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Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

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The old idea of an artist having a ‘muse’, traditionally implies a male artist being inspired by a beautiful woman. The assumed gender politics of this might be even more ingrained if the artist is subject to all the temptations of a rock and roll lifestyle.

Nick Broomfield’s (Kurt and Courtney, Whitney: Can I Ne Me) gentle and celebratory documentary about Leonard Cohen and his sometime girlfriend Marianne Ihlen is subtitled words of love.

Broomfield has a personal connection of his own. As a young man in the hippyish 1960s, he travelled through Greece. In particular, he spent time on the idyllic island of Hydra where he met, and briefly fell for, Marianne. She was a sun-bleached blonde Norwegian whose round, welcoming face and easy manner attracted many men. The most famous of these was the young Canadian Jewish poet, Leonard Cohen.

It seemed that more or less everyone on the island was either taking drugs or sleeping with each other, or probably both. At least that is the way that those alive today remember it – and there are plenty of relations and old friends happy to be talking heads and provide telling little anecdotes.

Marianne and Leonard were a golden couple in that scene, and it is obvious from the early footage that they were having a lovely time. If that was all there was to it, then the film wouldn’t have much edge or narrative arc.

As many would already know, the initially shy poet was persuaded that he could sing and he went on to become, well, Leonard Cohen.

For several decades he was the rock poet of choice for so many, and ranks with Dylan, Paul Simon and Neil Young as one of the great greatest singer songwriters of the second half of the twentieth century.

The film doesn’t contain any sustained concert footage and it resists the temptation to play ‘So Long Marianne’ as an endless backdrop. Instead, the focus is very much on their love story. They both died fairly recently (their deaths being separated by only three months) and, though they split decades ago, many here testify that she was his greatest love.

There are darker or unresolved areas of course. Marianne’s son Axel (by another relationship) was a rock casualty by default in a way. Also, as already implied, the outcomes of the era of so-called ‘free love’ was structurally unequal.

Leonard resisted bourgeois conventions of marriage and family. Artists have done this for centuries, but the freewheeling promiscuity and no-strings lifestyle he was able to escape to were still built on the not-coincidental inequalities that served the rock gods so much more than the women in their lives.

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Stuart X: Light in a Sea of Darkness

Filmmaker Thibault Upton tells us about the making of his highly affecting short documentary Stuart X, which launched online to coincide with International Day for People with Disability.
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Finke: There & Back

Australian, Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Dylan River’s documentary chronicling the Finke Desert Race, an off road, multi terrain two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads through desert country from Alice Springs to the small Aputula (Finke) community, is as awe-inspiring and endearing a tale of heartbreak and the bone-shattering quest for racing glory to come down the pike in quite a while.

The treacherous route on the bone-dry Finke river bed, that stretches hundreds of kilometres out of Alice Springs, is a two day event that comprises of two race sections, one day spent racing one direction, pitching tents, drinking (a lot), staying the night and then doing the race back to Alice the next day.

Four-wheeled vehicles race first, followed by the motor bikes. Hundreds compete for the sake of adventure and for the ability to tell the story that they completed the insane race, though there are professional bike riders in it for the win.

We’re introduced to the KTM team rider David Walsh, an Alice Springs local. Yamaha sponsored bike racer Daymon Stokie is something of the underdog in the event, though he’s also a local. There are a number of other riders who we follow in the gruelling race, one in particular is Isaac Elliott, who attempted the race some years earlier only to hit a tree and break his spine, leaving him a paraplegic.

Isaac’s intention is to finally finish the race, so he enlists a mechanic friend in Alice Springs who welds a frame onto the bike to cradle Isaac’s legs, so he can straddle and ride a bike and hopefully even finish. While he does this, he’ll be shadowed by two friends on motor bikes, who’ll ensure he’s helped whenever he needs it.

It’s the sheer lunacy of the venture and Isaac’s bloody-minded grit, to strap himself to a bike and potentially face further bodily damage in an effort to get closure, that haunts him daily, that is not just deeply aspirational but also extremely moving.

Bearing many similarities to the documentary TT3D: Closer to the Edge , which featured similarly obsessed, crazy-brave riders who compete in the Isle of Man TT motorcycle race, an equally treacherous race where the riders and their families understand that injury and loss of life is part of a competitive rider’s lot. Where the Isle of Man racers compete to be dubbed King of the Mountain, the Finke riders compete for the moniker King of the Desert.

The cinematography in Finke: There & Back is stunning, with aerial photography taking full advantage of the desert locations and the outback’s wide-open vistas. This is a documentary that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen available.

Narrated by renowned revhead Eric Bana, Finke: There & Back documents that most quintessential Australian trait: the ability to shrug-off the most crushing, soul-destroying and difficult tasks with a joke, a laugh and an ice cold beer.

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Short Documentary: The Missing

Wind & Sky Productions, in partnership with Federation University, the Australian Red Cross Society and Ballarat RSL launch their collaboration to pay tribute to the men and women who returned to WWI battlefields after the war had ended, to trace missing Australian soldiers and report back to families how and where they died. Lest we forget.
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Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The murkier American politics gets, the more we seek to discern conspiracy theories about men behind the scenes and secret skulduggery. Not to deny, of course, that each jaw-dropping revelation will make us tend toward this view even more. And they just keep coming. Impeachment hearings anyone?

In Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary about lawyer Roy Cohn we have the story of a quintessential fixer and man on the make. Cohn grew up in New York under the cruel-care of his mother Dora who seemed to combine the fatal mix of coldness and pushy Jewish mother syndrome. Roy never felt he was good enough, and yet he was obviously fiercely bright. By the time he was in his twenties he was cosying up to the bellicose Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was while cutting his teeth in those now-reviled HUAC hearings that Cohn learned the basic lesson. When you are in the wrong, re-double your attack.

Throughout his long career spanning law and politics-by-default, he was proud of never backing down. In what the film suggests is over-compensation, Cohn tries over and over to show that he is tougher than the toughest. The many talking heads in the film all testify to his inflated and boastful sense of being a kingmaker or puppeteer of the powerful.

Then there is the complexity of his sexual orientation which comes to feature heavily in the latter part of the film. Not content with being the classic “self-hating Jew” (as the film puts it), Cohn was also aggressively persecuting gays despite his own homosexuality. After all, it was a smokescreen tactic that worked for J. Edgar Hoover.

It can be dangerous to buy into the mythmaking of a man like this but Tyrnauer doesn’t have to strain the argument too much when it comes to listing who he sought out. Cohn saw how powerful the Mafia were and he thought they would make loyal and cashed-up clients. They did. He also saw a potential ally in the rise of a self-serving young tycoon called Donald Trump. Sure enough, he helped young Donald along the way. In fact, the film’s title comes from that connection. When running out of dodgy advisors and legal shysters, Trump is supposed to have complained/asked “where’s my Roy Cohn?”.

The film suffers to some extent from having such an unsympathetic subject – and the attempts to humanise him only serve to make his actual behaviour seem venaler. It is, however, timely enough, and fascinating in a reptilian kind of way.

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Everybody’s Everything

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“I just wana be everybody’s everything I want too much from people but then I don’t want anything from them at the same time u feel me I don’t let people help me but I need help but not when I have my pills but that’s temporary one day maybe I won’t die young and I’ll be happy? What is happy I always have happiness for like 10 seconds and then it’s gone. I’m getting so tired of this.”

Those are the words of Lil Peep, who died a little over 2 years ago from a drug overdose a few days after his 21st birthday. He was on the brink of mainstream success, after starting off by uploading his music to SoundCloud and finding his tribe of fellow indie musicians online. As some of the interviewees acknowledge, Lil Peep was punk for the online generation.

The documentary Everybody’s Everything is exec produced by his mother, Liza Womack, who features in the film, and who is also in the midst of a lawsuit against his music management, some of whom are also featured in the film. The person at the centre of the trial, his tour manager at the time, who it is alleged supplied the lethal dose, unfortunately doesn’t get a start here. Regardless, the film really isn’t about the controversy surrounding his death, but about his far-too-short life, and all the better for it, especially if you’re a fan.

Notably, the documentary is also exec produced by Terrence Malick, a family friend, and also features the beautiful words of Lil Peep’s beloved grandfather John Womack Jr., a highly respected historian and academic.

For fans of the musician, who was also embraced by the fashion industry, Everybody’s Everything will allow them to get a bittersweet insight into their hero. Although Lil Peep famously shared his mental health and drug issues freely online, the footage here from his childhood, plus the thoughts of his family and peers will confirm why his music was embraced so much. But even newcomers will get a great deal out of the film, as it tells an all too familiar tale of a highly talented and sensitive individual, thrust into the spotlight that they crave, and unable to handle the meteoric excesses and adulation. It’s also an intriguing, reflectively complicated study of parental nurturing, on how much do you let your beloved children go to achieve their dreams.

Highly affecting, and the music is transcendent, it’s just such a shame that it also heralds the day the music died.

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