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House of Cardin

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In the prologue of new documentary, House of Cardin, it’s noted that the fashion designer, Pierre Cardin, is very particular about what he lets people know about him. Indeed, a more youthful Cardin, through archival footage, acknowledges that Pierre Cardin as a brand is completely separate from the person. And if you’re looking for an official biography to read, then apparently, good luck finding one. Perhaps then that’s what will make House of Cardin, directed by husbands Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole (Mansfield 66/67), so special to some.

Given full access by the titular House, the documentary explores Cardin’s life from his family’s escape from fascism during the second world war in Italy, becoming a male model and of course, opening his own fashion house before essentially creating mod chic. Hughes and Ebersole interview Cardin, as well as his family and peers, in what essentially becomes a huge love-in. A fashionable love in, where everyone looks impeccable, but a love-in nonetheless. This is because House of Cardin’s biggest issue is that for all its gloss and glamour, it never really manages to get under the skin of a man who didn’t get to his late 90s by letting every Tom, Dick and Harry know his most intimate secrets.

Brush aside the repeated cries of genius – and no one is denying he is otherwise – and you get to the meat and potatoes of the piece. As well as his fashion, Cardin shattered the conceptions of how a model should look. He hung his clothes on models from all over the globe, in stark contrast to the uber white, skinny template of yore. To Cardin, it just made sense to make clothes for everyone and he is heard to comment on the fact that he doesn’t have a particular woman in mind when he makes his dresses.

Another narrative that stands out is Cardin’s keenness to put his name to everything. We’re told at the beginning that the Pierre Cardin name can be found on 800 different products, ranging from dominoes to planes. With such a potential dilution of brand, he is seen as both a socialist and a capitalist, even by the people who worked with him, but House of Cardin doesn’t waste much time tackling this. Again, this is not the in-depth doco you might be expecting, but rather a flag waving celebration of one man’s career.

Your mileage will certainly vary as a result, but even if your fashion sense currently extends to what trackies you’re going to wear in front of the TV, you are still liable to extract some nuggets of interest from the film.

 
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Lovemobil

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A palpable stillness fills a lonely country road sitting outside of Wolfsburg, Germany.

As though the dead-silent streets weren’t eerie enough, the total darkness, illuminated only by the deceptively inviting lurid glow of a roadside caravan, does little to ease the mood.

It is women who occupy these caravans (known as Liebesmobiles); many of whom travel from afar to earn a living performing sex work.

The stories of these women and their systemic oppression are explored with a sympathetic gaze in hard-hitting documentary Lovemobil.

We spend most of Lovemobil inside a caravan belonging to Uschi; a former sex-worker who when not enforcing strict housekeeping demands upon her employees – Rita (from Nigeria) and Milena (from Bulgaria) – can be seen overwhelming her dogs with affection. It is a duality that expresses both desensitiaation and benevolence; the latter being a courtesy denied to the women she exploits to make a living.

For many of the women employed by Uschi, assault, neglect and death prove more than just concerns, but realities of their employment. Their dreams of freedom from a life of sex work, initially met with glowing optimism, become short lived when jolted back into the present. Forced isolation and financial captivity amplify their mounting trepidation; a byproduct calcified by the looming threat of danger which presents itself with each client.

Director Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss does an exemplary job connecting the experiences of women with the institutionalisation (and commoditisation) of their abuse. The astute filmmaker directs with an incisiveness that not only respects and grants dignity to interviewees but presents the implications of their inequality in contrast to broader society.

It is considered documentary filmmaking at its most potent.

 
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Andrey Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer

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In 1962, when Soviet Filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky’s first feature Ivan’s Childhood won the Golden Lion at Venice, Soviet authorities were disapproving of the film’s anti-war overtones. Tarkovsky was strident in his perspective of the filmmaker as poet artist, discerning meaning from the mysteries of existence on behalf of the masses. Lyrical expression of his own personal spirituality was intrinsic to his cinematic vision and as such, Tarkovsky smuggled whatever he could of himself into his films. He saw his authenticity as an artist and poet eroded by the centralised (and highly controlled) film production machine in Soviet Russia.

It was not until Tarkovsky’s 1966 follow-up, Andrei Rublev, that the repressive Soviet authorities descended on the filmmaker, going on to make his artistic life hell for years to come. Tarkovsky’s primary concerns with the lyrical and the spiritual were at loggerheads with the demands of the politburo. For the powers that be, they saw his languid, atmospheric visuals and intensely personal themes as edging dangerously close to the indulgent and the religious.

After 1972’s Solaris, 1975’s semi-autobiographical childhood memory-piece Mirror and his much-referenced 1979 masterwork Stalker, Tarkovsky had grown weary of the restraints placed on his work by the Soviet Government. He decamped to Italy to shoot a film and made the choice not to return to his homeland. He would go on to live out his days in self-imposed exile, until his death in 1986.

Tarkovsky’s son Andrey has used old audio recordings and interviews with his late father, as well as footage from his films, intercut with behind-the-scenes footage, to create Andrey Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer. The film encompasses each one of his seven films, though it’s handled more as a thematic collage of sorts, with each film’s imagery bleeding into another as his entire oeuvre is considered as one autobiographical visual expression of his spiritual journey, with Tarkovsky opining at one point that “the meaning of art is prayer”.

Tarkovsky’s cerebral and introspective narration muses on topics ranging from the practicalities of filmmaking under the Soviet regime, to his opinion of critics (“… as usual, they didn’t understand anything”), to the philosophical and spiritual notions he was attempting to tackle in his films. There is also some terrific on-set footage for a number of films, showing Tarkovsky in his element.

The film is broken into chapter headings: Childhood and Youth, Work in cinema, Leaving Russia and The Artist as a Prophet, where Tarkovsky discusses his faith and life’s meaning. Heady stuff indeed.

For fans of Tarkovsky, this is a terrifically illuminating and hauntingly beautiful trip through the mind of a filmmaker who was deadly serious about his artistic self-expression (and its cost) and whose innate spirituality imbued his work with a hypnotic sense of awe and mystery. For the uninitiated, it’s a great access point into the mindset of a filmmaker whose work helped shape modern cinema (and indeed cinematography), fundamentally shifting the narrative cinematic form.

 
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No Time For Quiet

Australian, Documentary, Festival, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words,” Rolling Stones immortal Keith Richards once said. “It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.” It’s certainly in the bones of the young women who often happily but more frequently awkwardly populate the deliriously affecting documentary No Time For Quiet. Like a perfectly written rock song, this incredible debut effort from Australian directors Samantha Dinning and Hylton Shaw evokes a cavalcade of emotions during its brief running time, stoking up feelings of joy, pain, sadness, community, isolation and redemption, all of which ride and flow on a continuing swing of grace notes. The story of a diverse group of young people who at least temporarily find their place in the world through the gift of music, No Time For Quiet is a joyfully bittersweet experience, of both the entertainment and learning variety.

Unspooling in the effortlessly too-cool-for-school environs of Melbourne, the film wades in amongst the forty girls and non-binary youth aged from eleven to seventeen who took part in Australia’s inaugural Girls Rock! Camp. Established in Portland, Oregon – and now happening all around the world – these camps provide the opportunity for attendees to learn how to play instruments, form bands, write songs, and eventually perform, all with the aim of empowering young girls and inspiring self-esteem, friendship, support, creativity and a deeper love of music. It’s a great initiative, and when one of the girls in the film responds with “The Runaways” when asked which band in history she would most like to have been a part of, you know that No Time For Quiet is going to be a winner.

Courtney Barnett

With great skill and economy, Samantha Dinning and Hylton Shaw hone in on a diverse group of girls, all of whom have highly varied experiences at the camp: the instantly loveable Phoebe has a history of serious mental health issues; Lucy is socially awkward but keenly intelligent and obviously gifted; talented singer Dakota prefers to live life online; spunky drummer Mika is a ray of sunshine; and punk rapper Zeiro is navigating the world of gender fluidity. Though in different ways, they all blossom while at the camp, and the film operates almost like a classic coming of age tale. There is, however, pain too: when eventually outside of the nurturing, kindness-first world of the camp, life again gets tougher for some of the girls, and heartbreaking for the viewer.

While all of the raw material is there for something special (there’s also a very welcome appearance from the brilliant Courtney Barnett, who drops a tune and offers up a little mentorship for the kids), Samantha Dinning and Hylton Shaw make it even more charming and illuminating by skillfully utilising animation to overlay the participants’ own explanations of the fears and anxieties that make their young lives so difficult. If you’ve never experienced things like anxiety, gender fluidity, sexism, extreme self-doubt or crippling grief, this film lays it all out with sensitivity, honesty and from-the-frontlines reportage. A beautifully constructed mix of joy and sadness, No Time For Quiet is a gorgeous testament to both the power of music and the mix of fragility and strength that bubbles away in all young people.

Click here for info on how to watch No Time For Quiet.

 
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All Hail the Popcorn King

Documentary, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

There is no writer like Joe R. Lansdale, the man is a genre unto himself. The criminally underrated East Texan wordsmith has been thrilling those in the know since the early 1980s, releasing a staggering number of novels, novellas, short stories and scripts, including The Drive-In, Bubba Ho-Tep, The Bottoms and the Hap and Leonard series. Despite the complete and total adoration of artists and celebrities like Stephen King, Joe Hill, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Bruce Campbell, Don Coscarelli (and many, many more), Joe’s never quite hit mainstream success, occupying a space somewhere in the cult or indie realm. This is a savage injustice, as Lansdale pens some of the most vivid, deranged yet heartfelt yarns ever scribed by (bizarre) human hands, and freshly cooked documentary, All Hail the Popcorn King seeks to correct it.

All Hail the Popcorn King, directed by the wonderfully-named Hansi Oppenheimer, is clearly a low budget labour of love. Fittingly, a large portion of the screen time features Joe on his own self-describing where he came from and why he writes. Lansdale is a natural born storyteller, who can’t help but spin a yarn even when he’s just chatting, and Popcorn King’s best moments have Joe holding court on all manner of subjects including film, Texas, the nature of politics and racism in America. The rest of the doco features famous admirers of Lansdale – like Bruce Campbell and Joe Hill – giving their impressions of the man, with Campbell in particular offering hilarious insight into why you should both admire his writing but “not fuck with [him]” (Joe both knows and teaches martial artists, y’see).

As pleasing as these observations are to long term fans of Lansdale, it would have been great if the documentary had included more material for newbies. Not much time is spent on Joe’s actual written works, and with so many wonderful talents on board, a couple of paragraphs from The Drive-In or Bubba Ho-Tep read by these luminaries would have sold the premise much more effectively. The documentary is also quite clearly made on the cheap, so the sound and visual quality is variable, which may be distracting to some.

That said, All Hail the Popcorn King does effectively convey the love of rabid fans (of which your humble reviewer is certainly one), and the sheer unbridled charm of champion Joe R. Lansdale. Freewheeling, and occasionally undisciplined, it nonetheless offers an insight into a fascinating, unique artist who in a just and decent world would be a beloved household name.

 
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Cold Case Hammarskjöld

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There’s a corner (actually a very large corner) of the internet that specialises in circulating conspiracy theories. Its enduring appeal is guaranteed by the fact that there is too much to know for certain, coupled with an idea that the powerful are up to no good and have a vested interest in hiding things and spreading misinformation.

Mads Brügger is a Danish documentarian who is fascinated by the strange case of the not-well-explained death of a UN Secretary General in the 1960s. The diplomat in question was named Dag Hammarskjöld. In 1961, he was flying in a small plane to a meeting in the Congo. Then his plane crashed, and he died at the site. These bare facts are not contested.

However, whether it was an accident, the exact way in which the plane was downed, and the possible perpetrators (if it wasn’t an accident) are still a matter of speculation.

Brügger (whose name is unintentionally close to ‘mad bugger’) and his buddy set about trying to piece together the various missing elements of the story.

Calling it a ‘cold case’ is obviously an attempt to give it a crime caper gloss. In fact, it is a very cold case, as it all happened so long ago that even the people who may have been involved at the time, or who knew something about it, are either dead themselves or not able to recall things. Brügger and his friend say at one point that they have been following the case for about six years. That itself seems a bit odd, but then they do not hide the fact that they are eccentric obsessives.

Also, most of the facts that they uncover could have been assembled quite quickly and they could have been relayed in a shorter form than the two hours it takes here. The other factor is that the revelation that there might have been involvement in the crash from a semi-secret South African mercenary organisation (no further spoilers), is not at all new either. This idea came to light, as the film fully acknowledges, during Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] in 1998. Footage of the TRC is interesting and we could have done with more of that and less of Brügger riding around in cabs or interviewing slightly dull interviewees. The filmmaker also employs the device of dictating his musings in a hotel room to a young African woman scribe/secretary. In fact, there are two such women, but precisely why this is the case is never really explained.

Then there are the political and historical aspects of the matter. It would have been more satisfying if they had been foregrounded and this would have bolstered the film’s interest and relevance. These important elements are addressed as a bit of an afterthought and yet they are the moral heart of the story.

Hammarskjöld was uncharismatic but an honourable UN leader, and in many ways, he was ahead of his time. He was the only UN Secretary General to be awarded the Nobel peace Prize posthumously. In particular, he was prescient in seeing back then that the Western nations and their big companies would plunder the rich mineral resources lying under the soil of newly independent African nations (like the Congo).

As the film argues, if he had succeeded in his mission to rein in that colonial arrogance and greed, then many parts of Sun Saharan Africa could have developed much more quickly and successfully. That much does give one pause.

 
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Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street

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In a montage filmed at a horror convention in the middle of Whoknowswhere, USA, a group of Freddy Krueger fans gleefully tell the camera that 1985’s Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is by far the worst Elm Street movie of them all. A bold claim if we’re taking into consideration Parts 4 – 6 and the remake, but hey, people have opinions. What stands out during some attendees’ ribbing of the film are comments like ‘it’s little too gay for me.’ For the film’s star, Mark Patton, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of his experience with homophobia.

Having walked away from acting soon after appearing in Freddy’s Revenge, Patton, now living in Mexico, had heard that the film gained a reputation for being one of the worst horrors ever. A quick search online not only confirms this, but it also triggered a lot of bad memories for the actor. Anonymous internet comments called the film ‘disturbingly homoerotic.’ His character, Jesse, was called every gay slur under the roof as well as, bizarrely, a paedophile.

Scream, Queen follows Patton attending a series of conventions, talking about his life before and after Jesse and discussing what it means to be gay in Hollywood in the ‘80s. This is an opportunity for Patton to exorcise some demons. He talks candidly about his strict religious upbringing, his hidden relationship with Dallas’ Timothy Patrick Murphy, and being diagnosed with HIV at the age of 40.

For Patton, Freddy’s Revenge is very much horror with a gay subtext. You can find hundreds of assessments online about how Jesse’s battle with Freddy Krueger is an allegory for our hero coming to terms with his own sexuality. As the film progresses, Patton’s co-stars Robert Rusler, Kim Myers and Robert Englund also acknowledge the hidden queerness in the film. The only people who don’t seem to follow suit are Freddy’s Revenge Director Jack Sholder and screenwriter, David Chaskin. While Chaskin has acknowledged that the film was written with a deliberate homoerotic context, he did so after nearly 30 years of denial. For Patton, this meant that all fingers were pointing at him as to why the film came out the way it did.

As Patton moves from convention to convention, Chaskin’s shadow looms heavy over Patton, and after a Freddy’s Revenge reunion, it’s suggested that he should confront the screenwriter. While the film doesn’t become the horror equivalent of Roger and Me, Scream, Queen clearly tries to shape the eventual meet up as a final boss confrontation. You can see this in the somewhat salacious montage that opens the film. However, the film doesn’t need to do this to keep us interested.

Narrated by the velvety tongue of Cecil Baldwin (Welcome to Night Vale), Scream, Queen is a historical document about Hollywood’s response to the AIDS crisis and how actors like Patton had to deny who they were so they could get ‘straight’ parts. It blossoms into a discussion about what it means to be a male ‘final girl’ and all the definitions of masculine and feminine that come with that.

In light of the US government’s recent response to the Trans community and Australia’s own omnishambles of a religious bill act, Scream, Queen reminds us that these conversations still, unfortunately, need to be had.

Back to the film’s biggest strength, which is Patton… Timid and self-deprecating, it’s clear that he has been through a lot. You don’t go through what he has and come out the other side unchanged. That he maintains a sense of humour and is willing to be out there for his fans is inspiring.

For a lot of people, Scream, Queen will be a comfort as it reinforces how important something like Freddy’s Revenge can be for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Now, if we must have a sequel to the Elm Street remake, Scream, Queen makes a solid argument for bringing Jesse back, you cowards!