1. Hell’s Highway* (Brown) – B+
2. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte* (Aldrich) – B
3. Junior Bonner* (Peckinpah) – A-
4. Collective* (Nanau) – B+
5. The Eiger Sanction* (Eastwood) – B
6. Nightmare Alley* (Goulding) – B+
7. House of Hummingbird (Kim) – A-
8. Dick Johnson is Dead* (Johnson) – A-
9. So I Married an Ax Murderer* (Schlamme) – D
10. The Assistant* (Green) – B-
* First-time watch
Monthly Archives: November 2020
1. Hell’s Highway* (Brown) – B+
I reviewed TIME, one of the best and most important films of the year, and interviewed director Garrett Bradley for Cine-file Chicago in early October. I also spoke to the film’s subjects, married social activists Fox and Rob Rich, via Zoom and I’m posting that interview below as an exclusive on this blog. TIME is available to stream via Amazon Prime.
MGS: TIME is so moving because of you two. You seem so genuine in front of the camera and that’s a quality I only associate with the best documentaries. What was it like working with Garrett Bradley? How did she establish your trust so that you knew she’d tell your story responsibly?
FR: I think it’s kind of like in the film THE MATRIX when Neo goes to see the oracle and she says, “Being ‘the one’ is kind of like being in love. You know, nobody tells you you’re in love. You just know it.” When we met Garrett, we just knew we were in love with her and the work that she was trying to do as a young artist in telling our story, and the story which is the story of 2.3 million Americans. So I think, for us, we were just so delighted by the fact that there was someone interested in sharing our story. That, in itself, was momentous to me when I first encountered Garrett.
MGS: Was that true for you as well, Rob? I imagine you didn’t meet her until later on in the process.
RR: I did, in fact, meet Garrett much later on in the project from when she and Fox had initially met. But just listening to Fox carry on about her over the telephone, I felt like I knew her for quite some time. So when we did in fact get the opportunity to meet one another face to face, it turned out to be everything — that and more — that Fox had been expressing to me up to that point as far as how amazing Garrett is.
MGS: The scene in the backseat of the car at the end is extraordinarily intimate. Did you have reservations about that being in the film or did you just trust Garrett at that point to do her job?
FR: At that point it wasn’t about the film, Mike. It was about the fact that I hadn’t touched my husband in 21 years and four days — legally! And so, with that being said, it didn’t…
RR: (Laughing) Who cares who’s watching?
FR: (Laughing) If Jesus was there, he would have said, “Bless you, my child.” And we were just hopeful that, since we were so vulnerable to share ourselves in such a transparent manner, others who viewed it would receive it as such, and receive our token of love. You know, people sit through watching our 21-year-journey of struggle and pain condensed into an hour — so that last 10 minutes, when the victory comes, we feel like they are as deserving to be a part of that as we were for having endured all that we went through from the onset. You know, love makes the world go round, and so we just hoped that people would receive that as not a sex scene but a reflection of love. In this heartless, cold world that we are in right now, I just hope that we can see more images of human beings creating love.
MGS: Something I’ve heard a lot this year is that there are two justice systems in America: One for white people and one for everyone else. If people want to protest this disparity, what sort of activism can they do and how would you recommend they get involved?
FR: I think I’ve got two points while Rob is pondering his: One is we lead an organization in New Orleans. It’s a new model that came out about 10 years ago in Silicon Valley and the model is called Participatory Defense Movement. It teaches justice-involved families how to advocate legal awareness as the best form of defense. It teaches them what they need to know, how they can fight and how they can best deal with their situations. So we have had our hub here for a year but there are 35 hubs across the country right now empowering citizens with the tools that they need ’cause nobody’s going to fight for us, Mike, like we’re going to fight for ourselves. So that is one thing I would suggest for those that are looking to get involved with their own matters can do. And for someone who is not necessarily justice-involved, I would suggest to them your D.A.’s race is the first position of power. There are so many decisions that are made; they have the ultimate authority at the onset of charges, what will be brought, how much time they’re going to ask for, all of the mitigating circumstances they are presented with. And in a place like the city of New Orleans that we work out of, our current District Attorney accepted 98% of all cases that came before his court. That’s astronomical! And then, of that, you talk about the numbers are astronomical for him multi-billing people — meaning that if you have three felony convictions, I can enhance your charge. If you have three shopliftings, you may have been looking at five years for the third time but because of these enhanced charges, I can now give you 40 years. I can give you life when I multi-bill you for a theft charge. And he chose to use that practice 2000 times more than every other District Attorney in the state of Louisiana. So when you talk about being able to move the needle and create change, your District Attorney’s office is one of the first spaces where we can make that happen because they decide who’s going to get the charge and who’s not going to get the charge.
MGS: So do the research and vote appropriately?
RR: Speaking of research, Fox and I were laughing one day when the latest wave of the Black Lives Matter movement took off. Fox was like, “Dang, there sure are a lot of white people out there protesting.” If you look at the statistics, police are shooting white people up a lot too. As a matter of fact, their numbers are higher than ours. They should be in the street protesting, right? When you talk about the fact that there are these two systems that exist, the truth of the matter is there’s a system for poor people and there’s a system for people who are affluent. I could lead you back to all those poor white guys I was doing time with — same system biting me in the ass was biting them in the ass as well. So, to a young person, as in the many young people who come into our hub that are interested in doing the work that we’re doing, one of the things that we try to always encourage is to make sure that they go and look at the facts. Do your research. Do your background studies. Don’t just go out there based on what is happening in the news because the news is built around sensationalism. It’s far more sensational to talk about a white cop shooting a black guy than it is to talk about a white cop shooting a white guy or a black guy shooting a black guy. So, with those things, that you’re not led out into the street in some emotional frenzy, we’re hopeful that people are able to draw from the facts and then find the best spot for your work, find where your passions are best served.
FR: I love this guy. Does it show?
MGS: Yes, it does! I loved seeing all the videos that you shot, Fox, when Rob first went away. How many of those did you make and, Rob, have you watched them all yet?
RR: Countless hours. I think the last time we spoke with Garrett she said there’s well over a hundred hours worth of that footage. And, surprisingly enough, neither Fox nor myself nor our family has ever had an opportunity to view any of that footage. The closest we’ve gotten to it is actually watching the movie TIME. So to witness it first in that setting was nothing less than amazing and incredible. And hats off, shouts out to Garrett for being able to put it together in the way that she made it happen. So truly blessed and thankful for having viewed it in such a fashion.
FR: We look forward to being able to sit down as a family and go back through the archive footage ourselves. Because, to be honest with you, like the piece in front of the church? Until I saw the movie, I forgot I had ever filmed that. Some of the things I vividly remembered. But other things that were more painful, like that confession in church, you know that was…you know the black church? (Laughs) That was…whew! I had to dig deep to put myself on the throne of accountability! So we look forward to doing that. It was just a blessing that over the years I kept collecting tapes because we were so busy trying to survive, so busy trying to fight for our lives and be reunited that having the pleasure of sitting down and being able to reminisce…not only did I not have the time, I didn’t have the camcorder that I had filmed on anymore! I was meant to see it in this moment, Mike.
MGS: Thank you so much for talking to me. You guys are an inspiration and best of luck to you going forward.
FR: Thanks so much.
RR: Thanks for having us.
- Nightfall (Tourneur) – A
- Pride and Prejudice* (Wright) – C
- Hyenas* (Mambety) – A
- Saint Frances (Thompson) – B+
- Cutter’s Way* (Passer) – A-
- Chilly Scenes of Winter* (Silver) – A-
- Girlfriends* (Weill) – A+
- Francisca* (De Oliveira) – A
- The Exorcist II: The Heretic* (Boorman) – C-
- The Haunting (Wise) – B+
* First-time watch
At a time when a lot of Americans have lost faith in national politics, Frederick Wiseman’s epic CITY HALL arrives right on time to perform the crucial 2020 task of restoring viewers’ faith in local politics. Shot in the pre-COVID era of 2018 and 2019, Wiseman’s film follows the daily goings-on at Boston’s City Hall – from city council meetings and town halls to a same-sex wedding, a Chinese New Year celebration and many speeches given by Mayor Marty Walsh, a down-to-earth guy who receives an unusual amount of screen time and emerges as the unlikely “star” of the movie. The last time that could be said about an individual in a Wiseman film was in 2013’s AT BERKELEY, which, at the expense of spending more time with teachers and students, almost perversely focused on UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, an unlikable bureaucrat (long since fired) with a creepy grin permanently pasted onto his face; the result was one of the director’s worst films. CITY HALL is far more successful in large part because Walsh is a much more interesting and sympathetic character. Wiseman shows him in a variety of different contexts (addressing a veterans’ group, speaking to a nurses’ union, celebrating the Red Sox’s World Series victory outside of Fenway Park, etc.). It’s remarkable how much one ends up learning about Walsh as a person through these scenes – from his Irish heritage to his struggles with alcoholism – and his compassionate nature ends up setting the tone for Wiseman’s entire documentary. Walsh seems to genuinely care about Boston’s residents and his role as their civil servant and it’s difficult to see the movie and not conclude that Beantown is a “city that works.” Of course, Wiseman, known for his even-handedness, also doesn’t shy away from being critical of Boston either – a late scene depicting a town hall devoted to entrepreneurs who want to open cannabis dispensaries allows the residents of a low-income neighborhood to address racial and economic inequalities at length. From the standpoint of cinematography and editing, CITY HALL also emerges as one of Wiseman’s most dynamic works: The film features a kind of symphonic structure in which lengthy meeting scenes are punctuated by elegant montages of static shots of Boston at large. This structure conveys the idea that Boston’s City Hall is a place where laws are made and that the surrounding environs are the human spaces in which these laws are enacted. It also discreetly “chapterizes” the movie, making its four-and-a-half hour run time ideal to watch in multiple installments.
CITY HALL opens for a virtual run at the Gene Siskel Film Center Friday, November 6. Pre-sale tickets are available on the Siskel’s website.
1. Starship Troopers (Verhoeven) – A-
2. Psycho II (Franklin) – B-
3. Night of the Demon (Tourneur) – A+
4. Night of the Demon (Tourneur) – A+
5. City Hall* (Wiseman) – A-
6. They Live (Carpenter) – B
7. The Fog (Carpenter) – A-
8. Witchfinder General (Reeves) – A
9. Ham on Rye (Taormina, USA) – B+
10. Martin Eden+ (Marcello, Italy) – B
* First-time watch