You’ve seen her winking down from ads for MAC Cosmetics and smiling back from the pages of the New York Times Sunday Style section, her eyes sparkling behind glasses that make Coke bottles look dainty. “Who is she?” you might have asked while watching Bill Cunningham New York, enamored by the tacky-chic pattern mixing and affable, no-nonsense presence of the self-described “geriatric starlet.” Iris Apfel seems to have come out of nowhere over the past decade, stepping out of her rarified Upper West Side coterie to reach a wider – yet still fashionable – audience. With IRIS, the late documentarian Albert Maysles pulls back the curtain to reveal the life and experiences of this nonagenarian iconoclast.
Author: Chelsea Spear
It’s one of the most evocative cold opens in recorded history. “Good evening everyone,” a voice intones. “You’re at Boston’s most intense underground dwelling, a lurid den of vice and l’amour…” The den of iniquity to which our unnamed tour guide is introducing us is The Rat, which over a thirty-year period played host to some of the most beloved, infamous, and/or unfortunately forgotten bands. Even after its demolition in the early oughts, punk fans spoke of it in mournful whispers, but it has only been eulogized in fragmented form. LET’S GO TO THE RAT (2013), a new documentary by Andy Szava-Kovats, seeks to set the record straight about the fallen venue.
In punk’s earliest days, critics picked at the genre for its narrow aesthetic – short songs with fast tempos, apocalyptic lyrics, and buzzsawing guitar solos, performed by skinny dudes in black jeans. A close listen to some of the most seminal punk records, however, would reveal its magpie sensibility. The most interesting punk bands feathered their songs with shiny elements of established genres like reggae, psychedelia, rockabilly, opera, Burundi drumming, and musique concrete. URGH! A MUSIC WAR, a concert feature shot at a period when the first generation of punk was evolving past its loud fast roots, offers audiences morsels of the punk sound as it developed.
In his unfinished final novel The Love of the Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “there are no second acts in American lives.” Tellingly, Fitzgerald died fifteen years before Harry Dean Stanton first stepped in front of a film camera. While Stanton maintained a respectable profile as a journeyman actor, erstwhile balladeer, and wingman to every Hollywood bad boy of the Easy Riders Raging Bulls era, his career got a surprise boost in an array of films throughout the ‘80s.
In a 2010 profile for the Boston Globe, Janice Page described Diane Lane as “the closest thing we have today to Grace Kelly, with a chaser of Pat Benatar.” This parallel between the distinguished Oscar nominee and the tough-yet-vulnerable arena rock siren might seem out of left field, until you consider Lane’s surprising rock and roll cred. In her third onscreen appearance, Lane earned an infinite amount of punk points with her portrayal of Corinne “Third Degree” Burns, the lead singer of the title band in LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS.
Hard to believe, but true: STOP MAKING SENSE turned thirty earlier this year. The Talking Heads’ sole departure into concert films seems ageless in the appeal of its music and its engaging live show. Contemporary bands cite it as a musical and visual influence on their own work, and few other concert films have captured its potency or brought its subjects to a wider audience with the same skill.
In the early aughts, the music released by Of Montreal glowed like bright pink fluorescent paint under a blacklight. Their wildly melodic music, with its dense arrangements and anti-personal lyrics, contrasted with the cathartic, personal albums released during indie rock’s singer/songwriter boom years. Likewise, their concerts seemed like be-ins for our post-millennial times. The band’s sprawling lineup plays an eclectic style of music, drawing from pre-rock pop formats and more au courant styles, and the members frequently dress in unusual costumes and incorporate sketches and dance numbers into their sets.
Before he even stepped in front of a camera, David Bowie carried the mantle of a matinee idol. His cubist bone structure, the well-coiffed locks and wide-legged trousers of his early years recalled Katharine Hepburn. The camera loved his feline grace and sulky hauteur. One of his earliest onscreen appearances, ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS, could double as a screen test, both for its shoddy film quality and for the versatility of his talents and personae.
Quick! Name an animator who started his career at Disney under the tutelage of the legendary Nine Old Men, created iconic characters like Mr. Magoo and Maypo pitchman Marky Maypo, and worked with such animation hotbeds as UPA, National Film Board of Canada, and Children’s Television Workshop. Give up? This illustrious resume can only belong to John Hubley, one of the most underrated pioneers of American animation. 2014 marks Hubley’s centenary year, as good a reason as any to delve into his back catalog.
Michael Almereyda’s 1994 feature NADJA is renowned among cineastes and photographers for its cinematography – and rightly so. Though the lush photography, with its velvety true blacks and flickering gray-scale, casts a hypnotic spell, a few sequences shot on something with less definition than the 35mm Ilford stock Almeyreda favored provided an eerie dissimilarity with the rest of the film. These scenes share the high contrast of the scenes shot on film, but the blurry, out-of-focus images, with their blocky pixilation, trailing images, tracking lines, and other video artifacts, put us squarely in the titular vampire’s perspective.