credits — basically still photos of poor or oppressed Americans to the David Bowie song “Young Americans” — while taking equally seriously (I will speak vaguely) a back-seat car conversation between Nicole Kidman and James Caan near the film’s end. That conversation, which I have barely begun to fully digest, moves the film onto another plane entirely, the level of theological allegory (again, it’s not subtle — Kidman’s character is named Grace), and justifies the decision to stage DOGVILLE in this fashion. Plus, the anti-American Americans (think Susan Sontag) who might be expected to lap up this film will see an uncomfortable portrait of themselves in a certain character, who I also will not name, but it’ll be obvious when you see the movie.

    So you have to triage something, and my inclination is to write off the closing credits as a mistake and love the main body of the film and its dazzling, masterful quality *as a film* — the overhead shots of the chalk-outlined stage; the use of sound effects for things unseen like the opening of doors (very noticeable at the start, when we’re unused to the stylistic trope; gradually diminshing as we’re absorbed in the film); John Hurt’s ubiquitous voice-of-God narration; the gallery of supporting performances, so good that no one stands out; the framing of the first rape of Grace so that we see people going about their daily business through the wall-less sets; the blinding quality of the cut to the first “daytime” shot, when the black dome around the set becomes pure white; the gold-orange light shining on Kidman and Ben Gazzara’s faces as she tears the black curtain for the only time in the film; the snow falling on the black stage set.

    But what *is* it all about, Alfie? I’ll keep my cards close to the vest until more people have had a chance to see DOGVILLE (though I *have* outlined the essentials of the theory in person to some fellow TIFF geeks), but I think that after making “Lives of the Saints” films in BREAKING THE WAVES and (sorta) DANCER and THE IDIOTS, Von Trier has filmed a theological justification for Hell.

    THE FOG OF WAR (Errol Morris, USA, 2003, 6)

    A major disappointment coming from a documentarian of Morris’ stature, especially since I was so psyched about the subject matter — a profile of Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson. But it retrospect, I can see how the film’s subject matter was just fundamentally alien to Morris’ talents. The maker of THE THIN BLUE LINE, MR. DEATH and GATES OF HEAVEN makes documentaries like nobody else. He coaxes people into saying things that reveal themselves in unintentional ways — sometimes for evil like the killer David Harris in LINE, sometimes for failure like the brothers in GATES, sometimes for a kind of sorrowful pathos like executioner Fred Leuchter in DEATH, sometimes for poetry like the woman on the porch talking about her dog in GATES. And he shows us parts of the world we hadn’t seen before — the pet cemetery business, a man who builds execution machines, a forgotten Texas death-row case.

    And those comparisons should tell you why I found FOG OF WAR so blah — though never uninteresting or boring (hence the relatively high grade), and blessedly free of authorial didacticism. On the one hand, the issues covered here — WW2 civilian bombing, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War — have been publicly debated ad nauseum in one or another forum for decades. And on the other, McNamara is too cagey, too practiced, too much of a smoothie to say anything he doesn’t want to say. The film even includes a few minutes near the end where McNamara saying he handled the press by always thinking “don’t answer the question you’re asked, answer the question you wanted to be asked.” And FOG closes with McNamara hinting (kinda proudly, I thought) at the possibilities he left dangling: “I’d just get in trouble if I said more. One way or the other.” It’s as if Morris is saying “sorry, but I just didn’t get anything.”

    The ominous, portentous Phillip Glass score, very similar to the one in THIN BLUE LINE, promises dark secrets, but the film just doesn’t deliver. You would think this would be the last thing ever to say of an Errol Morris movie, but FOG is just too conventional. The 11-lesson chapter structure notwithstanding, it even basically follows the chronological structure of a TV-movie biopic. Even the Interrotron (a camera machine setup invented by Morris that lets he and the subject look directly at each other, while the subject looks directly into the camera) is pretty much wasted, though it’s never uninteresting. THE FOG OF WAR is basically just a very arty Special Episode of 60 MINUTES, an interview/profile that is so disappointing because it did not need Errol Morris to be made.

    A TALKING PICTURE (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal, 2003, 4)

    I pretty much have to see this film a second time, and I can guarantee you that the rating won’t be “4” afterwards. It’ll likely either be a “7-or-8” or a “0-or-1” (the “4” is merely an average for now), because either this is the most insufferable 95 minutes of pretentious, self-congratulatory Euroweenie tripe ever made, or the most brilliant joke on pretentious, self-congratulatory Euroweenie tripe ever made. I honestly cannot decide, and for reasons I cannot explain without giving away the whole movie. Here’s what happened.

    On principle, I have never walked out of a movie in a theater — I will not give a bad film the satisfaction. But at about the 60-minute mark of this movie, I decided to walk out for the first time in my life, as the film was driving me up the wall. To that point, it had literally been nothing more than a vacation film of a Lisbon history professor taking her daughter on a Mediterranean cruise. They (and we) see the sights of Marseilles, Naples, Athens, Istanbul and other cities accompanied by some of the worst didactic, exposition-laden dialogue I have ever heard. These are not direct quotations, but it is the general style:

    “Mommy, what’s that.”
    “That’s the Parthenon, dear.”
    “What’s the Parthenon?”
    “It was a temple the Greeks built to the godess Athena.”
    “Who’s Athena?”
    “She was the protector of Athens, represented in a 50-foot bronze statue.”
    “Where’s the statue now, mommy?”
    “It was destroyed by [whoever], dear.”
    “So is Athens no longer protected?”
    (Mother smiles indulgently.)

    “The Greeks protect Athens now. It was just a myth.”
    “What’s a myth, mommy?”
    “It’s like a story …”

    And on and on and on and on and on and on. At various stops, legendary European actresses Catherine Deneuve, Stephania Sandrelli and Irene Pappas get on the ship — playing celebrities, but not themselves. They have a dinner Symposium with ship captain John Malkovich, in which all four people, I am not kidding, give lengthy speeches in their native languages, and congratulate one another on how beautiful and multicultural they all are for understanding one another, and how wouldn’t the world be a better, more tolerant and understanding place if run by women just like them (the EU was founded by nasty men, you understand).

    I got so sick of all this cosmopolitan cafe society blather that I walked out. I went to the theater’s bathroom, and after I was done thought to myself: “Victor, you just solved part of the reason you were so restless. You’re 0-for-life in not walking out. Go back in.” So I did, but A TALKING PICTURE continues in the same insufferable vein for another half-hour.

    However … (and the SPOILERS are coming) then it takes the most bizarre twist I have ever seen. It only lasts about three minutes, has had audiences rolling in the aisles with laughter, and involves a terrorist bomb threat, but it potentially recodes everything that went before it. Is Oliveira saying that these people are a ship of fools, lounging on the Titanic? Is he berating (and, in the film, punishing) cosmopolitan Westerners for narcissism and self-absorption? Does indulgence of Islam spell doom? Does the first 90 minutes play differently, as something other than the leftist Eurotripe I was convinced I was watching, knowing what happens? It’s not so over-the top that it can *only* be parody (unless the pages of the Guardian and the closing credits of DOGVILLE are the same kind of parody). Does such recoding make the first 90 minutes less boring and thus worth trying to unpack all these questions? Stay tuned.

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    September 12, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

    2 Comments »

    1. […] documentary, THE FOG OF WAR, was picked too. Though I’ve expressed my doubts and crushed high expectations about FOG, it’s also good that finally the Academy acknowledges the existence of the […]

      Pingback by Love and hate about the Oscar nominations « Rightwing Film Geek | January 11, 2008 | Reply

    2. excellent issues altogether, you just gained a logo new reader.

      What could you suggest in regards to your submit that you simply made a few days in the past?

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      Comment by Canal winchester Karate | February 27, 2015 | Reply


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  • Worst Moviegoing Experiences: Misadventures of a Rightwing Film Geek
    (”The Fog of War” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    Worst Moviegoing Experiences: Misadventures of a Rightwing Film Geek

    This is a reprint of an article at the Nerve.com film blog The Screengrab, which is now defunct but was edited at the time by Bilge Ebiri. As a regular feature, he would ask critics and cinephiles to name their worst filmgoing experiences. As I said at the time, “if you want to read all about Victor being accused of committing the solitary vice in public, or how and where he concluded that God is dead — here is your chance.” The Screengrab is now inaccessible except through Web archiving, which is why I feel comfortable reproducing this Nerve post here, in 2013. I was able to recover Bilge’s art and his captions, which were quite fun. The italics are Bilge’s words, including an insertion that I thought required a response. It was initially a separate blog post of my own, but it works fine now as a footnote here.

    ————————————————————-

    Extremism in the defense of Lars Von Trier is no vice.

    Victor Morton, aka The Rightwing Film Geek, is one of the best film writers out there. Notice that I don’t say “online” anywhere in that sentence — that’s because Victor could easily give most pro print critics a run for their money as well. And while Victor’s politics don’t exactly match mine — or most Nerve readers’, I suspect — even some of his political rantings are worth reading, as they’re often (though not always) very cogently argued. Anyway, I digress. Here, Victor relates one rather unfortunate, and unfortunately hilarious, incident that occurred to him a few years ago, and then muses on some of the difficulties of being a film-buff with beliefs diametrically opposed to his fellow cineastes.

    The worst filmgoing experience I have ever had was actually a moment of profound personal embarrassment. An opening weekend midnight screening of HIGH FIDELITY was packed to the rafters and the only seat I could easily find was the very back row, right against the wall. A woman was sitting next to me and her boyfriend was on her other side. It was kind of cold in the theater and so, since I had on only a polo shirt and shorts, I stuck both my arms inside my shirt to keep warmer. In addition, my shorts were just a little bit tight around the waist and so (under my shirt) I stuck my fingers in between the shorts’ waistband and my waist, just about nail-deep, to relieve the pressure some. Now my description makes it clear I was doing nothing untoward. But to someone with imperfect knowledge, like, say…someone sitting immediately next to you in a dark theater…it could easily look like…something else.

    In the middle of the movie, the scene where Rob goes to the bar with the intent of picking up Marie De Salle, the boyfriend turns to me and says (not yelling, but not in a movie-theater whisper either), “Would you STOP that?” Confused, I said, “What? I’m just cold.” It then dawned on me what he might have been thinking. I issued a euphemistic denial and repeated that I was only feeling cold. Nothing was said after that, but my face was the approximate hue of the richest marinara sauce you ever ate and the approximate temperature of Washington in August. I was so embarrassed and self-conscious that the rest of the movie could have been the missing reels from the end of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and my mind would still have been somewhere else. I made a point of sitting through the credits to cut down the chances of seeing the pair outside.

    “You, in the back. Yeah, you. Don’t think I can’t see what you’re doing…”

    Most of my bad film-going experiences have involved bad reactions from other audience members. When I saw RUSSIAN ARK in commercial release in Washington, someone made his political opinions known after the credits started to run. He yelled at the screen (or it felt like a yell in the little shoebox art-house with a capacity of maybe 80 people) “Hooray for empire. Fuck Bush. What a disgusting movie.” Yes, there is a human being walking the face of the Earth, wasting perfectly good oxygen (and I doubt he’s the only one) who can see a movie about the aristocratic splendor of traditional monarchy and think of … Dubya.

    But I expect nothing on that front from DC art-house audiences. Or from the Toronto Film Festival audience who applauded in the middle of THE FOG OF WAR at Robert McNamara’s retarded “please love me, leftists” line “if we can’t persuade nations of similar values of the rightness of our cause, we’d better re-examine our reasoning.” Of course, Errol Morris thoughtfully provided a few seconds of dead space at that point. [Editor’s confession: We applauded too. It’s a great line.]*

    That sort of “lone Red Sox supporter in Yankee Stadium” moment is just par for the course for a conservative film geek. Which is why my most-depressing filmgoing experience ever came from a very different audience. When I was in grad school, I was psyched for the chance to see DAY OF WRATH in a theater, at a campus screening. Now, I’m a complete Dreyer fanboy, and while he did make a couple of lighter films early in his pre-PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC career, he wasn’t one for inserting comic relief into a serious film. And DAY OF WRATH, masterpiece though it is, is a completely humorless, gray, dour movie. There is a scene near the midway point of the movie of Anne and Martin — the new wife and stepson — together at the rectory that was intercut with Absalon (the religious patriarch) visiting the deathbed of the witch-torturer. Anne says to Martin something like “I wish him dead,” referring to Absalon. Then Dreyer cut back to Absalon crossing the moors on the way home, letting out a shiver and saying something like, “I felt the cold hand of death brush my shoulder.” At that line, the audience let out a big laugh.

    Hipster central?

    I was on the point of tears when I reflected on it. Here was a movie where clearly witches, the devil, God and the supernatural are taken deadly seriously and yet the audience was too post-modern, too hip, too knowing to take the possibilities seriously enough, even if only for 100 minutes of a VERY somber movie. Apparently God can’t even gain a place as a fictional character about whom you suspend disbelief as though he were a crime-fighting space alien who flies and gains super strength because of our planet’s yellow sun. But what makes this moment the ne plus ultra of depressing filmgoing experiences was where this occurred — Notre Dame. The national icon of Catholic higher education. Where every dorm has its own Sunday Mass. Where academic department have their own priests. The home of Touchdown Jesus, ferchrissakes. I had tears in my eyes for most of the rest of the movie. God is dead. Hip irony has won. The Coen Brothers are masters of the universe.

    But that very art-house faux-sophistication redeemed a different bad film experience, this one involving print quality. During the flurry of Peter Greenaway releases in 1990-91 after the notoriety of THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER, I saw A ZED AND TWO NAUGHTS (a movie so mannered it makes COOK look like a cinema-verite doc) at an Austin, Texas arthouse. At a certain point, the film jumped so that each image consisted of the bottom half of, say, frame 1000, at the top of the screen with the top half of frame 1001 at the bottom half of the screen. There was a black bar in the middle maybe 10 percent of the screen depth. (I hope that makes it clear what we were seeing.) I decided relatively quickly that it wasn’t intentional. I entertained the thought that maybe it wasn’t a mistake, but this film, even more than COOK, THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT or DROWNING BY NUMBERS consisted of frame after frame of stunningly composed still lifes. It just didn’t strike me that Greenaway, unlike say an Andy Kauffman, would split the image in half bass-ackwards that way. But since I was hating the movie anyway, I decided to have some fun and see if anyone else noticed the emperor’s clothes. It took at least 5 minutes before anyone piped up.

    ————————————————-
    * Point of Personal Privilege: Why the there-referred-to McNamara line in THE FOG OF WAR is retarded. “Nations with similar values” doesn’t mean anything. Looking at how nations lined up vis the U.S. on the Iraq War — setting aside Britain and France (they’re special culture-driven cases). By what standard is Canada (opposed) a “nation with similar values” but Australia (supportive) not? By what standard is Germany and Belgium (opposed) “nations with similar values” but Spain or Italy (supportive) not? Russia, but not Poland and Bulgaria? Turkey but not Kuwait? And if the UN’s gonna get into the act, nothing would be done on anything at all without the approval of Communist China, about whose “similar values,” the less said, the better. Looking at the European and Commonwealth nations named above, with the Anglo-frog exceptions — support entirely turned on whether the government in power at the time was left-led (in which case it opposed the war) or right-led (in which case it supported it). Support for the was pretty much a partisan affair (and this was so in the US too). “Nations with similar values”? My tookus.

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  • TIFF Days Three and Four (grades from Days 5, 6 and 7)
    (”The Fog of War” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    TIFF Days Three and Four (grades from Days 5, 6 and 7)

    Let’s do the easy stuff first, my grades from the last three days of the Toronto International Film Festival:

    DOGVILLE (Lars Von Trier, Denmark, 2003) — 9
    THE FOG OF WAR (Errol Morris, USA, 2003) — 6
    A TALKING PICTURE (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal, 2003) — 4
    THE COMPANY (Robert Altman, USA, 2003) — 6
    LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE (Sylvain Chomet, France/Canada, 2003) — 7
    GOOD BYE, DRAGON INN (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan, 2003) — 8
    AT FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON (Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran, 2003) — 4
    THE SCHOOL OF ROCK (Richard Linklater, USA, 2003 ) — 7
    21 GRAMS (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, USA, 2003) — 6
    THE GRUB STAKE (Bert Van Tuyle/Nell Shipman, USA/Canada, 1923) — 3
    SHATTERED GLASS (Billy Bob, USA, 2003) — 7

    And here are the capsules for the remaining films I saw through Day Four:

    BRIGHT FUTURE (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2003, 6)

    This is easily my favorite film by Mr. No Relation, but this really isn’t saying as much as it might sound. Plus the Kiyoshi fans I know think this is one of his weaker efforts — call it a Kurosawa film for people who don’t like Kurosawa. The plot begins with two slacker friends, Yuji and Mamoru, and their boss, who wants to relive his youth. But sometimes whole subplots and sequences play themselves out merely to set up or get to the heart of something else (think THE CRYING GAME or CITY OF GOD), and the heart of the film is a pet jellyfish that Mamoru left Yuji, and the relationship between Yuji and Mamoru’s father.

    What sets BRIGHT FUTURE apart from KK’s other films for me is that this time, he has a metaphor (the jellyfish) and stays with it and doesn’t try to get too obscure (CURE ended in a blizzard of non sequiturs; PULSE was just wtf? throughout). We’re kinda expecting this to morph into THE JELLYFISH THAT ATE TOKYO, since most of Kurosawa’s earlier films were horror films of one sort or another. But here, he stays with the film’s third father-son relationship and how it deals with “the jellyfish.” What is the jellyfish a metaphor for — the “sons” friendship, the future, adaptation to environment, all sorts of things (it’s one of those deliberately all-unifying symbols, like Moby Dick).

    The film is shot on two different qualities of digital video, and the effect is a grungy, dirty, washed out world where the red on the jellyfish stands out as practically the only primary color, and results in a truly glorious image as a parade of glowing red balls swim through a grungy canal out to the sea. Sometimes the metaphors, hooks and symbols are just too obviously (and sometimes explicitly) metaphors, hooks and symbols — they don’t really work as themselves (there are two father figures; one of them has two sets of sons; the jellyfish revert to their nature once freed; fatherhood is transferred). BRIGHT FUTURE is a very schematic movie, with a deeply ironic and unsubtle ending. Still, I didn’t leave the theater bored or indifferent, and that’s always good.

    ONG-BAK: MUAY THAI WARRIOR (Pracha Pinkaew, Thailand, 2003, 9)

    This martial arts film from Thailand is awesome. This movie has a Mr. Big villain that has a tracheotomy and so speaks through a machine, like Ned in SOUTH PARK, and smokes through the hole in his throat. This movie has a hero who jumps through a coiled-up ring of barbed wire, at full speed. This movie does not use wires or computer imaging. This movie’s hero runs over the shoulders of six bad guys in a line. This movie’s hero jumps over one moving car at full speed and slides under another at full speed. This movie has an Australian villain who snarls “Thai women come to my country to be hookers.” This movie has a fight in which a refrigerator is used as a weapon. This movie has two guys falling from a third-story window, and one plants a full kick on the other while in midair. Did you get that … “while in midair”? This movie has a hero who can execute a jump kick to the head while his legs are on fire. Did you get that … “while his legs are on fire”? This movie’s villain has a secret lair in the mountains. This movie has a villain who breaks the sidekick’s arm with a chop against the joint (think Joe Theismann); the hero retaliates by using the same maneuver to tear off that villain’s leg. This movie has a Buddha head crush two villains at once. This movie prompted dozens of winces and gasps (and laughs) from the hardened gorehounds at Toronto Midnight Madness (and the series’ first-ever standing ovation, according to the programmer). This movie had the first question for the director be “how many stuntmen were killed in making this movie?” (A: None.) This movie didn’t let out, because of delays and a lengthy Q-and-A, until 3 a.m. at the end of (for me) a six-film day; I was still on too much of an andrenaline high to sleep for more than an hour. This movie is the most awesome movie in the history of awesomeness.

    THE MAYOR OF SUNSET STRIP (George Hickenlooper, USA, 2003, 7)

    A small bit of genius here in the fact that this is a moral film that is never moralistic. You might not even recognize until, purely hypothetically speaking of course, you are looking through your viewing notes in order to write your capsule live from a Toronto Internet cafe, just how thoroughly it repudiates the lifestyle and mores of its titular character, Rodney Bingenheimer.

    The illusion and transitoriness of celebrity, in this case a disc jockey who was one of the great celebrity hangers-on of all time, has been done a thousand times before — but seldom with both this much thoroughness and with this much understanding for what made the lifestyle attractive in the first place without coming across as a scolding jeremiad (except in one scene, involving a member of the girl band the Runaways). It’s mostly a bright, fast-paced and funny look at one man’s journey through the sexdrugsandrocknroll lifestyle, and is consumable on those terms.

    Bingenheimer was never exactly famous, but he was the ultimate plugged-in guy, and he had a knack for spotting The Next Hot Thing in pop music. This in-between status gave him thousands of celebrity photos with seemingly everybody who’s anybody — a fetish from a very young age; he even recorded a call to JFK’s White House, which we hear. He also had access to limitless sex. Groupies could get close enough to him, but not the actual celebrities, for a hookup. He got more than Robert Plant by being the next-best thing and available — which about says it all. The movie compares Bingenheimer to a West Coast Andy Warhol, but the amazing photos and footage in the film suggest another comparison — Woody Allen’s Zelig character, in that he seemingly morphed into whatever crowd was The In Crowd.

    Yet you come out of the theater wondering just how much self-knowledge this guy has. He’s kept on at a radio station merely for show, and he doesn’t seem to realize that he has helped wreck the life of a man who went out West to become famous like him. There are several stand-out references to Kato Kaelin (a punchline) and Phil Spector (potentially a murderer). His father and stepmother are clearly, without saying it but showing it in the placement of photos, ashamed of him. And his girlfriend doesn’t love him.

    My fellow TIFF geek Noel Murray said as we walked out the theater that the girlfriend and parent scenes were the documentarian rubbing Rodney’s nose in it. I initially told Noel that I didn’t really think so, but I have changed my mind. However, I have to say that it just didn’t bother me — partly because the film filmed Rodney’s holy moment (dumping his mother’s ashes); partly because Rodney makes it equally clear that he doesn’t love his girlfriend either (he says he’d move to London in a jiffy if he saw someone better); and partly because he seems so oblivious that self-knowledge might have required it.

    TIME OF THE WOLF (Michael Haneke, France/Austria, 2003, 8 )

    The first 30-40 minutes of this movie are as good as anything Haneke has ever made, which is saying a lot. The man is the best pure director in the world, but his script lets him down in the middle of the movie. Society breaks down for reasons that are never explained and are thus not important — and the movie’s brilliant beginning shows Isabelle Huppert and her family trying to get by on a day-to-day basis (or a minute-to-minute one, actually) in a world where nothing can be counted on and all social rules have evaporated.

    The opening scene, of a confrontation in the cabin, is as tight and tense as anything in FUNNY GAMES. The camera successfully follows a parakeet as it flies inside a cabin; a night-time closeup of a burning branch becomes a glowing speck on the horizon as the first outsider arrives (think of the famous horizon shot in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA); and a much bigger ember becomes the first group of outsiders. It’s all formally breathtaking, along with taut and suspenseful. Much of the action in the early part of the film occurs at night in the countryside, with no source of light beyond the fire the family keeps or the branches they can burn for a few seconds, but Haneke makes everything perfectly intelligible (except that which isn’t supposed to be). This family basically is slow to realize that they are no longer living in the bourgeois liberal social world, but Hobbes’ state of nature.

    It is a critique of the modern bourgeoisie, but not one that many liberals are very eager to push — that if social relations are constructed, then outside the rules of society, the only rule is the law of the nature — force, the time of the wolf (they even meet a conscious outlaw), the war of all against all. Even the occasional grace notes are reversed (the smashing of a grave). However, Haneke is too smart to realize that the state of nature can’t last — “man is by nature a political animal,” Aristotle says, and so we get the family joining bands of people trying to form an embryonic society on the basis of survival. Haneke does “state of nature,” though, so much better than he does “civil society.” TIME OF THE WOLF just loses focuses about the midway point amidst an undisciplined flood of new characters that we never really come to know or care about, and no film has room for more than five or six archetypes.

    There are still flashes of Haneke’s formal brilliance — a closeup of tears flowing down Huppert’s impassive face at night cuts to a blinding shot of a lush, verdant, sunny morning in the forest; the way he frames the single shot of a child’s funeral. But it’s not enough, though the film bounces back in the last two majestic shots, which I won’t spoil beyond saying that during the last one, a lengthy shot, I was muttering under my breath “please let this be the last shot.” And it was. thanks mickey.

    GOOD BYE, LENIN (Wolfgang Becker, Germany, 2003, 7)

    This movie is gonna get a lot of flack from U.S. conservatives when it’s released because it’s basically a Communism nostalgia comedy, but we should give this film a spin, even though it will obviously attract plenty of the wrong kind of praise. Just keep in mind — it’s a light comedy. Basically the family mixup genre, but there’s a lot of heart in it, too — my TIFF geek friend Daniel Owen said it’s basically “everybody loves his mum.” And if that means harboring fond memories of communist tyranny .. well … she’s still your mum.

    Plus, to the extent the film has a political point, it’s *making fun of* East German believers and their Western excuse-makers. Sure enough, the reliable nitwits at the Toronto Festival Guidebook People’s Central Committee refer to the unreconstructed East German Communist mother at the plot’s center as an “idealist” (while also somehow saying the film “steers clear of broad comedy,” which I guess is true if the Three Stooges set the standard). If you could groove on the Australian comedy THE CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION and ignore the idiotic critical praise it got, this film will work like gangbusters.

    In 1989, an East Berlin true believer gets a heart attack while seeing the East German police be mean (imagine that). She slips into a coma and only awakens in early 1990, after the Berlin Wall has fallen and while the country is preparing for annexation by West Germany. Rather than risk another heart attack from her seeing all the decadent consumer capitalism consuming the Workers and Peasants Paradise (stop laughing, people), her son decides to take the bedridden woman home, so he can control the environment and maintain the illusion that East Germany is doing just super. OK, it’s an idiotic premise (he’s obviously gonna have to tell her someday), but it’s basically just Rip Von Winkle.

    Once it gets cooking, however, this film becomes very funny, as the son has to go to increasingly elaborate lengths to keep his mother, whose health and thus mobility are improving, from finding out. The best scenes involve creating fake East German newscasts to tape for mother, and they are a perfect parody of Communist kitsch, Communist lies, and this woman’s limitless will to believe (and not just hers). The 1989 footage of East Germans climbing into West German embassies becomes quite literally the opposite, and she finds it believable. And every shred of the “news report” was a lie. But telling lies was the only way she could continue to believe in socialism and communism. Imagine that.

    THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (Guy Maddin, Canada, 2003, 6)

    (Open with map of Canada, star on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. Images are in soft-focus, using high-contrast black-and-white. And no sound unless otherwise noted.)

    NARRATOR:
    The largest city in Canada, known to its residents as Toronto, decided to host a film festival, to find the saddest sound in the world. There were many contenders, from every corner of the globe.

    (Cue Bollywood music clip; followed by Japanese samurai yell; Italian cursing; French philosophy debates; the sound of seats hitting the back of chairs as people walk out of 29 PALMS.)

    But the saddest sound in the world turns out to be unrequited love, the tears flowing from the dashed expectations of a cinephile betrayed. (Cue picture of Victor over a broken heart). He went to the frigid Canadian north in expectation of a masterpiece from the man. (Insert picture of Guy Maddin, gleam on teeth) who made the greatest live-action short Victor had ever set eyes upon.

    (Cue 20-second clip from HEART OF THE WORLD, with music soundtrack, preferably one of the cannon shots, depending on the negotiations on the rights.)

    Further, he drank from this wizard (insert picture of Maddin, in Merlin costume) the most bizarre cocktail (insert picture of Maddin, in bartender apron and white shirt with sleeves rolled up to elbow) he had ever seen. This cocktail was a DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY, as the Merlin of the barstool (insert picture of Maddin, in bartender apron and white shirt with sleeves rolled up to elbow, and also wearing a pointed wizard hat) called it, made from the ingredients Murnau, Mahler, Daghiliev, and Dracula (use flash inserts for mugs of first three men, George Hamilton for the fourth). This feature inspired Victor to start writing a useless blog that nobody ever reads. And all this Maddin (flash edit mug) material came just in the past few months.

    (Cue 30s Art Deco title card from THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD.)

    An encounter with Mr. Maddin’s latest filled Victor’s heart (insert a beating heart from some animal; no goats) with anticipation as he took off (jet sound effect) on his trip to the Great White North. He paid two 2003 Canadian dollars to struggle through the Toronto Metro (subway sound effect) to the far-away Elgin Screening Room (North Pole image). And at first, all was as expected. The good Mr. Maddin (flashback to bartender/wizard costume) produced the expected deadpan absurdist comedy (pan along Isabella Rossellini’s beer-filled glass legs) done in an over-the-top pastiche of early cinema melodramas (cut to Mark McKinney in Snidely American Whiplash costume and Cheshire Cat grin), the softest black-and-white photography in the world (cut to practically any image), obvious studio sets (show Winnipeg in the snow), and fruity line readings (cue a clip from the pair of Winnipeg’s “Saddest Music in the World” contest commentators).

    For a period of approximately one hour, perhaps less in the metric system or the Canadian exchange rate, Victor was delighted. One particular laugh of Victor’s (cue high-pitched loud laugh) was even heard and recognized at the farthest reaches of the Elgin (cut to quizzical looks from Mike D’Angelo, Noel Murray and Daniel Owen).

    (Closeup of a giant, generic script crushing a Maddin doll as it tips over.)

    But then the gods of cinema decreed that there should be a plot. That romantic alignments between the main characters must change repeatedly (cut to shot from the swapping orgy in THE ICE STORM), and that we must be made to care about them as human beings, rather than as ciphers and signifiers (cut to Cinema Studies pupil salivating; Victor in an ascot looking puzzled) for Maddin’s virtuosity and demented sense of humor.

    So the good people of Toronto decided (cut to funeral pyres, with the big red word “SARS” superimposed) that this, then, was the saddest sound in the world. The sound of a dejected Victor leaving the Elgin (cut to North Pole shot, with penguins added) after expecting and then halfway getting a masterpiece. But by the end having been left merely with the sound of one hand clapping. What a sad sound.

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    September 11, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

    3 Comments »

    1. […] for some reason” Haneke’s 2003 post-apocalypse drama “Time of the Wolf”. Like Victor Morton, I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s especially intense to try to figure […]

      Pingback by ‘Time of the Wolf’ | The American Conservative | December 17, 2012 | Reply

    2. […] for some reason” Haneke’s 2003 post-apocalypse drama “Time of the Wolf”. Like Victor Morton, I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s especially intense to try to figure […]

      Pingback by ‘Time of the Wolf’ | Tony Johnson | December 17, 2012 | Reply

    3. […] film that would be put off by the original “MUAY THAI WARRIOR”). In fact I wrote a capsule very much like it a couple of years ago (2nd capsule down). And, as a measure of this film’s awesomeness, without having to reuse one […]

      Pingback by Rightwing Film Geek | November 22, 2017 | Reply


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  • Love and hate about the Oscar nominations
    (”The Fog of War” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    Love and hate about the Oscar nominations

    Having trouble with my phone line at home (cursed ice storm), so I couldn’t write up my reaction to the Oscar nominations until now (the complete list is here.)

    Good surprises:
    The year’s best film IMNHO was CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, which was unfortunately was a documentary and therefore in years past its quality and critical popularity would have guaranteed that it would not get a nomination as Best Documentary. But not this year. Not only was FRIEDMANS nominated, but the other candidate for the year’s most widely-praised documentary, THE FOG OF WAR, was picked too. Though I’ve expressed my doubts and crushed high expectations about FOG, it’s also good that finally the Academy acknowledges the existence of the country’s most important documentarian — Errol Morris. And all three of the others were films that I have heard of, that played in theaters, and that was generally well-liked by the few critics who saw them. The documentary branch for years had a nearly perfect record of ignoring the one film that year that *had* to be on the list — Morris’ own THE THIN BLUE LINE, ROGER & ME, CRUMB, HOOP DREAMS, HEARTS OF DARKNESS. But this year and last, they seem to have gotten their heads screwed on straight. Last year, four of the five nominees were BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, WINGED MIGRATION, SPELLBOUND and DAUGHTER FROM DANANG — all films that, regardless of my varied particular opinions of them, were strong enough *as films* to get substantial critical praise and to win (with the exception of DANANG) a very broad and hugely popular commercial release by documentary standards.

    Some major nominations going to foreign films. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE scored a nomination for best animated feature nomination and one for best song. And then there was all the love for CITY OF GOD — four nominations, including two major ones (script and director). I’m under no illusions that either is likely to win anything — for a foreign film, it is really true that the honor is just being nominated (some exceptions duly noted, including last year’s script win for Almodovar’s excellent TALK TO HER). According to the Associated Press, when director Fernando Meirelles heard of the nominations, he asked “Has the Academy gone mad?” No, Fernando: you just did good. I’ll have more to say here about this great film, which will be out on home video in a couple of weeks, when I do my Top 10 essay this weekend.

    The near-shutout suffered by COLD MOUNTAIN in the major categories — film, actress, director, script (yes … adapted script). I don’t begrudge Renee her nomination (and likely win), but what exactly was distinguished about Jude Law? Have I mentioned that I don’t care for this fantasy for the art-house audience? One Southerner of my acquaintance high-fived me, and told me that when he had heard of the film’s Oscar flop, he was dancing on the toilet bowl.

    Finally, a Best Actor nomination for Bill Murray, and he might even win, though my money would be on Sean Penn (insert this rant from yesterday about the Academy giving short shrift to comedy and comic actors).

    While I’m not crazy about most of the particular choices, it is good to note that the Academy actually acknowledged that films get released in the first 11 months of the year. Last year, all five nominees were released Dec. 18 or later. This year: LORD OF THE RINGS 3 on Dec. 17; MASTER AND COMMANDER on Nov. 14; MYSTIC RIVER on Oct. 8; LOST IN TRANSLATION on Sept. 12 and SEABISCUIT on July 25. Perhaps the shortened awards season this year (and the screener ban) made the end-of-year booking strategy not viable. Or maybe the voters just didn’t care for MONSTER, HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, 21 GRAMS, THE COMPANY, COLD MOUNTAIN, IN AMERICA, BIG FISH, GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING and CALENDAR GIRLS.

    Bad surprises:
    The absolute shutout suffered by THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS. That’s not so much a surprise, I guess, as a disappointment about what I think was the best American fiction film of last year. I well realized it wasn’t gonna be a major player, since it was released in August and did poorly at the box office. But it still hurts that there was no room at the inn for its script and that Campbell Scott has nothing to show for the two of the best performances by an American male of recent years (this one and ROGER DODGER — so amazing because the characters in question are nothing like one another). Grrr … oh well: DENTISTS came out on home video last week and I heartily recommend it as one of the most realistic and dry-eyedly romantic depictions of family life I’ve ever seen.

    The nomination of Tim Robbins and his collection of gestures masquerading as a performance in MYSTIC RIVER for anything other than a Razzie. Have I mentioned here before that I *hate* that performance. I suppose I can see the logic … that’s Acting. In fact I’ve never so *much* Acting in a noncomic performance in my life. You see every twitch and halt, and all the blood, sweat and tears that went into this, The Ultimate Performance. It’s discouraging that even professional actors are again mistaking playing a handicap (or someone of the opposite sex, who ages 100 years, etc.) as acting.

    No Scarlett Johansson. She gives two of the year’s best lead female performances — in LOST IN TRANSLATION and GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING — and gets shut out. And not because neither film was up the Academy’s alley — LOST was one of the big winners and PEARL was a December prestige release that did get several (very deserved) nods in the technical categories. Maybe the two performances canceled each other out. Or maybe the Academy just prefers telegraphed collections of body-language tics to using your eyes and face and just *existing* on camera.

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  • Born yesterday and I don’t mean Judy Holliday
    (”The Fog of War” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    Born yesterday and I don’t mean Judy Holliday

    Did you know that you can die without having seen a single nonfiction film made before 1988? Well, obviously you CAN — though in that same sense you need never have seen one made after 1988 either. But the whole premise of the Current TV series “50 Documentaries To See Before You Die,” which concluded last week, is that the nonfiction/documentary film is a worthy enterprise and that there ARE 50 such films. And stipulating that there are, this list is, excuse me, a born-yesterday travesty.

    Here is the list, after the jump:

    50. Spellbound (2002)
    49. Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991)
    48. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
    47. One Day in September (1999)
    46. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)
    45. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
    44. Burma VJ (2008)
    43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
    42. Catfish (2010)
    41. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
    40. When We Were Kings (1996)
    39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
    38. March of the Penguins (2005)
    37. Inside Job (2010)
    36. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
    35. Paragraph 175 (2000)
    34. Brother’s Keeper (1992)
    33. Tongues Untied (1989)
    32. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
    31. Jesus Camp (2006)
    30. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
    29. Man on Wire (2008)
    28. Gasland (2010)
    27. Tarnation (2003)
    26. Murderball (2005)
    25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
    24. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
    23. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000)
    22. Shut Up & Sing (2006)
    21. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
    20. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
    19. Touching the Void (2003)
    18. Food, Inc. (2008)
    17. Street Fight (2005)
    16. Bus 174 (2002)
    15. Crumb (1994)
    14. Dark Days (2000)
    13. The Fog of War (2003)
    12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
    11. Paris Is Burning (1991)
    10. Grizzly Man (2005)
    9. Trouble the Water (2008)
    8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
    7. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
    6. The War Room (1993)
    5. Supersize Me (2004)
    4. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
    3. Roger & Me (1989)
    2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
    1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

    I try to be a realist about these things. Obviously, no list of “the 50 Greatest X” will ever be the same 50 I’d pick. So saying “where is so-and-so” doesn’t even have the interest of a GOOD parlor game. And in a commercial medium, some favoring of popularity and familiarity over merit is inevitable. As is a certain amount of presentism. It can’t all be “cultural vegetables.” But every so often, one such list will go too far. The channel “Current TV” takes that title WAY too literally. There is not a single film on this list made before 1988. None. And not because the program’s title is “50 Great Documentaries from the Past 25 Years.”

    I have seen more than half the films on this list and am at least somewhat familiar with all of them. Most of that half are good and some I love unreservedly. In fact the three at the very top, I would have absolutely no problem with their being 1-2-3 even if the list WERE all-time.

    If there were, say, 10 or 12 from before the mid-80s (and there’s no denying that the theatrical documentary has made huge leaps at the box office and in public consciousness since then, thus justifying “over-representation”), then any complaints would be about judgment calls. Saying, for example “not enough Flaherty,” could be dismissed as special pleading or as seeking some sort of absurd decade-by-decade quota. But “none” is not a judgment call. And especially not when the zero-period covers the substantial majority of the film medium’s history. (I also won’t pretend not to have noticed that pre- and post-1988 are each almost exactly half my lifetime.) It would be easy to lament this with the quotation “the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past,” but that was written by some dead white male whom nobody reads any more. Or uses “whom” to refer to.

    The worst part of this sort of cultural born-yesterday-ism is that, like all forms of narcissism, it is self-reinforcing, and soon enough becomes its own justification and dulls the senses, like muscles that never get used. If those old farts of the past were so obviously inferior to Us Today, then they WILL neither have anything to say nor have done anything of interest because we will have made ourself deaf, dumb and blind to anything they might have said or done. As always, nothing is more stifling than a demand for relevance.

    There are other problems, and by that I don’t mean that there’s quite a few films that are aesthetically trivial and/or are there only on the basis of some affirmative-action model. There’s an aesthetic crampedness, though that is itself at least in part a function of the presentism. This list is dominated by what is the current It Thing — the “issue film,” i.e., the filmed polemical essay where you get the sense that what really matters is not the cinematic medium but The Cause. This The Cause is almost always something leftist, though that is only part of why this genre makes me contemplate the beauty, wonder and pleasure of being disemboweled without anesthetic while watching Ariana and Michael Huffington’s wedding night. In other words, the In Thing is movies that have no reason to be movies. Even apart from the specific merits of the films on Current TV’s lists, such heavy InThing-ness doesn’t do justice to an entire genre that comes in a dozen different flavors. This list isn’t ALL Monty Python’s Spam, Spam, Spam. But there is a little much “real pork shoulder and ham” on this-‘ere menu.

    Which leads me to one last thought about the effect of this kind of “I don’t need to know nothing before I was born” list — what I fear it does to film criticism. If you scan the decennial Sight and Sound critic polls of the greatest films of all time, taken from 1952 to 2002, one thing that jumps out (or should jump out) is how much less-current the recent polls have been. In 1952, the winner was BICYCLE THIEF, made in 1948, and two other films (BRIEF ENCOUNTER and LOUISIANA STORY) were less than 10 years old. In 1962, Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA (1960) placed second and the Top 10 also featured UGETSU MONOGATARI, from 1953. Same in 1972 — L’AVVENTURA was still in the Top 10 as were two other 60s films (PERSONA and 8 1/2). But in 1982, 1992 and 2002, not a single film less than 19 years old has made the critics Top 10. And in the separate directors polls S&S did with the 1992 and 2002 surveys, there is only one film combined less than 20 years old at the time (1980’s RAGING BULL in the 1992 survey). At 22, RAGING BULL remained the newest film in the 2002 directors poll, while the first two GODFATHER films (28 and 30 years old) were the most-recent ones in the critics survey.

    What does that increasing temporal remoteness (what has been snarkily dubbed “cinecrophilia”) have to do with the seemingly opposite noveltymania of the Current TV survey? I think it may be a case of opposite vices, rather than canceling each other out like an acid and a base, actually exacerbating and reinforcing each other in social interaction. Critics and the mass public each see the other as, to use hostile vocabulary, snobs and slobs — each an image of the Other that reinforces the Self’s self-image, either as foo-foo aesthetes buried in arcana or as mouth-breathing ignorami. (I realize I am coarsely generalizing.) But here’s the common ground — both the Presentist and the Cinecrophiliac agree that putting NANOOK OF THE NORTH, OLYMPIA or LAS HURDES on Current TV, even for a segment on their importance, is pointless exoticism.

    As I’ve already said, I don’t have a tremendous problem with the Current TV list within its 23-year period. Still … cmon? MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE or SHUT UP AND SING as definitive musical docs? Only one film absolutely, totally and unquestionably not from the Anglophone world (Brazil’s superb BUS 174)? Even stipulating the 10% gay quota, how does PARAGRAPH 175 make a list that THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK does not? On such grounds, one could obviously quibble with this quarter-century-stunted canon endlessly.

    But to conclude in a constructive spirit, let me offer a counter-canon — 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die But Might Have Been Made Before You Were Born. All these films are from before 1988, the year Current TV thinks history and interest begin. (Yeah, yeah, so I was born in 1966 … like you could’ve resisted the punning title.) Many feature on my annual Top 10s (including one that might seem like fanboyism, knowing me); others do not but I acknowledge their importance; some I haven’t even seen but know are important anyway. A few aren’t even arguably documentaries per se (you’ll know immediately which ones I’m referring to) but they matter for reasons related to documentary history and aesthetics. Some are even pinko treasonous propaganda from folks who wouldn’t vote for Michele Bachmann (imagine?). Someone like Christopher Campbell of Spout might even consider the foregoing list hopelessly conventional (though that’s the nature of canons). But I’ll put this list of films, collectively, up against the Current TV list.

    Victor’s Old Documentary Canon
    Broken Noses (Bruce Weber, USA, 1987)
    Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, France, 1986)
    28 Up (Michael Apted, Britain, 1985)
    This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, USA, 1984)
    The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein, USA, 1984)
    Zelig (Woody Allen, USA, 1983)
    The Atomic Cafe (Jayne Loader / Kevin and Pierce Rafferty, USA, 1982)
    Say Amen, Somebody (George Nierenberg, USA, 1982)
    Burden of Dreams (Les Blank, USA, 1982)
    Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris, USA, 1978)
    The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, USA, 1978)
    ABBA: The Movie (Lasse Hallstrom, Sweden/Australia, 1977)
    Harlan County USA (Barbara Kopple, USA, 1976)
    Grey Gardens (Albert Maysles, USA, 1976)
    God Speed You (Mitsuo Yanahimachi, Japan, 1976)
    The Battle of Chile (Patricio Guzman, Chile, 1976)
    That’s Entertainment! (Jack Haley Jr., USA, 1974)
    An American Family (no director, USA, 1973)
    Roma (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1972)
    Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, USA, 1970)
    A Married Couple (Allan King, Canada, 1969)
    Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler, USA, 1969)
    The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophuls, France, 1969)
    Salesman (Maysles brothers, USA, 1969)
    Sympathy for the Devil (Jean-Luc Godard, Britain, 1968)
    High School (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 1968)
    Hour of the Furnaces (Octavio Getino and Fernando Solas, Argentina, 1968)
    Don’t Look Back (DA Pennebaker, USA, 1967)
    A Man Vanishes (Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1967)
    Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 1967)
    Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa, Japan, 1965)
    Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch, France, 1960)
    Primary (Richard Leacock, USA, 1960)
    Moi, Un Noir (Jean Rouch, France, 1958)
    City of Gold (Wolf Koenig and Colin Low, Canada, 1957)
    Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, France, 1955)
    The Battle of San Pietro (John Huston, USA, 1945)
    December 7th (John Ford/Greg Toland, USA, 1943)
    Fires Were Started (Humphrey Jennings, Britain, 1943)
    Why We Fight (Frank Capra, USA, 1942-44)
    Olympia (Leni Riefenstahl, Germany, 1938)
    The River (Pere Lorentz, USA, 1938)
    Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, Germany, 1934)
    Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright, Britain, 1934)
    Las Hurdes (Luis Bunuel, Spain, 1932)
    The Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga-Vertov, USSR, 1929)
    Grass (Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, USA, 1927)
    Moana (Robert Flaherty, USA, 1926)
    Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, USA, 1922)
    In the Land of the Headhunters (Edward Curtis, USA, 1914)

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    September 3, 2011 - Posted by | Documentary

    5 Comments »

    1. Looks like a pretty definitive list, but Zelig as documentary?

      Comment by Colin | September 3, 2011 | Reply

      • Is this the same Colin Low who co-made the (pretty awesome) Klondike doc I named, as the height of the National Film Board of Canada style?

        Obviously, ZELIG is a fictional film, as is SPINAL TAP, and parts of such films as MEDIUM COOL. My point in naming those titles is historical as much as aesthetic — how documentary forms (and different ones in the cases of the Reiner and the Allen) became usable in fictional films and/or meldable with fiction (the Wexler).

        Comment by vjmorton | September 4, 2011 | Reply

    2. […] updated Right Wing Film Geek this week after a long dry spell, and I wanted to draw attention to his post on “born yesterday-ism,” the phenomenon of propagating ultra-recent artifacts of pop culture as landmark achievements.  He […]

      Pingback by No Nanook, know nuthin’? « Catecinem | September 5, 2011 | Reply

    3. I can’t believe it, not a single film before 1914 – wassup widdat?

      Comment by Rob | September 17, 2011 | Reply

    4. […] Victor Morton recently wrote about a new list of top documentaries (purportedly of all time), which doesn’t contain a single one made before 1988. This recent piece by Bill Mesce goes into further details about why the focus seems to have shifted. Some of the changes in content distribution that he notes are: […]

      Pingback by The Pop View » “Don’t it always seem to go…” | September 26, 2011 | Reply


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  • That time of the year
    (”The Fog of War” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    That time of the year

    I will be leaving tomorrow to fly up to Canada for Film Geek Woodstock … aka the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs until the 13th. That’s the place where you can feel like a piker for only seeing more than 40 films in 9 1/2 days (weeks … I almost said).

    So until I come back, most or all of my updating will be quick opinions of what I see during those days. So expect a lot of capsules about Turkish art films, Brazilian social comedies, Thai kick-boxing flicks and a few films that you might actually have a chance to see at a future date.

    Among the films I’m scheduled for that will find an audience of one size or another are some big fall prestige releases — Sofia Coppola’s LOST IN TRANSLATION with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, Robert Altman’s THE COMPANY with Neve Campbell and Malcolm McDowell, and Ridley Scott’s MATCHSTICK MEN with Nicolas Cage; Cannes prize winners DISTANT, AT 5 IN THE AFTERNOON and ELEPHANT; also THE FOG OF WAR, a Robert McNamara documentary by the top American documentarian (I mean Errol Morris, of THIN BLUE LINE, MR. DEATH and GATES OF HEAVEN sorta fame); and the latest films by art-house gods Michael Haneke (TIME OF THE WOLF), Lars Von Trier (DOGVILLE plus the documentary FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS), Guy Maddin (SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD), Tsai Ming-liang (GOODBYE, DRAGON INN) and others. It’ll be a hectic two weeks.

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    September 3, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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  • Shameless self-promotion (plus a point of personal privilege)
    (”The Fog of War” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    Shameless self-promotion (plus a point of personal privilege)

    Bilge has put up on his Nerve.com blog, The Screen Grab, my worst filmgoing experiences. If you want to read all about Victor being accused of committing the solitary vice in public, or how and where he concluded that God is dead — here is your chance.

    Addendum: Why the there-referred-to McNamara line in THE FOG OF WAR is retarded. “Nations with similar values” doesn’t mean anything. Looking at how nations lined up vis the U.S. on the Iraq War — set aside Britain and France (they’re special culture-driven cases). By what standard is Canada (opposed) a “nation with similar values” but Australia (supportive) not? By what standard is Germany and Belgium (opposed) “nations with similar values” but Spain or Italy (supportive) not? Russia, but not Poland and Bulgaria? Turkey but not Kuwait? And if the UN’s gonna get into the act, nothing would be done on anything at all without the approval of Communist China, about whose “similar values,” the less said, the better. Looking at the European and Commonwealth nations named above, with the Anglo-frog exceptions — support entirely turned on whether the government in power at the time was left-led (in which case it opposed the war) or right-led (in which case it supported it). Support for the was pretty much a partisan affair (in the US too). “Nations with similar values”? My tookus.

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    September 7, 2006 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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