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Tabloid

Director: Errol Morris
Cast: Joyce McKinney, Jackson Shaw, Peter Tory, Kent Gavin

(Sundance Selects; 2011)

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Tabloid


“Dogs and children love me, they love Joyce McKinney,” says Joyce McKinney, “Because they sense in me an innocence, you know, they sense in me a gentleness. And they don’t read tabloid papers. On first look, Errol Morris’ documentary appears to tell McKinney’s story, drawing from the story reported by British tabloids in 1977. A former beauty queen, she became the center of a scandal when she flew from Los Angeles to London, England, in pursuit of her ex-boyfriend, a Mormon named Kirk Anderson. It’s a key point for Tabloid, that individuals involved with the press—as objects or producers or consumers—don’t always “know.” They don’t know what they’re “giving,” they don’t anticipate consequences, they don’t know if what they’re reading or seeing is even close to a truth. Tabloids are only the most extreme versions of this tenuous relationship between experiences, of storytelling and use, of truth-seeking and exploitation. As the documentary illustrates pieces of multiple stories with film clips or animation, headlines and photos, it doesn’t so much present a truth as it questions all of them. By the time Joyce McKinney is again the object of tabloid photographers, holding cloned puppies in South Korea, the circle of celebrity seems both reinforced and imploded. Cynthia Fuchs


 

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Project Nim

Director: James Marsh
Cast: Herbert Terrace, Stephanie LaFarge, Jenny Lee, Laura-Ann Petitto, Joyce Butler, Bill Tynan, Renee Falitz, Bob Ingersoll, James Mahoney

(Roadside Attractions and HBO Documentary Films; 2011)

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Project Nim


“Wouldn’t it be exciting to communicate with a chimp and learn what it was thinking?” The question posed by Professor Herb Terrace of Columbia University is an enduring one. It’s echoed in the suggestion (above) made by filmmaker James Marsh, who interviews Terrace in his documentary Project Nim, that you might see signs of “Nim’s state of mind” in images. The difference between their approaches indicates their circumstances: the first is born of “scientific research” circa 1973, the other an artist’s reflection four decades later. But it also points to a broader cultural shift, a changing sense of responsibility, by humans, for others—others of various sorts.


Exposing this shift is the broad project of Project Nim. Not unlike Marsh’s Man on Wire, the new documentary uses an extraordinary story—before, Philippe Petit’s walk across a cable between the Twin Towers, now, the attempt to teach Nim sign language—to reveal other stories, about human ambition and failure, insight and arrogance, regret and ignorance. The film works around words in ways that films can, as images alternately support, contradict, and complicate what people say. Even as individuals articulate their desires to care for Nim or convey their relations with him, it also provides images of Nim himself, in still photos, contact sheets, Super-8 footage, and even magazine spreads. These images invite your own efforts to understand, to believe what you see, to translate what you can. They also remind you that your capacity is limited. Cynthia Fuchs


 

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Attack the Block

Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost

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Attack the Block


Joe Cornish’s debut film is a fast-paced combination of action and horror that never lets up and never stops being fun. The premise is a simple twist on ‘80s monster movies like Critters and Gremlins where it’s up to kids to save the town from nasty creatures. This time, though, the aliens land near a downtrodden 30-story South London apartment building. And our heroes are a gang of thuggish teens who open the movie by attempting to mug a young woman. It’s a difficult way to start a film, but Cornish pulls off the trick of making us like these kids despite the cold opening. It helps that the alien creatures are vicious and relentless and that the action sequences are expertly staged, full of tension and humor. The thick, difficult to parse South London accents make Attack the Block seem more foreign than most British films, but this is a ride worth taking all the same. Chris Conaton


 

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Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

Director: Jon Foy
Cast: Justin Duerr, Steve Weinik, Colin Smith

(Argot Pictures; 2011)

Review [2.Sep.2011]

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Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles


“The first time I noticed a Toynbee Tile on the street was on South Street.” It sounds so simple and innocuous, this “first time.” And yet it’s not. As Justin Duerr tells his story in the documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, spotting the tile initiates an investigation that will go on for years. And the imagery as he tells it—the close-up of his nearly painfully pale face, then the cuts to tiles, seeming to float even as they’re anchored in pavement—is hinting at why it goes on for years, an indication of Justin’s capacity for creative thinking and commitment and a particular kind of evolving comprehension. It’s a sign of what he will come to see, beyond the tile, and beyond the next step he imagines for himself, as well as the film’s own part in that imagining.


It’s also a sign of how smart and odd and provocative Resurrect Dead will be. If Jon Foy’s film begins with Justin’s discovery, it goes on to examine what’s at stake in discovery as an idea and a practice, what Justin and his fellow investigators working on the Toynbee Tile Mystery realize about themselves in this process. It’s also, more profoundly, a consideration of how the material world can intersect with imagined worlds, conjured from subjective experiences, collective perspectives, and efforts to define selves in relation to others. The film tells the stories of lives, but also looks at how those stories are produced and told, how they circulate and how they lead to other stories. It’s a remarkable movie, both for the questions it poses and the answers it never quite articulates. Cynthia Fuchs


 

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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Werner Herzog, Dominique Baffier, Jean Clottes

(IFC Films)

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Cave of Forgotten Dreams


A documentary about the oldest artwork in the world may make the newest film technology viable for independent cinema. Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams brings to life the Paleolithic treasures discovered in 1994 in Chauvet cave in southern France. Sealed off by a rockslide in the distant past, the cave has perfectly preserved a trove of bones, prints, and magnificent renderings of horses, bears, lions, rhinoceroses, and other animals painted and etched into the cave walls more than 30,000 years ago.


You can’t get more intimate than Chauvet cave (named for one of its discoverers, Jean-Marie Chauvet), where precious few visitors are even allowed inside each year, and Herzog had to limit his crew to three, use battery-powered cameras and low-heat lights, and film from a narrow catwalk that snakes through the cave to keep anyone from damaging the floor. The crew could only shoot part of the time with their professional rig; otherwise they had to make do with a smaller camera. Despite and because of such restrictions, Cave ranges widely. Scenes inside the cave that detail artifacts and show scientists at work alternate with footage shot in the surrounding landscape or in laboratories that features interviews with experts who discuss the significance of the finds and give mini-primers on various facets of Paleolithic culture. Michael Curtis Nelson


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