For Reel

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008)
April 26, 2017, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Frank H. Woodward
3 Stars
Lovecraft - Fear of the UnknownIn Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, a handful of well known genre storytellers are tasked with defending Lovecraft’s work and giving a brief account of his life. At its best, the documentary academically tracks the progression of Lovecraft’s writing from his earlier, Dunsany-inspired pieces to his radically unique later efforts. In considering the man, however, there are some unfortunate gaps. The interviewees are open in discussing Lovecraft’s neuroses, however more of a specific delving into his mental health might have been fruitful (with how prolific of a letter writer he was, the documentary could have explored these accounts more thoroughly). As regards his xenophobia, there are a few interesting arguments that in no way dismiss how deplorable it is, but do suggest that the way that theme develops in his writing is slightly more complicated than one imagines at first glance (that is, the foreigners in Lovecraft’s work are always the most enlightened—while this promotes the fact that their “otherness” is intermingled with evils, it nonetheless affords them a position of power and responsibility). The documentary won’t teach a viewer much more than a casual glance at his Wikipedia entry would, but something must be said for intelligent, creative people espousing on the merits of one of their chosen favorites.

Code Name Melville (2008)
December 14, 2015, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Olivier Bohler
3 Stars
Code Name MelvilleCode Name Melville begins with director Jean-Pierre Melville’s admission that he thought of the years in which he served with the French Resistance during World War II as the best of his life. Despite the horrors, Melville speaks of the unusual camaraderie between soldiers–a sort of companionship that could only be bred from such brutal situations. It’s a haunting way to begin this brief portrait of the great director, and perhaps an in for a psychoanalytic critique of the way his films tend to involve male companionships that are both strengthened and destroyed by a sense of duty. The documentary discusses the influence that Melville had on other directors in great detail, and particularly how his envisioning of gangsters was uniquely old-fashioned–his characters had more in common with the types of gangsters from old Hollywood films than what one would expect of a French criminal. Very little footage is used from the actual films (which would have been useful in validating the film’s points), and the documentary largely relies on a small, repetitive assortment of interviews. The material regarding Melville’s time with the Resistance is fascinating, but largely the film is a relatively informative, albeit limiting assessment of his work.

Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood (2008)

Director: Steven Smith
3.5 Stars
Thou Shalt Not - Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code HollywoodThe early years of Hollywood talkies have a tremendously modern appeal for their comparatively free spirit. Reflecting on the pre-Code era, one admires what was as much as, “what could have been?”–that is, what would the film industry have looked like if an age of censorship didn’t begin to limit what filmmakers could and could not show? Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood is a serviceable overview of those magical years before the strict enforcement of the code in 1934, highlighting key moments and films that defined Hollywood in the early-1930s. Produced by Warner Brothers, there’s an obvious favoritism to their pictures, but it makes no claim at being exhaustive. One of the strong suits is the way that the film addresses the wealth of significant female roles in the period, with a particular focus on important films like Female and The Divorcee (Camille Paglia entertainingly reflects on how her impression of Norma Shearer was completely shifted having seen her early-30s pictures). Viewers interested in women’s roles of the period should also look into TCM’s documentary companion to Mick LaSalle’s compelling study Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood.