Documentaries at the Cinematheque

I was intrigued by the little pictures in the Cleveland Cinematheque film schedule and so went to see a trio of documentaries last night. Yes, I sat through 3 movies at the Cinematheque. I’m surprised that one has to pay at all for the last film if you’ve managed to endure the first 2. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Cinematheque, it’s not the most comfortable place to see a film. We’re talking wooden theater seating. Not a lot of chance to fall asleep there. Anyway, the first film was Commune, a documentary on the Black Bear commune in Northern California. It was actually the picture for this film that piqued my interest. Footage dates back to the early, heady days when a group of friends decided to flip the bird to modern civilization and head for ze hillz in search of a new way, self sufficient and communing with nature. This is a great dream and ambition for a lot of people. Escaping the grind, dropping out and living off the land. Knut Hamsun’s Nobel Prize winning novel, Growth of the Soil tells a similar story of one man leaving the towns to live in a wild no-mans land. He ends up taming the land, farming it and once everything is going well the folks from the city decide to get involved and mess everything up. You just can’t win! (which coincidentally is the title of another fine book by Jack Black [not the actor, of course]). These commune situations I’ve heard of all seem to meet the same fate. They really are like micro civilizations that rise and fall over night. In the case of Black Bear, the commune grew quickly and the many of the folks realized after awhile they weren’t really down with the free love vibe after all. Most of the people interviewed from the ’70’s were safely back in modern society. One of the leaders of the group was now dying of cancer, he had a great line, he said, “The doctor told me I was dying. And I realized, I wish somebody had told me that a long time ago.” The second movie of the evening was American Cannibal, a documentary of a pair of struggling TV writers. In some ways this films comments on how ridiculous the reality TV show industry has gotten. The writing team discovers that the TV execs don’t want sit coms, they want reality. So the 2 start brainstorming some ideas and as a goof come up with the idea for American Cannibal, a Survivor-ish show where the possibility of cannibalism is ever present. In a sort of absurdist spirit the 2 start hocking their bizarre reality TV ideas and catch the attention of the Paris Hilton video pornographer, Kevin Blatt (who was at the Cleveland premier along with the filmmakers, Perry Grebin and Michael Nigro). Blatt greenlights Cannibal and the ill-fated shoot begins. After what appears to be a few days the reality show grinds to a halt. One of the contestants passes out from low blood sugar, the host George Gray (I know him from the TV show, What’s With That House?) has to leave the show because SAG is on strike, then the weather gets bad…ultimately they all have to pack their bags and leave. And they never got enough footage for a pilot, so the project is canned. I was reading somewhere else that some people think the film was not really a documentary at all but a mock-umentary. I can easily see this being the case. I would like to think that the filmmakers were not lying or being intentionally deceptive, but then again I could have been duped. And maybe that was the point of the film. To see if we’d buy it. And with the filmmakers there answering questions they may have been hoping someone would have the balls to ask the question, was this whole thing staged? The last film of the evening was Darkon, a documentary of a group of individuals who are part of a live action role playing, Dungeons & Dragons type organization that puts a new spin on the term “weekend warrior”. These folks dress in Medieval garb, replete with their own crests, padded weaponry and armor. At first you want to scoff, but the dedication and skill these folks possess is admirable. Perhaps misplaced, but admirable nonetheless. The film tries to make the point that roleplaying has been a kind of therapy or character building experience for these folks whose lives otherwise are boring and monotonous. This idea appears effective in various degrees depending on the individual. I have to say, I liked the way this film was framed. The 2 main characters are juxtaposed and actually have a battle, the winner turns out to be the guy who’s been most successful in life outside of Darkon. The 2 films framing the night were my faves. They explored escapism fantasies, the idea of losing the identities we typically live with in search of something more, something adventurous, a new way of looking at life and our interactions that defied normalcy. I have to give the participants credit for that and a part of me wishes I had the courage to make such a separation from the modern world. I guess it’s never too late to drop out and stick it to the man!

Leave a Reply