Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Hot Docs -- Reviews (April 27-28, 2012)

  Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet

Beware of Mr. Baker [Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Friday April 27, 6:15 pm]

Within the annals of rock n' roll history, Mr. Ginger Baker may not be quite as well known as others but director Jay Bulger successfully makes a case with his documentary why Mr. Baker should be more highly regarded. To some he's most well-known as the drummer in the influential yet short-lived British hard rock group Cream and is highly regarded as the inventor of rock n' roll drumming. The documentary is a funny, insightful look at a man who seems all piss and vinegar and has led his life the way he's wanted to live it (even if it meant alienating friends and family), in more recent years dealing with money and health issues. But as the documentary illustrates through interviews with family, band mates and other musicians as well as through a wealth of fantastic video footage and photographs, Mr. Baker has travelled a unique musical path without ever having planned it through the 60's right up to present day that firmly establishes his contribution to popular music.

Black Block [TIFF Bell Lightbox, Friday April 27, 9:45 pm]

With the horror of the G20 protests of 2010 in Toronto still fresh in memory, I was tempted to check out Black Black which focuses on the protests and even more horrific police brutality of the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy in 2001. Interspersing raw video footage with present-day interviews with a group of the protesters, director Carlo A. Bachschmidt has created a well-meaning although ultimately flawed documentary. Focusing primarily on individual interviews with each protester, each gives detailed accounts of police brutality that they'd experienced, the culmination of which was the police raid at the Diaz School which protesters had used as a crash pad during the Summit. It's the traumatizing experiences and ultimately the healing and motivations for each to continue to stand up for their individual beliefs in their present lives (even if they're no longer on the front lines) which is the main point of the documentary. It's unfortunate that most of the docmentary's 76 minutes was devoted to the protesters individually talking into the camera about their traumatizing experiences with little insight given to anything else.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet [Isabel Bader Theatre, Saturday April 28, 4:30 pm]

Jason Becker's story is a sad but ultimately inspiring one. As a young boy, Jason's introduction to the guitar, a Christmas gift given to him by his father was, initially a failed effort due to Jason's boredom. But Jason would overcome that and would eventually gain a true love and talent for the instrument. It's Jason's prodigious talent and hard work that gets him his foot in the music industry even before he graduates high school. The culmination is when Jason lands a gig with David Lee Roth's band in the early 90's which at the time was the most sought after gig for any heavy metal / hard rock guitarist. Jason was able to record an album with Roth but before embarking on a tour, Jason was tragically diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Director Jesse Vile has accumulated a wealth of video footage and photographs and combined with interviews with family and friends tells a revealing story of a would-have-been rock star who through the support of mostly his family as well as his own determination and perseverance has continued to beat the odds of his disease, stay healthy enough and perhaps most important to himself, make music. The closet metal fan in me highly recommends this.

Los Angeles Plays Itself [Innis Town Hall, Saturday April 28, 7:00 pm]

Directed by Thom Anderson his 2003 effort Los Angeles plays itself is not so much a documentary as what he's described as a video essay. With the dry delivery of its narrator (not Anderson), the socio-cultural commentary is spoken against the back drop of a steady stream of Hollywood film clips dating back to Hollywood's earliest years with most recent clips being from films around 1999. Like an essay, Anderson breaks up the film in chapters, displaying titles such as "Los Angeles as subject". Like the city it discusses, at 169 minutes it is sprawling in length, interesting on many occasions but also a bit too academic in its thoughts at times. It really did feel like something I should be watching as part of a university course. The man criticism I overheard from other audience members was the film's length but on a related-note it also cut in to the start times of all the other films starting between 9 and 10 pm that night. Shucks.

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