Ever since the very first stage play was developed thousands of years ago in the faraway land of Timbuk 2, storytellers have depending on one thing: a story itself. To this day, that simple rule remains in effect — especially in the film industry. But, with all of those pompous Writers Guild of America members being far too lazy to come up with any ideas of their own — thus remaking every decades-old (or older) tale that has ever been printed to paper or relayed in one form or another — some of today’s filmmakers have opted to tell stories of a different kind: that of someone else’s.
In the last couple of months, several million biopics or documentaries about famous (and relatively unknown) folks — both living and dead — have surfaced on the shelves of the video store wasteland. And here, for your unadulterated reading misfortune, are some of the best ones to grace us thus far.
· William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (2010) (Oscilloscope)
The Short Version: Well, he may be dead, but he’s still a hot topic!
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Although he was no more than a wee lad when William S. Burroughs (The Naked Lunch) left our world in 1997 at the age of 83, Yony Lesyer grew up to develop quite the fondness and fascination of the celebrated (not to mention notorious) author. Here, for his first feature, Lesyer has put together a documentary featuring never-before-seen footage as well as exclusive interviews with several of Burroughs’ friends and associates (Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop, John Waters, Patti Smith, Jello Biafra, David Cronenberg, et al). Although the late author’s experiences and writings have since escalated him to “icon,” this feature focuses instead on Burroughs himself, rather than on the Beatnik generation he so inadvertently pioneered.
· I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (2009) (Oscilloscope)
The Short Version: Al Pacino’s greatest co-star ever finally gets his own starring role — 32 years after his death.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: An extremely promising actor, John Cazale only co-starred in five feature films (all of which were nominated for Academy Awards) before succumbing to lung cancer in 1978. And, while many moving picture historians ask, “Who could ever forget the man who played Fredo Corleone in the first two Godfather films, Sal in Dog Day Afternoon and Stan in The Deer Hunter?” Sadly, the answer to their question is “A lot, actually.” And so, filmmaker Richard Shepard made I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale — an intimate look at the style of one of the industry’s most-forgotten and unquestionably underrated actors. The feature contains many heart-to-heart conversations with celebrities such as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Steve Buscemi, Francis Ford Coppola, Gene Hackman, Sidney Lumet, Meryl Streep and more.