17 June 2009

2 Documentaries

To preempt any accusation that this movie blog was all about tits and dismemberment I present you with a brief recap of last nights home grindhouse. I watched these movies after going to see Up with a good friend, so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Jimmy Carter - Man From Plains
United States - 2007
Director - Jonathan Demme
Sony Pictures, 2008, DVD
Run time - 2 hours, 5 minutes

The first documentary follows former president Jimmy Carter immediately after the release of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Director Jonathan Demme gets grandfathered into my list of good directors because of his early work doing exploitation under the tutelage of Roger Corman in the 70's, and I'm interested in Jimmy Carter because of his work in social justice. So I figured the combination of these two figures would be good.

All in all, it was decent. A quick biography of Carter leading up to the controversy that surrounded the release of his book in 2006. The subject matter of the book, and the title, in particular use of the word apartheid, were the subject of much controversy which Demme uses to frame Carters unwavering commitment to justice and equality in general and in Palestine specifically. I myself have never understood how people can rationally call someone who supports peace an anti-Semite simply because they're critical of Israeli State politics. It comes across, particularly in this film, as willfully biased and purely reactionary.

Before this film, I had thought of Carter as an unsuccessful president because he hadn't won re-election. But my perception has changed to see the American democratic system as unsuccessful for failing to re-elect a man that embodied so many of the virtues the U.S. claims to stand for (Especially considering his successor). Man From Plains is the story of one man who perhaps wasn't very successful at the top of his field, but went on (and continues) to defy expectations and stand by his word. It heightened my interest in and respect for Carter, and in the problem of creating a lasting, mutually beneficial peace in Palestine and Israel.

Wu: The Story of the Wu Tang Clan
United States - 2007
Director - Gerald Barclay
Paramount Home Video, 2008, DVD
Run time - 1 hour, 19 min.

To be perfectly honest I only watched about two-thirds of it because it became increasingly difficult to watch without laughing or crying. I definitely feel that the Clan's debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (which I'm listening to as I write this) is easily one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. That's just my opinion, though I doubt I'm alone in holding it.
Forgive me if this comes across as cultural imperialism, but this film was pretty lousy. It was interesting to see old footage of the Clan before they blew up, but the rest was a joke. I was only slightly surprised as the film degenerated into a bragging session about the amount of money they ended up making. Particularly on the part of Loud records president Steve Rifkind (a white guy) who came across as a capitalist douchebag of the highest order trying to seem cool and important. Even the members of the group, Raekwon in particular, basically had nothing to say, they babbled about being the best ever, making money etc., typical stuff, but there were moments when they said things that literally had no informational meaning. Industry "experts" churned out senselessly effusive "contextual" gossip, and friends of the group bragged about their connections and play-acted a cheap melodrama.

The worst part was the glorification of O'l Dirty Bastard who came across as a desperately sad and lonely and ultimately dysfunctional person. His behavior was made out to be the highest expression of individualism and artistic genius, towards which the rest of us philistines of the mortal world could only futilely strive. During the entire experience I couldn't help but think of the various character stereotypes in Marlon Riggs' documentary Ethnic Notions, and I was disheartened to see them played up with such eagerness.

The whole movie was basically about how "dope" the Clan is, and completely failed to explain their roots or their significance musically and culturally, instead making them out to be stereotyped cartoons, something that on a personal level, I strongly doubt they are. Wu failed to capture that personal aspect and instead left me with the depressing picture of an incredibly successful group that ultimately failed to break out of expectations.

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