Playing Catch-Up (Must Have Been the All-Star Break)

It's turning out to be a splendid year for documentaries. I have several that I want to pull your coat to, most notably James Marshall's Project Nim, a splendid and, dare I say it, nimble return to the '70s for the director of Man on Wire; Errol Morris's Tabloid, a smart and funny film that makes me uneasy, much as his early work did; and a few films on which I have written at greater length in Jewish Week, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, by Joseph Dorman, and two extraordinary works opening shortly at Film Forum that draws startling links between the history of European arts and letters and the Shoah, The Woman With Five Elephants and Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow. I've been a bit more casual -- if one can put it that way -- about recent fiction films. (Gee, I guess I missed Green Lantern, among others.) Of course, I'm just a slave to my beat, so I have seen Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish and Sarah's Key, both of which have some virtues to recommend them.

I'll return to the Marshall and Morris films in a day or so to discuss them both at greater length, but I also want to draw your attention briefly to an amusing film-on-film documentary. American Grindhouse, a giddy but not disrespectful film by Elijah Drenner, traces the history of the exploitation film from the 'state's rights' theater chains of the '30s and '40s to the drive-ins of the '50s and the midtown/downtown fleapits of my film-going adolescence. Drenner pays homage to some of the expected folks -- Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, Herschel Gordon Lewis all get their fair share of attention -- but also lets us hear from some nearly forgotten figures from Blaxploitation and skinflick heavens. The film, which played briefly in theaters in NYC, is now available on DVD from Kino/Lorber with a heaping helping of extras, including more interviews and outtakes, some of them apparently never screened before, and a bumper crop of trailers. I have to admit that I'm a sucker for documentaries about filmmaking and, although I don't think it is likely to turn up on my year-end ballot, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.


manthy said…
As a follower of documentary films - I will agree that this is a great year for them.
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