Trailer: Tickled

We have talked about Dylan Reeves and David Farrier’s investigative documentary Tickled several times on this site. I caught it at Hot Docs and loved it. Magnolia have cut a very minor spoiler-ish trailer for the film that gets you to the mouth of the ‘tickling rabbit hole’ that the film takes you down. It’s not the best trailer in the world, but the film presents unique challenges in how to cut a trailer to get bums in seats without spoiling all the surprises. Watch at your own risk.

Tickled will be in theaters June 17, 2016.

DVD Review: Janis: Little Girl Blue

Director: Amy J. Berg
Starring: Cat Power, Janis Joplin, Karleen Bennett
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


Janis: Little Girl Blue is a documentary which looks at the life of powerhouse ’60’s blues singer Janis Joplin, who joined the infamous ’27 club’ when she succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse in October 1970. Being a huge fan of ’60’s music from an early age, particularly Janis’ brand of blues rock, I’ve long had a great admiration for her. She had a raw, bone-rattlingly powerful voice like no other that helped revolutionise the way we thought about female vocalists. So an offer to review Janis: Little Girl Blue was not one I was going to turn down.

Charting Janis’ life from her teenage years (after a brief run through her childhood) to her death, the film runs chronologically, using letters she wrote to her family over this time as a sort of framing device. Read out by the musician Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power), these add a strong sense of poignancy to her tale, which could otherwise have easily fallen into the simple ‘lived fast died young’ bracket. Right through to the end, the letters were sweet and sadly apologetic, displaying a vulnerability not evident in her wild, passionate musical performances.

As well as using these letters to give the film emotional weight, director Amy Berg sensibly avoids using talking heads from celebrity fans (other than a couple over the credits). Instead we only hear from those who actually knew Janis – her family, friends and band members. This helps keep the film from being a fluffy ass-kissing affair and keeps the film focussed on Janis as a person rather than a mythical music icon. A wealth of personal artefacts have been made available too, including a scrap book of notes and photos on top of plenty of archive film footage.

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Cinecast Episode 439 – Reality is Highly Overrated

And we’re back! After some jam packed scheduling issues, feverish festivals, sleep deprivation and in-town guests, The Cinecast rises once again. Kurt has a full report on a very successful HotDocs outing and the boys take a special amount of time on our friend, Jay Cheel’s film, How to Build a Time Machine. While Kurt stumbled through Toronto’s documentary scene, Andrew was able to catch up with a bunch of late release festival fare just now hitting theaters in his neck of the woods. These include Jeremy Saulnier’s
Green Room, Tom Hiddleston in the visually striking, High-Rise and one of Kurt’s favorite films of last year, the most excellent Louder than Bombs.

We’re nixing the Game of Thrones talk this season due to scheduling and logistic issues, but that just allows a little more talk about what’s on the “big screen”. Andrew talks Patrick Wilson driving a limo that nearly gets cut in half, the production problems in a female-driven western, Kevin Bacon’s mustache, a documentary on Chris Farley and his very first viewing of a Frank Sinatra film (which was excellent!).

It’s a tight show proving once again the boys can take a couple/three weeks off and have no problem jumping right back into the proverbial saddle. As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

We’re now available on Google Play!

 

 
 

 
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Hot Docs 2016 Review: Beware The Slenderman

Slenderman

If you have not heard of the Slenderman at this point, trust me that your kids have. He is a tall think man in a suit usually seen looming in the background of locations where children play or blending into a sparse forest of tall trees, that came about from unconscious desires of the internet to create its own digital folklore.

The opening minutes of Beware The Slenderman promise an experience along the lines of The Blair Witch Project meets Seven. It begs the question on whether HBO contractually mandates swanky opening titles on the various properties they develop for broadcast. The former mock-doc was made famous through savvy use of the internet in building its own mythology, and the latter was a cold thriller featuring sensationally violent murders as the mission statement of warped ideology of a mysterious John Doe.

The actual content of the documentary is far more interesting than what the credit sequence (or poster) pledges. Director Irene Taylor Brodsky goes deep into the specific case of two Wisconsin preteen girls who brutally stabbed one of their friends, nearly 20 times, and left her in the woods to die of her injuries. The victim, Peyton, (somehow) survived, and the perpetrators were were caught in short order. It is one of those stories you might have heard on the news in a couple years ago, registered the shock of it, that they did this due to belief in an internet meme, and then went on about your life. Documentaries like this one serve the place of an increasingly neutered long-form print journalism in that they allow a focused look at the context and consequences, well beyond national headlines.

Featuring extensive courtroom footage, candid interviews with the family members of the accused girls, and the online origins of the crowdsourced boogieman, Beware The Slenderman, plays like bizzaro world version of Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills, the superb West Memphis Three doc released by HBO in the 1990s (followed by two sequels). In that film, three teenage boys were convicted of committing gristly murders in Arkansas, and convicted mainly on the grounds that they listened to Metallica and read books by Aleister Crowley (coupled with unreasonable coercion by the police to confess.) The questionable idea that heavy metal music and satanic books could induce impressionable teens to murder was taken seriously to the point of putting blinders on due process.

Here in 2014, via videotaped interrogations which provide the through-line for the film, Morgan and Anissa, separated, both freely admit that their belief of an internet meme made them do it. One of the key, but unspoken messages of Beware The Slenderman is that even in a case where pop culture actually did made the girls do it, the legal system is still utterly broken when it comes to youth. Deeply disturbing to a bleeding-heart-Canadian such as myself, was fact that neither of the accused 12 year olds could have any body contact with their parents during the trial period (now in its second year) and were tried by adults by a tough-on-crime Wisconsin court. No hugs. Morgan’s mother has theories, but no answers because she has been prevented from speaking to daughter since the arrest. The girls were not given phone calls. Both fathers spend much of their on-screen interviews in tears. One gives an impassioned, but pragmatic, monologue on technology, parenting, and the punishing stress of trying to move forward with any sense of normalcy.

We have no idea what kinds of lives our children live inside their heads, and increasingly, the internet allows to magnify and participate the collective imagination, in ways that the brothers Grimm (or Metallica) could never have comprehended. Morgan’s mother thinks back to the time where her daughter had no empathic reaction to the mother die while watching Bambi. It is a powerful anecdote, but one wonders if this experiment were conducted formally on hundreds of children, if Morgan’s reaction is more common than we intuit. Perhaps from a lack of media comprehension or simply the universal built-in-narcissism of those who are so very young.

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10 to see at Hot Docs 2016

Hot-Docs-Featured-1900x560-1461346192

It’s that time of year where Documania runs wild in Toronto for the city’s second highest profile festival, one I myself have come to prefer every year. The selections for Hot Docs 2016 are stacked and wonderfully curated. If you pick a bad one, it’s probably on you. While the selections below are reviewed based on screeners, I highly encourage who can to get out and see these in the cinema. It’s so rare to see a documentary with a packed crowd, and the Q&A’s that happen during Hot Docs are so much more special than the ones you see at TIFF by nature of centering around real stories and real characters rather than the cloud of celebrity. You never know what to expect.

MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE
(dir: John Dower, 100 minutes)
Tickets

After a decade of videos from Wise Beard Men, numerous expose books, countless articles, and most recently, the dense info dump of Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, you’d think we’d had enough Scientology documentaries. And maybe so. But along comes John Dowler and well known UK presenter Louis Theroux to pull an Act of Killing by hiring actors, who with the help of former Scientologist Marty Rathburn, recreate bizarre and violent events from David Miscavige and others that he had witnessed during his decades as a high ranking church official. MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE is far less concerned with the usual informative points of interest regarding Xenu and obsession with celebrities than it is fascinated with the justifications in behavior made by past and present members of their secretive organization. What results is a lot of cameras directed at other cameras, paranoia, intimidation, and cheeky provocation. This documentary is in no way a great starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, but for those of us who thought we’d seen and heard everything, this fresh angle is for you.



TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU
(dir: Joe Berlinger, 115 minutes)
Tickets

Speaking of cults, Tony Robbins and his self-help seminars have themselves often been thought of as such, and similarly have been behind closed doors as well as very expensive. From Joe Berlinger of PARADISE LOST / METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER fame comes this unprecedented look at Robbins’ Date With Destiny series, and if there’s a twist to be found, it’s that Tony Robbins comes out of this looking really really good, to the extent that some have accused I AM NOT YOUR GURU of being an informercial. While the film generally takes Robbins at his word and some subtle touches (fonts, establishing shots) might give off a brochure esthetic, these criticisms fall on deaf ears when Berlinger lets the confrontations take center stage, where attendees are pushed to their emotional breaking points by the charismatic, foul-mouthed, no-bullshit-taking Robbins. Robbins operates as a Gordon Ramsay for your life, and Berlinger’s concert film/cinema verite approach allows the viewer to walk away deciding for themselves if this is a good thing. Robbins is appearing at Hot Docs which makes this an especially hot ticket, but you can catch this when it comes to Netflix on July 15th.



LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD
(dir: Werner Herzog, 98 minutes)
Tickets

I have to wonder if I could have accepted a film like this from anyone other than Werner Herzog. LO AND BEHOLD is a meandering series of anecdotes about the wired age that almost feels like a proof of concept for a Cosmos-type TV series. Which is to say, it’s entertaining and Herzog’s trademark calm, collected nature makes it feel like a stream of consciousness. From the unbreakable box that represents the invention of the Internet to the solar flares that will destroy us all to all of the harassment in between, Herzog’s fascinations and questions make this a very personal look at the increasingly impersonal. A favorite segment finds Werner visiting with those suffering from the very real EHS that fans of Better Call Saul will recognize, literally having gone off the grid, paying a personal price for our need to Google the name of that one guy who was in that thing. Admittedly, LO AND BEHOLD does feel like it could end at any moment, and there is an opportunity for a stronger final thought that isn’t there, but 98 minutes with Herzog is always worth your time.



CREDIT FOR MURDER
(dir: Vladi Antonevicz, 87 minutes)
Tickets

If there is one documentary I have been pushing people to see, it is this film from Israeli director Vladi Antonevicz, a jaw-dropping, cinematic undercover procedural adventure which finds him posing as a white supremacist in Russia to solve the horrific murder of two immigrant men which had been posted to Youtube and ultimately became an infamous viral video. CREDIT FOR MURDER draws you in with the sordid allure of your first convincing conspiracy video and never lets up. The intricate detective work, superb presentation of event timelines, and mind-boggling admissions from far right nationalists are astounding. These Neo-Nazi antagonists fear nothing and if anything are trying to impress the viewer with how hateful they are. They are too trusting of the man with the camera, and too secure that there will be no reckoning for their actions, which makes for great viewing. This is provocative, detailed, vital documentary filmmaking and will almost certainly be in my year end top 10.



TICKLED
(dir: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, 92 minutes)
Tickets

The less said about TICKLED is to your benefit, and the filmmakers would prefer it stay that way. All you need to know is that co-director and journalist David Farrier found a video online for something called “competitive endurance tickling”. Huh. Considering that we have pillow fight and ax throwing leagues, it was not absurd to want to make a short quirky news story about this oddball sport. But it became clear very quickly that the people behind this “sport” did not appreciate the publicity, opening the door to an investigation that keeps paying off sinister revelations and mysterious puppeteers. TICKLED easily surpasses Catfish in the WTF is With People department, and will keep you guessing.



THE SLIPPERS
(dir: Morgan White, 90 minutes)
Tickets

Just a bit over a year ago I finally laid eyes on THE REP, Morgan White’s excellent documentary about the rise and fall of the beloved and sadly out-of-business Toronto Underground Cinema. I went into this follow-up unsure if a focus tracing the cultural impact of a single piece of film memorabilia could sustain a feature length, and was more than pleasantly surprised to see that not only will THE SLIPPERS satisfy film lovers let alone Ozheads, but that White has significantly leveled up in his craftmanship in a short period. This is a slick, professional piece of work that indicates a passion for the subject matter that rivals that of his wealthy subjects. The story of the titular ruby slippers keeps going into unexpected places – conspiracy theories, capers, failed dreams, and deep envy. The lively talking heads, including a healthy dose of Debbie Reynolds, collectively reveal the rise of memorabilia collecting and how these props take on iconic and symbolic significance that transcend their original context into objects of inspiration, achievement, and how sad it can be to watch what happens when they fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t appreciate them.



HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE
(dir: Jay Cheel, 82 minutes)
Tickets

Like THE SLIPPERS, Jay Cheel’s first documentary feature since 2011’s terrific, hilarious BEAUTY DAY dials back the lunacy into a more contemplative but equally compelling place through two obsessed men and an iconic piece of film memorabilia – the HG Wells time machine. Animator Rob Niosi has been replicating the prop for years in extreme nitpicking detail. Rob Mallett became a theoretical physicist for tragic reasons. Cheel’s Errol Morris influences shine through even more so than his previous effort as he ties both stories together via the power of cinema as it’s own time machine, and milking emotion out of hobbies and fields of studies often thought of as cold and impersonal practices. If any film has convincingly proven that the journey is as important as the destination, it’s this one.



SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR
(dir: Deborah S. Esquenazi, 89 minutes)
Tickets

The wave of interest in true crime stories laced with a dose of injustice is still in full swing, and another to add to your list is this film, which like PARADISE LOST before it, comes out of the last gasp of the Satanic Panic, and led to four Texan women subject to a homophobia-driven, literal witch hunt. This film, faced with the problem of not much footage from the time of the trial, forgoes suspense for an emotionally charged story about the exoneration process 15 years later, the difficult reintegration process, solidarity in clearing their name as one, and the regret and trauma of someone who had been manipulated into a false confession as an act of revenge.



HOLY HELL
(dir: Will Allen, 105 minutes)
Tickets

*ANOTHER* cult documentary? Actually, HOLY HELL might be *THE* cult documentary. Director Will Allen spent 20 years within the Buddhafield, a hippie-ish cult, where he served as the official documentarian and too-close friend of Michel, a guru clad mostly in speedos, obsessed with his own appearance to levels that would make Liberace blush, and of course – dangerously drunk on power, spiritually and emotionally abusive. Michel is as creeptastic as they come, always staring through you, looking like a melted Martin Short even as he holds himself up as a paragon of beauty through the bizarre films and awful 80s-tastic music videos Will Allen created to glorify his master. This is an escape film, a revenge film, an ode to lost friends, and it has the most satisfying ending sequence(s) of anything I’ve seen from this year’s festival. And it may be coming to a theater near you sooner than later.



MAGICIANS: LIFE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE
(dir: Marcie Hume, Christoph Baaden, 85 minutes)
Tickets

Of all things, MAGICIANS reminds of the Jerry Seinfeld COMEDIAN documentary, as well as the pro wrestling documentary BEYOND THE MAT. In all cases these are entertainers who face a stigma around their chosen profession, a struggle to attain a certain level of skill, and an even greater struggle to stand out among the field. And then there’s the unique hits to relationships, jealousy and finances that almost all performers face. Hume and Baaden’s film follows four extremely talented magicians in different stages of their careers, from a Tonight Show regular to a master of cards to the flashy Vegas showman who has to worry about bigger names stealing his act right when he’s finally on the edge of his big break. There’s something wonderful about watching people who are so very good at one specific thing weave their (wait for it) magic. Not being told how they do it just adds that extra level of intrigue, and finding out why these wonderful weirdos do it more than makes up for it.

Blu-Ray Review: Man With a Movie Camera (and other works by Dziga Vertov)

Man With a Movie Camera, the silent Soviet documentary from director Dziga Vertov, has an incredible reputation. Not only did the prestigious British publication Sight and Sound proclaim it the greatest documentary ever made in a poll of filmmakers and critics, but in the last of their once-a-decade polls to select the out and out greatest films of all time, it appeared at number 8. I’ve seen it before and have it on DVD, but when Eureka announced it as the latest addition to their Masters of Cinema series on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD, packaged with four other films by Vertov, I felt it was time to revisit it.

The films included with the set alongside Man With a Movie Camera are Kino-Eye (1924), Kino-Pravda #21 (1925), Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass (1931) and Three Songs About Lenin (1934). Below are my thoughts on the individual films.

Man With a Movie Camera

Director: Dziga Vertov
Screenplay: Dziga Vertov
Starring: Mikhail Kaufman
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 68 min
Year: 1929


I actually watched the films in the set in chronological order, but thought I’d start my review by looking at the tentpole title. After busily producing at least 45 short and feature length documentaries from 1918 (according to the IMDB), Vertov’s final silent film, Man With a Movie Camera, took many of the techniques and ideas he’d been developing for over ten years and put them into a boldly experimental look at a ‘day-in-the-life’ of four cities in the Soviet Union. Also looking at the role of the camera at the time, the film is a showcase of cinematic techniques as well as a celebration of city life.

Well, I imagine some of you are thinking, ‘an experimental silent Soviet documentary from the 20’s? No thanks, I’ll stick with the latest Marvel release. I’ll maybe whack it on if I fancy a nap on the sofa’. I can appreciate this opinion. On paper, Man With a Movie Camera sounds incredibly dull. However, it’s one of the most thrilling films you’ll ever see. Vertov pulls out all the stops to bombard us with a multitude of camera and post-production tricks, from super-imposing a man setting up a camera on top of a seemingly huge second camera in the film’s opening shot, to the wildly fast-cutting crescendo of visuals that draws it all to a close. Most of the effects haven’t dated much either. Yes, the superimposition is obvious compared to modern standards, but it’s not that bad and effects such as some slow motion footage of sportsmen are as smooth as any modern techniques. There’s even some stop motion animation used to great effect.

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Blu-Ray Review: Grey Gardens

Director: David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
Starring: Edith Bouvier Beale, Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale, Brooks Hyers, Jerry Torre
Country: USA
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 12


Well, I’m gleefully happy to be able to say this and I never thought I’d see the day (particularly now that physical media is struggling to stay relevant), but the world renowned home entertainment distributors The Criterion Collection are going to be releasing titles in the UK. The first wave is upon us this April and I have been offered the initial releases up for review. The eclectic titles to become available over the next couple of weeks are Grey Gardens (1975), Macbeth (1971), It Happened One Night (1934), Speedy (1928), Tootsie (1982) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Now I was very tempted to review every single one of them, but family and other review commitments forced me to take just one, so I went for the highly acclaimed Maysles brothers documentary Grey Gardens, as it’s a classic title I’ve never seen and I do love a good documentary, as regular readers will know.

Anyway, enough gushing over the exciting news and on to the film at hand.

Grey Gardens is a ‘fly on the wall’ look at the lives of mother and daughter Big and Little Edie Beale, two former members of high society and cousins of Jackie Onassis, who at the time of filming were living in relative poverty in the remains of their derelict mansion in East Hampton, New York. We observe their empty lives as they shuffle around, endlessly bickering and reminiscing about the days when they had wealth and their lives showed promise.

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Blu-Ray Review: Culloden & The War Game

Peter Watkins is a British filmmaker that revolutionised the docudrama format in the 60’s when he wrote and directed two feature length BBC TV films, Culloden (a.k.a. The Battle of Culloden) and The War Game. The BFI have packaged these two films together and released them on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD. Below are my thoughts on each individual title and the features included in the set.

Culloden (a.k.a. The Battle of Culloden)

Director: Peter Watkins
Screenplay: Peter Watkins
Starring: Tony Cosgrove, Olivier Espitalier-Noel, Don Fairservice
Country: UK
Running Time: 69 min
Year: 1964
BBFC Certificate: 15


Through making Culloden, the then young Peter Watkins quickly became known as the golden boy of the BBC, even before the film was screened, as the first cut was so well received by his peers. With Culloden, he took a radical new approach to the historical documentary. Dramatically reconstructing the past was nothing new, but he did so whilst keeping the shooting style and presentation in line with modern documentary techniques. He took a subject from the distant past (the 1745 battle of Culloden, the last battle fought on British soil and last attempt to overthrow the king) and made it look as though TV cameras and documentary crew were there on the scene to capture it.

This approach gives a feeling of authenticity to the content, which is important as Watkins’ film seeks to crush the myth that the Great Britain we now know was forged on freedom and honour through glorious battle. Instead we are shown the stupidity and cowardice of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, whose incompetence and poor choice of military advisor dealt a decisive victory to his enemy, the loyalists. After the shambolic massacre of the battle, we then witness the systematic murdering, raping and pillaging of the king’s dissenters, as the loyalist troops tear their way back to England through the Highlands.

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DVD Review: The Fear of 13

Director: David Sington
Starring: Sammy Silverwatch, Nick Yarris
Country: UK
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


I got into the Serial podcast late in the game, just before the second season came out in December last year, so I’m a new addict to the true crime boom that has been spreading with that and some recent hit TV series. Because of this, my ears perked up when I was sent a press release for The Fear of 13 as it featured a quote from Empire magazine, stating it was “guaranteed to reel in those recently obsessed with Serial and HBO’s The Jinx”. Added to the fact that I’m a huge documentary fan in general, The Fear of 13 sounded to be the perfect fix I needed after Serial, particularly as I don’t have access to Netflix or Sky to watch anything like The Jinx or Making a Murderer.

Well, The Fear of 13 ended up being quite a different kettle of fish to Serial, but in no way did it disappoint.

The Fear of 13 opens with a statement saying that; ‘after more than 20 years on death row, convicted murderer Nick Yarris made a final petition to the Pennsylvania courts. He requested that all appeals cease and his sentence of death be carried out. He agreed to be interviewed about the decision. His story has been independently verified.’ After this text appears on screen, the rest of the film consists solely of Yarris telling his own story to the camera. And what a story.

I don’t want to say too much as the power and joy of this film is hearing this tale play out, so apologies if this review ends up being a little short. All I can say is that it’s utterly captivating. I literally found my jaw agape towards the end and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen. Listening to just one man talk for an hour and a half sounds tedious, but I can’t think of a more gripping film I’ve seen in recent years.

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Review: Unbranded

Director: Phillip Baribeau
Starring: Ben Masters, Jonny Fitzsimons, Thomas Glover, Ben Thamer
Country: USA
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


As regular readers (if I have any) will know, I’ve been developing a great love of Westerns over the last few years. I’m interested in everything cowboy related at the moment and being a big documentary fan too I was chomping at the bit (pun intended) when I heard Dogwoof were releasing Unbranded, a film that looked to combine those interests.

OK, so it isn’t about cowboys as such and doesn’t examine the traditional ‘Wild West’ period, but Phillip Baribeau’s documentary certainly has the spirit of the American frontier embedded in its soul.

Unbranded charts the expedition of four young men (led by Ben Masters) who set out to prove the worth of American wild horses (a.k.a. mustangs) by taking thirteen of them on a long and treacherous journey from Mexico to Canada. Covering a whopping 3,000 miles, their path takes them over rugged and perilous terrain, testing the abilities of and relationships between the men and their animals.

The film also looks at the issues caused by the mustang population in the US. The free-roaming horses and burros of the United States are managed and protected by the government, but, partly because of their protection, their numbers are growing rapidly and they are damaging the environment around them. This has caused a passionate debate from different sides of the argument as to what should be done. The film presents these in amongst the trials and tribulations of Masters and his team.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Decline of Western Civilisation Collection

The Decline of Western Civilization Collection sees three cult music documentaries directed by Penelope Spheeris (known largely for Wayne’s World these days) finally get a UK DVD and Blu-Ray release. I must admit, when I was offered the set to review I went for it largely on a whim. I had a vague recollection of the title being mentioned somewhere and the writeup made it sound interesting. I’m very glad I did take up the offer though as I was treated to an exceptionally good trilogy of films. In this age of blockbuster sagas being churned out by the dozen, it’s refreshing to see a set of documentaries show us how a film series should really be done.

The Decline of Western Civilization

Director: Penelope Spheeris
Screenplay: Penelope Spheeris
Starring: Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, X, Fear, Circle Jerks
Country: USA
Running Time: 100 min
Year: 1981
BBFC Certification: 18


The first of Spheeris’ documentaries, The Decline of Western Civilization, saw her explore the burgeoning hardcore punk scene of her native L.A. around 1979-80. Speaking to a number of bands such as Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks, Fear and The Germs as well as some of their fans, she gets to the heart of the lifestyle as well as the music. Speaking of which, a number of live performances run throughout proceedings, acting as an anchor to the interviews.

Spheeris adopts a ‘warts and all’ approach, throwing the viewer in without a safety net. After a brief introduction we jump straight into the mosh pit (or whatever it was called in that era). The aggressive, sweaty atmosphere is captured perfectly and it’s easy to get caught up in the energy of the performances. I’m not a huge fan of punk rock, but the film sells it very well. Yes it looks violent and dirty and the music is loud and offensive, but through the kineticism of the action on screen and some occasional subtitles revealing otherwise hidden depth to the lyrics, you can really appreciate why these people are so dedicated to the genre.

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