For this edition of “Catching Up at the Video Store,” I have dived deep into the more “serious” pool of filmmaking. You know, biographies, documentaries: the kind of stuff we normally turn away from for fear of being enlightened and/or educated (as my liberal colleagues in everyday life would say), or, as my conservative friends would be likely to call it, brainwashed by some hippie agenda. But, no matter which side of the political fence you happen to live on — be it the “bring on the tears like Sally Struthers in a ‘Feed the Children’ commercial” left or the “let’s just nuke the sons of bitches and have done with” right, there’s no denying that a few of these items might just touch your soft spots. No, not down there — a little higher up, you perv. Of course, our first entry in “From Hairstylists to Hippies, Musicians to 9/11” isn’t likely to touch you in either place.
· Vidal Sassoon: The Movie (2010) (Phase 4 Films)
I couldn’t agree with you more. My initial reaction to seeing this title, too, was a heartfelt “WTF?” as well. That said, though, writer/director Craig Teper has put together a strangely-fascinating (well, providing you‘re into that sort of thing to being with), award-winning intimate look at the world-famous hairstylist Vidal Sassoon — without gassing us out of the room with all of those stinky hair products in the process. Sassoon himself discusses both his career and life, boasting more charm than a leprechaun’s bracelet in the process. Phase 4 Films sweetens the pot with several special features, including an audio commentary (again, for those of you whom this title appeals to; though it may strike a positive chord with “normal” moviegoers as well), deleted scenes, a featurette and more. Definitely no washing of brains to be found here; though there are a number of manes that get sluiced.
· If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011) (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
And now we move onto the aforementioned “hippies” of the article. Documentarian Marshall Curry (Racing Dreams, Street Fight), takes a look at the radical group known as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), who gained notoriety for vandalizing several industries in the late ‘90s for being what they deemed “environmentally negligent.” But, instead of taking a look at the events of the organization as a whole, Curry and his filmmaking partner, Sam Cullman, focus on one Daniel McGovern, who the FBI arrested in 2005 for being a part of the Earth Liberation Front and labeled as a “terrorist.” If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front dives into the mind of Mr. McGovern, splicing in stomach-churning footage of day-to-day operations of ELF-targeted businesses with equally-nauseating recordings of what happens when protests turn ugly.
· Compassion in Emptiness (2010) (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
There are two sides to every coin. We have the not-so-peaceful kind of “hippies” like the ELF, who don’t mind getting their hands a little dirty to prove a point — and then there’s the Dalai Lama, who does his very best to teach the world how to be decent folk. Sadly, only a few people listen to what the Dalai Lama says and follow through with his teachings. One such person is actor Richard Gere, whose Gere Foundation — in collaboration with the Tibet Center — have produced this four-disc set. Compassion in Emptiness presents nearly fourteen hours worth of public teachings and discussions by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama during a visit to New York City, as recorded in May of 2010. Gere himself also appears over the course of this set, just in case you’re looking for some sort of “star power” to warrant viewing it (although if you are, I think you greatly missed the point).
· The Wayman Tisdale Story (2011) (Rendezvous Records)
There are few individuals out there that have been both professional basketball players and smooth jazz bass guitarists. Wayman Tisdale succeeded in making an impression on hardcore sports nuts and, later, easy music aficionados around the United States (and beyond) before being diagnosed with bone cancer in 2007. Even after having part of his right leg amputated the following year, Tisdale’s devotion to his family and music career was undaunting, and he continued on until passing away unexpectedly in May 2009. Truly a role model for the human spirit in general, The Wayman Tisdale Story is an inspirational documentary about the late Gold Medal Olympian. Rendezvous Records bring us a standard DVD edition of the feature as well as a CD/DVD issue featuring thirteen toe-tappin’ tunes — one of which (“Slam Dunk”) was previously unreleased, and another as performed by Toby Keith.
· Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour (2011) (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
More musicians? Yes, indeed! This time, though, we take a look at the politically-oriented and highly provocative sights, sounds and tastes of the feminist electro-punk three-piece riot grrrl group, Le Tigre (I would have included “smells” in there, too, but somebody would have no doubt taken it the wrong way). This documentary — produced by the members of the girl group itself (again: members + radical girl groups = poor choice of words) — follows the trio across the globe during their 2004-05 international tour. With controversial topics as the rampant homophobia and gender biasness in America (and elsewhere) Le Tigre’s own Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman, and JD Samson tackle several of society’s greatest insensitivities with mucho gusto, and this DVD not only takes us behind-the-scenes, but delivers a video commentary, several exclusive live performances, outtakes, and more.
· Rebirth (2010) (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Unless you only recently emerged from a decade-plus-long absence from anything even remotely resembling a society, you’re aware of what happened in New York City on September 11, 2001 (I would have said “Unless you’ve been living in a cave,” but, considering the circumstances…). Director Jim Whitaker spent the better part of ten years interviewing and all-but stalking five witnesses (and, in some cases, survivors) of 9/11, returning each year to document how their lives have evolved. Whitaker’s cinematographer on this project, Thomas Lappin, had set up fourteen time-lapse cameras around Ground Zero and has been recording images of the site ever since, and Whitaker blends in with the progressive narratives of his five interviewees. In addition to the main feature and bonus audio commentary by the filmmakers, the two-disc set brings us the feature-length time-lapse edit as well.
Happy viewing, kids.