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Lagerfeld Confidential (2007)
A 'subject approved' portrait of a famous designer
Early in this film, Karl Lagerfeld hides from the camera behind a magazine as he informs us he does not want to be photographed without his sunglasses on. A later shot catches the legendary designer through a window 'sans specs' and it feels like the filmmaker has captured him in a rare vulnerable moment. This is but one indication of the kid gloves used by the director in this mildly interesting borderline puff piece of a portrait documentary. Much of the film features the back of Lagerfeld's head as the camera is lead about by his ubiquitous silver pony tail down catwalks, into town cars, up private jet ramps, and behind photo shoots. Often it feels like the POV of a typical fashion industry fawning lackey nipping at the master's heels. Do not expect deep insights from the minions in his sphere, as Lagerfeld's guarded commentary (in french) is the only real voice in the film beyond the soft-ball questions lobbed in by the off-screen director. It seems clear that access to the subject was at risk and any offense was to be avoided. One can easily imagine the editor considering how every cut would be received by Lagerfeld when the movie would first be screened by its' 'star.'
Relatively little of the designer's work is featured here and we are left with more sense of the man's personal style than his contributions to the fashion world. The few photographs of his life included are presented without chronology or context and are concentrated in comparatively concise sequences. Too much screen time is spent lingering on the gorgeous male models consistently spinning in his orbit.
Not a bad film by any means, but risk-free and superficial. The closest we get to real incite on the fashion icon is when he references his mother who it would seem was one interesting gal. I would really like to have heard from others who know the man (collaborators, rivals, critics, family, etc) though I'm certain many live in fear of him. Does the man have a temper? He seems the type but the viewer gets no indication of any personality flaws, quirks, fears, weaknesses and consequently, real depth of character.
The Red Stuff (2000)
Commies in Space
"The Red Stuff" is a worthwhile documentary for space exploration fans and soviet history buffs, but will prove slow-going for the art-house doc crowd. The film is constructed from lengthy interviews with several original cosmonauts illustrated with appropriate archival stills and film clips. They comment extensively on the secrecy involved with the space program and consequently, the filmmakers likely had limited source material to draw from. The treatment is adequate for this style of documentary, but feels quaint in this age of Imax space movies. The Soviets apparently knew their rocket science, but not quite as advanced in audio visual technologies.
The cosmonauts are each introduced by numbers with their animated autograph signings over a baseball card style portrait and with the subject's voice-over. This sets the pace for the heroic stories that unfold slowly; The men are four decades removed from their missions and all use the extended dictation style of cold war Russia. The long interviews require extended subtitle decoding, so the relaxed delivery make the narrative easier to follow.
We learn about the "right stuff" training regimen and pecking order of the cosmonauts; the iron hand of the communist party behind the iron curtain with the west, and the triumphs and tragedies of their pioneering exploration. One fascinating detail describes how the reentry capsule parachute was doubled in size without enlarging the compartment. The technicians used wooden hammers to stuff the chute into the capsule with disastrous results.
Beyond the names Sputnick, Yuri Gagarin, and Soyez, westerners have little knowledge of the Soviet Space Program and "The Red Stuff" fills a small part of the information void intelligently and touchingly.
Hollywood Nazis in Austria, Sixties Style
The DVD for "Where Eagles Dare" is woefully short on extras for such a long film. This short piece was actually produced concurrently with the picture and provides some good behind- the-scenes images but not much. More than half the time is spent with clips from the film. The main point seems to be that it was tough to shoot in the snow.
Clint Eastwood makes one comment about how many people he shoots using machine guns instead of six shooters. Richard Burton explains why he and Clint are opposites. Mary Ure describes how an avalanche closed the road and she had to walk three hours to the set and three hours back for five minutes work on a scene. Ingrid Pitt rides around on a horse drawn sleigh and talks about the war she is too young to remember and how two Brits, two Americans, and a German make an international crew.
We get to see a bunch of grips pulling a dolly and a number of old school special effects guys rigging black powder and blood squibs. The director is overheard planning a shot where a car goes over a cliff and explodes. The script girl carries around a continuity book the size of half a dozen phone books. The narrator tells us how no army has ever conquered the castle used as a location in the picture. We see a number of locals gawking at the actors and crew.
I liked the nice sixties vibe of the piece visible in the clothing, hair styles, and music. You don't learn much about the film-making process except there was a time when action films were not all CGI. It looks like they did not have much footage for the "On Location" shoot as the damn movie is two and a half hours long which probably used up most of the raw stock.
If you have the DVD, you might as well take a look at this piece. The only other extra material is a terrible trailer and a list of Clint Eastwood's other films.
This Divided State (2005)
Not too boring, but no big deal
"This Divided State" examines the controversy that erupted on the campus of Utah Valley State College when leaders of the student government invited incendiary documentarian Michael Moore to appear on campus in the closing days of the 2004 presidential election. The filmmakers jump into the fray capturing the protests, pickets, posturing, and pablum generated on both sides of what amounts to a fairly petty squabble among partisan ideologues and semiprofessional hotheads.
The drama unfolds fairly slowly, interviewing both key participants and curious bystanders. Conservative radio host Sean Hannity is recruited during the squabbling for political balance. Other characters include a young Michael Moore look-a-like, a Michael Moore namesake, and a Moore's Pizzaria manager. A good deal of padding footage is included to stretch the story out to a feature length runtime. The production values are extremely uneven as it was necessary to cull material from several videographers to build a coherent through line.
I admired the filmmaker's ability to capture the story's principals at key occasions in the drama and fairly neutral point of view balancing between the battling sides. Almost everyone in this film comes off looking like simple-minded weaklings or obnoxious blow-hards. The UVSC faculty members are stereotypical liberal academicians and the students overly idealistic adolescents. In the end it all seems much ado about nothing.
Verité style behind-the-scenes 'the making of' cult classic "Donnie Darko"
Included as a bonus feature on the Director's Cut edition of "Donnie Darko," the 'Production Diary' will interest both fans of the movie and film school wannabees. The footage appears to have been gathered by a crew member (Michael Hoy) without much else to do and with no crew but his lonesome. The sound is strictly camera mike and talking to the lens is kept to a minimum. The structure mimics the countdown format of the film as each days sequence moves closer to picture wrap.
The 'diary' maintains a fly-on-the set perspective that is sometime tedious unless one chooses to view this extra with the extra extra commentary track of cinematographer Steven B. Poster. In this mode, the piece truly comes alive as Poster walks the audience through the 28 day shooting schedule. 28 days was also the time Donnie is told by Frank that the world will end. Poster comments are heavy on camera department inside baseball which makes for a fascinating break down of the rigors of a difficult production on a low budget.
The most revealing insight here is that the crew had no idea what director Richard Kelly had in mind as they slaved away through all night shoots to gather the pieces for a puzzling film. Nevertheless, all seem to rise to the occasion to give their best and the results show in the finished product. Another interesting angle is how a young Jake Gyllenhaal flips from cast clown to on screen disturbed teen, a performance Kelly reveals in the films commentary track the actor based on the director himself. Watching Kelly work as a new filmmaker with quiet confidence while hiding an internalized terror of failure makes this choice increasingly clear.
Finally, it is a joy to see Drew Barrymore as herself, a testament to her professionalism and good heartedness. No diva here!