The great American lie
This week is a good one for documentaries, with several excellent non-fiction films on a wide variety of subjects newly available on request and / or on DVD. First up is Jennifer Siebel Newsom's The Great American Lie, which is open today on most major streaming platforms. The film examines the class inequality in the lives of five people: a school principal in an underfunded and forgotten district; a social justice advocate who fights for low wage women workers; a lawyer dedicated to criminal justice reform; a steel worker whose community has been decimated by layoffs and opioid addiction; and a conservative southern single mother who works to feed the poor. The five stories are expertly balanced and incorporated into dozens of interviews with prominent scholars, politicians and journalists. The end result is an impressively accurate, yet comprehensive look at where the American Dream went wrong for so many people and how it can potentially start going right. The greatness of Newsom's film lies in its immense empathy and breadth of perspectives, but it is also a brutally clear indictment of the abuses and abuses of the system – it is a film of anger as well as hope and pragmatic suggestions. The same goes for John Lewis: Good Trouble by Dawn Porter, a rousing homage to the late US representative and civil rights activist John Lewis, which will be released on DVD this week. Porter combines archival footage of Lewis from his youth with Martin Luther King Jr. with contemporary interviews and footage of the Congressman shortly before his death to create an intimate portrait as vivid and inspiring as Lewis himself.
A completely different – but at least just as inspiring for film fans – documentary will be released this week on Blu-ray in the form of Eli Roth's History of Horror. A seven-part love letter to the genre that originally aired on AMC. He does something that I would have thought impossible and serves as an accessible crash course for beginners that is very satisfying even for those of us who have spent far too many hours of our lives watching horror films. The films Roth (who acts as the host and executive producer) and the screenwriter and director Kurt Sayenga's cover are mostly well-known classics (Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.) but the insights and context The series interviewees are consistently fresh, funny, and contagious in their excitement – I defy anyone who loves horror movies for watching a specific episode of History of Horror without immediately seeing any of the films discussed. The selection of guests at Roth and Sayenga is impeccable and ranges from experienced horror writers and authors such as Stephen King, John Landis and Joe Dante to the new wave masters Jordan Peele, Karyn Kusama and Rob Zombie Messen. The result is pure gold for horror fans, and the Blu-ray contains over two hours of additional interviews and bonus material.
Another lovely documentary on DVD is Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni's Gordon Lightfoot: If you could read my mind, a surprisingly joyful portrait of an artist best characterized by the melancholy of his work. Through archived concert material and interviews with colleagues and admirers of Lightfoot, Kehoe and Tosoni Lightfoot convince as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the 1970s and as a key figure in Canadian music and pop culture. They also draw a clear line between Lightfoot's personal demons, from infidelity to alcoholism, and his strong memories of longing and regret. The film offers fascinating insights into the art and business of folk and rock music during the period when Lightfoot was producing its best material, and conveys with irresistible exuberance why Lightfoot's bittersweet songs struck such a chord and were so electrifying despite their downcast origins . The film's appeal for music lovers goes well beyond Lightfoot, too. Because his songs were so loved by other artists who covered them continuously, there are performances by Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Neil Young and Peter, Paul and Mary, among others. It is proof of Lightfoot's power on stage that even with all these lights, his image is the image that the viewer will remember after the film is over. It's also testament to the skillful storytelling of Kehoe and Tosoni and their ability to create a film that sheds light on the subject without depriving it of its enigmatic appeal.
My final recommendation for this week are documentaries directed by John Guillermin, the swinging 1968 Private Eye flick P.J. and the elegant Agatha Christie adaptation Death on the Nile (1978). Each film is a near-perfect example of its kind: P. J. as a kinetic, sexual and violent detective thriller in Harper form (with a charismatic George Peppard representing Paul Newman); Death on the Nile as a pretty all-star crime thriller that is supposed to take advantage of the success of Sidney Lumet's murder on the Orient Express a few years earlier. The flashy and deliciously cynical P.J. is hip and contemporary. Death on the Nile is a historical piece with classical compositions and sensible camera movements and cuts. when you consider that in the ten years between these two different films, Guillermin had a war epic (The Bridge at Remagen), a western (El Condor), two great disaster films (The Towering Inferno and Skyjacked), a Shaft sequel and a real director In a good King Kong movie, it becomes clear that he was one of the most versatile and underrated directors of his day. P.J. and Death on the Nile are both new to Blu-ray (as far as I know, P.J. has never been released in any format for home videos) via Kino Lorber special editions with great additional features. The outstanding inserts on both CDs are enthusiastic, informative audio narratives by filmmakers and historians Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell about P. J. and Berger, Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson about Death on the Nile. These guys know their Guillermin and they understand the traditions he has served in and their comments are essential, as are the trio's comments on two other Agatha Christie films that are new to Blu-ray, The Mirror Crack & # 39 ; d and Evil Under the Sun. . If you are a fan of Knives Out and want to know where Rian Johnson got some of his inspiration and techniques from, these are all highly recommended.
Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.