Category Archives: documentary

Sport, Sport, Sport (Elem Klimov, 1970)

Sport, Sport, Sport is a semi-documentary by Elem Klimov dedicated to glorification of sport as a way of life, and as a profession. It is a mixture of several topics, – like potpourri, – with parts about sports history events with newsreel and testimonials from direct participants; fragmentary narrative about teenagers and other people committing to sport and talking about it; and also fictional parts – tales of the professional massage therapist uncle Volodya, who is a sort of like soviet baron Munchausen who’s really into sports.

I think, that last part is what spoils it all. Because, if you think about it, there is nothing wrong with accounts from history or filming the young generation of people captivated by what they are doing, – they may be a little boring, but they are clear in the core. Tales, on the other hand, seem so terribly fake, they started to annoy very soon, and by the middle of the film all I could think of was when will this finally be over? It’s obnoxious, and it ruins everything, like ten kilos of shit would ruin a whole barrel of jam.

In other words, this film is a radiant piece of propaganda, and even though it advocates a good thing – taking care of one’s body, that is, – lack of sincerity and unnatural, bright optimism not only spoil the movie as it is, it is also likely to have effect opposite to what was intended.

All in all, it was unpleasant, and feels like a waste of resources.

Names and figures

And Yet, I Believe… / I vsyo-taki ya veryu… (Mikhail Romm, Marlen Khutsiev, Elem Klimov, 1974)

I vsyo-taki ya veryu… is the last film by a famous soviet director Mikhail Romm, the one he didn’t get to finish by himself. It’s a documentary, specifically – canned news re-edited and reinterpreted in accordance with a certain vision. What he tried to do is to glance over the history of the XX century and come up with a conclusion – does the humanity stand a chance? You can guess what his answer to that question was by looking at the title.

Actually, the main idea was to tell the humanity something like: “We all know, you’ve done good things and bad things, and there are some of both kinds happening right now, but I know you can do better, humanity! I believe in you!” But the truth is, such appeal is bound to go without leaving a trace. I cannot imagine a single person who would become a better version of him- or herself after watching this, especially considering that there is quite a lot of bullshit in there.

The historical events are mostly presented in a biassed way, heavily influenced by communist propaganda; a lot of things are simply left out, which is sometimes benign (like not mentioning advances in medical science when describing the dawn of the century), but sometimes malicious (like not mentioning anything that happened in USSR at all, except for the fact of Lenin’s coup); later in the course of the film, its editors sank to the relatively current events in an attempt to not only prove that communism is the only rescue from the upcoming disaster, but also that soviet version of it is much better than the chinese. Of course, this film is far brighter than the usual agitprop, and I believe it was driven by a genuine desire to help all the people, but in the end, it’s all the same in nature, and you can’t trust something that is so untrue, even if it’s undoubtedly sincere.

I can still appriciate all the old reels, most of which I have never seen before, and masterful way they are all edited together, but in the context of free informational flow taking this work seriously would be ridiculous.

Names and figures

The Write Environment (m/s, 2008)

The Write Environment is a series of interviews with several well-known writers and TV show-runners, where they share details about their respective paths, industry insights, but mostly trivia connected to their most famous works. I only found these 6, although according to wiki, there are more of them.

Because of the format, the original order of episodes does not matter at all. This is how I watched them:

Damon Lindelof

Famous for: Lost
According to Lindelof, what makes a good writer is the ability to translate ideas into stories. Storytelling and scripwriting are the same thing. Writing can be taught. First comes the story (which is also the most important thing), and then a character, one that can create the deepest conflict. Script is always written from the outline; at that, outlines for Lost were very detailed – 25-30 pages sometimes, while an episode on the average is 55-60 pages. It is extremely important to leave “outs”, and not restrict oneself to choices already made. Never say never. “You always have to start with an archetype.” He compares writing for a TV show to ever-boiling stew, with new ingredients being added from time to time, and if some of them do not improve the overall taste, they won’t be added again. New characters are necessary. Comic strips are harder to write than TV scripts. Deadlines on TV are very real. He believes writing block appear where there’s a fear of writing shitty. He fights them by forcing through. He has an impostor syndrome in a light form. His advice: do not write for somebody, always write for youself, for you know your work better than anybody.


Doug Ellin

Famous for: Entourage
Doug Elling procrastinates a lot. Story goes first, but really it’s the combination of story and character. External pressure is important: during 4 years on the show he wrote more than during 18 previous years of free-riding. 4-5 pages a day is a good pace. What makes a good writer is the unique voice. Practice is mostly important, it’s the only way to get better. It is important to figure out the story before writing an actual script. At that, he never operates from a master plan (“uber plan”); more than once he finished the story before the season was over, and had to come up with something else in addition. Entourage is a dramedy. There is no outline. Re-writes on the set are quite common. David Schwimmer is one of his best friends. Producing is easier than writing. One season of Entourage is about 400-500 pages. Some of the stories of which Entourage consists happened to Ellin himself, others were told to him by other industry players. He specializes in dialogs writing. Story is the key.


Phil Rosenthal

Famous for: Everybody Loves Raymond
First there is an idea, and then it’s a lot of thinking, which to Rosenathal equals to worrying. He procrastinates a lot, and only starts writing under the pressure of realization that it has to be done. Half a page a day is quite normal. Stories get born from incidents. The rule of 3 is “setup – setup – punchline”, and not that there should be 3 jokes on every page. Story is always #1 concern. Doing comedy as tragedy might be a good idea. “Disposable entertainment.” Warmedy (“like a large bath of warm crap”). Aspiration to be likable is the death of everyting. You want to be relatable instead. Comedy is written specifically for a particular actor. He decided to end the show out of fear to run out of fresh ideas. Food for the crew is extremely important. Basic structure is: 1) premise (“why is it interesting?”); 2) Act break (culmination, “we’re getting married!”); 3) conclusion (“was it worth it?”).


Sam Simon

Famous for: Taxi, Cheers, The Simpsons
Golden boy; was a child prodigy. Family Guy is a rip-off, although he heard Seth McFarlane is a nice guy. South Park is absolutely amazing and hilarious. He’s not really a writer as most of the story construction happens in the room full of people in a collaborative process. He can procrastinate for a long time, and then write everyting in a day or two. Treehous of Horror was his idea, and he had to stand up for it. Story is the #1 thing, and you also need to love the characters. George Carlin is wonderful. The funniest people in the world are: Jerry Belson, Norm McDonald, Glen Charles, Drew Carrey. Never sacrifice character for a joke, it’s not worth it.


Tim Kring

Famous for: Heroes
Good storytelling ability comes from being observant and having something to say. Kring is the only of these 6 who went to film school (and even then he wasn’t majoring in writing). He always writes from the outline. As it usually goes, a treatment gets more and more detailed with time, and eventually turns into a script. His pace is 6-7 pages a day, an episode is done in a week. When working in a team, it is very important to be able to mimic somebody else’s writing style. Sometimes characters come first, sometimes it’s the concept. He prefers not to have master plan for Heroes, to leave as much possibilities open as possible. Cross-pollination between the writers team and the audience is a curious thing. He has a light form of impostor syndrome. It is important not to be too attached to one’s ideas or characters. One of the best way to go for a beginning writer is to be a writer’s assistant. For the show to really happen and succeed, first an idea should come to the right mind at the right time, then the casting should be perfect, and then the audience should fall in love with the result.


Joss Whedon

Famous for: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doll House, Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Whedon is 3GTV, third-generation of TV writers. He loves to have room for pacing. He writes up to 10 pages a day. He’s the ultimate geek (or, at least, was). His influences include: Monty Python, Masterpiece Theater. His father wrote for Golden Girls, The Electric Company. He always writes genre, because there are rules and structure. He loves to mix different genres, because gets bored otherwise. He doesn’t like “reset” kidn TV, and favoures serialized kind. 85 pages for an [episode] is not a lot. Movies is the “answer”, while TV is the “question”. You will be a writer only if you have an intrinsic need to write.


Generally speaking, these interviews are not so important as to how much you can learn from them about the profession, but can go a long way when it comes to encouragement of the beginning writers. Learning that successful and recognized authors suffer from the same fears as you do, that they procrastinate and stress out, but manage to overcome all of those things, can really make a difference, and this is the best thing about this series. And, of course, bits of information about industry’s behind the scenes scattered here and there, scarce as they are, help elaborate three-dimensional image of the American culture. All in all, it was pretty interesting – for me, anyway; I doubt that somebody not interested in becoming a writer would want to sit through 6 hours of basically just talking.

P.S.: I kept the files, and I’m willing to share, so if anybody’s interested, just contact me.

Names and figures

Greenhorn / Nedorosl (Natalia Babintseva, 2003)

Nedorosl is a student documentary short about a young guy, who apparently is somewhere on the autism spectre. The film consists of the voiceover, where he’s telling about his hopes and aspirations, and the picture, depicting circumstances of his life.

While the life of a real person this film is built upon is as much valuable as any other, it is not interesting enough for a movie as there is no story behind it. Difficulties of life do not count as such, even if they constitute a relatively unusual comination like this. Which is why, notwithstanding decent implementation, the film is unlikely to produce more or less powerful impression, and therefore – to remain in one’s memory for longer than couple of days.

As a student’s work it’s okay, but nothing more than that.

Names and figures

Nine Forgotten Songs / Devyat zabytykh pesen (Galina Krasnoborova, 2008)

Devyat zabytykh pesen is a documentary short about lives of a small nation (komi-permyaks) slowly dying out in one of the Russian regions. It’s not a report, and it’s not a commentary – it’s more poetic in nature than it is informative. It shows, quite plainly, the way they are – those people, and from these pictures a truly vast context vaguely appears; in the end, when all the pieces come visible (it’s much like the accumulation of critical mass), you seize the complete image of this sad story in one mighty effort.

The film is divided into several relative chapters, each containing some sort of a song usually sang by one of the locals. The camerawork is absolutely amazing, as well as the sound. Well, in the aftertaste this movie feels really great from all sides – I guess, it kind of grows into you overtime. Watching it wasn’t as great – after all, there’s little to no action through-out the whole thing, which is, of course, compensated with the palette of other devices, but still bears some little effect.

All in all, it’s a wonderful work of art, and a highly enjoyable experience, too.

Names and figures

Odessa Manholes / Odesskie lyuki (Yuliya Gorodetskaya, 2007)

Odesskie lyuki is a short report-type documentary about a bunch of homeless glue-sniffing kids living in Odessa (mainly in some manhole). There is no moralizing, nor there are any specific ideas about how to solve the social problem. It’s a simple depiction of unsightly reality and nothing more than that. And this is what makes it interesting, and even imparts a certain depth to it – after you remember that 10 years has passed since it was made, so most of its heroes are probably dead, or in prison.

The film obviously lacks a professional touch (just as its creators lack in experience), but compensates for it with sincere curiosity.

Names and figures

Short Anthology (RESFest Edition)

Here’s some shortfilms, none of which is worthy of a separate posting. All of these came from the anthology of the RESFest participants. Almost all of them are just a meaningless sequence of visual images and sounds.

Alfred
(1997 || Directed and written by: Rodney Ascher || IMDB || ~1m)

Apparently, a video sequence meant to accompany some music.


Tongues and Taxis
(2000 || Directed and written by: Michael Overbeck || Performed by:  Jesse Schmal, Michael Overbeck, Aaron Zigman || IMDB || ~8m)

An absurd cartoon about the guy whose tongue mutated into a giant monster. May be valueable if you need to evaluate Overbeck’s amination skills, but on itself has no point and no actual reason to be.


Modern Life
(1999 || Directed and written by: Dean Mermell || Performed by: Edie Maples, Fred Adler || IMDB || ~7m)

A silent film stylization meant to convey a message that modern people are only free in their dreams (when sleeping). It’s not just a questionable concept and primitive implementation, it’s also the fact that we don’t need to watch whole 7 minutes to get that brilliant idea, 1 minute would’ve been more than enough.


Pasta for War
(2000 || Directed and written by: Zach Schlappi || Performed by: Robert Prosky, Aaron McMasters, M. McGuffin || IMDB || ~3m)

A pacifist animation which essense is coded in the title. Has no independent value, neither when it comes to the meaning, nor with the toolkit used.


Deformer
(2000 || Directed by: Mike Mills || Performed by: Deanna Templeton, Ed Templeton || IMDB || ~17m)

This is a very long streak of pointless shots with certain themes sometimes surfacing here and there (like the guy painting the girl in different positions). It doesn’t develop into a story of any sort, meaning the instruments used by the author were not enough to create the context. As a result, it’s extremely boring.


Snack and Drink
(2000 || Directed by: Bob Sabiston || Performed by: Ryan Power || IMDB || ~4)

This piece is built on the same technique as, for example, A Scanner Darkly, a 2006 movie by Linklater (real footage is post-processed to look like animation and enhanced with some true animation), but unlike it has no story, because people blabbering with each other during their journey to the nearest fastfood is not a fucking story.


A Portrait of Harry
(2000 || Directed by: Thomas Trail || IMDB || ~2m)

Harry is the elderly guy who plays banjo. That’s the whole essense of the film, there’s nothing more to it. Frankly, I have no idea why people would waste time creating such bullshit, unless it’s sort of educational process landmarks, but in that case they definitely should not be linen in public like this.


Syokyoan
(2000 || Directed and written by: Koji Yamamoto || IMDB || ~2m)

Two gingerbread rabbits are fighting each other using katanas. The title is supposed to mean something, but no meaning emerges from what is shown.


Cirkus (+The Making Of)
(2000 || Directed by: Herman Weeb || Written by: Dominique Thibodeau, Herman Weeb || IMDB || ~5m + ~8m)

This film is a heavily processed video sequence involving a roundabout and a girl in a mask, all in the effort to convey the message of circus, whatever it may mean. Completely unclear without a libretto. Also, nothing is happening here. Interestingly enough, video clip about the making of the Cirkus is more interesting (and pretty) than the actual film; and still, notwithstanding all the author’s explanations about how and why, the purpose of making this whole thing remains obscure. Another failed attempt to pass empty mystique for deep meaning.


Ground
(1999 || Directed and written by: James Kenney || IMDB || ~8m)

This one here is a symbolic representation of human interaction with the outside world. Or, at least, I think that’s what this is: the form consists of philosophycal reasoning accompanied by a sequence of video shots with fetuses yet unborn, and some of people’s names equalled to their immediate meaning in English language, so it’s kind of hard to make sense of it. Personally, I consider it bullshit.


Golden Shoes
(2000 || Directed and written by: Dame Darcy, Adam Gravois || IMDB || ~3m)

This is an animated story about who knows what. The animation is awful, the story in unintelligible.


Vision Point
(2000 || Directed and written by: Stephen X. Arthur || IMDB || ~2m)

This one is an excersise in editing and special effects. No clear message, no characters, no nothing.


AWOL
(~2000 || Directed by: Dave Schroeder (?) || ~6m)

This one here is a puppet movie that looks a lot like a scene from a Rambo movie, only with action figures instead of real actors. Maybe it was conceived as a parody, but even so it’s not interesting at all. Looks pretty lousy, too.


Terra
(~2000 || Directed by: Stefen Nadelman (?) || ~3m)

This is an animated music video clip. The animation is not bad, it’s quite interesting, actually, but still – there’s no cinema in there.


The mix that I saw also includes some untitled video sequence about driving somewhere and thinking about stuff. No idea, what’s that about.

Generally speaking, it seems like the organizers of RESFest really tried to concentrate all the bullshit in one place; if that was the purpose, it can be called a success. But I, for one thing, am glad that RESFest is no more. The world does not need it.

(v. 0.1)
®shoomow, 2017

Adam Ruins Everything (s.01 part II, 2016)

This here is about the 2nd part of the 1st season, which consisted of 14 additional episodes and saw the light of day in the course of 2016. The reason why it should be called the continuation of season 1 and not a separate season 2 (which would’ve made much more sense) is unknown to me.

The show acquired couple of new traits, but on the whole it stayed just as vigorous it has been from the start, a turning-learning-into-fun sort of thing, highly absorbing, and implemented in a absolutely fascinating manner, both from the viewpoint of ideas and that of professional quality.

New things introduced include Adam’s sister, Rhea, and her somewhat shading off effect, as well as new regular section titled Even Wonder Why?, which was used on multiple occasions to tell about a smaller subject indirectly related to the main one (or not). Other than these 2 things there were no format developments, which is normal, because the initial format was exceptionally successful from the get-go, and proved to be quite steadfast, too.

 

Themes of this season’s half can be divided into 2 almost equal parts, one of which is solely American issues, and the other concerns the world in general. Both are interesting enough, although, not by the same token; the american part seems to have grown in comparison with the season’s 1st half.

All in all, Adam Ruins Everything is the best educational project in the world right now – and that’s saying something, because in the recent years the enlightenment is on the huge rise, so the competition is fierce.

Names and figures

Lovin’ / Lyublyu (Maria Kozlova, 2005)

Lyublyu (literal translation: “I love“) is a documentary short about some musicians struggling to survive in the unwelcoming conditions of modern Russia. Technically it’s a student’s work, but it’s actually much more balanced and expressive than most of the students’ graduation movies – mostly thanks to exquisite editing and truly outstanding visual solution, but also because the subject is interesting enough and is presented with passion and skill.

This film participated in one of the VGIK (Russian Institute of Cinematography) film festivals, and received some secondary diploma, but I believe it was much better than the one that won best non-finction.

Names and figures

Cannabis: What’s the Harm? (Part I) (James Alexandrou, 2011)

Cannabis: What’s the Harm? is a 2-part documentary made for BBC. The essense is in the title – the author tries to figure out if cannabis is harmful, and if so – to what extent. I’ve only seen the first part, because the 2nd is almost impossible to come by; also, there isn’t much point in making the effort. Except for certain curious details, there is nothing here that I haven’t seen or knew before.

One peculiarity of this specific investigation is the British angle, as well as the view of a Brit on the American situation. Another – is that the author tries to present opposite views on the issue without any attempts to influence his subjects, or impose his understanding on the audience, which makes it possible to form one’s own opinion – that is, of course, if there isn’t one already formed. Because if there is, the viewer is likely to accept only certain parts as the confirmation of his standpoint while ignoring those that contradict it.

Generally speaking, if you know a thing or two about the subject, you won’t find anything new here, so ultimatelly, there is no point in watching it.

Names and figures

Paperboys (Mike Mills, 2001)

Paperboys is a documentary short about a piece of american suburbian culture that is very likely to become a thing of the past in the following decades – a system of newspapers delivery by teenage boys, which is also a way for them to earn their own money. The subject seems trivial at first sight, but it’s actually just one of many causes to capture current state of a changing environment; it’s a sort of document of the epoch that is not particularly curious for us as we are living through the same epoch, but it definetely would be a valid source of information on how people lived – for the researches of tomorrow. At that, everybody involved in making this film certainly didn’t think about the project as insignificant, because their approach was pretty serious; it’s clear they put a lot of time and effort into their work. And the result is decent enough.

Names and figures

Super High Me (Michael Blieden, 2007)

There was a movie called Super Size Me, where guy conducted an experiment on himself and was eating only extensive amounts of fastfood for a certain period of time. Super High Me was inspired by this idea: a stand-up comedian named Doug Benson decided to do something similar, only with smoking pot instead of eating burgers and fries.

Under the conditions of the experiment he abstained from smoking for 30 days taking different measurments of his physical and psychological state at the same time; and then he heavily smoked for 30 days, also taking the same measurments. During all this time he was followed by a camera crew, thus this movie.

While it was pretty interesting to observe, especially considering that Benson is kind of funny guy with great speaking ability, the mass fraction of science in the film is not sufficient – not for me, anyway. There were certain points (including comparative ones) showing interesting results, but too concise and too fleeting to satisfy my thirst for knowledge; also the symmetry of the procedure leaves much to be desired – obvisouly it was sacrificed to entertaining quality of editing.

Observation of the test subject were sometimes interrupted with footage about various sides of the marijuana legalization process in the US, mainly in California. Most of them are outdated by now, but still quite interesting – from the historian’s point of view.

Generally speaking, the film is rather good notwithstanding aforementioned drawbacks, and quite fun, too.

Names and figures

The Term / Srok (Pavel Kostomarov, Alexey Pivovarov, Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2014)

The Term is a documentary film about Russian remonstrative movement which arouse in 2011 (when it became crystal clear that Putin is not going to give up his power) and slowly died out by the end of 2013. Actually, it still flutters, but there’s no real hope for change – at least, not in the immediate future.

The Term was actually a large documentary project that produced an enormous number of ~3-10 minutes long video clips covering different sides of the movement. All of them can be found here. These clips served as a raw materials database for the film. I believe, if you really wanna know about these events, you should attend to the Youtube channel rather than watch this movie, because it provides a much broader picture, and is devoid of the drawbacks characteristic of the full-length film.

What are those drawbacks? Well, first and foremost, many important events simply didn’t make it there – probably, because the directors didn’t want the film to be too long, i.e. it was a measure aimed at widening the audience. Although, when you think about it, all the things I deem to be film’s shortcomings have that same nature, including the overloading of the line dedicated to the romantic relationships between Sobchak and Yashin – mainly, because without it the film would be as random and chaotic as the reality was, and it’s kind of tiresome and therefore not very attractive to the ordinary viewer.

I doubt that those sacrifices were defensible; it’s rarely a good idea to play up to the audience, because more often than not it looks pathetic. However, the film is still a good enough portrayal of an interesting period – it definetely can be sufficient to excite genuine interest in the matter. Besides, the implementation – the editing, the camerawork – is exquisite and even beautiful sometimes. All in all, notwithstanding all the flaws, I liked what I saw.

Names and figures

Short Anthology

Here’s some shortfilms, none of which is worthy of a separate posting:

Terry Tate, Office Linebacker
(2002 || Directed and written by: Rawson Marshall Thurber || Performed by: Lester Speight, Michael Sean McGuinness, Michael Cornacchia || IMDB || 04:09)

There’s no story, just an idea, but a rather funny one. Very neatly done, too. Still, it’s merely an anecdote.


La barbichette

(2002 || Directed and written by: Kim Chapiron || Performed by: Vincent Cassel, Olivier Barthelemy, Marko Payen || IMDB || 04:48)

Also, no story. The whole film is just one situation, at that it’s outcome remained unclear. I have no idea why it was created, for which purpose exactly, but it was slightly entertaining.


Daybreak Express
(1953 || Directed and written by: D.A. Pennebaker || IMDB || 05:20)

Train comes, train goes – that’s basically it. The director targeted a train that passes on the verge of a rising day, hence all the play with lights and color. But it’s not even a documentary, because you would need an idea for that – it’s nothing but an exercise in editing.

 

(v. 0.1)
®shoomow, 2016

How Drugs Work: Cannabis (Gabriella Polletta, 2011)

This is a part of a miniseries with 3 or 4 episodes in total, the rest of which I probably won’t be watching. It’s dedicated to marijuana, obviously, and related stuff.

I almost liked the visualizations – they are pretty clear, and I haven’t seen anything better, but to tell the truth they are crude and awkward, and could’ve been so much better – it reeks low budget. Large part of the timing was occupied by the observation of the drugged people habits, which was stupid and irritating, because it’s a common place and there is nothing cognitive there at all. Later the film became really silly, especially when they started to tell balls about the Skunk, and how extremely dangerous it was – their rethoric in that part kinda resembles statements of today’s officials about Synthetic cannabinoids – at that I know some of the stuff about the latter to be true, but Skunk is just another breed grown naturally, and its demonization looks weird. Also, this is the first time I’m hearing about it, and as I find myself to be rather well-educated on the subject, I will deem this bullshit until proven otherwise.
(I also undertake the responsibility to find out more about this)

In general, this film feels not like an educational documentary, but more like a bad, unfunny parody on such. There’s probably not a good reason to watch this at all.

Names and figures

Adam Ruins Everything (s.01)

Now, this is something tasty. If anybody ever seen the show about Bullshit by Penn&Teller, here’s the version renewed and updated. Not literally, of course, but these two projects share many things, like critical thinking approach and passion against ignorance, among others.

What Adam ruins is delusions of all kinds, but mostly those that were born thanks to ‘marketing experts’. It’s kinda astonishing how many convictions that we believe to be natural or normal were actually introduced in order for some people to make money. Adam successfully unmasks many of them (and, hopefully, many more to come), and he does it in a manner so adorable, it’s almost impossible not to love him. The contents of the show is not just interesting, it’s extremely useful, even though some delusions are very difficult to die. I learned a lot of interesting stuff about which I had no idea, and the thing with the hymen really blew my mind away.

The form of the show might be even more interesting than its contents. It is a highly delicate compound of fiction, documentary insets and educational efforts flavoured with great deal of talent and mind-boggling enthusiasm. The concept is so original, it’s hard to imagine how it might even work (if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would’ve been full of scepsis), and yet, it not just works, it works amazingly well. Besides those three foundations I mentioned, the format also incorporates vivid images, wonderful camerawork and exquisite editing, as well as many interesting techniques, such as indication of references to scientific research papers right there on the screen, various kinds of animation, and, of course, humor and self-irony. Each episode includes several topics united by a common subject, and also a piece of continious and consistent story featuring Adam and his friends. Scripts are very well-balanced, and pretty intense too, – but I had no trouble of keeping up, even though English is not my native tongue.

Season’s finale must be totally mentioned separately, because it deals with a rather grim theme – death. Notwithstanding generally comical orientation of the show, the approach to this episode was different – the matter was handled with respect and caution it deserves, – and that made me love Adam even more. There should be more people like him in the world.

In short, this is a bright and brilliant show, an absolute must-see for every person on this planet.

Names and figures

The Union: The Business Behind Getting High (Brett Harvey, 2007)

Not a bad documentary film, although the specific purpose of it is unclear (other than proving to the world): the subject had already grown too big and ultimatelly breaks up into a number sub-topics, such as advocating marijuana usage, uncovering schemes and business models connected with cannabis production and trade, trying to understand why proscriptive measures don’t work, looking closer into the drug work mechanisms, and so on. The film touches upon most of these things, but in most cases manages to illuminate only the basics.

First half hour may be easily skipped by anybody familiar with pro-cannabis arguments: this part is solely dedicated to the marijuana advocacy, and there is very little new to learn (if anything at all). Following parts are more interesting as they prove details that are not so easy to come by, like the role of Canada in North American drug trade, how actual movig of product between the borders happens, the inside of a growing facility, stuff like that. Of course, this movie is in no way a manual to any of those things, it doesn’t focuse on any of the crucial issues, but shows them in general; still, some useful information can be withdrawn even from here. The title for the film feems random, as the authors talk about the formation of so-called Union not more than 10 minutes tops.

I can say that I learned a thing or two from this film, and though it’s far from being perfect, it is an essentially good and useful work.

Names and figures

Happy People / Schastlivyye lyudi (m/s)

This is a documentary telling about lives of true siberians, the ones that live in unison with nature and don’t care much for the fruits of modern civilization. To tell the truth, I was expecting the film to be way more meditative than it really was; instead I got extremely substantial and very dense story full of interesting and quite useful information. Of course, there are no manuals here per se, but even simply demonstrating various kinds of devices, traps and snares would definetely give a smart mind a way to understand and implement them in case of need.

Most of the people who got into the shot and shared those pieces of wisdom they have were quite cinematic and produces nice impression. Nobody was trying to bullshit anybody, and even it they did, it wasn’t in the movie. This full version is composed of 4 episodes, each dedicated to a season of the year, – probably just a reminder that the ties with nature are exceptionally important here; and it’s true – people are really dependant on the nature cycles. That comminity that was in the center of the narrative has also some dependancy on the civilization, but I think in case of some world-scale disaster they stand a better chance of survival than anybody else on the planet.

The implementation is great: the voiceover text is pretty smart and nicely worded, the reader’s voice doesn’t hinder undestanding in any way, also there camera work is amazing, especially shooting from the aeroplane and underwater.

It also should be mentioned that there is a shorter version of this film re-edited by Werner Herzog, who cut out about 2 hours out of 3.5, – I haven’t seen it, but I really have no idea how the length can be reduced that much without hurting the structure and/or missing something important.

All in all I highly recommend this miniseries – if Russian cinema is good for anything, it should be documentaries, no doubt.

Names and figures

Anna from 6 to 18 / Anna ot 6 do 18 (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1993)

So, this is kinda curious documentary. The framework is that every year mr. Mikhalkov shoots his daughter Anna answering same four questions: what do you love the most right now; what do you fear the most; what do you want the most; and what do you dislike the most. He started when Anna was 6, and the last bit was filmed after she turned 18.

However, this is just something this film pretends to be. The director is not very thorough about his proclaimed goal: he missed several years (not in a row, though); he does not always ask all of the question; the way he presents this whole thing to his subject influenced her reaction, which was especially evident with the later years; and the screen time devoted to this particular line constituted hardly a third of the film in general. Basically, Mikhalkov used his child to push forward his own agenda, which is quite normal for artists of his scale, if only it wasn’t so obvious.

But what is it really about? Considering that Anna’s 6th birthday fell on the year 1980, and her 18th – on the year 1992, it is not a surprising thing that the real purpose of this film was to tell about the political history of the Soviet Union’s last decade the way Mikhalkov sees it. Or saw it at that time, anyway. He does so by using extensive quantity of the file footage of every kind, including official and unofficial newsreel and amateur videoclips; and by commenting on everything off-screen. The result is rather interesting: although, the picture the director presents is preconceived, this bias is not hardened and can be ignored; on the other hand, I saw a lot of materials that I would’ve hardly found anywhere else (even the idea to look for them wouldn’t probably have crossed my mind), especially presented like that. Mr. Mikhalkov asks himself a question (what is the difference between the Russina Empire and the Soviet one), and comes to a conclusion that it’s all about faith. The mere statement of a question seems kinda weird to be, not to talk about the answer, but who cares? This can be ignored just as easily, and does not diminish the good stuff.

Names and figures

Settlement / Poselenie (Sergei Loznitsa, 2001)

This movie is about a day in life of the settlement for people with mental problems. Located in a peaceful countryside, it conveys an image of a pure, happy place, where people live and work together, in complete harmony. But there is a growing unexplainable feeling of anxiety and hopelessness.

To me this film seemed extremely meditative. Basically, it consists of people doing everyday things: chopping firewoods, gathering potatoes, pasturing cows, going here and there, etc.; everything happens very peacefully and smoothly; as for the growing feeling of anxiety, it is caused, I believe, by increasing of medical staff presence in shot, but really I didn’t feel it that much. There is no story, no prevailing thread; instead of 80 minutes there could be 800 just as easily, and it would be still interesting, because these are real people. The most wonderful thing, though, is reserved for the closing minutes: it’s a number of portraits of the residents with some music on the background. Just faces, nothing more. They’re absolutely awesome.

Names and figures

Childhood on the River Bank / Detstvo na beregu reki (Yulia Kiseleva, 2014)

This is like a continuation to the short movie produced 6 year prior by the same director. Back then it was all about a little girl who was the only child in some village in Komi republic (part of Russia), and there was a school that she attanded all by herself. This time it’s her again, a teenager now, with circumstances changed in details, but still more or less the same; kinda follow-up story. Some footage from the old film was used here too (I only wish there were fewer “6 years ago” screen titles, but that’s trifle), so you can actually compare.

And because of that the film turned out to be very sad. Six years ago that girl was a sweet, happy child, who had dreams and all, who was never bored being by herself, who glowed with inner light most of the time; now it’s a pretty but rather ordinary teenager who doesn’t know what she wants from life, but knows she won’t stay in that place where she was born. All in all, this film is about the erosion of small cultures and rural life both; about the inevitable process of them dying. From this point of view it’s pretty great, but I don’t see a director’s merit in such result, it’s rather dictated by the subject itself. On the other hand, for documentaries a non-resistance way, when the director just lets the theme to unfold itself without trying to actually direct it, may be the best one possible.

I have to mention photography here, because there are plenty of shots of unbelivable beauty. For this along this film might be worth watching.

Names and figures

Terminal Bar (Stefan Nadelman, 2003)

Nicely done and incredibly boring. This film is something like a monument to a bar in New York called Terminal Bar. Apperently, one of the owners (director’s father or something) liked to take pictures of the customers and gathered quite a collection with time. Basically, these photos, beautifully presented in different patterns (and supported with voiceover) are 90% of the film. The rest is ordinary interviews cut in parts and spread through-out the movie. A good student work, nothing more.

Names and figures

Other Worlds / D’autres mondes (Jan Kounen, 2004)

Pretty interesting. A journey into the very heart of shamanism, interviews with real people who are involved, and most of all – director’s personal experience (which can be recognized not only from the voiceover, where he speaks of it quite frankly, but from the visual aids and the approach to the subject in general too), – all these things make this film kinda valuable. It does contribute to the humanity’s store of knowledge, and that’s what really is important.

P.S.: The only version with English subtitles I found was on YouTube. You can find the link below.

Names and figures

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (s.08)

9. In its last season the show significantly improved picture-wise – they finally started shooting 16:9 instead of lousy 3:4. The title sequence changed again, and again it’s pretty great.

10. In respect of the subjects, the show maintains the average level – many of the themes are really important (fast food, teen sex, easy money, vaccination), but there are also domestic (cheerleading, area 51, criminal justice), merely curious (martial arts, self-esteem) and, as ironic as it may sound, bullshit. To the latter I tend to ascribe the episode on old age.

11. This episode tells us all about how you should respect old people. They got on camera some giant asshole talking about how he hates old people and how he believes they all should be wiped out; and then they showed how fun and interesting old people can be. However, the statement of the question is wrong from the very beginning: it is always wrong to define people by one and only characteristic (in this case – age); I mean, these are just people, ordinary people, and like all people they can be mean or righteous completely irrelevant of how many years they managed to live through.

12. Anyway, the important issues elucidated still overweight this tiny little digression into the enemy’s territory. This season, just like the show in general, makes huge difference in the matter of education and enlightment. In the end, this is what counts.

Names and figures

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (s.07)

8. Pretty good season, very decent quality. Except for couple of episodes that by now are obsolete – the one about the Pope (not really about Vatican), and the one about 2012 apocalypse. It would seem like this is the first time in the course of the show when Penn and Teller dove into a subject soon to go out of date (two subjects) – but, why? who knows. Probably running out of ideas. And really – how in hell could they forgot about Astrology? They played it up rather nicely, though.

Names and figures

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