Saturday, 29 April 2017

WHITNEY "CAN I BE ME" & INTENT TO DESTROY - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocs HotPicks - Veteran Filmmakers Respectively Deliver Moving New Docs on Music & Massacre.

Houston Decimated by drugs and a broken heart.
Armenians decimated by Turkey.
Whitney "Can I Be Me"
Dir. Nick Broomfield, Rudi Dolezal

Intent to Destroy
Dir. Joe Berlinger

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Veteran filmmakers Nick Broomfield (Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Kurt & Courtney) and Joe Berlinger (Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger) both have new feature documentaries that serve up plenty of extremely moving content.

Broomfield's biographical portrait of the late pop music icon Whitney Houston utilizes concert/tour/personal footage shot by co-director Rudi Dolezal from many years earlier along with new interviews conducted by the incisive Brit auteur of her friends, family and associates. It's inconceivable to imagine anyone not shedding copious tears throughout this finely-wrought piece in which we learn about Houston's early years with a gospel-singing Momma, her rise to fame as a machine-tooled pop-star, the grand Diva's desire to sing her own way and the loves of her life - a best friend (and longtime "secret" lesbian partner) from the 'hood and "fly" singing sensation Bobby Brown. It's especially interesting to see behind-the-scenes interplay twixt the married couple - contrary to my gossip-influenced notions on the matter, the musically-gifted pair seem to genuinely be in love.

Mostly, what we walk away with is a film portrait of a woman dying, almost from the get-go. It's impossible to not feel she's wasting away ON CAMERA before our very eyes.

While the movie eschews Broomfield's trademark wise-ass, sardonic presence in front of the lens, we hear his distinctive voice poking, prodding and penetrating his subjects. Happily, the film is structurally blessed with Broomfield's finely-honed skills as a master film storyteller.

Joe Berlinger's picture is very strange, but also one in which it's hopeless not to shed Iguazu Falls-like torrents of tears. It is a documentary about the horrific 1915 Turkish genocide of over one million Armenians. We learn about the racist policies of forced relocation and wholesale slaughter of the Christian "infidel" and Turkey's continued (to this day) refusal to acknowledge the country's complicity in the first genocide of the 20th century.

The interviews and use of archival footage is first rate. What's less successful (and renders the movie into oddball territory) is the framing device and through-line of the windbag hack director Terry George's production of the absolutely horrendous Armenian massacre drama The Promise. Though Berlinger works hard to relate this part of his film to the real subject of the proceedings (the genocide), this Terry-George-tainted stuff often feels like glorified EPK and/or DVD-extra material for George's dreadful movie.

Still, Berlinger's picture (and much of it is very fine), sheds considerable light on one of the least-know genocides in modern history. This is enough to make it worth seeing.

Alas, Terry George as a subject certainly didn't ingratiate himself upon me (being, as I am, a perogy-slurping Uke Hunky from birth). Aside from the fact that I have little use for George's by-the-numbers work as a director, he rattles off a list of modern genocides in an interview at the start of Berlinger's picture, but fails to mention the Russia/Stalin/Kaganovich murder of 8-10 million Ukrainians during both the Holodomor and Purges.

This is a pretty boneheaded omission. It was, of course, to be expected. Terry George's own Armenian Holocaust picture, The Promise, turned out to be plenty boneheaded.

THE FILM CORNER RATING (Whitney): ***½ Three-and-a-Half Stars
THE FILM CORNER RATING (Intent to Destroy): *** Three Stars

Whitney enjoys its Canadian premiere and Intent To Destroy enjoys its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.