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Nov 15 2016

Doc Corner: From the Chiffon Jungle to the Great Outdoors at DOC NYC

Last weekwe looked at a group of films among the mammoth collection of titles playing DOC NYC.The festival continues and so we're looking at a few more films,taking a sort of cinematic road trip from the big city,down the highway to the Rocky Mountains and then back again.

The "chiffon jungle"is what the subject of Otis Mass' debut film,The Incomparable Rose Hartman,a fashion and pop culture photographer whose images are as iconic as they are striking,labels her home of New York City.A place where fashion is as integral to daily life as breath is to life.Feel to free disagree,but as the first person to understand the appeal of the decadent backstage of celebrity life and master it into something truly artful,Hartman soon built a reputation that put her subjects at ease and made her none synonymous with New York's cultural scene in a more extravagant way than the likes of Bill Cunningham.Whether she was photographing the models backstage and on the runways of  Donna Karen,Caroline Herrera or Halston,or capturing the more candid,celebratory side of celebrities like Jerry Hall,Andy Warhol,Grace Jones,Liza Minnelli and Cher at Studio 54,her work is justifiably as iconic as it is extraordinary...

An eccentric would be an easy way to describe her,but it would also be true.Likewise,rude,selfish,and potentially a victim of her own success.

Otis,who occasionally is seen and heard bantering with Hartman,often bears the brunt of the photographer's more spiteful tantrums like when,in a bizarre fit of rage,gets angry he didn't buy her a muffin before arriving at her apartment.That lashful tongue serves the film well,although it doesn't always do the same for itself who is often described as hard to be a friend of who pushes people away.The film doesn't explore what the incomparable woman at its centre thinks of current pop culture landscape and the way photography has become an even bigger commodified industry - and really,it would have been better to hear her thoughts on it considering the way she relishes the spotlight throughout.As a lover of the New York City scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s,I found much to like.While it may not be the big Hollywood production she hoped for in the opening scene,Rose Hartman finally has the film she always wanted.

Leaving the city now for the highways of rural China in Zhang Zanbo'sThe Road,yet another film in an increasingly long list of really fine documentaries that have emerged out of the looming shadow of the country's rapid industrialisation.Like many of those films – must-see docs such asUp the Yangtze,Behemoth,Last Train Home,and the non-fiction works of Jia Zhangke –The Roadis about a land and its people that is far from the image of futuristic of bustling metropolises that so populate the modern image of China.We are so fortunate so as to have the rise of China and the rise of non-fiction filmmaking go almost simultaneously hand-in-hand andThe Roadis a fine example of why.

Zhang's film is a simple one,divided into four parts,charting over three years the construction of a highway through a quiet Hunan village,the placehe himself grew up in.Granted exceptional access to the highs and lows (the latter more common than the former) of the process through to its ribbon-cutting ceremony,Zhang captures the shocking ineptitude of its builders,the terrible abuses of power by those in power,and the crushing destruction of the livelihoods of those in their path.There is even a scene where a 200-year-old tomb is literally dug up and destroyed for the sake of progress,a moment that even those doing the deed can no doubt see the symbolism of.It all leads up to what is surely the most sad-hilarious end credits sequence of the year as Zhang's camera captures and interlocks the embarrassment of human error with the tragedy of political folly.

And now on to the great outdoors withThe Lure,a documentary that is,quite appropriately,produced by Errol Morris.Tomas Leach's film follows a collection of individuals who have set out across America to discover a literal pot of gold.They are the participants in what could be – although he insists it is real – a grand hoax of eccentric millionaire Forrest Fenn,who has insisted he has buried a pot of treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.He is seen occasionally offering clues onThe Today Show,and teasing his followers online with cryptic messages.

Much like the recent Pokemon Go phenomenon,many ofThe Lure's participants extol the virtues of treasure hunting that go far beyond mere financial rewards.And while for most it is an opportunity to embrace their country and connect to nature,there are those for whom it proves an all-too dangerous reality.Leach has chosen wise subjects,with only one bordering on being laughed at rather than with.The film doesn't attempt to solve the mystery of whether the treasure is real or not,but it doesn't have to.Its subjects believe it,and their attempts to capture it make for an entertaining,comical mystery.

Returning to the city we have the latest work from Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey,which couldn't be further from their earlier 2016 work,Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures.The one-hourEvery Brilliant Thingis little more than a filmed production of Jonny Donahoe's one-man in-the-round interactive play of the same name in which the British comedian recalls his family's troubled history with depression and suicide.The show,filmed over its Off Broadway production,is an entertaining and poignant one.

Barbato and Bailey don't really do anything to distract from its inherent values,although the editing is particularly note-worthy as it neatly compiles a collection of performances into a coherent whole from a variety of angles as Donahue runs about grabbing audience members to interact with.Every Brilliant Thingis also,on a personal note,particularly noteworthy for giving me my first genuine smile post-election and it's a rather fitting film to have such an effect.A million brilliant reasons to keep getting up in the world is just what we need.It will air on HBO on December 26.

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