Documentaries and Delights

The Cinematheque offers unusual and interesting movies this weekend, which is, of course, its mission.

Frederick Wiseman

A documentary by Frederick Wiseman, At Berkeley, shows Thursday at 6:45 pm and Friday at 7:30 pm. Every year I teach a class on education reform at Case Western and show Wiseman’s brilliant 1968 doc High School to my students. Wiseman, now 83, sets his camera up and lets it roll, catching the quotidian doings of people and the institutions in which they operate: e.g., a state hospital for the insane, Titicut Follies (1967); Hospital  (1970); and Ballet (1995). Then, he edits down the footage ingeniously and lets the audience members draw their own conclusions about, in this case, the University of California at Berkeley—no Michael Moore proseletyzing here. Wiseman is brilliant, sardonic, and uncompromising. The down side is that, as in so many Wiseman films, the running time is long. 244 minutes long. There’s also a slightly higher admission price.

Niven, Cooper, Colbert

The Ernst Lubitsch films shown so far in the Cinematheque series have been delightful. Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (Saturday at 5:15 and Sunday at 8:35) promises more delights. With stars Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper and David Niven, and Billy Wilder as co-screenwriter, you can’t go wrong.

A third unique choice is another documentary, 1967’s Portrait of Jason. The biggest selling point for this film, in my book, is that director Ingmar Bergman called it the most extraordinary film he’d ever seen. That’s quite a testimonial. The Cinematheque flyer says the film. . .

“. . . was shot by indie giant Shirley Clarke in her Chelsea Hotel apartment during one marathon, 12-hour session that started at 9 pm on 12/2/66. Jason Holliday, a flamboyant, gay, 33-year-old African-American hustler and aspiring cabaret singer, recounts his tortured, troubled life for Clarke’s camera. He is drinking. Clarke continually goads Jason for more stories, more songs, more truth (was he making this stuff up?). Eventually his grandly theatrical façade shatters. This new restoration of Clarke’s cinéma vérité classic has a 100% ‘fresh’ rating on ‘Says more about race, class, and sexuality than just about any movie before or since.’ -Village Voice.

See it on Saturday at 9:25 pm or Sunday at 6:30 pm.

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2 Responses to Documentaries and Delights

  1. Kathy says:

    Thanks, Michael!

  2. Michael Whitely says:

    Love that: ‘quotidian doings’.

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