THE UNIVERSE GREAT AND SMALL

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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Here at The Thread our native tendency toward cynicism is being reinforced by the environmental catastrophe the world seems to be heading toward. There are many disheartening and a few inspiring documentaries out there, but overall the consensus seems to be dire – even if we were to start changing course now, it may be too little too late….

Our obsession with the fate of the natural world is actually rooted not in cynicism, but in wonder… We’ve always been awestruck by the amazing and insightful documentaries that showcase nature in all its glorious magnificence.  

So with this week’s release of A Beautiful Planet — taken from the viewpoint of the International Space Station — we pause to celebrate Earth from above and below.

Planet A BEAUTIFUL PLANET (2016) 

Toni Myers (Hubble, Blue Planet) directs this stunning portrait of Earth from outer space, providing a unique perspective our planet and the galaxy from the International Space Station.   The film was made in conjunction with NASA, where cameras were placed inside the spacecraft taking the astronauts up to the ISS and then on board.

Shooting spanned multiple expeditions, with NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Terry Virts, Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Scott Kelly volunteering as filmmakers during their time on station, after training by Myers and director of photography James Neihouse.

Jennifer Lawrence narrates as she guides us through this film celebrating the beauty of our planet while it’s still there.

YouTube

microcosmos MICROCOSMOS (1996)

Filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou Fillike documented life in the undergrowth by using microphotography to show the world of insects as never seen before.

The film is shot without dialogue. It opens with an aerial view of a meadow and then drops wildly down amongst the herbs and soil where the stage is set. The filmmakers spent three years recreating this single day. Utilizing astounding close ups, they give the viewer a bug’s eye view where water drops are the size of planets, and grass blades become alien skyscrapers. At this level, the bugs themselves take on an unearthly appearance, as if they were the grotesque giants, not us.

Among the things depicted are a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly and the gentle lovemaking of snails… it’s quite a slow process. In the cycle of life and death, a spider makes a gruesome meal of two grasshoppers, and a determined dung beetle futilely attempts to roll a large prize up a steep slope.

This film captured out imagination when it was released and we watched it several times. Ever since we tread more carefully in the meadows.

Netflix

barakaBARAKA (1993)

Ron Fricke directed this film, which takes its title from a Sufi word that translates roughly as ‘breath of life’ or” blessing’. The film is a tour-de-force in 70mm: a cinematic guided meditation shot in 24 countries on six continents over a 14-month period that unites religious ritual, the phenomena of nature, and man’s destructive powers into a web of moving images.

Fricke’s camera ranges, in meditative slow motion or bewildering time-lapse, over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Ryoan-Ji temple in Kyoto, Lake Natron in Tanzania, burning oil fields in Kuwait, the smoldering precipice of an active volcano, a busy subway terminal, tribal celebrations of the Masai in Kenya, chanting monks in the Dip Tse Chok Ling monastery…and on and on, through locales across the globe.

If we were going to send a film to another planet to portray life on Earth, for sheer range and impact this might be the one … from its magnificent images and soundscapes to its depiction of cultures from around the globe.

iTunes   Amazon    Vudu

planetearthPLANET EARTH (2006) 

David Attenborough, who is celebrating his 90th birthday on May 8th, has spent 50 years documenting nature, a mission which has made him the most travelled person in human history, excepting only the astronauts.

Attenborough narrates this 11-part BBC miniseries that was four years in production, with over 2000 days in the field and 71 cameramen filming across 204 locations in 62 countries, this is the ultimate portrait of our planet. It’s a truly amazing experience that combines rare action, unimaginable scale, impossible locations, and intimate moments with our planet’s best-loved, wildest, and most elusive creatures.

From the highest mountains to the deepest rivers, this series takes you on a remarkable journey through the challenging seasons and the daily struggle for survival in Earth’s most extreme habitats.

We’ve watched this series multiple times and always discover something new.

iTunes    Netflix

borntobewildBORN TO BE WILD (2011)

David Lickely directs and Morgan Freeman narrates this nature documentary that takes a more specific focus – on orangutans and elephants. It is an inspired story of love, dedication and the remarkable bond between humans and animals.

The film runs at a short 45min and highlights the work of two unique women — elephant authority Daphne M. Sheldrick and famed primatologist Biruté Mary Galdikas — who have both dedicated their lives to the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned, endangered animals.

Both women work tirelessly alongside native teams to prepare their animals for reentry into the wild; all the while doing everything they can to duplicate the presence of the animal’s natural parents and habitats.

While the film could have focused a little more on the women and what led them down this path, it does a beautiful job of highlighting the bonds between man and beast.

iTunes    Amazon   Vudu

Winged-MigrationWINGED MIGRATION (2001)

Another visually stunning piece of work, this one directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud. This documentary follows several species of migratory birds over a four-year period. These birds travel thousands of miles toward the equator in the autumn, and make the return journey to their higher latitude summer homes in the spring, always taking the same route, using the natural compasses of the universe, the stars, to find their way.

The entire time you are watching, you will be asking, “how did they capture this on film?” One answer is: with teams totaling more than 450 people, 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers, using all manners of aircraft to fly alongside, above, below and in front of their subjects.

There is of course another answer. According to , Variety’s correspondent in Paris, Lisa Nesselson, 225 feet of film were exposed for every foot that got into the movie. And some birds were raised to be the stars of the film; they were exposed to the sounds of airplanes and movie cameras while still in the shell, and greeted upon their arrival in the world by crew members.

That raises some questions – isn’t what these filmmakers did is at odds with the ethos of the women in Born to be Wild?

But the birds aren’t harmed, and so in the end, to us, the result seems worth it. The more people get to see nature this intimately and vividly, the more likely they are to do something about the looming crisis.

Amazon 

THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY

Watch it!

Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
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.
Watch it!

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Here at The Thread, we miss the Greek gods.

They were vain, foolish, jealous, impulsive and lustful, and from time to time they would descend from Mount Olympus to meddle in human affairs.  The resulting myths served as roadmaps to the invisible landscape of the human subconscious.

Robbed of anthropomorphized deity, in post-modern times we’ve been forced to make do with celebrities, aka icons, and we tell their stories over and over, trying to grab a glimpse of life’s deeper meanings.  We call these modern day myths biopics.

The result has been a lot of tragedies and precious few comedies – but today we’re thinking the world might be better off if we took our secular gods a little less seriously.

Hopefully the success of this week’s Elvis & Nixon will lead to a rash of comedic biopics.  But somehow we doubt it.

 

Elvis & Nixon
ELVIS & NIXON (2016)

One of the things we like about this new comedy starring Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon is that it is based on a real incident – an incident documented by a real photograph that people love to download from the National Archive so that they can put it on mugs, t-shirts and all sorts of other things.

In the photo, as in the movie, mythic worlds collide – the tragic trickster king stands next to the once-young sex god who flew too close to the pizza.

The other reason we like is that there are no prosthetics — neither Shannon nor Spacey are made up to look like the guys they’re playing.  Instead, they focus on capturing the essence of the characters and the absurd collision of the two worlds.

YouTube

 

Insignificance
INSIGNIFICANCE (1985)

Frequent readers will know that here at The Thread we have a minor obsession with Nicholas Roeg.  Vincent Canby nailed it in his Insignificance review – “[Roeg’s films] aren’t consistently successful, but they are seldom dull.”

Insignificance is based on a stage play which is not really a biopic, but kind of a celebrity meditation on some of the deeper things in life.  The premise is even slighter than Elvis & Nixon – namely that Marilyn Monroe owned a book signed by Einstein, and thus must have met him sometime.

We suspect that one of the big reasons Roeg made the movie was to see his sexy young wife, Theresa Russell, play the goddess (Marilyn Monroe).  Even though she doesn’t look that much like Marilyn, she does a pretty great job, as do the rest of the cast – Henry Jaglom’s brother Michael Emil (Albert Einstein), Tony Curtis (Joseph McCarthy) and Gary Busey Joe Dimaggio (Gary Busey) all end up in a hotel room together one night in 1953, on the day Monroe filmed the famous subway grate scene in The Seven Year Itch.

It’s an actor’s movie, and like Elvis & Nixon, so even though it rambles and never really makes a point, its consistently thought-provoking and entertaining.  The high point is Russell’s Marilyn explaining the Theory of Relativity.

This is one of a several movies that aren’t available online this week, so here’s a trailer and a DVD link:

YouTube Criterion Collection

 

 

bubba-ho-tep
BUBBA HO-TEP (2002)

 Definitely NOT based on a stage play.  And the premise here is completely off the edge of the shaggy horizon – Elvis (played by Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell) did not die, but left the blinding glitter of fame behind him, and is now living out his life in an East Texas nursing home.

And in a room down the hall is JFK.  Dyed black, he claims (as in African American; played by Ossie Davis), but not dead either.

At least not yet.  An Egyptian mummy/soulsucker is stalking the nursing home, using it as his own private cafeteria.

If we haven’t lost you yet, you absolutely have to put this one in your queue, because despite the outrageous premise this cult film by Beastmaster director Don Cascarelli manages to be a loving homage to The King, that woos us into accepting it on its own (outrageous on paper) terms.

And succeeds as an ultimately moving meditation on subjects suitable for Greek gods — aging, frailty and mortality.

Also hard to find:

iTunes Amazon

 

 

Behind the Candelabra
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (2013)

With amazing, dark, funny, and  daring performances by Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his boy-toy; spot-on direction by Steven Soderberg; and head-turning add-on performances by Debbie Reynolds, Rob Lowe, Dan Ackroyd and Scott Bakula, this is a near-perfect blend of Olympian comedy and tragedy.

It’s astonishing to reflect now on the iconic status of Liberace – how hugely successful and deeply closeted he was, despite a totally fey persona and a raucously gay personal life which the media simply left alone.  American somehow knew it needed a shape-shifting hermaphroditic god and welcomed him with open arms without ever openly asking the core question or speaking the forbidden word.

Every week we try to have one must-see, and this week, this is it – alternatively hilarious and painful to watch for its emotional (and sexual) frankness.
You can get this on HBOGo, or here: YouTube Amazon

 

Frost Nixon
FROST/NIXON (2008)

The story of the famous interview where Nixon kinda sorta fessed up was directed by Ron Howard and stars the actors from the original stage production —  Brit Michael Sheen is David Frost and always-vivid Frank Langella as Nixon.

We know this isn’t a comedy, but we put it here to prove a point – it might have been a lot better if it hadn’t taken itself so seriously.

And we’re saying that with 20/20 hindsight.  This is a well-crafted movie, an Oscar contender that we enjoyed when we saw it.  But as  – and yet in hindsight, it all seems a little pat, a little too well-wrought and polished to be the bare knuckles revelation it claimed to be.  And that, in a twisted way, there is more mugging here than there was in the comedies above.

Are we being unfair?  Should we watch it again?

Amazon YouTube iTunes Google Play Vudu

 

 

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AMADEUS (1984)

 Based on a play (is there a pattern here?) this movie is really about somebody you’d never have heard about otherwise – Salieri, who destroys Mozart out of jealousy for his genius.

But the genius of the movie is in how it depicts genius – Mozart is a silly proto-hippy, a childlike and childish prankster who just happens to exist at the highest pinnacle of musical genius.  Tom Hulce’s Mozart is a joyous, effortless god-gifted prankster whose life is turned to tragedy by the envy of a rival whose talent lies north of mediocrity, but far, far south of genius.

…Like most of us.  It’s a beautiful, and hard to swallow lesson for us 99.99 per cent whose ability to see beauty far outstrips our ability to create it.

And it’s a real litmus test, because wow — you sure do get a gut sense of how incredible it would be to be Mozart.

And wow, it’s hard not to envy him, because he doesn’t even have to take his talent seriously.

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