Unbeknownst to many, Charles Aznavour’s mastery of the soul-stirring ballad – imbuing upon each composition an emphatic quality that has become synonymous with mid-twentieth century French-pop – proves but half of the tools in his storytelling repertoire.
Documenting his worldly travels throughout his illustrious career, the celebrated French-Armenian troubadour hid a wealth of archival footage that when patched together in director Marc di Domenico’s evocative documentary Aznavour by Charles, showcases the crooner’s extraordinary gift of vivid expression.
Depicted in a grainy splendour, the authenticity of which will have sentimentalists lovingly clutch onto their polaroid cameras, di Domenico opens the bonnet on ‘France’s Frank Sinatra’ and details the inner-workings of an artist whose career existed as a triumph against class, loss and racism. di Domenico doesn’t so much as catalogue Aznavour’s impressive career as offer with fine objectivity a glimpse into one of France’s – if not the world’s – most captivating artists.
Aznavour by Charles is not without recognising his tremendous musical ability, with scenes showcasing the ‘She’ singer’s transportive gift. Aznavour’s profound lyricism, bringing with it, melancholic undertones as profound as they are core-shaking, transitions into contemplative narration that ponders the thoughts and motivations behind civilian society. The effect of this adds an extra layer of dimension that recognises Aznavour’s sense of compassion and the thought-out manner where he considered the perspective of others in his work.
Aznavour by Charles measures legacy not just as a by-product of popularity, but as a measure of character and prowess. The admiring manner the filmmakers capture Aznavour’s insatiable yearning for life speaks volumes to a once-in-a-generation virtuoso who was unable to switch off his keen sense of curiosity.
The remaining members of the iconic hip hop group, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz tell the intimate, personal story of their band and 40 years of friendship in this live documentary experience directed by their longtime friend and collaborator, and loud chewer, filmmaker Spike Jonze.
On the ground at the Australian International Documentary Conference, Cassandra Nevin speaks with the veteran documentary producer (Hoop Dreams, Stevie, A Sister's Call, Life Itself, Independent Lens, Minding the Gap, etc, etc) about what he believes are the essentials of non-fiction filmmaking.
Zero Day, Going Clear: Scientology & The Prison of Belief, The Armstrong Lie, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, Taxi to the Darkside; just a handful of documentaries directed by Alex Gibney, a documentary powerhouse whose latest film, Citizen K, explores Russian plutocrat Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Russian politics and power are touchy subjects, which Gibney does not shy away from here.
Russian businessman Khodorkovsky’s life story is told through a series of significant events and dates from his Soviet upbringing to post-Communism life as an Anti-Putin dissident. In this unwaveringly one-sided documentary, a very calm Khodorkovsky contradicts all events as he reflects on them. Following 1991, Khodorkovsky was seen as Russia’s richest man, owner of the oil company Yukos and an eventual member of the Oligarchs. His take on the creation of Russia’s ‘gangster model of capitalism’ is described in the film.
Utilising a Scorsese-like opening featuring segments from the end of the story, Gibney uses a clever and creative montage representing the key characters and moments in Khodorkovsky’s journey.
As we are being introduced to Khodorkovsky’s version of the story, we understand that the highly intelligent and decisive individual became a threat to Putin.
Gibney displays Putin as a villain, a ruthless and radical dictator through showcasing remarkable raw footage of protestors being attacked, instances where Putin was directly challenged at a public event and the culprit sedated and removed, and astonishing footage of ex-military with regards to the murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.
Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, Citizen K is a long, enigmatic documentary and history lesson, tackling deep social issues in Russia and sparking curiosity around Putin’s motivations. Is this a case of Stalin repeating itself? Gibney does not appear to have resolved the Khodorkovsky story fully, instead merely telling one side of the story. After spending a decade in jail and being exiled from Russia completely, including not being shown on Russian screens or even being able to step foot into a Russian embassy, a changed Khodorkovsky sends a message of hope that one day Russia will become the democratic country it deserves to be.