Saturday Night Live has constantly been graced as the place where comedy is found and grown upon. You either live or die on that stage, but the writing has to carry you through. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead wants to show you where the first generation of SNL came from and where they started. While the National Lampoon magazine was the source of what may be considered as the most taboo mainstream magazine to have ever been made, director Douglas Tirola carries the viewer on a journey of where National Lampoon started, and right where it died; no more, no less.
If you were alive in 2013 (and if you’re reading this then you definitely were) and have any fleeting interest in film, you may have heard of a little film called The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer’s masterpiece stormed over the film scene with its intense look at the ignored genocide in Indonesia and the consequences of those actions, but from the eyes of the murderers. The film is incredibly haunting and filled with some of the most horrific descriptions of torture to ever be heard, and with such nonchalance to boot. Oppenheimer arrived this year with the follow-up, The Look of Silence, a film as horrifying and frightening as the first film, but in a more traditional sense.
When the first thing that pops up during a horror film is the line “Inspired by True Events” or “Based on a True Story”, the filmmakers are attempting to make reality be the reason you are frightened by the end of the movie. It’s cheap, but extremely effective, so long as the movie doesn’t rely solely on that tagline. Documentaries are in a unique position because they are purely non-fiction. The Nightmare is a documentary which recognizes the inherent terror of its premise, and amps it up with simulated events pulled from different subjects’ experiences.
Title: Video Games: The Movie
Director(s): Jeremy Snead
Release Year: 2014
I have played plenty of video games. I might even go so far as to say that I love video games. A bold claim, for sure, but not an uncommon one by any stretch of the imagination. Video games are huge, and constantly getting bigger and bigger, so the idea of a documentary that looks back on the history of the medium and examines the struggles that the medium has had since the days of Pong and the arcade cabinet, is both tantalizing and informative. There is a lot of information to be unearthed when it comes to what went wrong at certain times in the industry and how some companies fell to the sidelines simply because the industry was in a constant state of flux. Unfortunately, Video Games: The Movie is a celebration of gaming, with very little recognition of the struggles the industry has had to overcome and is still overcoming.
There was a moment when the most beloved of video game companies, Nintendo, was being discussed as the saviour of the gaming industry and developers and publishers talked about the influence Nintendo had on the industry as a whole, as well as their lives. That segment is exactly what is wrong with Video Games: The Movie. It never acknowledges the missteps of Nintendo, and even goes so far as to feature employees of Nintendo esteeming the company in both what it’s done in the past as well as the present. It is a moment that plays out as a very unappealing advertisement, where you can tell the filmmakers were not concerned with telling two sides of a story, but merely wanted to get more people into video games.
Title: A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness
Director(s): Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
Release Year: 2013
If you were to ask me what my favourite genre of music was, I would probably just say ‘metal’. And then go into detail of each sub-genre that I listen to frequently. So when I saw that there was a documentary which featured Robert A.A. Lowe of Lichens-fame as the protagonist, playing at VIFF this year, I was sold. For a long time, black metal has been associated with anarchy and satanism, due to artists like Burzum and Mayhem going around burning churches and killing people. However, lately, the scene has changed and with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Om, there has been a shift to trying to entwine spirituality within the music. A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness is the first film I have seen to display this new wave of black metal so vividly. It is not a perfect film, but for what it is trying to do, it serves its purpose with ease.
The film is comprised of three parts, with the final part representing the culmination of the first two acts. The problems that the film encounters primarily stem from the initial act, where we sit in on a 15-person collective in Estonia, as they live their lives among each other. The sense of community presented in this section is something which the film does to great effect, but in relation to the rest of the film, it creates the most problems. There is no main character provided before the switch to the second act. This is because the film tries to show as many characters as possible, and the one person who ends up being our protagonist, is the one who talks the least and who we barely understand except that he plays guitar. Other characters have more depth by the end of the first act than him, but we still wind up watching his journey. Of course, the man in question is Robert Lowe, who spends the next section of the film wandering through the woods, finding himself. This section isn’t necessarily exciting, but it is interesting in the context of A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness.
It will probably turn many off by having a black metal concert being the final act of the film, for many reasons, but for me, I was engaged by simply the melodies and the sense of community that the atmosphere gave off. Plus, it was a conclusion to the journey of Robert Lowe, even if the audience had no idea we were on the journey in the beginning. A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness fully captures the essence of a lot of United States black metal acts and demonstrates how spirituality and community can come together to form such a dissonant and ferocious sound. For fans of black metal and bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Altar of Plagues, there is plenty to appreciate here, and for others, while the music may not be pleasing to the ears for everyone, there is still an appreciation of the music that can be formed by watching Lowe’s journey.
Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Title: Room 237
Director(s): Rodney Ascher
Release Year: 2012
For years, people have been going through their favorite films and trying to understand the logic behind them. What makes this character tick? Does this plot twist fit in with the rest of the film? The culture of breaking down the myth in our favorite media has been around since we witnessed our first movie and listened to the song that we couldn’t get out of our head. Room 237 brings us the ultimate thesis statement of the obsessions that we grow for the movies that inspire or mystify us. From the guilt of having faked the footage of the moon landing to the idea that the film deals with the holocaust, various subtexts (with varying degrees of ridiculousness) are exposed by five individuals whom who do not see throughout the picture. All we are left to see are the visuals of Kubrick’s work and other re-enactments. This is what we are given as viewers with no predisposed ideas on the type of people whose opinions we are listening to. For a film that seems to focus on the little things, it’s interesting to notice that we don’t have much to think about aside from the film. The people we hear are never exposed to us and we listen to their voices and while we may want to see who they are as actual people, Ascher shows great responsibility in only bringing the footage from The Shining and having narration of the people. Photos of map layouts of the Overlook hotel are on display to suggest certain theories and little red circles to outline certain things from frames of the movie. Then again, this may just be the sign of a great yet uneven documentary.
Stanley Kubrick’s filmography has always been surrounded by mystery with his unmade epic based on Napoleon’s life and then with the other movies that he actually made (Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange, Spartacus) but audiences seemed to always be interested in his movies even during his arguably lesser works (Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon). Kubrick’s attention to detail has been astronomical and quite inspiring to other directors, most notably David Fincher who, taken from Kubrick’s film process, will film a scene almost 100 times just to get it right. Naturally the fanbase will be just as dedicated into finding the hidden layers of art within each and every frame or piece of artwork to the movies Kubrick put his blood, sweat and tears into.
Title: Side by Side
Director(s): Christopher Kenneally
Release Year: 2012
The ongoing debate between purists and critics of celluloid film about whether digital filming is the way of the future has been going on for several years now. If digital is the way of the future, where does that leave photo-chemical film? In Christopher Kenneally’s documentary, Side by Side, he outlines the basic debate between the two sides, and goes into an incredible amount of detail which covers everything from differences in exhibition, to how the cameras operate differently. Utilizing a plethora of interviews with directors, editors, and so on, the viewer gets opinions on the debate from those who have the most to gain (or lose) from going digital. It is one of the most robust documentaries that catalogs our fears and aspirations when it comes to the digital revolution.
Narrated by Keanu Reeves, with interviews done by him, Side by Side gets into the issues of digital and film without being completely one-sided, presenting both the complications and benefits of each side. However, the way the film is illustrated, it comes off more favored towards digital than film with only a handful of people that speak against digital by the end of the movie, but recognize it as an inevitability, from Greta Gerwig to Wally Pfister to Christopher Nolan (the most passionate of celluloid-defenders). The interviews with Nolan seem to be used more as a devil’s advocate against digital, being placed in there periodically, and then immediately followed by another director being a little more balanced about the issue. Issues like physical storage and endurance of film are where Nolan’s arguments shine, but most of the time, there’s a feeling like he is only there to be the one guy who sees no value in the digital process. The movie paints the image of a future where film and digital cannot exist together, with people like Nolan as the stragglers who stay behind and cling to the past.