Tag Archives: documentary

Monroe Mash-Up; ‘Love, Marilyn’ (2012).

18 Oct

Love, Marilyn posterThere are three types of people in this world: those engaged in eternal mourning for the untimely death of film icon Marilyn Monroe, naysayers who deem her an overrated ‘bowl of hot nothing’ and the mediators who lack an opinion either way. Your enjoyment of Love, Marilyn will rest heavily on whichever bracket you fall into, as well as your tolerance for idolatry.

A documentary about the rise and fall of the ‘50s movie star, Love, Marilyn celebrates the recent discovery of Monroe’s handwritten memoirs. Directed by Liz Garbus and featuring a cavalcade of stars, from Uma Thurman to Paul Giamatti by way of Viola Davis and Elizabeth Banks, Love, Marilyn is essentially a 107-minute lecture on the greatness of the eponymous sex symbol. Don’t think she’s that great? Well, this movie exists to change your mind.

Chock-a-bloc as it is with intriguing tidbits of information, Love, Marilyn proves to be an educational experience for those less steeped in Monroe lore. But owners of countless Marilyn books or furious bloggers who tirelessly defend her will presumably already know everything this movie has to offer. Newfound documents only confirm suspicions that she was more than just a pretty face – there’s no grand revelation or shocking declaration to be found in Love, Marilyn.

What one can expect is a flurry of famous faces reciting lines from Monroe’s personal writings, often adding their own dramatic spin. It works on occasion – Banks, Davis and co. pour buckets of soul into their performances, proving themselves to be Monroe devotees – but asking these talented actors to read a chicken recipe Monroe prepared for Joe DiMaggio, among other random trivialities, is a mistake. It does a disservice to all those involved, living or dead.

By far the most engaging aspect of this film is the gleaned insight into Monroe’s relationships. Having met renowned playwright Arthur Miller at a party following the publication of his Death of a Salesman, the internal workings of their eventual marriage and how they impacted one another creatively, prove to be highlights. Archival interview footage with Miller and Monroe’s former co-star friends feels jarringly real in the face of the sporadically loopy acting dotted throughout.

Swap the comma for an exclamation mark, stick it at the end and you’ve got an infinitely more accurate title for Love, Marilyn – it clobbers you over the head with its unfaltering schmaltz and unwavering reverence. Die-hard Monroe fans will be pleased, and those lacking an opinion on the starlet could indeed be swayed in her favour. Her detractors, however, won’t be budged.

Simon says: ‘LOVE MARILYN!’ would be a far more honest moniker for this love-letter.

[Written for GCN]


Pint-Sized Culture; ‘The Irish Pub’ (2013).

4 Oct

The word ‘alcohol’ is virtually synonymous with ‘Ireland’, and such stereotyping acts as a double-edged sword in some respects. On the one hand, the assumption that the Emerald Isle is a nation of drunks, alcoholics and general tipplers is not a particularly wholesome international image to peddle. On the other, it does wonders for the tourism industry, and without this international cultural perception, cinematic gems like The Irish Pub would be viewed by next to nobody.

A documentary concerned with, would you believe, the Irish pub, The Irish Pub focuses specifically on the the smaller, three generations of family-run types you’d usually find in old rural towns. The film features public houses from Mayo to Cork, Dublin to Donegal and everywhere in between, and cuts between interviews with the bar staff and their customers. The cast features a whole host of publicans, their aged clientèle, and whoever’s holding the camera. It’s directed by solicitor-turned-filmmaker Alex Fegan, who deserves congratulations for whatever epiphany he had to leave behind that particular profession.

Yes, as a documentary this is an informative movie. Various little tidbits of information are thrown around, from the astounding ages of the pubs as well as a plethora of amusing anecdotes. Did you know, for example, that a young Winston Churchill would roll marbles along the clay floors of Blackhorse Avenue’s ‘Hole in the Wall’? Fascinating factoids abound in this film, but they merely scaffold the conflicting yet effectively blended cocktail of melancholy and ever-so-slightly hopeful pessimism that runs throughout.

Publicans acknowledge that their trade is in decline, due to a combination of a downward-spiralling economy and a greater number of people choosing to drink at home instead. In addition to both their (generally) elder years and those of their similarly matured clientèle, they present a tangibly bleak outlook for their craft. That said, many describe the 80’s as a far worse period of decline, and the whole bunch collectively overcame that decade-long hurdle. A resurgence in cultural tradition nudges the negative clouds away somewhat, and according to them, the future is bright.

This counterbalance of wonder with woe is supplemented by some fabulous displays of wit. In delivering, the assorted staff prove that years of babbling from behind the bar honed their skills as storytellers; much like the film itself, the actual interviewees range in tone from articulate shoe-gazing  to light-hearted wisecracking ; one particular barman from Cavan incites roars of laughter from the engaged audience.

A beautiful clarinet score underpins the whole movie, which at a mere 76 minutes long won’t eat up much of your time. The Irish Pub is one of those films that says a lot with relatively few words. Knowing full-well that its cast and their surroundings carry the film with ease, Fegan made an excellent decision to stand back let them do the talking. Go see it, and definitely head out for jars afterwards.

Simon says: this movie made me really happy. That never happens.

‘Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God’ (2013) – a tempting ad for atheism.

11 Mar

Mea Maxima Culpa posterChild sexual assault. The rape of minors. Paedophilia.  THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN. Why am I repeating this horrifying practice? Because by virtue of it being such a detestable, deplorable act it remains resolutely taboo and a sore topic of conversation for many, especially if the perpetrators belong to the beloved Catholic church. However, films such as Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God are working to dismantle the silence surrounding these crimes against humanity by casting a not so divine light over what has hitherto been shushed and kept under the golden rugs of the Vatican.

Lawrence Murphy was a Catholic priest serving at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A servant to his own paedophiliac urges rather than his holy order, the trusted and supposed ‘moral guide’ molested, raped and sexually assaulted scores of young deaf boys at a Catholic school for the deaf throughout the sixties. Directed by Alex Gibney (Client 9, Taxi to the Dark Side), several survivors of the abuse lay their heartfelt testimonies bare to the camera, and their efforts to oust the deranged priest are outlined. Knotty inner-workings of the Vatican combine with the victims’ quest for justice, and the result is as riveting as it is heartbreaking.

A documentary is only as effective as its source material is reliable, and Mea Maxima Culpa (which translates as “through my most grievous fault”) beyond succeeds in this department. Newspaper articles, witness testimonies and stock footage abound, but where this film truly excels is at the sheer amount of relevant faces which show up. Aside from the survivors, everyone from lawyers to journalists,  disillusioned former clergymen to defenders of the faith and many more besides all make an appearance, and each one of them has an interesting point to make.

While any film dealing with such a sensitive topic could quite easily rely on pure emotion to hook the viewer in and whip them into a vitriol-fuelled church hating frenzy, what this film rather cleverly does is it withholds labelling. It does not overtly brand the church ‘despicable’, ‘shameful’, ‘borderline evil’ or any other equally deserving term; rather, it lets the viewer decide for themselves. This avoidance of hyperbole is tactful on two levels: one, the audience’s own reaction is more authentic in its outrage, and secondly it repels the notion of this being considered an ‘anti-Catholic’ movie. A more apt label would be a ‘pro-facts’ flick.

One of the victims, with a poster he made back in the day.

One of the victims, with a poster he made back in the day.

If any complaints are to be found with this movie, they surely stem from merely aesthetic grounds; distributors HBO Films are clearly an influence, as several moments feel very “Discovery Channel” in their presentation. Some have complained about the film lacking focus, that it meanders through abuse scandals in Dublin, Boston and Rome, and in turn loses sight of its original Milwaukee beginnings. However, I would argue that Gibney uses the early Wisconsin location as a springboard from which to bounce on to similar cases worldwide. The cover-ups are global, and as such this is a transcontinental issue.

Devastatingly poignant, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is a damning condemnation of the Catholic church, and specifically the authorities within the Vatican, regarding their refusal to bring blatant criminals to justice. How one could call themselves a supporter of the institution after watching this, I have no idea.

Simon says: the best documentary I’ve seen in ages. What are you waiting for, go see it!

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