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Ross Mcelwee (#110 of 3)

Far from Home Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

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Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

A question for the history of the graphic novel: Will anyone ever write a cartoon equivalent of Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or For Whom the Bell Tolls? Will there ever be a cartoonist who in his or her real life does a bunch of dangerous and exciting stuff, such as work on a whaling ship, pilot a river boat, or fight in a war, and who then sublimates those experiences via the imagination into a work of fiction that’s vivid and dense and spiritually substantial? More specifically, will there ever be a cartoonist who can combine with his or her comics all that you get in Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin (the audacity, the action, the energetic globetrotting) with all that you get in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (the disappointment, the ambiguity, the baroque psychology)?

Guy Delisle’s new Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a nonfictional graphic novel about being far away from home in an occasionally dangerous and precarious and confusing place. It’s about living for a year in Israel while trying to be a husband, a father, and an itinerant cartoonist. Insofar as it’s a memoir, Jerusalem is low-key and humorous, and brings to mind Ross McElwee’s documentary Sherman’s March. Insofar as it’s a travelogue, Jerusalem is inquisitive and observant, and brings to mind another doc: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. As a whole, the book is both enjoyable and instructive; it makes you chuckle and grin, and it makes you feel like a more informed, concerned citizen of the world.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: Diaries: 1971-1976, Samsara, Reportero, Detropia, & More

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: <em>Diaries: 1971-1976</em>, <em>Samsara</em>, <em>Reportero</em>, <em>Detropia</em>, & More
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: <em>Diaries: 1971-1976</em>, <em>Samsara</em>, <em>Reportero</em>, <em>Detropia</em>, & More

Ed Pincus was one of the founders of the MIT Film Section, a training ground for future documentary filmmakers like Ross McElwee. Pincus produced a body of work that straddles the line between the purported objectivity of Direct Cinema, a movement he helped pioneer with early works like the Black Natchez, and the more self-reflecting style known as personal documentary. As its name suggests, Diaries: 1971-1976 belongs in the latter category, an intimate epic that examines the inextricable Gordian knot of personal and political commitment by turning the camera eye on friends and family. Bookended by intimations of mortality, the deaths of a relative and close friend, Diaries spends most of its three-hour-plus run time charting the shifting sexual climate of the 1970s, delving into experiments in lifestyle choices ranging from nudism to open marriage. Frequent exchanges between Pincus and wife Jane, a member of the feminist collective responsible for the manifesto Our Bodies, Ourselves, consider the consequences of their decisions not only on their own relationship, but also on their two young children. Diaries also records, albeit in a distanced, Brechtian fashion, the last gasps of anti-war protest and the disintegration of the counterculture, at least the Cambridge variety. For a stretch late in the film, Diaries achieves a gritty kind of New Hollywood vibe as Pincus and a fellow filmmaker range around the desert Southwest, the documentary equivalent of Easy Rider. As a time capsule, Diaries is invaluable, but Pincus’s decision to work against narrative cohesion by cutting away from conversations at key moments, and otherwise hashing up individual segments, renders the film chaotic and disjointed, sapping it of the cumulative impact found in documentaries like Allan King’s A Married Couple, let alone the massive slab of social experimentation then going on over at PBS called An American Family.

Cinema, Dead and Alive: An Interview with Godfrey Cheshire, Part Two

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Cinema, Dead and Alive: An Interview with Godfrey Cheshire, Part Two
Cinema, Dead and Alive: An Interview with Godfrey Cheshire, Part Two

The following is the second half of a two-part interview with Godfrey Cheshire [below] by House Next Door contributor Jeremiah Kipp. Part one focused on Cheshire’s influential two-part New York Press article “The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema”, and explored how Cheshire’s predictions had or had not come true. This installment focuses on nonfiction film, the hazards of independent distribution, and Cheshire’s own filmmaking debut, a documentary titled Moving Midway.

JK: Do you think that the Death of Film, and the major changes in the world, have been an impetus for documentaries to gain the level of attention and prominence that they have? The death of film leads to the emergence of video, and the proliferation of video has allowed a lot more documentaries to be made.

GC: The technology of low-budget filmmaking through video has allowed more people to make documentaries. It has made the whole food chain of documentary production, exhibition and distribution much more cost effective and easier for people in terms of making the films and getting viewer access to them. That has definitely stimulated things. Also, documentaries allow people to engage with what’s happening with the world, as I said before. Documentaries in many cases aren’t being produced by TV networks, which are doing the same sort of thing but very much under the corporate mandate. People understand that. You’re able to presume that what’s represented will be an independent viewpoint. In most cases, it’s a liberal or progressive viewpoint, but the key thing is that it is individual. A lot of that is in reaction to how corporate the media has become, especially television media, because whether or not Edward R. Murrow was the great hero that George Clooney would like us to believe, there was a greater chance for a strong individual point-of-view in the [news and nonfiction programs] of decades past. The corporate mandate has soured people on recent TV, and they distrust the coverage of such things as the War in Iraq [seen in such theatrical documentaries as Occupation Dreamland]. TV has tried to make up some lost ground with its Hurricane Katrina coverage, which has been the answer to Iraq. Michael Moore or Barbara Kopple or any individual documentary maker and can go out with relatively little money, make something, and get it in front of people that is heretical to any corporate party line. This is why movies are going to retain a certain cultural importance for a long time to come—specifically because of this.

But the rise of documentaries is related to the decline of European auteurs, and the failure of significant American auteurs to arise from and remain in the independent world in very significant numbers. If you look at the whole Sundance phenomenon, there was such promise there, but while you’ve got a few interesting directors coming up, most of them just go on to the majors or whatever. In the past, people would go to the independent theaters and art theaters for foreign films, and specifically the great tradition of European films. That has dried up.