Another movie from the VIFF anticipated for bigger release later on is Ben Is Back. The film consists of a lot of dark subject matter, but does feature a lot of elements that make it worth seeing.
It’s Christmas Eve in a New England home. The Burns family is rehearsing at church for the Christmas play. Unbeknownst is that their son Ben has returned from rehab to spend Christmas with them. He sees that the house has an alarm system since he was sent there. Smart parents. When the family arrives, they are shocked to see him there. Ben has fun with his two younger half-siblings at first, but mother Holly, stepfather Neale and sister Ivy are nervous. Holly decides 24 hours and Ben must be in her supervision. Ben agrees.
On Christmas Eve, she tries to take his mind off things by going to the mall. The first person they see is the doctor: the one who prescribe painkillers he claimed weren’t addictive, but were. Holly gives the doctor a piece of her mind. To take Ben away from the frustration, she takes him to a store. Ben notices Clayton, the town pusher, going down an elevator. As Ben appears changing in a store, Holly notices Ben is taking too long and suspects the worst. Holly shouts to get Ben out.
After that, they go to a church hall that’s holding an AA meeting. In the hall are two or three teens Ben deals drugs to, including one that wants to meet up with Ben later and get ‘done.’ Ben agrees, but that infuriates Holly to the point she takes him to a cemetery and tells him to pick his grave.
The family with hope the Christmas play will take their mind off things, until they see the mother of one of Ben’s ‘customers.’ The daughter died and the mother is looking distraught. Ben is moved to tears during the show. Coming home, they find the house broken into and the dog is stolen. The father pins the blame on Ben. Ben feels he has to help the family out and get the dog back. Ben learns the dog is with Clayton who’s holding it hostage for money Ben owes him. Ben and Holly go out together to get it solved. However there are people who want Ben dead.
Ben soon leaves Holly on his own pursuit to get things done. Holly takes the other car and searches like mad to find Ben. Holly finds herself in the home of the mother of the deceased daughter. Holly tries to be friendly with her. The mother gives her something in case Ben overdoses. Ben meets with Clayton to get the dog back, but Clayton expects a favor involving drug trafficking. While Holly feels lost, Ivy calls and says she’s able to track Holly and Ban through her iPad. As Ben does the ‘favor’ for Clayton, Clayton ‘pays’ him with a special pill. Meanwhile Holly senses Ben in a solitary location, thinking he’s dead. The story ends with a hugely climactic moment.
I’m sure when a lot of you first heard the premise of the film, some of you probably thought “I know where this is going.” The film I’ll bet you were thinking about is Rachel Getting Married. It does seem like it’s starting in similar fashion as Rachel Getting Married where a child who’s in rehab returns home for a special occasion. One thing to say is that a child returning from rehab during a holiday or a festivity is a common occurrence in real life and something a lot of families experience on a day-to-day level. It’s a story that can be played out in real life hundreds of different ways. Some may be redeeming and some may even be tragic.
Ben Is Back is a different story from Rachel Getting Married. Kym goes through her struggles at home, but returns back to rehab as a stronger person. Those who saw Rachel know that’s the main theme is about healing and the struggle to achieve it. Ben Is Back is a different story. Ben Burns is home for 24 hours in a town that’s full of memories of his drugged past. On top of it, Ben is a former dealer who is responsible for leading other teens of his town to their own drug addiction, including one fatal. You hope that Ben stays as strong through the fight the way Kym was, but you see that Ben succumbs to a lot of the pressures along the way. The film ended with a different ending from the message of hope Rachel appeared to have. True, Ben’s ending was more dramatic and almost ended up making for a tragedy, but it made for its own story.
One of the key themes of the film is that of family relations. Without a doubt, the biggest relation of focus is a mother for her son. Holly has seen the hardest of the issue. She has to lay down rules for Ben during these 24 hours. She is also very suspicious Ben will back to his old ways during that time. One key scene is when Ben is talking about drugs to a teen he saw during an AA meeting. Infuriated, she takes Ben to a cemetery and tells him to pick his grave. Of course that was very impulsive and very wrong of Holly, but it represents the frustration of dealing with a child of drugs Holly is supposed to have a ‘tough love’ attitude about it, but doesn’t go about it best. The whole film is a case where Holly wants to keep Ben sober during that period of time, but the events become a case where it’s down to where she just wants him to be alive.
Other family relations play a part in the film. There’s the sister Ivy who’s very nervous about Ben coming home feeling he’ll be a wreck again. In the end, she becomes the one who is best in helping Holly find Ben. Then there’s the stepfather Neal Burns. He feels a load of contempt for Ben and his addiction. When the dog is stolen, Neal touts the whole blame on Ben. Even while Holly is searching, Neal doesn’t bother helping, even referring to Ben as ‘that drug addict’ instead of his own stepson. It’s only until the end that he’s willing to help.
One weak thing about the film is the ending. I know that it ends right at the very moment of the drama, but it does seem like it ends the film abruptly and way too soon. I know directors have two or three alternate endings for a film, but it makes you wonder if this was the right choice for ending?
This is a good film for writer/director Peter Hedges. It may not be his best film as he has had bigger accomplishments in the past, but this is a film Peter can be proud of. Peter’s son Lucas has become one of the biz’s rising stars right now. It started happening with Manchester By The Sea and he’s been on a role. This film is one of two films he plays a lead role in. I have not seen Boy Erased, so I can’t compare. He does a very good very intense performance here. His career can only get better. However the film belongs to Julia Roberts. Even though Lucas plays the titular character, Julia stole the show as the mother. Her emotions and feelings shown in the film are like so many mothers in that situation. She played the part excellently and stole the show. There were other minor performances that were very good like Courtney B. Vance as the stepfather with an axe to grind, Kathryn Newton as the nervous sister and Michael Esper as the heartless drug supplier.
Despite the abrupt ending, Ben Is Back is an excellent movie about the struggles of drug addiction. You might first think it’s a rehash of Rachel Getting Married, but it tells its own story.
Most of the time I like going to the VIFF to check out the out-of-the-ordinary cinema. However when a film with a lot of Oscar buzz hits the VIFF, I admit I’m tempted to see that. I was lucky to have my chance with Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The story begins in 1991 with 51 year-old Lee Israel at her customer services job. She obviously hates her job because she has a bad attitude and gets a lot of ‘old’ comments from the younger workers. She shows up at work with a glass of scotch in her hand, curses at her co-workers and then curses at her boss. That’s it. She’s fired. After being fired, she just simply downs the rest of her scotch.
The thing is Lee Israel was born to write. She wrote for Esquire magazine for many years and published biographies of Talullah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen and Estee Lauder. However her status as a successful writer ended years earlier after her biography of Lauder flopped. On top of that, she’s trying to publish a biography of Fanny Brice, but her agent says it’s not going to be a hit. Her lack of commercial success in writing couldn’t come at a worse time. She has expenses up to her eyeballs with a cat who’s sick and needs new medicine, outstanding veterinary bills form past visits, overdue rent from a landlord, and an old typewriter that keeps breaking down. Whatever money she can get, it comes from typed original letters of famous authors. She doesn’t get much money from the bookstore; one where the young author isn’t afraid to run into Lee what a has-been author she is.
One day she goes for her usual drink of scotch at her local bar. Also getting a drink is a washed-up stage actor named Jack Hock. Hock himself had a downfall after irreverent behavior at a party while drunk: peeing in a closet! This is a chance to rekindle a past friendship. They have a lot of catching up to do. This comes around the same time Lee is continuing research for her book about Fanny Brice. One day at a library while doing research on Brice, she comes across an original typewritten letter written by her. She takes it home and notices the font on the letter matches the font on Lee’s own typewriter. That gives Lee an idea to add in a juicy P.S. sentence about Fanny’s ‘love’ for a woman. She takes it to a bookstore that buys original letters from authors and they buy it for good money. However she’s told that letters with juicier detail get bigger money.
That gives Lee an new idea for success: making fake letters of renowned deceased authors. Her next subject is Noel Coward. Here she tries to get information on the type of letterhead Coward typed his letters on, the typewriter used and the subjects Coward normally talked about. Her letters are of Coward talking about his homosexuality. Israel also gets practice of forging signatures. She goes to a bookstore that buys letters for bigger money and it works! Lee can afford to pay off the vet, buy medicine for her ailing cat, pay off her landlord and even go out on a first-class night with Jack Hock to a drag cabaret performance. Soon she goes to a memorabilia show with Jack and learns all about authenticators. That just makes her more determine to succeed. She picks more deceased authors like Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Louise Brooks and Ernest Hemingway, buys the right typewriters, bakes the letters and envelopes to make the right aging, does the right forgery on the signatures. The work pays off. The authenticators fall for it and Lee gets paid good money! Lee’s also good at making phone calls disguising herself as director Nora Ephron. Lee also makes friends with a bookshop owner named Anna.
However reality does catch up. Lee is told by one of the bookowners that he senses a forgery as a friend of his who knew Noel Coward wouldn’t be so public about his homosexuality. Within time, all bookstore owners are given a fax from the FBI alerting them of Lee and her alleged fraud. Even an unscrupulous bookdealer threatens to report her to the FBI unless she pays him $5000. Does that stop her? No, as long as she has Jack. Jack is the one making the sales with the bookstore owners on the juicy forged letters. She even goes to libraries with access to archives and steals letters to cash in on. Jack brings her the money, but starts getting suspicious of whether he’s trying to steal from her. FBI agents threaten her with interrogation, but she garbages all her typewriters to avoid being caught.
One time she goes away for a three-day trip of ‘consulting’ archives and leaves Jack to take care of her cat, which includes giving him medicine. Lee steals more letters, and even meets up with her ex-girlfriend. The ex tells her of how distant she became after the flop of her Estee Lauder book. Meanwhile Jack gives the cat the wrong medicine and even gets his new boyfriend to stay overnight at her place. It’s when she returns that it all falls apart. She finds Jack making love to a man in her place, she finds her cat dead, and she soon finds herself arrested for her forgery. After much talking from her lawyer, she’s told she will most likely be found guilty and her persona and alcoholism could works against her for her sentence. She confesses her wrongdoings in court despite having no regrets. Her sentence is six months house arrest, to repay the booksellers she ripped off and to attend AA meetings.
The story ends on a positive note. She rekindles her friendship with Jack, who’s dying of AIDS. She buys a new cat and does her writing from a computer. One day, she even passes a bookseller who has the ‘Can you ever forgive me’ letter where Lee forged Dorothy Parker’s likeness. Lee sends an appropriate response. It’s up for you to see what the response was. And the response from the store owner.
When one does a story about a person in the past doing all these actions, it’s always a question on whether the film is relevant for the present. Would a film about a washed-up author forging letters about deceased celebrities and authors most of today’s generation don’t have a clue about be relevant? I can see relevance in it as it is a reflection of our present. Firstly we live in a time of celebrity worship as lots of people go to Instagram or Twitter to check out the latest dirt from their celebrity. Gossip pages get huge hits because people love shoving their nose in others’ dirty laundry. It’s easy to see why these fake letters about these celebrities’ personal lives would spark a lot of interest and make Lee Israel rich.
The interesting thing is that it sheds a light on the literary industry as well. I know we live in a culture where we’re encouraged to appreciate authors for their literary efforts, but all too often we forget that authors are subject to the same cruel industry that musicians face in the movie industry and actors face in businesses like Hollywood. The New York Times Bestseller list is the Bestseller list to end all Bestseller lists that decides the happening writers and the wash-ups. It’s no wonder Lee felt the frustration of this. You could understand why despite Lee’s success in forgery, she still wanted to be known as an author.
The film is not just about the act of crime and the difficulties of being an author. It’s also about Lee herself. Basically overall it showcased her biggest weakness: her attitude. She blamed her loss of her customer service job on ageism, but she swore at her bosses and drank gin on her last day. Her attitude cost her relationship with her ex-girlfriend. It also almost cost her friendship with Jack. It may even had to do with why she wasn’t getting writing jobs. A bad attitude can be costly. Lee would have to face the music of her wrongdoing. The biggest statement was when Lee was too afraid to face Anne in the store just as she was about to get sentenced.
Marielle Heller directs a very clever comedy about a writer starving for success, even if it’s illicit. Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty took on Lee’s memoirs and deliver a script that tells the story and more. Nicole provided the edge of a 50-something woman just trying to make something of herself. Whitty provided the backdrop of the difficulties of Lee and jack being LGBT in New York in 1991. The script not only tells the story but tells a lot more too.
Also what adds to the film is Melissa McCarthy playing Lee Israel. Hard to believe the first pick for the role was Julianne Moore. Melissa caught moviegoers’ attention when she played the feisty Megan Price in Bridesmaids. It’s been success ever since and she’s one of the most happening things in big-screen comedies right now. However most of her comedy roles in popcorn comedies have been over-the-top performances. Here, McCarthy takes on a role of a literary figure with humor and makes it three-dimensional. Possibly her best performance since Bridesmaids. Stealing the show from Melissa is Richard E. Grant. He makes the film as much Jack’s as it is Lee’s. He played Lee’s partner in crime well and the two had good chemistry. Jane Curtin was also good, and unnoticeable, as the literary agent. Dolly Wells was also good as Anne: the lonely shop keeper.
Can You ever Forgive Me? makes for a smart and entertaining comedy. So entertaining, you just might want to buy one of Lee Israel’s forged Dorothy Parker letters soon after.
Interesting how a lot of films I’ve seen at the VIFF are to do about deep dark secrets being exposed. Petra is one of those films that exposes some dark secrets.
The film is seven chapters starting with the second chapter. Petra is a young budding artist. She is arriving at the estate of a well-known artist named Jaume. Over at the place, we sense an unhappy vibe. The house consists of wife Marisa, son Lucas, housekeeper Teresa, her husband Juanjo and their son Pau. She is seeking artistic guidance from Jaume, but gets nothing but insults from her. That leads her disheartened with her own work. Jaume is actually a tyrant to everyone he works with. Lucas talks with Petra of a dark ‘confession’ and tries to advance to her, but she rejects.
In the third chapter, Jaume had just finished having sex with Teresa. He criticizes her for not enjoying the non-consentual sex and threatens to tell Pau. Teresa later commits suicide. At the funeral Lucas looks at his father with contempt. Moving to the first chapter, Petra’s mother is dying. She tells of an artist she loved. However she does not reveal it to be Jaume. She doesn’t want Petra to have Jaume in her life. In the fourth chapter, Petra confronts Jaume with reason to believe he is her father. She tells him of a letter her mother wrote years ago. Marisa later admits there has been infidelity in both their lives. Throughout their marriage, they both have had their share of various lovers.
In the sixth chapter, Jaume does admit to Petra that he is her father. Right as Petra is pregnant. He also tells that truth to Lucas. Lucas is infuriated. He tries to shoot Jaume but Jaume reminds him he doesn’t have what it takes. Instead Lucas shoots himself. In the fifth chapter, we learn that Petra and Lucas have become more than just friends. They even get romantic. In the seventh chapter, the people try to deal with their lives after the death of Lucas. Marisa confesses to Petra that Lucas is not Jaume’s son, but the son of an extramarital affair she had. Petra is infuriated and tells Marisa never to see her again. Jaume is seen conversing with Pau. Then as Jaume walks away, Pau shoots him dead. The film ends with Petra looking after her daughter and Marisa showing up as a meeting of goodwill. The film ends with them conversing together in a friendly manner.
The film is definitely one in which goes from something simple to being a film where dark truths are exposed. At first you think Petra is there to see Jaume to learn how to be a better artist. That would appear to be the case. However then it becomes clear that Petra is soon after a truth. A truth that could not just destroy Jaume, but those around him too. In time, a truth about Marisa is also exposed. Dark secrets come to the forefront and a lot of lives are destroyed because of it. You sometimes think there’s no way the film would end with anyone at peace, but somehow it does.
The unique thing about Petra is not just telling the story, but doing it in a non-chronological order . This may be a film of seven acts, but it begins with act two, continues with act three, but then leads into act one. There’s also the shift from act four to act six, and then leading back to act five. That shifting around of the acts works because the film presents itself in situations that has the viewer asking why the situation? Why the friction? It’s when it goes back to the recent past that we get the answers why. This playing around in time, just like it’s done in Pulp Fiction, works for telling the film’s story.
Also it’s unique how this film takes place in the world of art. I know I’ve seen a lot in terms of the freeness or even the foolishness of the way actors live out their love lives. It’s interesting seeing this about an adulterous artist whose wife is just as adulterous. It often leaves you wondering if they lived a strained marriage where they decided to stay together for the sake of Lucas? Or were they an open marriage? There are a lot of open marriages in the world of arts and entertainment. It makes you wonder.
Whatever the situation, the film sometimes seems it’s as much about Jaume as it is about Petra. Petra is a woman searching for the truth and relating to the people she meets along the way. However the film shows just how much of a monster Jaume is. I know that arrogance is common among artists and even berating behavior, but Jaume appears to be a person with no conscience. He berates the artists he works with and Petra’s work, he berates Lucas for being unable to break away from him, he lures his housekeeper in sexual temptation, and even appears at the end as if he doesn’t care about Lucas’ death. It’s no wonder after Jaume is shot to death, Petra and Marisa appear to be at peace as they meet. I think that was it about the film. Jaume was the tyrant in people’s lives and Petra would be that missing link that would free others.
This is the latest film from Spanish arthouse director Jaime Rosales. Rosales has developed a reputation over the years starting with his 2003 short film The Hours Of The Day which won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, his 2007 feature Solitary Fragments which received a lot of critical renown, and 2014’s Beautiful Youth which was nominated for Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Here he directs a story he co-wrote with Michel Gatzambide and Clara Roquet. He places it in an artistic setting with a mostly quiet environment, but that doesn’t take away the intensity of the friction. Instead the quiet slow nature makes you feel the friction. Barbara Lennie does a very good job of playing the lead protagonist, but it’s Joan Botey playing the tyrant Jaume that steals the show. Both do an excellent job of managing their roles well.
Petra is a film that tells a story in a varying chronological order. However it does so to get us to the heart of the story in a surprising way.
I’m not too familiar about the Korean movie industry. However The Running Actress does offer some interesting insights.
The film is divided into three acts. Act 1 consists of Moon going on a hike with two friends. Then they soon run into producer Won Dong-yeon and two of his colleagues. Later all six of them go on a dinner together. However the dinner is discomforting to Moon as all they focus on is her looks and having her work in their film for free. She’s unhappy about it and on the way home, she has the manager stop the car and she runs out!
Act 2 is all about the discomforts of fame, especially past fame. She has to deal with past images of her in the limelight. She also has to deal with the fact she hasn’t had a role in so long, and the first role to come in recent times is for her to play the mother of an adult child. At her age? She tries to get a loan, but is turned down. She tries to use a sick estranged in-lay for assistance, but it comes to no avail. Home life with her husband and small child is no escape from all the pressures. At the end of it all, she is back in the car with her manager and again demands he stop the car. She runs out screaming again!
Act 3 is at a wake for a director she worked with during her young-and-famous days. She doesn’t plan to stay there long because she wasn’t on good terms with the director. However noticing the small size of the wake — just her, his wife and son — she stays there longer. She even starts up a conversation with an old acting acquaintance. Then a younger actress who the director has last worked with comes in and mourns out loud. She later joins in a conversation with all and it turns ugly as the director’s widow has a lot of wrath towards her. The film ends with Moon and the young actress walking together in friendly conversation.
The funniest thing about this film is that it makes the Korean film industry so bitingly close to that of Hollywood. I may not be very familiar with the Korean film industry or how it operates, but this film is a reminder that judging an actress by age isn’t simply a Hollywood-only thing. I can see that happening in Korea especially since we have this whole K-Pop phenomenon. Young singers handpicked mostly for their youthful looks and then trained for four years as an act together to top the charts. I can easily see how the Korean film industry can be very youth or young-adult oriented. I don’t know what types of movies they shell out in Korea but I can see it happening.
In the meantime there’s Moon So-Ri. She had it big for so many years and then she lost it. She’s so starved for money, she has to rely on an estranged ailing in-law for help to get it. Her slate of film roles dry up because of her ‘yesterday’s news’ status, and her only chance is playing a mother of a young adult. Interesting that Hollywood wouldn’t be the only film industry to be as judgmental as that in terms of an actress’ age.
At the same time, it not only tackles the dark side of the entertainment profession in a humorous way. It also pokes fun at the emotional reactions of those involved too. Moon herself has her moments where she just can’t hold it in and just lets it out. Even at the funeral for Director Lee, there are the over-the-top emotional reactions from those as well. It really shows how interesting the people in entertainment are like.
The star of the film is Moon So-ri. She wrote it, directed it and stars lead in it. In actuality, this film was actually three short films Moon did as she was completing an MFA program at Chung-Ang University. I think she did a smart thing by putting the three together and creating a feature-length movie. It’s humorous and smart. It draws on some of Moon’s own experiences, but also includes some fictionalizations too. She does a very good effort as a whole here. The supporting players also do a good job in their own acting here. She even has her own real-life husband Jang Joon-hwan play himself in the film. It’s also interesting real-life producer Won Dong-yeon agree to be in it. I think he probably agrees with the message.
The Running Actress is a humorous look at a reality of the stupidity of the entertainment industry. It’s also a humorous look at the emotional attitudes of the artists involved. Moon So-ri does a good job of showing a stupidity in a humorous way.
The VIFF may have ended two weeks ago but that won’t stop me from writing reviews of what I saw. Especially since most will be released more widely in the future.
With the VIFF, I have a good chance of seeing a wide variety of film from around the world. Earlier on, I had the good fortune to see the Iranian film 3 Faces. It appears slow, but says a lot.
The film opens with a young woman, Marziyeh, shooting a selfie-style video with her smartphone. She is in tears. She says her family will not accept her desire to become an actress and they demand she marries a man she does not love. She then appears to hang herself as the phone drops to the ground.
Later we see two people in a car. They are director Jafar Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari. Panahi was the first one to receive the disturbing video which he was told came from a friend and then forwarded it to Jafari. Jafari doesn’t know whether to feel guilt over her death or believe that this whole video is a fake. Both drive over to her home village, a Turkish-Azeri speaking village, to find out the truth. They first want to search the village and then search the nearby cave where they believe the suicide would most likely happen.
As they drive, they get a good sense of the traditional mindset of the people that live there. There are some younger people who recognize the two and are in love with their movies. The more traditional people tell a bigger story. In one case, they see an old woman settling herself in her pre-dug grave with a lamp to keep snakes away from her for the ‘bad’ she believes she did. Another older villager insists Behnaz take tea with her and he gives her his eldest son’s circumcised foreskin as a talisman. Along the way, they come across a bull on the road lying there because his leg is broken. The owner says the bull cannot be killed because he is a ‘stud bull’ who once impregnated 10 cows in one night.
Then it happens. They come to the house of Marziyeh and her family. A lot of younger people are excited to meet the actor-director pair, but they know nothing of what happened to Marziyeh. She has been missing for three days. Then out of nowhere comes Marziyeh. She’s alive, but Behnaz is infuriated for her sending that ‘lie of a video.’ Marziyeh insisted that the video was a plea for help. If her family found out the truth, her brother would kill her. Behnaz reluctantly accepts Marziyeh and allows her to come into the car. During the ride back to the highway, Behnaz gets a phone call. It’s from Shahrazade: an actress and dancer Jafar worked with years ago. Shahrazade says she’s bitter about the way the directors treated her and now lives as a recluse writing poetry and painting landscapes. The film ends with the car stopped halfway down the road and the two women– Behnaz and Marziyeh — walking together.
The film may be slow and not too heavy on the drama, but it tells a lot. As many would know, Iran is going through a very restrictive regime. Even though it’s a democracy, religious law is still hard-lined. One can get a sense on how limited the roles of women are in a country like Iran. However Panahi takes it one step further as he focuses on a village in Northern Iran which is close to the borders of either Turkey or Azerbaijan. In fact Panahi comes from the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan. He gives a good sense of the traditional, even superstitious, mindsets of the people. The village people appear good hearty people who have good souls despite their superstitions appearing strange. However it’s Marziyeh who best can demonstrate the ugly side of it all. Marziyeh, a young woman with ambitions, does not fit in well. Especially since her village has desires for how a woman should live.
Mind you the film isn’t just about women in small remote villages in Iran. There’s also that phone call from Shahrazade. She was infuriated how male directors have treated her on the set so she decides to go her own direction, even if it means becoming a recluse. I think that film says a lot of how women are treated all over Iran. That scene where Panahi walks off with Marziyeh is possibly intended to speak a message about women choosing their own direction. Maybe Jafari is admitting his own mistreatment of women too.
Jafar Panahi is taking a big risk with this film. Actually his whole career as a filmmaker has been a big risk. Panahi’s films have upset the government of Iran because it either defies the strict Islamic conventions the Iranian government expects him to follow or they feel the films depict Iran in a negative manner. Whatever the reason, Panahi has been arrested and sentenced in 2010 to six years in prison for ‘propaganda against his country.’ On top of that, he was given a twenty-year ban on filmmaking from the Iranian government. The six-year prison sentence was reduced to three months due to international pressure spawned from a wide ‘freedom of speech’ campaign. His filmmaking ban is still in effect and 3 Faces is the fourth film he’s made under the ban. According to IMDB, this film was filmed in Tehran. No doubt if the Iranian government saw this, they would be infuriated. Especially since it makes the country’s treatment of women look bad. When I saw the film during the VIFF, I saw a lot of Iranian immigrants in the audience. I’m sure there were a lot of people, especially women, who share the same sentiments in the film.
The film Panahi acts, directs and co-writes with Nader Saeivar is a slow story that speaks volumes with what is shown scene after scene. Having a female co-write the story– another radical move in a country like Iran — really sends the message out there about what it’s like in Iran for women. Note that the film’s script won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival and was a nominee for the Palme d’Or. As an actor, Panahi acts like the silent observer as the story unfolds between Jafari and Marziyeh. The acting of Jafari and Marziyeh doesn’t really stand out in terms of grandiose performance, but their performances fit the story perfectly. The acting from the people playing the villagers added to the story and their characters were very believable.
3 Faces is a unique film that speaks volumes in its slow manner. 3 Faces is also a very radical film by a film maker who is already facing political persecution. It’s not just simply a film, but a courageous act.
One of the first features I saw at the VIFF this year was the Indian film In The Shadows. I left with a lot of mixed feelings about it that I still have.
The film begins with Khuddoos: a storekeeper and a loner in Old Delhi. He is distant from other people but prefers getting whatever closeness he can from them through surveillance cameras he has put up through the neighborhood. His only friend Ganeshi visits him on a daily basis. One day, he catches something of his interest. Next door lives a family with a 14 year-old boy named Idris or ‘Idu.’ He lives with his family consisting of his mother Saira, currently expecting her third child, and his father Liakat who owns a butcher shop. Liakat expects Idu to help with the business and do deliveries. However he wants to spend time talking with his friend Ginny who is lucky to attend school. When Saira learns he didn’t do the delivery expected and saw Ginny, she gives him money for Liakat to cover it up. When Liakat comes home, he eventually learns the truth and reacts violently to Idu. Khuddoos hears it through the wall. He is shocked from what he hears.
Both try to move on from that incident. Liakat apologizes to Idu and says he won’t do it again, but Idu doesn’t believe it. Meanwhile Khudoos can’t get the incident out of his mind. He tells Ganeshi about it. He knows how lax the police are about dealing with cases of abused children, but he’s determined to help. Life continues on for the two. Idu spends more time with Ginny and tells of his dream of escaping his father. Khuddoos manages his shop and tries to do business as usual. However the incident doesn’t leave Khuddoos’ mind. He even misses meet up with Idu by a few second.
Then it happens. Saira needs to give birth and Idu and his younger brother are the only ones there. But Liakat isn’t there. Idu has to do all the work. The doctors arrive too late. The baby dies. Both the father and the mother take it hard. However Idu feels it’s Liakats fault and isn’t afraid to say it in his face. Liakat reacts violently to which Idu responds back with violence. That leads Liakat to become even more violent. Khuddoos hears it and tries getting the police after the situation. The police are too slow to respond.
Idu has had it. He wants to run away. He’s fully convinced his father’s a monster. He tells Ginny, but Ginny mentions that he will miss him. Meanwhile Khuddoos does what he normally does; goes to the same restaurant to eat and gets drunk. The manager tries to boot him out for good because of his constant drunkenness, but Khuddoos tries to state his case, that he is hungry. Khuddoos knows he has to leave his seclusion behind. Soon Idu makes a break for the train station to finally leave Liakat behind, but the father spots him at the station. Upon returning home, Liakat says neither he nor Saira will be out of his sight.
Enough is enough. On a quiet night, Idu sees Liakat asleep. Idu smothers him. As he does, Khuddoos breaks through the walls. Liakat is dead. And Khuddoos goes into the room. Witnessing a photo, he wipes the dust off and sees the image of the boy. The others come across Khuddoos’ cameras in his hideout.
The film is intended to be a psychological drama. It’s a case of a man who’s cut himself off from the world but slowly comes back in once a domestic disturbance happens. I get how writer/director is trying to draw a connection with a man in self-seclusion, but the overall film didn’t make too much sense. It may be because of my expectations. I was expecting Khuddoos and Idu to meet, that Khuddoos would be the one who rescues Idu from any further harm. I’m sure most were expecting the same result. Somehow I can’t see the point of Khuddoos not meeting face to face with the boy as the ending drama unfolds. I’m sure the director had his reasons for having the story that way– that the two never meet — but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Jain could’ve simply made two films, or left the story of Idu on its own.
Despite the story being confusing, I do give credit for Manoj Bajpayee for portraying a character with a lot of personal demons who’s trying to break free from his own personal exile. I also give high marks for Om Singh portraying a boy who wants to break free from his own prison which isn’t in his mind. It’s at home. Shahana Goswami was also very good at portraying the mother in between it all.
In The Shadows is a psychological thriller that attempts to tell a two-in-one story, but it doesn’t entirely make too much sense in the end.
Every VIFF I make the effort to see some of the later shows, including the latest during the weekends at the Rio. The first I saw was the Japanese movie One Cut Of The Dead. It turned out to be a hilarious time.
The film begins with us seeing a young girl about to kiss her zombie boyfriend before killing him. Then Director Higurashi yells ‘Cut!’ This is a scene from a zombie movie being shot. However this is the 42nd take. The director is obviously frustrated. He berates the actress Chinatsu by telling her she lives a lie. He even abuses the actor Ko as he scolds him for his performance. However Nao, a middle-aged make-up lady, recommends a thirty-minute break to overcome the stress, to which the director accepts begrudgingly.
During the break, the two from the scene drink and talk with Nao while the crew and director go outside. Nao talks of how this used to be a water filtration during World War II and even demonstrates to them her hobby of learning self-defense. She even tries to teach them the Pom method for when being attacked by the back, but suddenly a severed arm comes flying in. Then we see the best boy Kazahara is a zombie. One of the techs has become decapitated. They’re all freaking out. But Higurashi likes this. Now that there are real zombies happening, he feels he can get some real acting out of them and calls action as the zombies are around.
It’s up to the three to flee their way out of this zombie mayhem. They leave the water site and try for the van. It doesn’t work out. Chinatsu goes into hiding, but is soon spotted by a zombified man. Ko tries to protect her, but time is running out as all zombies are after them. Meanwhile Higurashi is seizing each moment to shoot their parts. As they run for their lives, they head to the top of the facility. Chinatsu senses Ko is a zombie and that is the case. In the meantime, she has to deal with Nao who’s on the attack. At the end of it all, Chinatsu battles Nao and has no choice but to kill Ko in passion. Higurashi complains she didn’t do the scene right but she kills him on the spot. Chinatsu then goes to the area of the building where she stands in a star made of blood in triumph as the credits roll…
…and then we go back to a month earlier. There’s a channel in Japan that’s about to be launched: The Zombie Network. The channel has called Higurashi to direct an uncut zombie show as part of the channel’s opening. Higurashi has never really done zombie movies, but the network accepts him because of his motto of his films being ‘fast, cheap, but average.’ Elsewhere his daughter Mao has developed a reputation as a crew person. Frustrated with the junk she gets at work, she wants to develop into a career of filmmaking of her own. The mother Nao used to be an actress until she met Higurashi. Her marriage and the birth of Mao led her to forget about her dreams. She didn’t mind it, but now it’s become mundane as she tries to kill her time with hobby after hobby, including video lessons of self-defense.
Higurashi meets with the people to do with the script of the film entitled One Cut Of The Dead. The first rehearsal is crazy because Chinatsu brought her baby and they can’t rehearse well. Chinatsu also has issues as she is a major heartthrob and her agent says that being in a movie with too much blood can interfere with her star status. Also at the first rehearsal is nerdy Kazahara, a crewman whose stomach doesn’t go well with hard water, and a man with a drinking problem. Mao is originally disinterested in the project until she learns major teen idol Ko will be a part of it. This comes as moody Mao is about to move out of the house. Higurashi tries to forget about Mao’s move out until he talks with one of the men playing a zombie and he talks of how he misses his daughter. However when the actor who plays the director doesn’t show, people recommend Higurashi play the lead. Before Mao leaves, she talks with her mother Nao about her ambitions. Nao asks Higurashi to be a part of it.
Then comes shooting day. You can bet this could be a big break for Higurashi. First trouble is the crew man with the stomach issue drank hard water and the portaloos for the film and crew aren’t here! Secondly the man that’s supposed to play the zombie drank a whole bottle of sake and is drunk on the floor! The director tries to continue with shooting with the crew trying to help out however they can. Then the craziness. When it comes for the zombie’s part, Higurashi has to carry the drunken man to make him move into his part. Then comes the crew man with the stomach problem. He has to go outdoors and… you know. The crew try to help as much as they can. Mao tries to step in to save what she can. The network people are in an area away watching everything that is happening live and they don’t know what to make of what’s happening. Then Nao really gets into her part. The director knows she has to be controlled but she’s able to Pom her way out. She requires sedation! Then there’s the camera crane required to do the ending shot. It feel from the roof and is broken. So Mao and Higurashi organize a human pyramid for that long final shot. After a lot of misses, it finally happens with Mao being the camera girl on top. The whole insane craziness works to perfection. The show is a success!
The film is very creative and very fun. The film starts out as a zombie movie which we first think is a simple short film. Just for reference, the VIFF is known for showing a short film of 20-30 minutes before the actual feature. Most features with a short before the start list the short in the program. I myself thought that was the case. It was a short film meant to be shown before the actual feature. Then it became evident that it was a case of the short zombie show followed by the making of the zombie show from start to finish. That was very smart of them to do such a thing. Plus they make the story work. The making of the film is a story of its own in how this director is placed with this demand from the network, they try to get things ready for a month, the rehearsing starts out shaky, and then the director and his wife find themselves actors. Then there’s the hairiness of shooting as one actor got himself drunk on sake and one crewman has a bad stomach because of the hard water and one camera breaks. It’s like from start to finish, it looks like something that would fail or fall apart, but it works in the end.
Funny thing about the film is that it includes the family element of it all. The director has a reputation of being “fast, cheap, but average.” The daughter has earned her own experience on the set and feels she can establish herself. She feels it’s time to move out. The father doesn’t take the move-out well at all. Meanwhile the mother is a former actress who quit to become a full-time mother and housewife. She killed her time by adopting hobby after hobby, but her daughter gives her a chance to be an actress again by recommending her for the film. In the end, it helps bring the family together.
The film has been known for its surprise success in Japan. I don’t know about ‘fast, cheap, but average,’ but the film was produced by Tokyo acting and directing school Enbu Seminar at a cost of only $70,000 to make and made by mostly unknown actors. The film made its debut at the Udine Far East Film Festival in April where it won the second-place audience award. It has since been invited to 60 film festivals. Back in Japan, it made a box-office run starting in June. The film had modest expectations. Enbu Seminar hoped that 5,000 tickets would be sold during its box office run. Instead it became a big hit in Japan already amassing $24.4 million and is now the 13th-highest grossing film in Japan right now. When I went to see it for its 10:45 showing at the Rio, the theatre was surprisingly packed. Word has gotten around.
Top kudos to writer/director Shinichiro Ueda for inventing the story and making it come alive. His two-shows-in-one was fun to watch and very winning. The whole cast also has to get top kudos for helping to make this story come alive in a very entertaining way. They have as much to do with the movie’s surprise success as Ueda. You have to admit that it’s very rare to have a film within a TV show within a film. Excellent job!
One Cut Of The Dead proves to everyone who sees it why it’s the surprise hit in Japan. It’s the ‘guilty pleasure’ movie you won’t feel guilty about enjoying!
Many people will consider the Falkland Islands War of 1982 a ‘forgotten war.’ Theatre Of War will show you six men who can’t forget it: the soldiers.
First off, I’ll answer what most of you are already asking; What are the Falkland Islands and why was a war fought over them in 1982? The Falkland Islands are a set of islands 300 miles east of the coast of Argentina. They’re 4,700 square miles wide and the population is almost 3,400. The islands were discovered by Europeans starting in the 16th century and were thought to be uninhabited. It was in the 18th century when Europeans started making the islands inhabitable with the French inhabiting the east island and the British inhabiting the west island. France eventually surrendered its ownership to Spain years later. The British captured the east island a year later, but a war was never started. Over time, the Spanish took over and the Argentineans, who refer to the islands as the Malvinas, attempted a garrison in the 19th century. Over time, the British asserted their rule over the land in 1832.
It would continue to be under British rule even though the Germans sought to own it in 1912. Naval conflict abounded with the British winning. However the Argentineans started another garrison in 1982: 150 years after British rule was declared. It was then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started what would be remembered as the Falkland Island War. The war lasted 10 1/2 weeks and left over 900 dead. The UK won the war and British rule was reasserted.
In this documentary, we are introduced to six men: three British, three Argentinian. On the British side is Lou Armour: marine corporal, David Jackson: a young soldier at the time, and Sukrim Rai: a Nepalese immigrant who fought for the UK. On the Argentinean side is Gabriel Sagastume, Marcello, Marcelo Vallejo and Ruben Otero. Throughout the film, they tell of their experiences of what it was like to go to war at such a young age. Lou Armour actually led the British Marines. They also talk of the struggles they’ve had with their lives in the years that followed. A lot of them tell of their stories of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when it came into their lives quite late.
The unique thing about this documentary is that they don’t just talk about their stories. Very often, they act out their stories. We see all six at the pool and one talks of an incident in 2004 when he nearly drowned himself. We see two at an empty discotheque as one tells of his story of loneliness in a bar. We see one British and one Argentinean soldier showing copies of magazines published around the time of the war. It’s interesting what each magazine had to say. We see one Argentinean use tiny plastic army men to tell the story of how Argentinean soldiers first claimed the Falkland Islands and the battle that started the war. We see the six in a rock band as one ‘singer’ shouts out “Have you ever…” and tells of instances only a soldier can ever experience both in battle and in post-battle life.
However this wasn’t just simply a vanity effort what they were doing. The six also visited Argentina to tell their stories. There were times the six went to schools together telling children their stories of the war. There were times they even had to answer questions from the children. However the most interesting moment came near the end. The soldiers had six 18 year-old Argentinean men dress up like them to re-enact a moment from the war. As the soldiers were dressing them up in their war uniforms or applying scar make-up, they were telling their stories. One even showed another what it was like to wield a knife in battle. It’s interesting as they told their stories to the boys, it showed the luxury these 18 year-old boys of today have. They don’t have to be called up for battle. They can live their care free life. That was made evident just as it led to the end scene where the young men re-enacted the battle at the former soldiers’ directions.
The unique thing about this documentary is that it shows the foolish side of war. We have six men from both sides and they tell their stories. They made to be made to look like heroes in their own country but they don’t feel like heroes. They even made spoof of the political situation behind it. One scene includes soldiers in face masks of Margaret Thatcher and the Argentinean president locking lips. The film even showed that this is of a war in which the opposite sides can have a peaceful disagreement. We see that in one scene where an Argentinean and a Brit talk of the history of the Falklands/Malvinas. Both feel strongly that those islands belong to their country, but they’re able to disagree peacefully without enmity or even a fistfight.
The interesting thing is that these six soldiers did this documentary just as they were about to perform in an onstage docudrama called ‘Minefield.’ Before they performed in the play, they had the opportunity to do all this. The soldiers reunited and sorted out their differences. They went to places where they experienced these traumatic events in their lives to recreate the moment. They went to schools to educate the young children of Argentina. They even met with six young Argentinean men to give them the experience of what it is to fight in a war about a set of islands none of them really knew. This is an important docudrama worth seeing because it does tell you a lot of how a simple war that lasted three months can change lives forever, most for the worse. The film doesn’t simply show how foolish fighting over a small set of islands are, but makes other wars of past look foolish too.
Lola Arias did a very good job in creating a meaningfully documentary of what many consider a meaningless battle. Lola takes a lot of incidents from the school visits, the meeting with the young actors, the on-stage work, and various scenes solely for the documentary and brings it all together. It’s pieced together in a mixed way that may seem like it doesn’t go in a straight pattern. Maybe Arias had her reasons for doing so. She does however include a lot of important scenes and a lot of poignant moments throughout the documentary. It may not appear to have ended in a solid manner but the whole documentary tells a lot.
Theatre Of War isn’t just about six soldiers coming together, settling their differences and making peace. It’s an important reminder of that war and it shows how war is something you can’t leave behind. Even long after you’ve dropped your guns.
It’s usually good to take a break and watch a documentary that doesn’t have a political agenda heavily shown. I was able to see that in United Skates.
The film begins by showing various African-Americans going out and having a good time on skates. Very soon we see some of the more sensational moves that are frequently seen at the rinks. They’re stylish or they’re acrobatic. Whatever it is, they’re all out to have a good time. Young or old, single or with family, they’re all out to have fun. This is a phenomenon that has been going on for decades nationwide. A place where various African-American skaters have their own moves and their own fanfare.
Soon into the movie we learn how roller rinks are considered a top getaway for African Americans. Roller rinks may have had their biggest heyday in the late-70’s and early-80’s for most Americans, but African-Americans kept it lasting long after that. It was a getaway from the harsh realities of daily life. It was one place they could take their kids away from the harsh realities of urban living. It was also a place where the first hip-hop and rap artists found a stage to perform on. Yes, roller rinks were an integral part of the early years of hip-hop culture. When night clubs and radio stations, even the soul and urban stations, wouldn’t give those artists their time, roller rinks gave them their stage. Coolio and Salt ‘N Pepa can vouch for that. There are even scenes in Straight Outta Compton that show NWA perform at roller rinks during their early days. In fact there was even a case in the 90’s where two roller rinks in Los Angeles would be the different domains of two rival gangs: the Bloods and the Crips. When one rink closed, the other rink became neutral territory for the two.
The documentary shows how roller rinks have gone from commonplace nationwide starting in 1982 to disappearing gradually starting in the 90’s to today being probably one tenth of what it was. Modern times have proved to be a very trying time for roller rinks. Gentrification has been a pressure with turning a lot of top recreational areas into land for condos. Roller rinks, commonly seen as something of the past, have fallen prey and have seen closures. If an African-American family wanted to take their family to a roller rink, they would have to travel a longer distance.
We even meet a family from Los Angeles before the closure of the World On Wheels rink. The mother has a huge love for roller skating as she has been doing it since her child hood. She was able to share that same love with her children. When they go to World On Wheels, it is family time. It is time for the kids to show their decorated skates, time for all to show off their moves, and a time for the son who has behavioral disorders a place to avoid getting in trouble. Then World On Wheels closes in 2013. They show closing day. The rink tries to make a party of it. Young and old come to have fun one last time. We see people in their late-50’s early-60’s — people that were a part of the ‘roller boogie’ heyday– skate around with the same love. The closing day is as much a day of heartbreak as it is of fun.
Then the rink closes. We see how the owner tries to take everything out of the rink from the lockers to the concessions. We also see how the family tries to cope. They drive hours to a different rink, but face heat because the wheels their skating with are too small.World On Wheels welcomed their skating wheels with open arms. Also the rink has an urban night or soul night. African-Americans undergo security checks. There’s no security checks for white families. It’s obvious the family doesn’t feel welcome here. It gives a sense that these rinks are out to exclude African-Americans. The pressure hits the family hard too as the son committed a crime and has to spend time in prison. The film shows other rink closures too and how much it hurts those that love it.
However like one former rink owner says, patience is the true test for anyone. Over time, there would be skate clubs abounding over social media where people can go out an skate, whether it be in parks or outdoor rinks. Also World On Wheels reopens after popular demand. The re-opening is welcomed with open arms. And the family that was the centrepoint of the story can now skate as a family wearing whatever wheels they want to. We also see the son, just out of prison, having fun again.
It’s obvious the film has a point. The film obviously is showing how roller rinks are important for the vitality of African-American families. It was roller skating where there were a lot of segregation protests. Even roller rinks in the 60’s were a focal point as African-Americans simply wanted to skate on the same rinks as whites. They didn’t want to be confined to blacks-only church halls. It also shows how important roller rinks were towards hip-hop musicians. However the documentarians Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler allow the people to tell their stories. There’s no narration here. Some graphics that tell a lot but it’s the people from the owners to the families to the hip-hop musicians who tell their story about roller rinks and why they don’t just simply love it, but consider it a key part of themselves. You can bet the audience will feel the energy. There were many times people were cheering on the moves and they gave the film a big applause at the end.
United Skates has a point to say, but it doesn’t just simply say it. It shows it. It also makes you open your eyes and notice that roller rinks aren’t simply a relic from the ‘roller boogie’ phenom. They’re now and they vital.
NOTE: The website of United Skates has a page where you can donate to keep roller rinks open. Their goal isn’t just to show how important they are, but also to get the viewers to help keep them open. If you want to donate, go to: https://www.unitedskatesfilm.com/donate
There are some things iconic with disco from the 1970’s. There’s the film Saturday Night Fever, the music of Donna Summer, and the night club Studio 54. Co-founder Ian Schrager has mostly been quiet about his years of Studio 54 and how he and Steve Rubell ran it. In the documentary Studio 54, he finally breaks his silence.
The film begins as Ian Schrager is about to have the book of Studio 54 published. Ian starts talking about his upbringing. He grew up in Brooklyn. He came from a neighborhood mostly of working class Jewish families who worked in hopes that their children would have a better life. Ian met Steve Rubell in college. He attended Syracuse University where he earned a BA and later earned a JD from St. John’s Law School. It was through a fraternity at Syracuse that he met Steve Rubell.
It was the mid-1970’s. Two important things were happening. Firstly, Manhattan had lost its charm. It became dumpy and seedy with the times. Instead of being this place of charm and pizzazz, it had fallen on hard times where it was full of crime and X-rated lewdness and trashiness. Secondly was the emergence of disco music and its style of partying. Already in areas of Brooklyn and Queens, there were night clubs or discotheques that were very popular with their free-spirited dancing and flamboyant styling. The feel of disco came at the right time as it was right after the end of the brutal Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal left many Americans disheartened. It’s like Ian said, “People were tired of being serious.”
Ian and Steve took it into a chance for opportunity. The first thing they did was rent out a theatre that was originally an opera house and was last used as a CBS Studio. Steve and Ian hired workers, most gay men, for months to do all sorts of construction and all sorts of decorations. They also hired Jack Dushey as their financial backer. It was their vision to create a night club no one on earth had ever seen before. Even before opening day, they went around advertising to celebrities that this was the place to go to.
Opening day, Studio 54 is a big hit.Celebrities do show and lots of people from the public were let in too. From that period on, you had what could be an oasis from the real world as you had all sorts of people of race, gender, sexual orientation and class status getting in and having a good time. While people mostly shunned others out in their day-to-day lives, people came together in Studio 54 and had a good time. The place was seen as a must-visit for celebrities and they had a blast with the dancing atmosphere and the special one-of-a-kind effects and decorations in the place. News had come about that Studio 54 was the place to be.
However there were some realities that would come about. First of all Studio 54 was known for Ian and Steve to go out into the crowd of people outside and pick-and-choose who got in. They let in a lot of people, especially gay men, but they left others out. At first people were understanding, but a backlash would soon brew. Also there was the hidden secret that there were people using drugs in Studio 54. The club had a reputation for freeness and drugs were part of it. Then there was the fact that Studio 54 couldn’t wait for their liquor license at first and relied on catering permits during their waiting period to serve liquor. The authorities didn’t overlook that and soon they had Studio 54 closed temporarily. It put a damper in a lot of attendee’s lives. It was within time that Ian and Steve finally did get the liquor license.
However the success of that would only be temporary. Soon Steve gave an interview to Playboy that was ‘Only the mafia does it better.’ He also said ‘don’t tell the IRS about our practices.’ That’s all it took for the club to get raided. What was found was cocaine with the intent to traffic and $2 million in unrecorded under-the-table money. The arrests of Schrager and Rubell made headlines. Soon Studio 54 was no longer the place to be. The club reopened, but for a life of only a few months. The two hired Roy Cohn and had recruited an army of lawyers to defend their case. In the end, the two plead guilty and were sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. They were let out after serving one year each.
After Studio 54, both Rubell and Schrager looked for other ways to succeed after their release. They tried their hand at opening new night clubs that fit with the 80’s times. Constantly before the opening, Rubell would be interviewed about Studio 54’s infamy. Rubell would confess that they did a lot of wrong things and that they both changed and smartened up. Rubell’s time to redeem himself after Studio 54 was short-lives. Rubell had AIDS and he died of it in 1989. Schrager was luckier as he would later open the night club Palladium and manage the Morgans Hotel Group. Ian married twice and has fathered three children. He even received an unconditional pardon from Barack Obama in January 2017; three days before Obama stepped down from his presidency.
The documentary is a film that allows Schrager to tell his whole story and break the silence of what he was holding back for a long time. Over the 35 years since his release from prison, Schrager has worked to make Studio 54 a thing of the past and establish himself as a responsible successful businessman. He has succeeded in doing so and even gives lectures for people involved in business.
However the film also reminds us of what we knew of Studio 54 and what we didn’t know. For a long time, it was seen as a place for celebrities, disco dancing and culture of freeness. It was a place where hundreds of celebrities came to visit or eventually became regulars. It was also a place which gave many gay men a sense of belonging. We should not forget that the 1970’s was a time when a lot of laws criminalizing same-sex activity were being struck down and declared unconstitutional. Gay men who were long seen as outsiders or scums of the earth were now given a sense of belonging and a sense of freedom and Studio 54 was the place in New York to do it. Even Steve Rubell who kept his homosexuality hidden from his own family found Studio 54 as a place where he could freely love.
One thing is that the image of Studio 54 as a place for celebrities and dancing would make it too iconic to the disco era. Many claim that it was the closure of Studio 54 that led to the end of the disco era and the slow fading of the freeness that came with it. We should remember that the 1980’s would come about heavy stock trading and Wall Street becoming the place to do intense business. There was also the AIDS epidemic as it not only took the life of Steve but the lives of many construction men and dancers. The documentary does give the sense that when Studio 54 died, that’s when these ugly realities came to be. The documentary even shows of Ian and Steve’s friendship and how it was something that still lived on after Studio 54’s demise. Upon Steve’s death, Ian felt it was like losing a brother.
Studio 54 is unique for that it tells all from those survivors who had a big impact in the business. There’s Ian and there’s Jack. There were also some men who did a lot of the construction and renovating. There was also Steve Rubell’s brother who told his side from what he witnessed of Steve. The film includes a lot of imagery through photos and footage. The film also includes a lot of disco music that was part of Studio 54’s heyday. Seeing Studio 54 almost takes you back to that time and you can feel the freeness of that era.
Studio 54 is the ideal documentary for those who still fondly remember the disco era of the 1970’s. It brings back a lot of memories and tells you things you never knew about the place to your surprise.