Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Johan van der Keuken and James Blue

Johan van der Keuken's 1960 short "city symphony" film, Paris at Dawn (Paris à l'aube), was co-directed by James Blue. A lovely series of composed shots, set to a jazz score, presents an idealized Paris. Birds, smoke, water, cars, and buildings, seen through the eyes of a professional photographer (as van den Keuken was) hold a certain mood, reminiscent of Eugene Atget's photographs of Paris streets. Paris at Dawn's only "story" concerns the figure of a fedora-and-trenchcoated walker who occasionally strides across the frame from left to right. He turns to face the camera at the end of the film (above).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stefan Nadelman

The short film Terminal Bar (2003) is a love song to black and white photography. Director Stefan Nadelman's father, Sheldon Nadelman, took beautiful pictures of customers, crooks and winos when he was a bartender at the Terminal from 1972 to 1982. (The bar was at Eighth Avenue and 41st Street, near the Port Authority Bus Terminal; the New York Times building is there now.) Sheldon Nadelman's photographs match the visual mood of Frederick Wiseman's Welfare (1975) which was also shot during the pre-yuppie, New-York-in-decay era.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Amir Bar-Lev

The Tillman Story (2010), by Amir Bar-Lev, tells the story of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who died in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The film portrays Tillman, a professional football player who volunteered for military service, as a strong, complicated, and deep-thinking individual, and the facts about his death hit hard. Two witnesses to the events of that April 22, Russell Baer and Bryan O'Neal, (above) are particularly important to the documentary. Their words provide a balance to the official account given to the Tillman family and infuriatingly retold at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings (third still). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and retired generals Richard Myers, John Abizaid, and Bryan Douglas Brown present a thoroughly unconvincing set of lies to Representative Henry Waxman and other members of the committee (third still). Tillman's family (and the film's audience, by now completely on their side) mutely observe the sad and disquieting congressional inquiry.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Johan van der Keuken

Johan van der Keuken's beautiful 1964 short about a school for the blind in Amsterdam, Blind Kind (Blind Child), has an unusual structure: the first seven minutes of the 25 minute film avoids picturing the blind students. Instead, we hear voice-over observations by several boys who talk about the experience of being blind; a sparse set of images complements their common sense and humor. Later, the hands of the students are shown as they read Braille and examine classroom objects. After this extended introduction, the camera is devoted to following individual blind students walking, running (second still), and maneuvering around tricky terrain (third still) and a busy sidewalk (fourth still). The sounds of traffic and urban life grow more pronounced and insistent as the film concludes.
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Documentary Starts Here by Nancy Kalow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.