Reviews for February 4th, 2009
Directed by Josh Fox.
This “documentary” begins with 20 minutes of footage shot by a group of young men and women on their way to Ocean City, Maryland during Memorial Day Weekend. What do these young people do? Pretty much what many young people do on Spring Break: they take drugs, drink alcohol, dance and grind against each other and just have a wild time. They stop two strangers in a parking garage and convince them to show off their private parts in front of the camera. The situation gets a bit out of hand when one of the women gets raped inside a moving car on the way to a motel. Watching that rape occur on camera for a few minutes feels quite excruciating and disturbing, although, it’s not as much as the events that take place in the second half of the film. That first part, reminiscent of a more pornographic version of “Girls Gone Wild”, creates a sense of disgust, but it quite gets tedious and irritating. Writer/director Josh Fox intentionally chooses to film those initial scenes with a handheld camera that shakes around a lot as if there were a few earthquakes taking place simultaneously. He also includes some camerawork in slow motion which hammers in the point that these young adults are dazed, confused and drunk, among other things. After 20 minutes of nausea, there’s finally a cut to them at the motel area where one of guys beats up another and leaves slightly injured. Then, Fox switches the scene to army barracks where the guys you just saw on Memorial Day Weekends are now gathered in front of a television watching some porn. Soon enough, they make fun of a soldier who claims to not have shaved his pubic hair, so they hold him down and shave him as he struggles. The torture has just begun, though. It turns out these soldiers are in an Abu Ghraib prison and are instructed to use any kind of means to torture, such as waterboarding, on prisoners. The reenacted footage shown isn’t fundamentally different than what you’ve seen in the real documentaries Taxi to the Darkside or Standard Operating Procedure. It’s painful to just sit there and watch like voyeur these soldiers having fun by making the lives of prisoners miserable. These scenes become tedious much like the scenes on Memorial Day weekend. Do you find violence or sex onscreen to be more shocking? Both can feel shocking, but, in this case, it’s all so poorly shot and dull that you quickly lose your patience and become both disinterested and repulsed. Had Fox added a bit more backstory to the soldiers’ lives and include some much-needed insights, Memorial Day would have been much more powerful and emotionally stirring rather than an often bland, repetitive and quite nauseating experience. Number of times I checked my watch: 6. Released by Artists Public Domain. Opens at the IFC Center.
Our City Dreams
Directed by Chiara Clemente.
This moderately fascinating documentary focuses on five women who moved to New York City and struggled as artists. The artists include Ghada Amer, Kiki Smith, Marina Abramovic, Swoon and Nancy Spero. Nancy Spero, at 80-years-old, the oldest among them, discusses her artwork, which includes mosaics, from the Vietnam era. She flew to New York from Paris with her late husband and created art inspired by her anti-Vietnam War sentiments. During that time period, living in the city was pretty tough for many artists and they were fortunate enough to find dilapidated buildings to use both as refuge and as art student. Artists would write the abbreviation AIR, which stood for “Artist in Residence”, outside the building to remind others of their presence there. The artist Swoon, a “street artist”, moved from Florida to New York City, where she crafted cut-outs of people made out of wood and carefully pasted them onto the outside walls of buildings. Her infusion of art and urban culture looks quite imaginative. There’s also 60-year-old Marina Abramovic, who began her career in performance art during the 1970s. In live performances that were part of the presentation called “Seven Easy Pieces” at the Guggenheim, she would self-mutilate herself with cuts on her body and would lay naked on big blocks of ice while a crowd gathered around her. It certainly takes a lot of mental and physical discipline to be able to complete those performances, so, not surprisingly Abramovic trained her mind and body rigorously beforehand. For the performance of “God Punishing”, she interpreted a tsunami as waves crashed over her as she stood on a platform while a group of men cracked whips. German-born artist Kiki Smith, also featured in the brief documentary Kiki Smith: Squatting the Palace, uses many different mediums ranging from clay to ice, paper and glass in order to represent parts of the human body through sculpture. Finally, there’s Ghada Amer, the most interesting of the five selected artists. She emmigrated from Cairo, Egypt to New York City, where she made artwork such as embroidered paintings, sculptures and drawings that touched upon such themes as sexuality, gender and eroticism. Her parents briefly comment about how they don’t always understand her artwork, but they support her enthusiasm and passion for art. Director Chiara Clemente allows the artists to show their different artworks and to briefly discuss their meanings, but she merely scratches the surface of each artist without delving deeply enough into their lives and careers. Our City Dreams seems more like a Reader’s Digest version of the five artists rather than a thorough and insightful examination. Part of the lack of insight comes from not enough sharp questions asked to the artists during the interviews. Those unfamiliar with art history or these five female artists will gain an appreciation for their artwork along with some basic knowledge of their career. However, art aficionados who are already familiar with them will feel mostly unenlightened and underwhelmed. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by First Run Features. Opens at the Film Forum.