#334- Night and Fog

Quick recap: It’s a documentary about the Holocaust.

This probably won’t be a surprise, but don’t expect much humor in this review. Hopefully your expectations weren’t that high to begin with.

Fun (?) fact: Director Alain Resnais was very careful to not use the word ‘Jew’ when referring to victims of the holocaust because he wanted to create something that condemned genocide altogether. He felt that using the term, although true, might lead people to believe the Holocaust was an isolated event when in fact, could easily happen to any group of people.

My thoughts:  It has recently come to my attention that I’m not the most fun person to be around. That’s not to say I don’t have other great qualities, but I don’t think ‘bubbly’ comes to mind when most people describe me. Case in point, I chose to spend my spring break watching a film about the Holocaust and my Friday night recapping the horrible things I saw.

For a documentary about the Holocaust, this was every bit as sad and horrifying as I expected it to be, and yet there were still parts I found shocking. As the narrator said, it’s unfathomable. Night and Fog was filmed in 1955, roughly 10 years after the war ended. Resnais interspersed images of the abandoned concentration camps with real footage of the prisoners and even then everything felt surreal and almost unbelievable. As the narrator says, images and film can only show so much. It is impossible to truly understand the constant fear and apprehension felt by everyone.

For a little 30 minute film, there were so many points touched on. Resnais said he wanted to make the film as an allegory for the situation going on with France and Algeria at the time, but that sentiment could be applied for any conflict. It’s depressing to think that lessons still haven’t been learned. Genocides have happened since then, not to mention the gradual embrace of the Nazi party again. It took everything to not turn away when the images of bulldozers pushing bodies into mass graves came on the screen, but it’s something that needs to be seen. Even in 1955, Resnais was already worried that people were becoming complacent again. The narrator (whose script was written by Jean Cayrol, a concentration camp survivor), mentions people taking pictures in front of crematoriums and selling the images as postcards. The most frustrating part of the film, though, was to see the SS officers deny any wrongdoing and any responsibility whatsoever. It is alluded to the fact that so many of these camps are situated just outside of big cities, implying entire nations of people who knew what was going on. And still, it happened. And still, it continues to happen.

Final review: 5/5. Essential viewing.

Up next: High Noon

 

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#284- Häxan

Quick recap: A documentary-ish about Witchcraft through the ages

Don't feed after midnight

Don’t feed after midnight

Fun (?) fact: Director Benjamin Christensen originally planned on writing the script with the help of experts but dropped that idea when he learned they were against his movie.

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My thoughts: Another year of HorrorFest is in the books and another year where I still think the 1920s were a pretty creepy time. Häxan alone didn’t do much for me because I’m decidedly’meh’ on witches, but people dressed in costumes as witches and you can GTFO with that nonsense. I’m not talking about the sexy kind we have walking around these days, but the ones with dead eyes featured in this film.

Häxan is half dry documentary about the history of witchcraft and half stories that the director heard. The dry documentary part was more interesting to me than the vignettes because people a long time ago imagined some pretty scary stuff. I’m all for science and learning how the world works, but sometimes it would just be nice to blame things on witches, you know? Like, it’s not my fault I didn’t get grades on time- my witch is a neighbor! I was going 30 mph over the speed limit because a witch cursed my foot. It works in every situation. We make jokes how stupid people back then used to be but they sure were the masters of shirking responsibility.

The vignettes are your typical witch fare of curses and making weird brews in a big pot. One ‘fact’ the director wanted us to remember is that witches like to kiss the butt of the devil. He mentions it 3 different times, complete with recreations of a bunch of witches lined up, ready to literally kiss ass. It seems like such a weird thing to focus on, as if that is the most offensive thing witches do. I didn’t know that was a thing before the movie, however, so I can’t completely hate on it. The more you know, I suppose.

Final review: 1/5. I’m still ‘meh’ on witches, but please don’t make me look at people dressed up during Halloween in the 1920s.

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Up next: The Wizard of Oz

 

#219- In the Year of the Pig

Quick recap: War is hell, you guys.

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Fun (?) fact: Nope. Sorry.

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My thoughts: the Vietnam War was bullshit. I already knew that before watching In the Year of the Pig, but the documentary helped me understand more about how we get there in the first place.

That previous line was also bullshit, I’m sorry to say. I still have no idea why the US got involved. I mean, I do at a factual level but logically, it still doesn’t make sense. This film was released in 1968 when we were right in the middle of the war and it pissed off a lot of people because it raised questions. In 2015, I wasn’t shocked by anything revealed in the interviews, but what left an impression on me was the parallel between Vietnam and Iraq War.

And now it’s time for Mary Gets On Her Soapbox:

The Iraq war is/was also bullshit. We shouldn’t have been there but we went anyway because of fear and bad intelligence. And we are about to be in another pointless battle if people continue fearing what they don’t understand.

Back to the review- The hardest part of the whole film was seeing all of the innocent people involved. It’s very easy to look at what the soldiers said about the villagers as condescending and dehumanizing, but I don’t blame them. They didn’t understand why they were there either, and having sympathy for the ‘enemy’, which they were taught was everywhere, would get someone killed. Still, this movie wasn’t afraid to show the reality of war and that our actions, no matter how we tried to justify them, had devastating consequences.

Final review: 3/5. If you love history, check it out. If you hate war, check it out.

Up next: One-Eyed Jacks, which will sadly have nothing to do with Twin Peaks.

 

 

#207- Hoop Dreams

Quick recap: This documentary follows two inner city kids from Chicago as they chase their dream of playing professional basketball.

Meanwhile, my basketball skills.

Meanwhile, my basketball skills.

Fun (?) fact: When Hoop Dreams failed to get a nomination for Best Documentary, it pissed Roger Ebert off. He researched the process and found that when voters viewed a movie, they would turn on a flashlight if they didn’t feel the movie had a chance. When enough flashlights were turned on, the movie was stopped. Hoop Dreams lasted only 15 minutes before it was turned off. Because of this, rules were changed and now no one will EVER have an issue with Academy voting again. EVER.

My thoughts: Oh, boy. This movie got to me, you guys. I started Hoop Dreams thinking it would be about playing basketball and maybe the dream of playing basketball- a ‘hoop dream’, if you will. And it was, of course, but it was also so much more. There are so many topics to choose from when talking about this film: poverty, race, crime, drugs, gangs  and so on, and it’s easy to get lost in the message at times. What it comes down to, though, are two boys who just want to be someone. It’s as simple as you can get, and so, so powerful.

Before I go any further, I want to confess that the first thought running through my mind as the credits rolled was, ‘Please let them still be alive and happy,’ and it seems like they are. William Gates’ brother Curtis, who was featured in the film, was murdered in 2001 and Arthur Agee’s father, also featured in the film was gunned down in 2004, but the boys themselves seem successful and happy.

It amazes me the amount of dedication that went in to telling the story of William Gates and Arthur Agee. When filming started, both boys had just finished middle school, and although both of them had amazing talent, no one knew what the ending would be. In many ways, there is nothing remarkable about either story. William is scouted and ends up at St. Joseph’s High School, an expensive private school. He comes in with very low grades ( a persistent issue in the film), but has the drive to continue. His mom is a single parent and does her best, but it’s difficult. At one point in the film, William and his girlfriend have a baby, which adds another layer of complexity to an already complex situation. Add to the fact that William playing for St. Joseph was both an amazing opportunity and also a horrible decision. Being one of only a few black students, some of the games felt like more of a spectacle than just a high school kid doing what he loved. I didn’t really like the coach because it just felt like William was being used to win games for the school. On the other hand, putting him in a prestigious school opened up many doors that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

As much as I enjoyed William, it was Arthur Agee who got to me most. As a public school teacher in a low income area, I see so many kids just like Arthur: kids who have heavy stuff going on at home and try hard to not let it get to them. Kids who are so far behind and are embarrassed about it, so they hide behind their friends and try to show that they don’t care. I was especially interested in Arthur’s friendship with Shannon, the boy with a similar  background who later moved in with the Agees. Both boys were low academically and goofed off a lot in class, yet it was Arthur who ultimately succeeded because of his love for basketball. I don’t want to spoil the outcomes of either boy, but I think it’s safe to say that their passion for the game took them much further than other kids in the same situation would have. We talk a lot about ‘realistic’ goals in school because we want them to choose something they can work for and see progress in. But there is something to having a crazy dream, also, and for these boys, at least, it is what kept them going.

Final review: 5/5 A must see for anyone who loves documentaries.

Up next: Paths of Glory