Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Capsule Reviews10/19/11 Documentaries

Nice look at the censorship battle between the Smothers Brothers and CBS. The film was done around the time of the Aspen Comedy Festival retrospective on the series which was hosted by Bill Maher. The film takes us from the point where the Brothers are given a chance to have a show (a desperate attempt by CBS to beat powerhouse Bonanza where CBS effectively gave them complete control over the series because they thought it was never going to work) onward through their riding to the top of the ratings and into the battles with the censors and brass who were tired of the boys getting bags full of letters. (CBS didn't want letters of any sort - good or bad). Based upon what we see of the show (and that's the films one flaw there aren't enough clips from the show) it's hard to imagine them being controversial, but they were. This film shows us why the battles happened and how some of them played out. It's a sad story that resulted in a changing of television as we know it since the Smothers Brother show changed comedy as we know it (there would have been no Saturday Night Live with out it and it gave us Rob Riener and Steve Martin amongst others). To many people the battles almost four decades ago may seem inconsequential but they are important to understanding why we watch what we watch today. It's must see viewing especially since this film is so well done.

Film Parade
Film Parade is great little documentary about the history of motion pictures made in the early days of film. It’s narrated by Commodore--- one of the founder of Vitagraph film studio. Starting back in Ancient Egypt where sequential poses were place on temple columns so that it gave the illusion of motion when driving by on a chariot the film charts the course of photography and motion pictures up to the then present. I really liked this film a great deal. As I find with film books from the early days of film, there is a great deal of history that we don’t talk about or know any more. We may talk about how films were made and evolved but for most people its an abstract matter. Here we are looking at the past from the past in a manner that will open the eyes of even the most jaded of film historians. This is one to search out.

World of Tomorrow
World of Tomorrow is a great look at the New York Worlds Fair of 1939-40 and of life before the world exploded into the Second World War. The film is put together via news reels, promotional films and home movies, the majority of which is in color. The film is narrated by Jason Robards who manages to be both informative and the right amount of nostalgic. It’s a great film that shows us how the hope and promise of the Worlds Fair slowly eroded as events in the real world changed our views. (I would love to see this with several of the films I’ve seen on the Worlds Fair from the 1960’s which also opened to great promise and then slowly petered out) Watching the film is akin to stepping into someone’s memories of the events related rather than a straight forward recounting of events. While this may color some of what we are seeing, in a weird way it gives us a greater understanding of events because they put them into a more personal context. I like the dream like quality to it and I’ve drifted off into another time and place each time I see it. To me the film reminds me of Ric Burns excellent film Coney Island which has a similar dream like feel. There are two versions of the film. There is the original version of the film which played in movie theaters and there is a version running just under an hour that played on PBS. I would go for the full version if you can run it down, however I know a couple of people who like the shorter version better since it seems less syrupy to them.

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