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Hot Docs Roundup: 'Despite The Gods' Fascinates, 'Beauty Is Embarrassing' Is Heartwarming & 'About Face' A Fun Look At Fashion

The Playlist By Samantha Chater | The Playlist May 1, 2012 at 11:57AM

Aussie filmmaker Penny Vozniak's "Lost in La Mancha"-esque documentary “Despite The Gods," following director Jennifer Lynch and her experiences making her third film in India, is a low budget docu-delight. Lynch is the beating, empathic heart of the film, an endearing combination of raw emotional honesty and self-deprecating humor. After surviving a critical flogging at 19 for her first film "Boxing Helena," and enjoying the relative success of her second film "Surveillance," Lynch still had a lot to prove with her third film. However it is clear from day one this will not be the film she envisions it to be. The film in question is "Hisss," a Bollywood action tale of a snake that turns into a woman, and then back again
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Despite The Gods

"Despite the Gods"
Aussie filmmaker Penny Vozniak's "Lost in La Mancha"-esque documentary “Despite The Gods," following director Jennifer Lynch and her experiences making her third film in India, is a low budget docu-delight. Lynch is the beating, empathic heart of the film, an endearing combination of raw emotional honesty and self-deprecating humor. After surviving a critical flogging at 19 for her first film "Boxing Helena," and enjoying the relative success of her second film "Surveillance," Lynch still had a lot to prove with her third film. However it is clear from day one this will not be the film she envisions it to be. The film in question is "Hisss," a Bollywood action tale of a snake that turns into a woman, and then back again. Though Vozniak's film is an interesting look behind the scenes at some the challenges of being an American director shooting in India (no call sheets or safety concerns here) it is the sympathetic portrait of Lynch's experiences and reactions as she struggles against the odds for 8 months (5 months over schedule) to get the film finished the way she sees it, that makes this documentary so absorbing. Lynch remains in good spirits, often in awe of India in all its chaos and mayhem, despite all the factors working against her. Even though her fight against the odds comes to naught, with her film taken away from her to be disastrously re-cut by producers, “Despite The Gods” is a fascinating look at filmmaking as well as a great portrait of Lynch herself. [B-]

Beauty Is Embarrassing

"Beauty Is Embarrassing"
Though artist/art director/illustrator/puppeteer Wayne White’s name will be unfamiliar to most, after seeing the doc “Beauty is Embarrassing," he’ll be sure to have a whole new legion of fans. Director Neils Berkley manages to capture White’s charismatic combination of childlike spirit, misanthropic tendencies and bawdy humour, in a likable, if less than cohesive, package. "Beauty is Embarrassing” is comprised of interviews with friends (including Paul Reubens and Matt Groening) and family members as well with White himself, who also narrates, with Berkley mixing in clips of White’s TV work, old home movie footage and animated works from both White and his other half Mimi Pond, an artist in her own right. The doc spends a good chunk of time on what White was best known for, making puppets for the off-the-wall kids show “Pee Wee’s Playhouse," something he had no real prior experience in doing, but ended up being really, really good at, though it came to a bit of a sudden and disastrous end. His post-Pee Wee artistic slump working "for the man" and making music videos for Peter Gabriel and Smashing Pumpkins, is a period White seems less inclined in talking about, referring to the MTV Music Video Awards as the “worst night of my life," which is unfortunate because it sounds pretty interesting. It's his second-act success a decade later that the rest of the doc instead focuses on, as White found inspiration in painting quotable phrases on thrift store landscape paintings, which quickly became hot sellers in upscale L.A. galleries, something White, the perpetual subversive underdog, is not always at ease with. Though some of the mish-mash of footage will be hard to follow for some, Berkley has created an apt portrait of a unique personality and pop culture artist, and the result is both inspiring and heartwarming. [B+]

About Face

"About Face"
Photographer-slash-director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders talks to supermodels from the 1950s through to the '80s in his then-and-now documentary “About Face." Greenfield-Sanders' choice to interview some 15-odd supermodels probably widens the pool a little too much, as a lot of the women retread the same thematic ground, repeating the same thoughts on not feeling pretty growing up, whether or not they would have plastic surgery now, and coming to terms with being an ageing beauty. Unfortunately this does a disservice to the other interesting issues touched upon in the film, such as the exploitation of young girls, the heroin-chic period in fashion, the normalized sexual harassment within the business and the misogynistic beauty standards of modern society, which are alluded to, but not fully explored. One issue that Greenfield-Sanders does dig deeper into in the film is racism in the fashion and modeling world over the years, with the director talking to various models of color including Beverly Johnson and China Machado, who all have different and insightful perspectives on the discrimination within the industry that they helped to break down over the years. Some interviewees shine more memorably than others including feisty Avedon muse Machado, the former face of Lancome Isabella Rossellini and the always candid, uber-glamorous Jerry Hall, whose Southern drawl I could just listen to for hours. Greenfield-Sanders mixes these interviews, all beautifully shot with a photographer's considered eye, with carefully curated archive material from runway shows and fashion shoots through the ages. Overall, “About Face” is an elegant documentary about supermodels of the past, and though its hardly the complete history, its a fun film for fashion fans nonetheless. [B-]

This article is related to: Review, Hot Docs , Documentary


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