Friday, January 16, 2015

Not For Artists Only ~ Films About the Extraordinary

My Best Fiend by Werner Herzog. German film director Werner Herzog and the late international film star, Klaus Kinski, had a deep love-hate relationship with one another. As film artists, this fueled their work together and they will both be remembered primarily for their joint film efforts. Indeed, throughout the documentary made by Herzog, the one still alive, he seems to be lacking a part of himself when he is onscreen. He also seems to be as much trying to reclaim the best parts of himself as much as he is trying to come to final terms with his relationship with Kinski. Each man believed the other one was mad and a megalomaniac. Certainly neither man was like a "normal" person. In their film work together, it was all superb but also completely obsessed.

Every time Kinski's face comes onto the screen in the documentary, I remembered how beautiful or ugly he could make himself appear. His face is one artists everywhere would love to paint, draw, sculpt... whatever. That people were drawn to him and repelled by him off-camera, in equal measure, should really come as no surprise. That he could embody both characteristics within seconds of one another before the camera defined his brilliance as an actor. I think Kinski got the better end of the deal. He lived life exactly under his own terms for 56 years and then died, apparently of natural causes, totally spent. It was probably like a regular person's living to be 100! 

Herzog, however, was left to go on. At this time he was a bit rudderless but then he found a new direction and it was in the documentary or docudrama film mode as opposed to fictional films, his previous sole interest. He has done some terrific work in that genre. But I still miss Kinski. This was an absolutely fascinating film and I highly recommend it.

Dominick Dunne: After the Party was released shortly before Dominick Dunne died of cancer in the summer of 2009. Dunne goes over his private life and professional life in great detail. His greatest strength and weakness was that he was utterly beguiled by the rich and famous. He made his entire career out of them. He began as a film producer but bottomed out in that profession. In his his 50s, he reinvented himself as a novelist. I've read some of his books. They are fun but I don't think his novels will be long remembered. Where he really came into his own was with his own daughter's murder, which transformed him into a true crime writer. This was Dunne's true calling and I became a huge fan from that point until his death. He was unapologetic about being on the side of the victim's family, influenced by his daughter's murder. He is best known for his coverage of the O.J. murder trial but he covered every high profile rich and famous case for decades. The last case he covered was Phil Spector's. Dunne's accounts were run in VANITY FAIR monthly. The only time he was off the mark was with Gary Gondit. Dunne admits he was totally "had" by a source who told him some far out stories about Condit and Chandra levy's murder. Dunne repeated this info on air, a defamation lawsuit followed and Dunne ended up paying damages in settlement of the case to Condit.

Watch this documentary to experience him as a character and then read his true crime book compilations. He does a brilliant job of reporting these high profile murders. You can't put them down.

Dunne was also related to some high profile others in the arts. His late daughter Dominique was a rising actress. His son Griffin is an established actor and producer. His brother was the novelist John Gregory Dunne.

I originally saw  The Life & Times of Andy Warhol - Superstar at a film festival when it first came out. Warhol's work has grown on me over the decades so that by now, I really like all of his work. What this film solidifies for me is something I already suspected, that he was an absolute genius at making art that the public would buy. The film also makes clear Warhol's tendencies as a personality, chief among them being that he was a watcher of everything and everyone. That he was so in evidence on the New York social scene was probably so that he could feed this immense desire to watch and absorb what was out there in the city where everything happens first.

The documentary also touches on his relatives who were largely bypassed for his estate in favor of creating his own museum in his Pittsburg hometown. As an artist, I'm glad he made the museum possible. I hear it is wonderful. But I'm also glad I'm not related to him! Warhol was also a genius at delegating as much of the art process as he could, which was smart commercially and also gave him more time to watch. 

If you are an artist, you are not going to discover any art techniques here because it is not that kind of film. You will spend as little time in the studio itself as Warhol did! This is a fascinating account nonetheless of an American artist who managed to stay at the forefront of art his entire life. I'd recommend seeing it. 

Thelonious Monk - Straight No Chaser captures Monk as an artist probably better than any jazz musician has ever been captured on film. Although many identify Monk with bebop, I have always identified him with his musical compositions and enjoy listening to him best when it is just he playing the piano with no other accompaniment. 

His compositions remind me of Abstract Expressionist art and he was, of course, around during that vital time. This documentary lets you see all sides of his work and also glimpses of his personal life. Like most artists and musicians, it is pretty clear that he was not the ideal living companion. Typically, the biggest thing in his life was his music and nothing else even came close to that as a consideration.

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