Saturday, 30 April 2016

THE KENNEDY FILMS OF ROBERT DREW & ASSOCIATES - BluRay Review By Greg Klymkiw Criterion Collection presents one of its finest and perhaps most important releases!

President John F. Kennedy in CRISIS
The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates (1960) (1963) (1964) (2015)
Dir. Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D. A. Pennebaker
Featuring: John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy,
Hubert H. Humphrey, George Wallace, Jacqueline Kennedy

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Robert Drew told true stories in pictures - moving pictures so vibrant that they placed you directly in the eye of the storm - and as such, changed documentary cinema in America forever (and frankly, for the better).

Visionary filmmakers, however, need delivery methods of equal vision.

The visionary Criterion Collection continues to dazzle us with one important release after another. There is, however, something especially noteworthy about The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates. In our current year of American presidential primaries, upcoming election and some of the most horrific strife in the country's history, the astonishing films collected in this package provide a window into the history of similar events which occurred over fifty years ago. As well as giving us a historical mirror by which to assess current events, the entire BluRay/DVD sheds light upon the aesthetic ground broken in the area of Direct Cinema (or, if you will, Cinema Vérité).

In the 50s, Robert Drew, a former Life Magazine correspondent, decided to turn his quest for truth in journalism away from the still image to the moving image. Not satisfied with the standards of television journalism at the time, which relied too heavily upon commentating (narration) over every image and/or straight-up interviews, Drew became a man obsessed with creating documentary cinema in which the audience could feel like they were with the subjects themselves.

Some of Drew's best work were his Kennedy films. Armed with a team of filmmakers (Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D. A. Pennebaker) who would all go on to create their own individual work in later years, Drew captured four key moments in the life of America's greatest leader, John F. Kennedy.

The first film in this series was Primary. Drew was fascinated with the young Senator John F. Kennedy, a man who, at the time, appeared to have no chance to win the Democratic nomination. In addition to his youth, he was Catholic, filthy rich and from the "east" - certainly not presidential material to win the hearts and minds of America's heartland.

Drew approached Kennedy with his idea of following the Wisconsin primaries with a team of cameras. He assured Kennedy that he was in the business of breaking new aesthetic ground; that he wanted his cameras to be up close and personal, as if the cameras weren't even there. Kennedy understood the historical significance of this, but maybe more importantly, he tuned in to the artistic importance of Drew's approach. Kennedy even knew the film might be completed in time to assist in his election efforts and yet, this meant very little to him. The film was everything.

The resulting work, especially when one compares it to the ludicrous coverage we've been assailed with in the past year involving the respective Democratic and Republican primaries of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, Primary is an unparalleled look at the process of seeking nomination in America.

What's especially interesting is seeing Kennedy and his chief Democratic opponent Hubert Humphrey operating almost solely on a grassroots level. Seeing the juxtaposition of Humphrey cracking corny jokes to meagre assemblies of grim-faced farmers and Kennedy surrounded by throngs of admiring babes is not only hilariously telling, but prescient beyond words. The film and the campaigns it captures are truly the definition of "up close and personal".

Once Kennedy won the nomination and his eventual election was in the bag, Drew visited JFK again, and again he convinced the Great Man about the historical and aesthetic importance of capturing the first days in office. Kennedy agreed and Drew had unprecedented access to inside the White House. Adventures on the New Frontier is (at least to my recollection on the matter), the only film to be plopped so intimately into the Oval Office as a President acquaints himself with the new job.

One of the coolest moments occurs early on when JFK meets his Joint Chief of Staffs for the FIRST TIME. The camera follows the events right from the pleasantries and on to some fairly sensitive discussions. One of the stern generals points to the cameras and JFK turns and realizes, with that winning smile, that perhaps it's best if the cameras leave the Oval Office for the rest of the meeting.

After this film, Drew wanted to capture the President in a moment of crisis. Alas, the crisis could not involve other countries for reasons of national security. No matter, Crisis would be made eventually, and when it was, it dealt with a crisis on American soil - a racist Governor defying the Federal Government.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Battles
Racist Idiot Alabama Governor George Wallace
who plans to physically stop two black students
from registering at the University of Alabama.
Given the current disgrace of racism in the "justice" system of America (and the country overall), this is a film that might prove to be one of the most important of Drew's Kennedy films. Alabama was the last state to allow full racial integration in its universities. JFK was having none of this and via a court order issued by his brother Robert Kennedy, America's Attorney General, Alabama had no choice but to open its doors to Black university students.

The Kennedy boys, however, had a formidable adversary in the rabidly racist Governor of Alabama, George Wallace. The plucky, nasty Black-hating psychopath had it all figured out. Accompanied by Alabama's National Guard, Wallace himself planned to defy the court order, march over to the University of Alabama and stand in the doors leading to the registrar's office to physically block the university's first pair of Black students from entering.

What transpires over the course of the film's running time is as suspenseful as any political thriller (especially since we're privy to the plan to have the Alabama Guard pledge allegiance to the Federal Government). That Drew and his team had the access they did (including the permission of Wallace himself) seems impossible, fictional even. There's plenty of drama, alright, but none of it is fiction. Crisis brings us into the thick of a showdown right out of the Old West, or rather, the antebellum South.

Again, with a great team and unprecedented access to the players, Drew masterfully orchestrates the genuine conflict in the story, but he also provides a window into the characters of RFK (who takes the driver's seat) and Wallace via some clever juxtaposition. On one hand, the cameras follow young Robert Kennedy at home on the morning of the confrontation. We feel like we're in a real home - warm, congenial, a Dad and his kids, a yummy breakfast being served up and sun streaming through the windows. At the very same time, over at George Wallace's Alabammy mansion, built on the backs of slaves, we see a cold, spotless home adorned with Southern Civil War paraphernalia. Even more appalling is seeing Wallace kibitz with a group of Black prisoners from a nearby prison who have been enlisted to work as labourers on the grounds of the Governor's mansion.

This is truly the stuff of great motion picture drama.

ROBERT DREW (1924 - 2014)
Drew's final Kennedy film is a heartbreaker. Faces of November focuses on those who have come to mourn JFK on the day of his funeral. The title says it all. The "faces" tell the whole story of an event so sad and shocking that very few people in the world weren't glued to their radios and televisions. At the age of four, my own memories of the news of the assassination and the subsequent funeral, are still vivid and haunting. Drew's film allowed me, some 53 years later, an opportunity to share my memories - of my grief as a child (as a Canadian I had no idea who the Canadian Prime Minister was and thought Kennedy was our leader), the grief of my mother (who was weeping for days) and now, at this point in time, to share the grief with a myriad of faces, all tear-stained and shell shocked by one of the saddest and most shameful events in America's history.

If the Criterion Collection release was only the gorgeously restored and transferred films themselves, it would be enough. That the package includes what might be the best supplements I have ever experienced on any home entertainment release is yet another reason to applaud a visionary company's commitment to capturing visionary films with equally visionary documentary and interview footage. This includes the brilliantly edited 30-minute documentary on Robert Drew himself, Robert Drew in His Own Words.

The pedagogical value of this collection is unparalleled. The Criterion Collection has delivered a work that is now and forever - a work that will enrich and enlighten audiences, students, teachers and scholars for decades to come.


The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates from the Criterion Collection is blessed with: New 2K digital restorations of all four films; an alternate, twenty-six-minute cut of Primary, edited by filmmaker Richard Leacock; audio commentary on Primary, featuring excerpts from a 1961 conversation between Leacock, filmmakers Robert Drew and D. A. Pennebaker and film critic Gideon Bachmann; Robert Drew in His Own Words, a new documentary featuring archival interview footage; a new conversation between Pennebaker and Jill Drew, general manager of Drew Associates and Robert Drew’s daughter-in-law; outtakes from Crisis, along with a discussion by historian Andrew Cohen, author of "Two Days in June"; a new conversation about Crisis featuring former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and Sharon Malone, Holder’s wife and the sister of Vivian Malone, one of the students featured in Crisis; a new interview with Richard Reeves, author of "President Kennedy: Profile of Power"; footage from a 1998 event at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, featuring Drew, Pennebaker, Leacock, and filmmaker Albert Maysles; and an excellent essay by documentary film curator and writer Thomas Powers.

Friday, 29 April 2016

DE PALMA - HOT DOCS 2016 Guest Review By Meraj Dhir - De Palma Fetishes Revered

De Palma (2016)
Dir. Noah Baumbauch, Jake Paltrow
Starring: Brian De Palma

Guest Review
By Meraj Dhir

De Palma is indispensable - a jewel for filmmakers and film lovers alike. Then again, Brian De Palma is a jewel unto himself and is more than deserving of this first-rate feature documentary spanning over 40 years of a vital directing career. Jake Paltrow (The Good Night, Young Ones) and Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) have teamed up to create a film that's as exciting, engrossing and suspenseful as one of the eponymous director’s own grand thrillers.

A simple, frontal camera set-up allows auteur Brian De Palma, now 75, to guide us through his films and his career. The audience is granted a privileged position at the feet of the master for just under two glorious hours of film connoisseurship - replete with delightful anecdotes, breathtakingly searing film excerpts and little-before-seen footage of the filmmakers’ earliest works, several of which feature a babyfaced Robert De Niro, whose early association with De Palma (along with several other notable celebrities) allowed the actor to hone his craft.

As a member of the so-called New Hollywood of the 1960s, Brian De Palma is commonly associated with filmmakers Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Paul Schrader, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and others whose careers were launched within one of the most intensively cinephillic periods in American film history. This was a period in American film that saw the efflorescence of film schools and film societies, repertory cinemas and brilliantly original film criticism by the likes of Pauline Kael, Manny Farber and Andrew Sarris. Moreover, with the weakening of the studio system, American filmmakers were influenced as much by the great masters of the art such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, as they were by the new influx of European art cinema: the critically celebrated films of Truffaut, Antonioni and Godard.

Paltrow and Baumbach’s film reveals, however, a version of De Palma that indicates a more original and ambivalent place for the director within this divide. The portrait of De Palma that emerges is one of a director who is as much an anti-establishment, countercultural auteur as a studio company-man whose mastery of technical craft and cinematic know-how allowed him to make films that were both intensely personal and box office triumphs.

De Palma eschews most personal biography and scandal in favor of focusing on the director’s reflections about the films themselves. We do learn, however, that the young De Palma was a science prodigy and the son of an accomplished but philandering Orthopedic Surgeon who was mostly distant from his children.

The director had an intensely close attachment to his mother. As a boy he frequently followed his adulterous father, once even bursting into his medical practice, confronting him and his female lover with a knife on behalf of his mother. De Palma’s emphasis on the voyeuristic and Oedipal aspects of this anecdote plays out in his telling like a scene from one of his own genre thrillers.

The young De Palma studied physics at Columbia University, assuming he was destined to be a scientist, but quickly fell into the thrall of the robust cinema culture of New York City in the 1960s. Looking to enter filmmaking he began by making shorts for Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16 avant-garde film society. These beginnings in experimental filmmaking rather than fiction film were central to the director’s eventual career.

First, De Palma made the films entirely by himself and his background as a scientist emboldened him to immerse himself in the technical know-how of all aspects of filmmaking from operating a camera, lighting actors, editing and synching sound all by himself. Second, the type of films Cinema 16 prized were those that, through their formal and stylistic experimentation, were somehow subversive or critical of mainstream film practice.

De Palma next found himself in the graduate theater department at Sarah Lawrence College where, guided by mentors such as stage director Wilford Leach. Here he was heavily influenced by the experimental theater movements of the period.

In an especially telling anecdote, De Palma describes a formative experience watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo as a kind of neo-Brechtian exercise in the mechanics of filmmaking. In other words, De Palma found in Vertigo a film that brought attention to the act of voyeuristic watching experienced by the viewer in cinema, even as the film narrated an immersive and psychologically complex fiction.

De Palma explains he found the film to perform a kind of distanciation effect that laid bare its own formal operations. Hitchcock’s film is not really Brechtian, but that De Palma chose to interpret or rather “misinterpret” the master’s work in this way is especially illuminating. It indicates the type of “misprision,” described in poetry by Harold Bloom whereby artists, due to the “anxiety of influence,” and a sense of belatedness informed by the weight of tradition, misread their predecessors so as to clear an imaginative space for themselves.

As David Bordwell describes in his book about the New Hollywood, "The Way Hollywood Tells It", this sense of belatedness for directors starting their careers after the decline of the studio system is central to understanding the innovative aesthetic spaces American filmmakers of the 1960s carved out for themselves. Belatedness or an “anxiety of influence” was compelled by the great weight of tradition where it seemed every generic and aesthetic avenue had been exhausted by canonic exemplars and titanic predecessors: how to make a western after Ford? a gangster film after Hawkes? a drama after Welles or Wyler? a thriller after Hitchcock? And so strategies of misreading, misprision, debasement and others were used by new filmmakers to move beyond tradition while still paying homage to artistic forbearers. This is just as true of Scorsese and Coppola who revivified the gangster film, as it is for Lucas and Spielberg whose elevated their favorite Saturday morning adventure serials to feature film prestige.

Much in De Palma’s career can be explained by his obsession with Hitchcock. Baumbach and Paltrow’s film features the filmmaker talking at great length about Hitchcock’s films. Late in the film he proudly asserts that he is one of the few, if only filmmakers, to continue the Hitchockian mode of filmmaking. And he laments that a new generation of filmmakers seem blind to the rich array of devices found in the great American classical tradition of filmmaking.

De Palma does not so much continue in the Hitchockian mode as he pushes certain Hitchcockian motifs and stylistics, intensifying and amplifying them to a more self-reflexive degree. He essentially admits to using the best as a springboard into his own voice - to use the Hitchcock form of suspense thrillers to inform his own.

Self-consciously assertive and strident visual filmmaking is characteristic of De Palma’s best work. The plush pictorialism and hyperbolic camerawork of films such as Phantom of the Paradise, Carrie, Body Double, Snake Eyes and Femme Fatale, just to name a few, push visceral affect to an extreme, a subversiveness only realized by filmmakers such as Cronenberg or John Carpenter.

De Palma’s films delight in gender confusion, sexuality, and the dynamics of male-female perversion. His deeply masterful (and acutely disturbing) Dressed to Kill (1980) opens with a sexually frustrated housewife played by Angie Dickinson who succumbs to a pick-up at the Museum of Modern Art, followed by a dive into some afternoon delight. Her "punishment" includes the discovery of her partner's V.D., followed by a vicious encounter with a transgender serial murderer. Michael Caine is on hand as a psychiatrist who harbours an especially sordid secret.

The role of modernist art and “camp” should not be overlooked in De Palma’s aesthetics. After all, the director was primarily trained in avant-garde theater, the only male in Sarah Lawrence’s graduate theater program. Several of his mentors were gay men and he began making films during one of the most vibrant and exciting periods in modern art when abstract expressionism splintered into several forking paths from minimalism, Pop Art, Op art to post-painterly abstraction. Amongst one of a handful of documentaries De Palma directed, is a film about MoMA’s landmark Op Art exhibition with the self-same title The Responsive Eye. And the visual delirium of the Op Art movement informs the more bawdy, grand guignol aspects of the director’s work.

De Palma’s films fall into two broad categories: the experimental shorts and student features and on the other hand, the larger budget genre films. An example of the former are films like the whimsical Vietnam satire Greetings, or the bewilderingly Brechtian “Hi Mom!” that begins as a sort of quaint coming of age story with Robert De Niro in the lead, then quickly devolves into a bizarre race parody with a group of WASPy white patrons who attend a drama put on by a radical black theater group. Known as the film’s “Be Black, Baby,” sequence it seems the actors literally hi-jack the film itself submitting the theater audience to various race inversions and indignities. In a stalled elevator the actors terrorize and seemingly rape a female white spectator. The film concludes with the trounced audience thanking the black theater troupe for the insightful experience! These films and others such as Dionysus in 69’ are deeply informed by Leftist-revolutionary ideas, experimental theater, and especially the new influx of films by Jean-Luc Godard. In addition to Vertigo, De Palma surprisingly names Godard’s Weekend as an especially influential film.

While De Palma’s forte for inventively torqueing the conventions of psychological horror was evident in the independently produced Sisters, a film about separated Siamese twins–where the director first worked with the great Bernard Hermann – it was with his adaptation of the Stephen King bestseller, Carrie, that the director further developed some of his trademark themes and stylistics. The film begins with lingering shots on naked body of actress Sissey Spacek as she showers in a high-school girl’s changeroom. As the camera languishes on her nubile body we soon notice a trickle of blood that begins to flow between her legs and she is horrified to discover her period. The other girls then barrage her with tampons as Carrie cowers from the vicious, sadistic hazing. The film enlists the split-screen diopter effect on several occasions, a technique whereby both foreground and background areas of the shot appear in crisp focus. The device creates a kind of inter-shot montage effect and is almost self-reflexive in its artifice as two areas of our attention are brought into relationship, at times jockeying for our attention across the frame. We see here the influence of Welles and Wyler in the looming foreground and deep focus, deep staging mise-en-scène.

In the terrifying climax of the film, De Palma makes copious use of the split-screen effect he had first employed in Dionysus ’69 to show both the titular character’s facial expression and the onslaught of her vengeance, the reaction shots of the assembled prom guests. But a key discovery here for De Palma was that the split-screen technique was “too intellectual” to choreograph more intricate action set pieces. With Carrie, De Palma had his first blockbuster and the film presaged several other commercial successes to follow. The film also demonstrated De Palma’s great facility in directing actors, two of whom, Sissey Spacek and Piper Laurie, garnered Academy Award nominations for their performances in the film.

The themes of voyeurism, scopophilia, twinning, seductive but malevolent doppelgangers, and gender inversions are recurrent in the director’s oeuvre. So too, we learn how nimbly the director was able to move between big-budget studio pictures throughout his career. After making The Fury, a film based on John Farris’ bestseller, De Palma found time to independently produce the experimental Home Movies that was work-shopped with the graduate theater department at Sarah Lawrence but also starred Kirk Douglas and other notable actors.

Influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, De Palma wrote and directed Blow-Out starring John Travolta as a sound technician who mistakenly may have recorded a murder. While a critical and cult success, the film was a box-office failure. But once again in the director’s career the tides would turn and with Scarface De Palma consolidated his reputation in both the film and more broadly cultural landscape. The film was not only a commercial success but would become a much referenced and imitated exemplar of gangster filmmaking, American greed and the lust for power. Moreover, Scarface became an emblem for the hip-hop movement and its images and catchphrases were henceforth iconic within the American imaginary.

But I would be doing a great disservice to Paltrow and Baumbach’s film if I characterized it as just another career summary. Perhaps the greatest value of De Palma are the close analyses of film form and style narrated by the director himself.

One theme that quickly emerges is De Palma’s emphasis on cinematic worldbuilding and how a film’s form and design should be robustly informed by the psychological and subtextual themes of the story. Moreover, De Palma is emphatic about the importance of rhythm and tone. Citing the protracted zooms of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, De Palma recalls the revelation he experienced when he realized that Kubrick’s device primed the audience to the rhythms of a different historical period, a different sense of duration and cinematic temporality.

On several occasions De Palma relates the importance of moments of “waiting” or temps mort, those periods of “connective tissue,” are as important to the director as the film’s key plot events. These moments are also central for narration and generating suspense as they provide opportunities to distract the audience. Distraction, De Palma emphasizes is as important to generating suspense as the director’s primary task of drawing attention to salient narrative material.

De Palma festishizes the stylistics of film: camera movement, lighting, staging actors, editing and music. A few times he mentions his ideal of aspiring to a kind of “pure cinema”. The director’s understanding of the kinetic and kinesthetic power of film, along with his technical facility is one reason the director was so able to adapt to the demands of big budget blockbuster filmmaking. Just as his The Untouchables is one of the finest cop films of the eighties, De Palma’s Mission: Impossible is arguably still the best installment of that franchise, combining bravado and immaculately precise action set pieces and engrossing dramatic suspense. The problem with today’s action films, De Palma relates, is in their overdependence on hand-held camera work and traditional “coverage” methods of shooting. Instead, the director prefers crafting intricate sequences that have an underlying relationship with a film’s themes and the emotional tone of the scene. Numerous passages of Paltrow and Baumbach’s film have De Palma analyzing sequences of films to explicate his working methods and those of others.

For example, De Palma demonstrates for us how the values of cinematic texture, the rhythms of camera movements and inter and intra shot dynamics –what the great Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein called “tonal” and “overtonal” montage—are all carefully modulated in his films. The lingering overhead shot, the virtuosically choregraphed long-take and depth staging are all hallmarks of the director’s style. We get a heightened awareness of how important precision and technical craft are for the director and how film sources and story materials are “reflected,” and “refracted” by the director’s gifted analytical vision. Like Hitchcock, De Palma’s films are artful “machines” that operate on the viewer as much as they create open-ended modernist and ambiguous cinematic texts.

De Palma covers much else in its synoptic look at the filmmaker’s career. We gain a first hand account of his principled objections to America’s involvement in Vietnam and the Middle East. Both Casualties of War and its re-imagining Redacted are emphatic anti-war films. We also receive much insight into the importance of musical scoring for De Palma and his close relationships with Bernard Herman and then Pino Donaggio. The scores of De Palma’s films are all artworks in themselves. De Palma also features a plethora of anecdotes about filmmaking in the dizzyingly creative New Hollywood period and both charming and shocking personal reminisces from the director.

For this critic, the director’s two best works are Body Double, a deliriously sexy and bizarre thriller, and Carlito’s Way, a film the director tells us he watched again recently and thought “I don’t know how I could make a better film than this.” It’s a film where De Palma’s technical precision, his lurid stylistics, and personal thematics all perfectly coalesce.

With De Palma, Paltrow and Baumbach, both accomplished filmmakers in their own right, have given a true gift to cinema and film lovers. Their directorial finesse is evident in the ways they collage scenes and sequences from De Palma’s films to correspond to his analyses. The rhythm and pacing of the film perfectly captures De Palma’s forthright personality and their close friendship with the director, built up over years, allows them to elicit the most honest commentary possible from this now elder statesmen and master of cinema.

Meraj Dhir's FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5-Stars

De Palma screens at Hot Docs 2016.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

CHASING ASYLUM - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Refugees on the "Barbie"

Australia's Government implements RACISM, INCARCERATION, ISOLATION & TORTURE towards political refugees in the guise of humanitarianism.
Chasing Asylum (2016)
Dir. Eva Orner

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Using a raft of hidden cameras, Oscar-winning filmmaker Eva Orner chillingly exposes the evil committed by Australia on people who need the country's help, not its disdain.

Now, it's obvious and a proven fact that political refugees seeking asylum by crossing the oceans on boats can die. They know it and we know it, but sometimes it's the only way for them to escape repression and violence.

The Australian government, wanting to protect the refugees from certain death have implemented a series of policies designed to save lives. That's what they tell us, anyway. The reality is that Australia does not want the bad publicity (and, uh, the inconvenience) of bodies washing up on their shorelines. Most of all, though, the country is run a bunch of ignorant racists who want to keep refugees out of their country - period!

What the Aussie rulers have done is tantamount to cruelty, straight-up incarceration and torture.

"I have to forget my dreams here." (top left)
A paradise for children. (top right, middle left & right)
Plea of a refugee: KILL US (bottom left)
SECURITY FORCES (bottom right)
Any refugee arriving by boat is detained in one of two godforsaken hellholes - an island in Papua, New Guinea and the autonomous island nation of Nauru. It is in these places where the refugees are incarcerated for years in cramped, unsanitary and most decidedly inhumane concentration camps. Malnutrition, deep depression and even suicide plagues these "guests" of the Australian government.

Children suffer from developmental delays, lack of education and none of the facilities/accoutrements which might make their lives richer. (When toys finally arrive, the story of one child's response is a heartbreaker.)

Australia, for their part wants to do the following:

1. Detain the refugees in the most appalling conditions for as long as possible, then deport them back to where they come from, hoping their horrendous experiences will keep other refugees from being tempted to come to Australia.

2. Absolutely refuse asylum to ANY refugees who arrive by boat.

Journalists are not allowed in the compounds, workers are not trained and told their job is to keep people from committing suicide (or try to "make" them "happy") and the security forces are big bruisers who've been recruited from various bouncer positions in nightclubs. The secret cameras capture these pigs referring to the refugees with the most foul language and (seriously) joking about how they look forward to shooting any of them trying to escape.

Among other egregious conditions, there is an appalling rash of sexual assaults perpetrated on women and children.

Special laws have been implemented by the Australian Government to send any worker to prison who dares to publicly reveal the sickening goings-on.

The  dreams of refugees:
"I heard Australia is a safe country."
"I heard Australia is a humane country."
"Australia respects people and refugees."
Clearly Australia is flouting all international agreements they've agreed to by refusing refugees. They simply don't want these people in their country - in spite of overwhelming proof and statistics how Vietnamese boat people have, in fact, become some of the country's most loyal and productive citizens.

This is Australia.

It's happening now.

Orner's film is not only an eye-opener, but a powerful call to action for the rest of the world to speak out against these utterly horrifying, racist actions. The nastiness and ignorance of Australia's political leaders is so insane, one can't believe the words coming out of their mouths.

After one of the prisoners immolates himself in protest and desperation, one might as well ascribe the Crocodile Dundee cliche to every single Australian politician and imagine them jauntily chortling:

"Well mate, let's toss another refugee on the barbie!"


Chasing Asylum makes its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2016.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Retrospective Programming a Hallmark of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016) Review By Greg Klymkiw of Jean Renoir's LA GRANDE ILLUSION, featuring famed French-Jewish actor Dalio in the role of a nouveau riche Jewish P.O.W. Film available for more detailed scrutiny on the magnificent O.O.P. Criterion Collection DVD replete with extras.

Posters for La Grande Illusion and images of fellow German P.O.W. camp escapees Jean Gabin and Marcel Dalio.
Heritage Cinema, Retrospective Programming:
Important Hallmarks of the Extremely Vital
Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF)

2016 Edition of TJFF Unravels Gems
Reflecting Jewish Themes, Talent and Culture
Greg Klymkiw reviews Jean Renoir's masterpiece:

Germans will be Germans.
Luckily, the French will always be the French.
La Grande Illusion (1937)
Dir. Jean Renoir
Scr. Renoir & Charles Spaak
Starring: Jean Gabin, Marcel Dalio, Erich Von Stroheim, Pierre Fresnay,
Dita Parlo, Julien Carette, Gaston Modot, Jean Dasté, Georges Péclet

Review By Greg Klymkiw

La Grande Illusion might be the best film about the Great War ever made. Such a proclamation doesn't come lightly since there are a fine handful of WWI pictures vying for this accolade. King Vidor's The Big Parade, Lewis Milestone's All Quiet On The Western Front, Frank Borzage's A Farewell To Arms, Edmund Goulding's The Dawn Patrol, Powell/Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory and Peter Weir's Gallipoli are all first-rate explorations of the bloodiest, meanest war of the 20th Century. All are replete with filmmaking artistry of the highest order and infused with the kind of emotional depth charges guaranteed to explode one's tear ducts into shards of salty droplets of emotion.

But no, Jean Renoir wins hands down from my perspective.

Well ahead of its time Renoir's masterpiece presents a positive antidote to Europe's rampant antisemitism with the character of Rosenthal (played by immortal French-Jewish actor Dalio), a nouveau riche Jewish P.O.W. who shares his family's care packages of food and drink with his fellow prisoners (no matter what their class, station or rank).

French POWs Amuse Themselves Amongst the Hun.
Furthermore, Renoir crafts a fascinating, often funny and richly moving portrait of a class system on its last legs. It's this very approach which, unlike other war films, is what makes it so brilliant and ahead of its time, but in many ways, makes it one of the most stirring anti-war films of cinema history. ("Class" is often touched upon in WWI pictures, but here, it is everything, and as such contributes to the picture's lasting value.)

The screenplay by Renoir and Charles Spaak, tells the story of a group of allied soldiers incarcerated in the German prisoner of war camps of World War I. This is not the typical reflection of concentration camps since WWI occurred during the waning days of aristocratic rule when even Germans exercised a certain degree of compassion and restraint in the treatment of its prisoners.

The film focuses primarily upon Lieutenant Maréchal (the always dashing French leading man Jean Gabin), a simple car mechanic in real life who is in the previously unthinkable position of an officer and a gentleman. In fact, it is Maréchal's basic, down-home pragmatism which allows him to be a leader within the prison system and most importantly, provides the inspiration to never give up the effort to seek escape so prisoners can rejoin their comrades in the fight against the Hun.

Death be not proud? Or is it?
Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) is, amongst the POWs, pure aristocracy, but he too, like the Jewish nouveau riche Rosenthal, knows that in war, his place is with his fellow prisoners. He is, however, allowed to have his cake and eat it too when Captain von Rauffenstein (the great Erich von Stroheim), the ultra-aristocratic commandant on the German side, welcomes him for fine spirits and lively conversation - a discourse which leads to both men equally lamenting, yet accepting the fact that this is the war in which the "ruling" class is on its way out.

Their friendship takes on some of the more moving and heartbreaking elements and events of the film.

Renoir presents both sides of the coin to the POWs' incarceration. The film shares a magnificent staged entertainment amongst the men, stirring escape planning and a rousing rendition of "La Marseillaise" which offers an equal dose of soul-stirring tears to the similar moment years later in Michael Curtiz's Casablanca.

German Prisons Do Not All Provide Fun and Games.
On the flip side, Renoir does not shy away from the brutality of the German captors (outside of von Rauffenstein's decidedly humanitarian approach to wartime prison administration), nor the horrific irony of outgoing French soldiers unable to give instructions to the incoming English-speaking prisoners of where the escape tunnel has been started due to language barriers and, in spite of the film's ahead-of-its-time portrait of a major Jewish character, Renoir also exposes the racism amongst the soldier-prisoners with respect to a Black prisoner who can ultimately only speak to himself, in hopes that someone might listen and converse with him.

As this is a prison picture, there is an escape, and it is here where Renoir outdoes himself in terms of both the suspense and the horrifying result of a character least likely to sacrifice himself as well as a character least-wanting to impart a death bullet. Get out thy handkerchiefs, folks. The death of class a la Renoir allows only for an aristocrat to welcome death at the hands of an aristocrat.

Running into yummy Dita Parlo on the run not a bad deal.
Renoir even provides deep romance (beyond that of men linked in common causes in war) and we're introduced to the lovely Dita Parlo (from Jean Vigo's L'Atalante) as a saviour and love interest. Renoir does allow for a certain sentimentality here ("sentimentality" NOT being a dirty word), but as is his wont, the master filmmaker yanks this happiness from all concerned (including us, the audience).

Finally, there is one of the great endings in film history - two men, one a mechanic, the other a Jew - both dotted together, dwarfed by the white snow of Switzerland and under threat of German bullets during their last mad dash.

Ultimately, this is a film in which escape can only mean a willing return to war, and for this, amongst so many astonishing elements, La Grande Illusion is one of the great anti-war films in cinema history.

It might even be the best.


La Grande Illusion is being screened at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016) in cooperation with the Alliance Francaise to complement the premiere of Mark Rappaport’s new documentary on French Jewish actor Marcel Dalio. The screening will feature guest speaker Professor Chris Faulkner, author of "The Social Cinema of Jean Renoir".

The out-of-print Criterion Collection DVD is still available for rent at special video stores (in Toronto that includes, Queen Video, Bay Street Video and Suspect Video). Most major cities still have video stores like these. This edition of the film can still be purchased new or used at by visiting this link HERE. Amazon offers premium pricing, but also very reasonable used pricing options. The Criterion edition includes: Newly restored digital transfer, created from the long-lost camera negative, a New and improved English subtitle translation, A rare theatrical trailer in which Jean Renoir discusses both Grand Illusion and his personal war experiences, an Audio essay by film historian Peter Cowie, an Archival radio presentation of Renoir and Erich von Stroheim accepting Grand Illusion’s Best Foreign Film honours at the 1938 New York Film Critics Awards, Press book excerpts, Renoir’s letter “to the projectionist,” cast bios, an essay on Renoir by von Stroheim, and essays about the film’s title and recently recovered camera negative, plus a very interesting Restoration demonstration.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

AN AFFECTIONATE LOOK AT WAYNE & SHUSTER, WAYNE & SHUSTER IN BLACK AND WHITE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Retrospective Programming a Hallmark of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016) Two television specials focusing on the legendary Jewish-Canadian comedy team, behind and in front of the cameras.

Canuck comedy duo Wayne & Shuster were profiled
on this CBC-TV light news and public affairs program
entitled TELESCOPE. Pictured here are screen grabs from
one of the most insane opening title sequences of all time. I accept the astronaut, the illuminated lights coming from the skyscraper, the kid, the babe and the eyeball. But seriously, a golf ball that turns into the surface of the Moon? And I ask you, what's with the giraffe and creepy clown?
An Affectionate Look at Wayne & Shuster (1965)
Dir. Norman Campbell
Starring Johnny Wayne, Frank Shuster, Fletcher Markle

Wayne & Shuster in Black and White (1997)
Dir. Trevor Evans
Starring: Johnny Wayne, Frank Shuster

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster were Canada's premier comedy duo. In fact, they were probably the only comedy team from the Great White North beloved on both sides of the Canadian and American border and across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom.

They met in high school and discovered they had an immediate rapport. Throughout both secondary and post-secondary studies, the lads performed in stand-up and sketches. They were eventually hired in the 1940s by Toronto's CFRB to present a comedic household hints show and soon after were given their own radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

They enrolled in the armed services and throughout both World War II and the Korean War, they performed for the troops fighting abroad. With the advent of television, their careers jettisoned into the stratosphere with a regular series on CBC, followed by regular comedy specials on the same network. They were hired for a series of BBC comedy specials and even starred in an American summer replacement series produced by Jack Benny.

Their biggest success was appearing on the legendary Ed Sullivan show. Ed loved them so much, they broke the show's record of any comedy duo appearing more than once. Wayne & Shuster appeared on Sullivan's ratings hit an astonishing 60+ times. To this day, such multiple appearances by any comedy act on American TV, has never been beaten.

In spite of many offers dangled before them, they refused to make the permanent move to America. They loved Canada and preferred to live in Canada. This didn't really affect their careers in any negative fashion, but given their popularity, Wayne & Shuster could have joined the ranks of all the legendary 60s comedy variety shows on the U.S. networks.

It was not to be. They were Canadian, through and through.

* * * * *

One of the psychotically prolific programs Wayne & Shuster produced and starred in was called "An Affectionate Look at . . ." wherein the lads would sit back, relax and introduce the audience to some of their favourite comedians. Here they're about to launch into an appreciation of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby until they're freeze-framed, stopped and chided by obnoxious host Trevor Markle who tells them it's high time somebody created An Affectionate Look at Wayne & Shuster. What follows is all under the aegis of the extremely light 1965 CBC-TV public affairs program Telescope.

The value inherent in this program is clearly nostalgic. In addition to a lot of very cool period locations in both Toronto and London, it delivers plenty of interviews with supporters and fans and eventually with Wayne & Shuster.

Most of the show is devoted to "documentary" footage as they prepare to celebrate 25 years in show business. They're doing a comedy special on this theme in England with the BBC. So far so good until we're treated to a seemingly endless stroll through Toronto's airport with Wayne, Shuster and their entire families in tow (including a family pet wiener dog) to see them off. The boys kibitz around with their family, ticket girls, stewardesses and finally settle into their seats in the transatlantic jet.

Once they get to dear old Blighty, there's some shenanigans involving a breakneck car ride through London, scenes wherein they plan their special and eventually, in one of the more genuinely funny bits, they collect their BBC producer and go in search of a steakhouse that all three dined at over two decades earlier. When they get to the proper location, our boys are genuinely shocked that their favourite steak joint has been shuttered and turned into the local bookie's office.

Back home they prep and perform in a major touring show that premieres on Prince Edward Island and continues across Canada. Trevor Markle informs us that the fellas are on their way to Winnipeg. The show ends with Wayne & Shuster costumed as voyageurs, travelling from Toronto to Winnipeg by kayak.

If you're a Wayne and Shuster fan, you'll bust a gut. If not, you'll still enjoy the nostalgia of it all. It also looks grand because it was shot at a time when such programs were captured on black and white film. It sure beats the crap out of videotape and even digital.

The Wayne & Shuster Glory Days

Wayne & Shuster in Black and White is a three-part special from 1997 hosted by Frank Shuster (Johnny Wayne died of brain cancer in 1990). The emphasis is upon sketches from the 50s and 60s, which are not without amusement value (more so for fans) and perfectly representative of the literate, laid back Canadian humour the duo specialized in. The sketches include classic spoofs of movies like Ben-Hur, Shakespeare plays and old westerns.

As a kid in the 60s, I pretty much thought Wayne and Shuster were the dullest, most unhip comedians on TV. That said, I watched all their programs anyway and got a special thrill whenever I saw them on the decidedly uncool Ed Sullivan Show.

It's decades later now, though, and no matter what I thought as a kid, I have to admit to getting weepy and nostalgic over both of these programs. And yes, I laughed a lot. That's ultimately what any comedian wants.


An Affectionate Look at Wayne & Shuster and Wayne & Shuster in Black and White are part of the stellar archival lineup that the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016) excels at like no other film festival in Canada.

Monday, 25 April 2016

GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Poetic Truth

God Knows Where I Am (2016)
dir. Todd Wider, Jedd Wider
Narration: Lori Singer

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Too many filmmakers forget about the power of poetry in cinema. This is especially endemic in documentary work where far too many pictures seem limited to imparting facts and/or become so wrapped up in "story" (demanded by narrow, vision-bereft commissioning editors) that no matter how proficient the films are, they are - as films - all about the issue and/or subject matter at the centre of the work.

There is no such problem plaguing God Knows Where I Am. The picture is an absolute heartbreaker and a good deal of its success is directly attributable to its pace, style and structure which yields a film infused with all the qualities of the sublime. I challenge anyone to not weep profusely at several points within its elegiac 99 minute running time.

The picture charts the last weeks of Linda Bishop, an intelligent, sensitive middle-aged woman found dead in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse. Existing only on rainwater and apples from a bountiful tree, she felt trapped by dangers which threatened and frightened her to such a degree that she was unable to leave the comfort and shelter afforded to her by this lonely enclave. Eventually, as the apples ran out and the unheated house was battered by one of the coldest winters on record in New Hampshire, comfort gave way to agony and agony gave way to grace.

Directors Todd and Jedd Wilder have constructed their film using a seemingly endless series of gorgeously composed and lit shots (gloriously mastered on FILM by cinematographer Gerardo Puglia), many of the dollies and tracking shots moving with the kind of slow beauty Vilmos Zsigmond employed in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. These haunting images, many of which are so stunning they'll be seared on your soul for a lifetime, are accompanied by off-camera readings from Bishop's actual journal by actress Lori (Footloose, Trouble in Mind, Shortcuts) Singer. Singer's performance here is astonishing - she captures the pain, desperation and even small joys in Bishop's life during these sad, lonely days with a sensitivity and grace linked wholly to the "character" of Bishop.

The aforementioned sequences are interspersed with actual 8mm home movie footage of Bishop as a child - once, bright, happy and full of the promise of a full life to live. The filmmakers also wend interviews into the film's fabric with such figures as Bishop's adult daughter, various friends and relatives, and a local police detective and medical examiner - all of whom contribute to a mystery which unravels with spellbinding dexterity.

In addition to the cinematography, the key creative elements in the picture are simply astonishing. Editor Keiko Deguchi creates a gentle, yet always compelling pace that contributes to the poetic nature of the film (and a few dissolves so powerful that each one knocks the wind out of you) while Paul Cantelon, Ivor Guest and Robert Logan have created one of the best scores I've heard in any documentary. Elements such as sound, art direction and visual effects are on a par with the best cinema can offer.

I've seen God Know Where I Am three times. It's not only rich and layered enough to hold up on every viewing, but on an emotional level, I wept profusely - again and again and yet again.

This is great cinema and certainly a contender for one of the best documentaries of the new millennium. It captures profound poetic truths about homelessness, mental illness and loneliness which are rendered with such artistry and sensitivity that this is a film for the ages.


God Knows Where I Am receives its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2016.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

SONITA - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Teen Rapper Tale veers into jingoism

Sonita (2016)
Dir. Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
Starring: Sonita Alizadeh

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's not surprising that Sonita won the Audience Award during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, playing to rapturous applause. Even within the rarefied conclave of American Liberalism, the thing that's most troubling about the film would have skipped right over the heads of most Americans.

First, the positive. The film is a superbly made story about the title subject, a teenage Afghani refugee living under the aegis of a charitable organization in Iran which provides shelter and schooling to kids who were hustled away from Taliban rule for a better life. Sonita and her siblings have lived in safety, but have done so at the expense of being separated from the rest of their family who've remained in Afghanistan for many years.

Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami not only paints a vivid portrait of life in Tehran, but manages to do so with slicker than usual production value. Both the cinematography and sound are first-rate, delivering an extremely palatable presentation of life in a repressed country like Iran - one which seems like a bastion of free speech compared to Taliban-influenced Afghanistan.

Sonita's music is a real treat also. It often dazzles and moves us with her passion, skill and promotion of both social justice and equal rights for women. (There's a music video, which Sonita essentially directs, which will inspire considerable happy gooseflesh.)

Sonita is a hugely talented singer-songwriter who has found her calling in rap music. She sings about women's rights with verve and passion, but even Iran (as seen in this year's Raving Iran) strictly forbids music which is not government sanctioned, nor does it allow women to sing. Sonita must pursue her dreams in secret.

The most urgent conflict occurs when Sonita's family in Afghanistan is appalled that she's singing and they begin the process of bringing her back home in order to be sold into the slavery of a forced marriage. This sequence is nail-bitingly suspenseful. Though there is some talk that director Maghami's financial intervention to buy Sonita some time crosses over into "journalistic" heresy, this hardly seems to matter since we're dealing with the life of a deeply passionate and extraordinarily talented young artist.

Though the suspense ratchets up even more skillfully during the final conflict in which director Maghami again intervenes, a very sour taste begins to foul the proceedings since it involves Sonita potentially being saved by the evil corporate imperialism of a country that has caused all her problems to begin with, and in fact, all the problems associated with extremist middle eastern terror that plagues the world.

For anyone who accepts that America has dug its own grave and continues to dig graves for the rest of the world, much of the goodwill the film builds up has far too much potential to render it as little more than lunkheaded Argo-like American propaganda.

I can see why American audiences lapped this up. Alas, it left me cold as ice.


Sonita is a FilmsWeLike (FWL) release, its Canadian Premiere is at Hot Docs 2016

Saturday, 23 April 2016

RAVING IRAN - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Iranian House DJs Risk Death

To Rave Or Not To Rave?
To Die Or Not To Die?
Choices Galore for House DJs in Iran!

Raving Iran (2016)
Dir. Susanne Regina Meures

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The genuinely brilliant House DJs Anoosh and Arash create the kind of heavenly pulse-pounding sounds which raise the level of rave music to interstellar heights. The commitment they bring to their artistry is beyond obsessive which, is probably a good thing given the hypnotic beats they etch aurally like a kind of Jackson Pollock x2 on a mixing board. Then again, obsession amidst repression seems to be a life-skill that Iranian artists must have hardwired into their very DNA.

Anoosh and Arash should be stars.

And in a sense, they are, but their celebrity remains deep in the underbelly of the rave scene in Tehran, Iran. To be public in a country that views their music as unholy enough to warrant prison, torture and death is tantamount to suicide. Even working underground is enough to flirt with the aforementioned indignities of pain and eradication.

It's a wonder, then, that filmmaker Susanne Regina Meures captured their harrowing story using hidden cel phone cameras and other surreptitious means to chart an important story of creation under attack.

Given the means of production, the film is raw, ragged and grainy. This seldom detracts from one's appreciation for the picture and does, in fact, contribute to the mix of the artists' creative energy with the frustrating, maddening and often downright terrifying risks they and their fans undertake.

Iranian House DJs Anoosh and Arash risk the
wrath of Allah's self-proclaimed gatekeepers.
Allah, though, would love their music and artistry.
All around them we see armed police and willie-inducing checkpoints. Dark alleys in circuitous labyrinthine back streets and deep, dungeon-like basements are their domain - where, like the undead, all rise with the setting of the sun and scurry into their coffins with its rising. Better they should scurry into them of their own volition than risk being blasted into them from the end of an Iranian peacekeeper's gun.

The film gives us a rare insider's view of the creative process, the raves themselves and the frustrating lengths Anoosh and Arash must go in order to manufacture their album. When they're invited to the largest, most prestigious House Music Festival in the world in Switzerland, dangerous, heartbreaking decisions await them.

In Iran, making a decision might be DEADLY.
From staging a massive secret rave in the desert to the chillingly suspenseful process of leaving Iran, filmmaker Meures is with them all the way.

And so are we.

Such are the joys and sadness cinema can create. When they reflect life, as in this brave, bold documentary, it's all the more edifying.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half-stars

Raving Iran makes its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2016

Friday, 22 April 2016

LEAGUE OF EXOTIQUE DANCERS - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - a history of the art of Burlesque through the seen-it-all eyes of Burlesque Hall of Fame inductees

Legendary Burlesque Queen and Russ Meyer Star
KITTEN NATIVIDAD, her cutey cartoony still emblazoned
on the equally legendary gentlemen's club, The Body Shop.
League of Exotique Dancers (2016)
Dir. Rama Rau
Prd. Ed Barreveld
Starring: Kitten Natividad, Camille 2000, Delilah Jones, Gina Bon Bon, Holiday O'Hara, Judith Stein, Lovey Goldmine, Marinka, Toni Elling

Review By Greg Klymkiw
I've always loved burlesque. As a healthy, young lad growing up in Winnipeg, I was surrounded by the finest in this magnificent form of entertainment thanks to a crusty old booking agent by the name of Gladys Balsillie who managed a stable of formidable talent on constant view in only the finest gentlemen's clubs of my old winter city. Known famously as "Gladdie's Girls", these ladies were no mere strippers, but featured performers who put on super-cool shows with props, costumes, jokes, storytelling and even narrative arcs to their dances. The greatest of these ladies was the incomparable June Tracy, a ribald, full-figured octogenarian beauty who spun deliciously dirty tales through her craggy, chain-smoke-charred voice pipes. Not only could she twirl one tassel-adorned breast at a time, she oft-performed her famed bubble bath act in a claw-footed tub and then, always ended every show with a series of vigorous bows and the best exit-line ever: "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she'd belt out and then, after a perfectly-timed pause, "…Thank you, relatives!"
- my review of Beth B's EXPOSED
Last year I prefaced the 2015 edition of Hot Docs with a review of Exposed, Beth B's insightful documentary on contemporary burlesque, which, at the time, was making its DVD debut on Zeitgeist Films home entertainment. One year later, I'm faced with the world premier and opening night picture of Hot Docs 2016, which is none other than ace Storyline Entertainment documentary producer Ed Barreveld's League of Exotique Dancers, directed by Rama Rau.

Rau trains cinematographer Iris Ng's expert lens upon a group of exotic burlesque dancers who are not only still with us, but are on the precipice of their induction into the Burlesque Hall of Fame, which will include more than the mere ceremony, but full-on burlesque shows by a number of these great ladies.

The interviews not only provide a rich history of burlesque, but reveal a cornucopia of insights into the themes of female power, grace and showmanship during a time when women in North America were viewed by most men as Madonnas or Whores, Housewives or Harlots, Molly Maids or Madams (and maybe even a healthy/unhealthy mixture of the aforementioned couplings). Though the film provides any number of positive perspectives on the art of burlesque, it also sheds light on those who view it as sex-trade work, pure and simple, some of their lives replete with abuse, addiction and sadness.

One thing they seem to all agree on, though, is that burlesque was a far cry from straight-up stripping and certainly light-years ahead of how disgusting many of the contemporary clubs have become since the implementation of lap dancing, private dancing and the addition of dark V.I.P. rooms which are little more than whorehouses.

Burlesque is bump-and-grind, to be sure, but with the implementation of costumes, makeup and even stories for the various dances, it's hardly a stretch to declare it erotic performance art of the highest order. Some of the thematic elements of the dances might be imbued with satiric and/or political intent, whilst others are simply there to entertain, but what one cannot deny is the fact that fun, and often humour, are the order of the day.

Seeing these grand ladies in their august years, seated like royalty on their respective perches, dolled-up and dressed to the nines, prancing and parading us through neighbourhoods of their past, is a thing of sheer beauty. To see them perform now, is even more tantalizing (attention all GMILF aficionados), especially in juxtaposition to cutter Rob Ruzic's expertly edited montages of archival footage from the golden age of burlesque.

Each of the women make for magnificently entertaining and insightful interview subjects, but if I'm allowed, I'm picking a handful of favourites. Gotta love the Canadian content (this is a Canadian film, after all) with Judith Stein, her famed monicker none other than the saucy "Great Canadian Beaver", the beautiful and erudite Toni Elling recounting the experience from the women-of-colour perspective and Marinka matter-of-factly discussing her sales of used G-strings to those fetishists wishing to take the scent of a woman back home with them.

Kitten Natividad shares her love story
with master filmmaker, the late Russ Meyer.
The inclusion of the gorgeous, supremely intelligent and truly legendary Kitten Natividad made the whole movie sing for me. Director Rau importantly focuses on Natividad's professional and personal relationship with the great Master filmmaker Russ (Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, Up!) Meyer. We get to visit the front yard of his modest suburban dwelling (from which one can see the famed HOLLYWOOD sign) and hear Natividad's reminiscences of what sounds like a truly and deeply profound love story. The film also gives a healthy nod to Meyer's place as a film artist, including some terrific clips from his work and the genuinely amazing footage of Russ cutting on a Movieola in his garage.

I couldn't help but shed a tear as Natividad recounted Meyer's final years afflicted with Alzheimer's and how she selflessly took on the role as his primary caregiver.

What Rau's film finally proves is that sex might sell, but the business and art of selling sex can be infused with great love, joy, intellect, imagination, self-discovery and humanity. This, is a good thing. Judgement is easy. Acceptance is what distinguishes us in the eyes of whatever Creator looks down upon us.


League of Exotique Dancers is a Kinosmith release. Its world premiere is the opening night of Hot Docs 2016.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

QUEBEC MY COUNTRY MON PAYS - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Master Filmmaker John Walker's Moving Personal Journey Through Quebec's Quiet Revolution

Quebec My Country Mon Pays (2016)
Dir. John Walker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Place defines us. It's our roots, our lifeblood, the thing that we can never shake free of, whether we want to or not. However, so many of us are/were forced to leave our homes. My Grandfather, for example, was forced to leave Ukraine. In the new reality after the revolution, he could no longer be who he was. Communism was linked directly to Russia and Russia imposed Russification upon the Ukrainian people - making it a crime to speak Ukrainian. If he had not left, he could well have become a victim of the Purges or the Holodomor (Stalin's genocidal murder of 10million Ukrainians). Ultimately, it was language and culture that was denied to him and millions of others. Not only was Russian imposed upon Ukrainians, but their own language was outlawed, eradicated and obliterated in favour of the Communists' tongue of choice.

This and a number of personal thoughts coursed through me as I watched veteran Canadian filmmaker John (A Winter Tan, Strand: Under the Dark Cloth, Men of the Deeps) Walker's deeply moving film Quebec My Country Mon Pays. Curiously, language too plays a part in the exodus of so many English-speaking people from Quebec.

Walker takes us on a very personal journey in which he examines how and why he left Quebec, in spite of the fact that it is the place that nurtured and in so many ways, defined him. This is no ordinary garden variety personal journey. It is a rather extraordinary personal journey which weaves Walker's own narrative with a bonafide history of Quebec's "Quiet" Revolution. My Grandfather's taste of "revolution" was not so quiet, but there are, for me, striking parallels between the narrative of my Eastern European ancestors and those from Quebec.

Anglo culture, language and business was a dominant force in this Canadian province. In fact, the City of Montreal, rather than Toronto was the centre, the heartbeat if you will, of Canadian business. Not so anymore.

Quebec is a distinct culture and though its distinctions used to include bilingualism, French has swallowed the province whole - so much so that provincial and federal parties were formed with the sole purpose of removing Quebec from Canada. Terrorism and violence via the FLQ was a big part of this once the revolution became less quiet than it had been.

Walker has chosen a delightfully original way into his own story of abandoning the place he loved (and still loves) more than any other. There's not only the deftly handled history of Quebec's "revolution", but it's presented with a combination of superb archival film clips, still images, interviews from Anglo-Quebecers who identify as Quebecers, Quebecers who want their province to separate from Canada and a myriad of the province's greatest artists and thinkers, including Oscar-winning director Denys Arcand, writer Paul Warren and screenwriter Louise Pelletier. Especially touching is Walker's exploration of his own family's generations-old history in Quebec and its relationship to his contemporary dilemma of loving a place that feels inextricably rooted in his soul, yet seems so distant all the same.

What links all of this is Walker's visual aplomb - gorgeously composed vistas of the countryside and cities with the same painterly qualities Walker has always brought to bear in his work - stunning, rich images worthy of John Ford of both the land and its people and highly influenced by the legendary Canadian feature film Pour la suite du monde by Michel Brault, Marcel Carrière and Pierre Perrault.

I responded personally to Walker's film, especially with my own exodus from my roots in Winnipeg which continue to haunt me. As Randy Bachmann wrote in his gloriously sad anthem "Prairie Town": "the prairies made me what I am today", those same prairies that offered my Grandfather visual reminders of Ukraine's glorious steppes that he had to leave behind.

Walker's created a film anyone can call their own. Who has not been touched by a sense of place and at worst, forced to leave it and at best, always fearing what one might do if forced to leave it behind? Walker's film is his history, Quebec's history, Canada's history and by the film's very structure, a history we all share - not just in Canada, but the rest of the world.


Quebec My Country Mon Pays has its World Premiere at HOT DOCS