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last update 12.Mar.16
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Bolshoi Babylon
dir Nick Read
prd Mark Franchetti
with Sergei Filin, Vladimir Urin, Maria Alexandrova, Maria Allash, Anastasia Meskova, Boris Akimov, Alexander Budberg, Dmitri Medvedev, Roman Abramov, Pavel Dmitrichenko, Nikolai Tsiskaridze
bolshoi babylon
release US 27.Nov.15,
UK 8.Jan.16
15/UK HBO 1h27

Bolshoi Babylon Held up as the top dance company on earth, Moscow's Bolshoi revealed a seedy underbelly of controversy after artistic director Sergei Filin was seriously injured in an acid attack. This documentary explores that event and its aftermath, and while the filmmakers never quite get to the bottom of everything, what they reveal is fascinating.

Filin was a dancer before he crossed the line into management at the Bolshoi Ballet, presiding over a period of infighting in the company, which has very close ties to Russia's government. In January 2013, Filin's face was badly burnt by acid, and Bolshoi dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko was charged with hiring the man who committed the attack. Then Vladimir Urin became the Bolshoi's director, vowing to clean up the corruption within the company. And since Urin and Filin have a history of harsh rivalry, there were more than a few teething issues.

The film is beautifully assembled, mixing imagery from the Bolshoi's award-winning productions among interviews with the principal figures in the story, including key dancers and executives. What emerges is an astonishing portrait of an old world company (and indeed an entire nation) struggling to emerge from centuries of murky power games. The key revelation here is the influence the government has had on an organisation that has always had projected an image of first-rate artistic achievement.

Several interviewees observe that the Bolshoi and Russia are so intertwined that the Bolshoi's disgrace was hardly surprising in a society known for its corrupt politics. Before he was so brutally attacked, Filin chose the key dancers for each production, rather than allowing open auditions. And politicians have also had a voice in who gets ahead in the company, something Stalin used ruthlessly during his reign, establishing the Bolshoi as the global branding image for the Soviet Union.

The film leaps along gracefully, mixing in reports of back-room dealings and dark personal challenges, mainly from dancers recovering from injury or struggling to balance single motherhood with the rising demands of stardom. As the documentary continues, these accounts take over from the central mystery of what happened to Filin and why, which is a bit of a shame, mainly because the film makes him look increasingly shady. But the relationships between these people are fascinating, revealed in some surprisingly honest moments captured on-camera. And most intriguing is how the film cleverly reveals secrets behind the Bolshoi's most impressive achievements, which disguised the way they were being torn apart from within. Toronto

PG themes
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4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Kent Jones
scr Kent Jones, Serge Toubiana
prd Charles S Cohen, Olivier Mille
with Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Arnaud Desplechin, Paul Schrader, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Olivier Assayas, David Fincher, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, James Gray
narr Bob Balaban
Truffaut and Hitchcock release Fr 16.Nov.15,
US 4.Dec.15, UK 4.Mar.16
15/France 1h19

london film fest
Hitchcock/Truffaut This documentary springs from the iconic book revered by film fans, a riveting transcript of a conversation between two filmmakers, as Alfred Hithcock discusses his films title-by-title with Francois Truffaut. This gives documentarian Kent Jones the chance to explore, with a range of present-day filmmakers, the impact of both the book and the indelible work of Hitchcock and Truffaut.

In 1962 when he sat down with Truffaut, Hitchcock was already known around the world as the master of suspense, upending the very idea of what a movie could be. The younger critic-turned-filmmaker Truffaut was already acclaimed, and with his French New Wave colleagues had already championed Hitchcock as a filmmaker who needed to be taken seriously. With his book, Truffaut intended to prove that Hitchcock was far more than a light entertainer. And indeed, their transcribed dialog transformed the perception of cinema and how movies are made.

In documenting both the book and the two filmmakers, this movie is a treasure trove of cinema history. In is work with Cahiers du Cinema, Truffaut was part of the movement that first declared cinema as an art. And through interviews and clips, Jones explores why Hitchcock's films never seem to age. That's because he was such a rigorous director who used a pure, audience-focussed approach to have maximum impact. It also intriguingly contextualises Hitchcock's unique approach to actors as just another tool in his arsenal. And his willingness to break rules to tell an entertaining story.

In addition to the filmmaker interviews and classic movie clips, the film also features extensive behind-the-scenes footage and stills. Fans will also love hearing audio tapes of the conversations that would become the book. Jones' structure is a bit meandering, and sometimes gets lost in the interviewees' gushing admiration (with an over-emphasis on Vertigo and Psycho), but it's packed with fascinating sideroads and telling observations that make the documentary an essential companion piece to an already essential book.

Hitchcock was a masterful innovator whose tricks are mimicked by most filmmakers working today. His command of the emotional impact of space in the frame is still unequalled, plus a virtuoso use of pacing, colour and sound. And with his much less constructed style, Truffaut's work carries an equally potent punch, tapping into raw emotions. Basically, this is a must-see movie for anyone who loves Hitchcock and Truffaut. And also for anyone who wonders why critics and filmmakers love them so much.

PG themes, some violence
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dir-scr Jessica Edwards
prd Jessica Edwards, Rachel Mills
with Mavis Staples, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Yvonne Staples, Al Bell, Levon Helm, Jeff Tweedy, Greg Kot, Gene Barge, Marty Stuart, Sharon Jones, Julian Bond, Chuck D
mavis release US Mar.15 sxsw,
UK 19.Feb.16
15/US 1h21
Mavis! While this documentary feels rather straightforward and unambitious, it's profiling a woman who is seriously engaging. The irrepressible Mavis Staples has had a distinct impact on American pop music through every wave of the past 60 years, infusing gospel themes of empowerment and hope into blues, rock, country and folk genres. So even if the film rarely cracks the surface, she holds the attention.

Born and raised in Chicago, Mavis began her career as the teen lead vocalist in The Staples Singers. Her father Pops was an innovator, blending sounds and styles to continually shake up the pop charts, inspiring several generations of musicians, including Bob Dylan, who once proposed to Mavis. And her distinctive voice still carries real power, especially since she refuses to sing pointless pop music. Infused with bigger themes, the Staples' music has addressed civil rights, corruption and faith, something that continues in Mavis' performances today.

Filmmaker Edwards never tries to liven things up with flashy filmmaking, preferring to take a direct line through the story while making the most of the amazing archival footage and recordings. From the family's earliest tracks to Mavis' current appearances, these performances are full of passion. And with never-seen footage, the film cleverly puts the music into a strong historical context, from the group's collaborations with Martin Luther King Jr to Mavis' later recordings with Prince.

Most interesting is the exploration of how Pops led his family to break out of gospel and R&B into the mainstream. Their the triumphant No 1 single I'll Take You There is a perfect demonstration of the collision of genres, as is and their more controversial hit Let's Do It Again. It's also telling that they recorded an early cover of Dylan's A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall and notably performed The Weight with The Band in The Last Waltz. And the film also traces Mavis' constant trouble with record labels, suggesting that some of her best recordings still languish on storeroom shelves.

There's the sense that everything in this film was approved by Mavis, as it takes her position in every conflict. Edwards never follows-up on Mavis' casual comment about never marrying so she could dedicate herself to her career. And all of the interviews come from her friends and family. This leaves the film feeling rather thin. But by putting Mavis' story on-screen without any flourishes, it's a movie her fans will love. And it'll earn her some new fans too.

PG themes, language
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Peter De Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn
dir Ethan Reid
prd Alex Main
with Peter De Rome, Julian Clary, Wakefield Poole, Rupert Smith, Brian Robinson, Robert Alvarez, John Russell Taylor, Kristen Bjorn, Emanuel Xavier, Topher Campbell, Lord Harrison, Jake Genesis
de rome release US Jun.15 fff,
UK 14.Mar.16
14/UK 1h37

See also:
The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome (2012) Fragments: The Incomplete Films of Peter de Rome (2012)
peter de rome Shot shortly before his death in 2014, a week before his 90th birthday, this film traces iconic filmmaker Peter de Rome's life and work in his own words. With a wealth of clips and stills, this documentary is fairly straightforward and unambitious. But it's also a vitally important film about both cinema and gay history.

During a happy English childhood, Peter was introduced to sex by a family friend at just 11 and never felt any guilt about the string of boyfriends he had from them on. He worked as a film publicist in London and New York, where his gay life took off and he started making his own experimental short movies. He was involved in the civil rights movement in the South, plus key events in gay history in both America and Europe. But as a filmmaker, he stuck to porn and never tried to move into the mainstream.

Filmmaker Reid puts de Rome front and centre, revealing a cheeky, unassuming man who you would never guess made some of the most notorious porn movies. Reid also accompanies him to locations from his films in Britain, Manhattan and Fire Island, then to London to present his work at the British Film Institute in 2012. With a wide range of friends and and experts offering comments, Reid explores why de Rome's films are so distinctive: mainly because he had far greater ambitions than just titillating the audience.

Intriguingly, the documentary traces De Rome's story in parallel with gay history, adding context through interviews with historians and filmmakers. In the 1950s and 1960s, making porn was defiant, letting filmmakers express themselves without censorship. Significantly, de Rome's movies were the first chance gay audiences had to see their sexuality depicted as a happy lifestyle. He believed that arousal was more important than depicting the sex act, and he never thought anyone would would find deeper meanings in them.

The film also includes some superb details, such as how de Rome shot the final appearance of Greta Garbo in cinema, and how John Gielgud once wrote a gay porn script for him. It's also important to note that he was filming gay sex at a time when it was illegal. And the impact of Aids on his work adds a potent kick. De Rome's films are hard to describe as pornography. They're artful explorations of male eroticism, which is why they're in the BFI Archive and now available from mainstream UK outlets.

18 themes, language, strong sexuality
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