Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
Here at The Thread, we prefer our heroes flawed – and the darker the better.
As it happens, most of our heroes are artists.
This week – right brain artists (no writers) whose art and suffering are inextricably linked.
This intimate portrait of Cobain, told through his own art, is currently running in theaters for a few days starting this weekend, before it airs May 4 on HBO.
The doc was directed by Brett Morgan, who co-directed the impressive and entertaining The Kid Stays in the Picture. Montage gotten a load of positive reviews, some verging on raves.
Morgan had complete cooperation from Cobain’s entire family, including Courtney and daughter Frances. Cobain was a prolific artist from childhood – drawings, writing, photos, montages, music. Morgan uses a minimum of talking heads and tells the story using Kurt’s work, stitched together with creative editing and visual effects.
Side note – what a year for HBO documentaries, with The Jinx, Going Clear, and now this.
Here’s the trailer, imbedded in an interesting BILLBOARD article.
It’s a credit to writer/director John Ridley (Oscar for 12 Years A Slave screenplay) that his Hendrix biopic manages to avoid the familiar arc of the melt-down genius. He does it by focusing on the years just before Hendrix explodes.
It gives Ridley the chance to paint a more nuanced picture of Hendrix, showing who he might have been if destiny had not swept him away.
It’s a smart choice — especially since the notoriously possessive Hendrix estate refused to license any Hendrix hits. Instead we see Andre Benjamin (of Outkast) credibly mimic Hendrix performing other people’s music – “Wild Thing”; “Sgt. Pepper’s…” over guitarist Waddy Wachtel.
It works – at least for us. But Hendrix is an emotional subject, and this fictionalized account has been loudly criticized: notably by Kathy Etchingham, one of the women portrayed in the film. You can read her viewpoint in an unusual place – under the comments section on Amazon:
There’s also a riveting pair of Dick Cavett interviews with Hendrix – the very beginning and end of his career.
And if you want the complete documentary approach, there’s also an excellent and typically comprehensive Jimi Hendrix American Masters:
Some people say Julian Schnabel’s debut film could be leaner — but to us it’s just right. We’ve bought it multiple times for multiple networks – Trio, Ovation.
It’s notable for the casting alone: Benicio Del Toro, Gary Oldman, Willem Defoe, Christopher Walken, Parker Posey, Dennis Hopper, Tatum O’Neill, Sam Rockwell, Courtney Love (same year as Larry Flynt). And then, David Bowie as Warhol and Jeffrey Wright as Basquiat.
And like the two movies above, Schnabel does a great job here of showing us the man under the rock star artist – but at the same time reinforcing the myth. Basquiat is something apart – a little crazy, very right-brained, and addicted down to his soul.
For an authentic-feeling documentary take on Basquiat, go to Radiant Child.
And to buy a wearable Basquiat at a bargain, go to UNIQLO
So here are the debate questions, good for at least one dinner party per year:
Could the art exist without the suffering? Does the suffering justify the art? And why are we so compelled to watch?
Frida consciously played into that questionable but powerful myth — even if pain doesn’t create the genii, it polishes the lamp. And for alchemically transforming suffering directly into art, she takes the cake.
Our expectations were sky-high for Frida when it came out. Selma Hayek cleared the bar – winning an Oscar in the bargain. And Molina ain’t too shabby either as her drug of choice – Diego.
And thanks, Julie Taymor. She reminds us of James Franco — wildly uneven but always worth watching. Her new play opened on Broadway this week.
Van Gogh is the original poster child for incandescently self-destructive artists.
We tend to think of the suffering artist as a post-modern myth. After all, even Frida wasn’t broadly appreciated until the 80’s.
So it’s a refreshing historical corrective to see how well Vincent Minelli and Kirk Douglas nailed van Gogh. It’s the equal of any of the more recent movies here, and captures the artist’s esthetic as effectively as Mr. Turner or Girl With The Pearl Earring.
This could be the ultimate litmus test, and it certainly throws gas on that dinner conversation fire: very good sources have claimed that The Joker had nothing to do with Heath Ledger’s death.
We like to think we’re above the sort of slipshod logic we always attribute to statisticians – coincidence does not prove causality – but after watching this performance, how can you believe that the performance wasn’t part of his undoing?
And the picture is the best superhero movie ever, thus well worth rewatching even for those of us who aren’t hard core.