Pigeon (and
more) From Within

reviewed by Jennifer M. Wood

If, in the world of animation,
there exist royal families, one of them would unquestionably be
the Hubleys. John Hubley was a key member of the Disney team that
created such animated classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
Pinocchio, Dumbo, Fantasia
and Bambi. Faith Hubley began
her career as an editor and script supervisor on such films as Sidney
Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men. But when her husband, John, was
blacklisted from Disney, the two began a moviemaking partnership
that created more than 20 films-and earned them three Academy Awards.
Their more personal partnership, that of marriage, produced four
children, including Emily Hubley, who in Pigeon From Within displays much of the same free-form visual style and social awareness
of her parents’ work.

Pigeon (and more) from Within is a collection of seven short films-made between 1982 and 2000-that
touch upon the social realities of today. Mixing photography with
animation and philosophy with fables, the stories that emerge are
from a distinctly female point of view. Pigeon Within tells
the story of a woman who encounters what she thinks could be her
guardian angel in downtown New York. One Self: Fish/Girl is the discovery a girl makes about herself
reading through her own diary. Delivery Man is the earliest
of the works presented here, and turns from straightforward storytelling
to a dream-like landscape midway through the eight-minute tale.
Both The Tower and Enough have a fantasy-like basis,
the latter of which tells the story of a magical fish with the ability
to grant wishes. Blake Ball brings together poetry and athletics,
when the work of William Blake is explained strictly through baseball
metaphors. Her Grandmother’s Gift is one of Hubley’s more
straightforward works, which focuses on a grandmother discussing
the myths surrounding menstruation.

Each of Hubley’s tales are told
from a first person point of view-and in a more than conversational
tone. Though they’re certainly not ‘everyman’ stories, they are
enjoyable and interesting enough for a broad audience, crossing
back and forth between everyday conversation and existentialism.
Hubley’s mainstream recognition has no doubt been augmented with
the success of John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a film in which her animated creations undoubtedly helped to
further the story. That film, hopefully, will make moviegoers more
curious about her work-and Pigeon (and more) from Within is
certainly a film that could-and should-help to satiate that further

Buy it now!

High School II
reviewed by Jennifer M. Wood

Documentarian Frederick Wiseman
is a no-frills kind of guy. His film titles-High School, Meat, Domestic Violence-are as straightforward as
his style of moviemaking, which can only be described as documentary-making
in the truest sense of the word. Though educated as a lawyer, Wiseman
turned to moviemaking in the mid-1960s, and has been chronicling
our social misdeeds ever since. High School II (1994) departs
from its predecessor, High School (1969) in its chronicling
life inside Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS), an alternative
high school in Spanish Harlem that champions interactivity and cooperation
over discipline. Where High School emerged as a film about
the problems that exist in contemporary education from the teacher’s
side, High School II demonstrates what can be achieved by
allowing students a voice.

The school emphasizes that students
learn and practice the six Habits of Mind: weighing evidence, recognizing
different points of view, identifying connections and relationships
between ideas, speculating on possibilities, and assessing values.
According to the school’s principal, exhibiting these habits is
“what thoughtful people do. [they’re]  a way of seeing things in
their complexity, not simplistically.” With such similar characteristics
leading Wiseman’s observant lens, it’s unsurprising that the moviemaker
and his subject are so perfectly matched.

Much of the film is made in bearing
witness to that philosophy, and Wiseman is the perfect observer.
His entirely unobtrusive manner puts the audience at ease. We can
witness the happenings, and the success this school is having, without
fear of being the discovered voyeur. Like the Maysles Brothers and
all great documentarians, Wiseman’s gift is ability to allow the
audience-and more importantly, his subjects-to forget that there
was ever a camera in the room. Questions are neither asked nor answered;
he simply unravels the truth behind the situation.

Wiseman is a man who broke barriers
with his storytelling at the outset of his career and has continued
to do so since. He is one of the few remaining nonfiction moviemakers
who first brought the format to the prominence it holds today, and
has remained true to its significance with unsurpassed skill and
purity. At nearly four hours in length, High School II requires
a good deal of an individual’s time, but it’s an investment that
pays off.

Buy it now!

Iwo Jima: Memories in the Sand

Iwo Jima: Memories in the

reviewed by Chris Cooke

Iwo Jima was perhaps the most crucial
battle of the Pacific in World War Two.  It was certainly among
the bloodiest.  About 30,000 of the 70,000 Amercians to land on
the island’s shores died, and almost all the Japanese on the island
died in its defense.  Taking Iwo Jima, situated much closer to Japan
than the US had yet been, was essential in order to permit a feasible
air attack on Japan.  Fifty years later, survivors of the battle-from
both sides-returned to the island to commemorate the conflict. Iwo
Jima: Memories in the Sand
combines archival footage with interviews
from survivors who attended the ceremony to both convey the horror
and senselessness of war and honor the sacrifice the soldiers made
for their countries.  The film also offers a glimmer of hope, showing
that two peoples once at war can now cooperate in a joint ceremony
in honor of that conflict.  The tales the veterans tell, at times
humorous and always tragic, accumulate in effect, making Memories
in the Sand
a powerful experience, packing more meaning into
27 minutes than most films achieve at several times its length.

Buy it now!

Light Keeps Me Company

Light Keeps Me Company
reviewed by Chris Cooke

The name Ingmar Bergman sends actors
and film critics abuzz, but amongst his crew, the name Sven Nykvist
carries equal weight.  Nykvist, Bergman’s cinematographer for many
of his greatest pictures, also worked with such directors as Woody
Allen, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Roman Polanski.  In particular, his
use of light to convey character and drama brought him fame, but
he was also well-known for his positive attitude and good-natured
demeanor.  His legendary rapport with Bergman was almost telepathic.
The documentary Light Keeps Me Company, directed by his son
Carl-Gustaf Nykvist, uses interviews, film clips and behind-the-scenes
footage to paint a sensitive portrait of this film great.  Bergman,
Allen, Liv Ullman and others, including Nykvist himself, talk about
his life and work, from his groundbreaking collaboration with Bergman,
to the suicide of his eldest son, to the degenerative aphasia that
ended his career.  With few exceptions (Who really wants to hear
Melanie Griffith wax on about how “cool” he was?), the interviews
are insightful and the film clips are always spectacular.  Nykvist
emerges throughout as a visionary artist and a good, decent man
who allowed his intensity in his work to distance himself from his
family. Light Keeps Me Company provides an excellent view
of Nykvist and his career. It’s a must-see for film buffs and certainly
of interest to the more casual filmgoer as well.

Buy it now!