I reviewed Matt Yoka’s WHIRLYBIRD for Cine-file Chicago. It begins a (live!) run at the Gene Siskel Film Center beginning tonight.
Matt Yoka’s WHIRLYBIRD (US/Documentary)
WHIRLYBIRD, Matt Yoka’s documentary feature debut, is a tale of two movies. It’s a portrait of the complicated, occasionally toxic marriage between journalists Zoey Tur (then known as Bob) and Marika Gerrard; it also serves as an informal history of “newscopter” journalism in Los Angeles during the 1980s and 90s. With its plethora of manicured lawns and backyard swimming pools, LA has always been an exceptionally interesting city when seen from a bird’s-eye view, and Yoka’s use of archival aerial footage is frequently stunning (even in 2021, when unnecessary drone shots have become overused by filmmakers intent on showing off “production value”). Anyone who lived through this era might be surprised to realize how many familiar images from the national news were captured by Tur and Gerrard’s video cameras: Michael Jackson being admitted to the hospital after suffering severe burns while filming a Pepsi ad; the riots that followed the exoneration of the police officers responsible for beating Rodney King; the infamous O.J. Simpson “white Bronco chase.” In each instance, Tur and Gerrard were there first, adrenaline junkies determined to capture the latest breaking news. But the film is more arresting on the micro level, primarily as it examines Tur, who’s now retired and living quietly in rural northern California. In a series of compelling interviews, she visibly wallows in regret over her hectic, often rage-filled former life, which she alternately blames on the testosterone then flowing through her body and the fact that she was physically abused as a child by her father, a person she hated but who nonetheless fears she’s turned into. The way Yoka offers a subtly empathetic look at this ambitious but deeply flawed individual (and in the latter stages of the film in particular) may sneak up on you. (2021, 103 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]