Anyone who’s seen my Letterboxd account knows I’m a big fan of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries. I’ve also alluded here at MMC! to my wife’s love of running. With that in mind, I thought I’d get 2017 off on the right foot with Gabe Spitzer’s Every Day (2015), a portrait of elderly runner Joy Johnson that I saw for the first time this week and left both me and my wife teary-eyed by its end. Johnson didn’t begin running until age 59 but became an accomplished distance runner nonetheless, completing numerous races at various distances, running the New York City Marathon 25 consecutive times, posting a best time at NYC in 1999 at 3:55:30 while age 73, and even running the Twin Cities Marathon and New York City Marathon just 4 weeks apart at the age of 81. Watching Joy should offer some ambition in facing 2017.
Einar Baldvin’s The Pride of Strathmoor (2014), the animator’s thesis project for USC, presents extracts from the fictional journal of Pastor John Deitman of Strathmoor, Georgia, from June and July, 1927. Inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980), The Pride of Strathmoor resembles the racist mind of H. P. Lovecraft as illustrated by Ralph Steadman and makes for an unsettling work of madness and the macabre.
A lot of time has been spent lately watching short films and some new favourites have been found, particularly from The All-Nighter Room, a Brooklyn based production company founded by Mickey Duzyj and specializing in distinctive animated and documentary shorts. First up is Duzyj’s The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere (2016), the story of Haru Urara, a Japanese racehorse with a massive losing-streak that became a national symbol of perseverance and pride in hard economic times. Next is Mickey Duzyj and Jeremy Johnstone’s Emmy and Webby nominated The Perfect 18 (2014) about IT manager Rick Baird’s perfect round of Putt Putt golf. Both films offer Duzyj’s clean, spare animation design, with the former subtly using colour to represent the expanding popularity of Haru Urara and the latter deploying this crisp style to elaborate on the precision required of competitive miniature golf. Both of these films are surprisingly affective and use the short film format to avoid allowing their subjects to become overblown.
THE GREATEST VAMPIRE WESTERN-MUSICAL EVER MADE ABOUT SNOOKER!
Set within a twilight labyrinth of concrete corridors and bunker-like rooms, director Alan Clarke plays out a musical grudge match between conflicting generations of master snooker players. On one side is Billy the Kid (Phil Daniels), a cocky young cockney decked out as an Old West outlaw. On the other is seven-time world champion Maxwell Randall (Alun Armstrong as the Green Baize Vampire), a bloodsucking traditionalist resentful of his young challenger. Manipulated by his manager T.O. (Bruce Payne as “The One”) and a scheming loan shark called the Wednesday Man (Don Henderson), Billy agrees to a seventeen-frame snooker match against Randall where the loser will put down his cue forever. Can Billy vanquish his foe or does the Wednesday Man have some more tricks up his sleeve?
Featuring music by celebrated composer George Fenton and inspired by the rivalry between true-life snooker players Ray Reardon and Jimmy White, Alan Clarke’s Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire is an uncharacteristic foray into fantasy by a British master of gritty realism. The result is an astonishingly strange and captivating work that resembles a musical adaptation of The Hustler if remade by Ken Russell.
- New high definition transfers of the film in its 93-minute and 121-minute versions
- High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD Presentation
- Original 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Surround Options
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Making BTK – Extensive interviews on the film’s making with cinematographer Clive Tickner, composer George Fenton, production designer Jamie Leonard, costume designer Tudor George, and editor Steve Singleton
- Shooting from the Hip, a brand new interview with Phil Daniels made especially for this release
- Biting Back, a new interview with Alun Armstrong made especially for this release
- Being #1, a brand new interview with Bruce Payne
- Sullivan Reporting, a new interview with Louise Gold
- Bride of the Green Baize Vampire, a brand new interview with Eve Ferret
- Sports Life Stories: Jimmy White, an ITV documentary on Jimmy White, the inspiration for Billy the Kid
- Archival interview with Ray “Dracula” Reardon, the inspiration for Maxwell Randall, on the eve of the 1981 World Snooker Championship
- Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Brooke
It’s Saturday and we’re now midway through week 5 of the Canadian Football League season. In tribute to bigger balls and fewer downs, let’s all enjoy William Pettigrew’s Oskee Wee Wee (1968), a fascinating examination of the CFL’s 1967 championship game and all its associated reveries. Oskee Wee Wee takes its name from the appropriated chant of Hamilton’s football fans, but their Grey Cup contest against the Saskatchewan Rough Riders takes a backseat to police bands, beauty contests, and parties – lots and lots of parties. Sharp-eyed CFL enthusiasts will even notice some Calgary Stampeders fans having managed to ride their horses in and out of a Woolworth’s, proving that some traditions, however ridiculous, never seem to die. And for the record, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won 24-1 and I still miss a 9-team league that had one team was called the Roughriders and another called the Rough Riders!
As per the NFB:
This documentary is a zany portrait of the particular fever that hits the city of Ottawa, Ontario, during Grey Cup Finals. The film is as much about the football game, where the Hamilton Tiger Cats face the Saskatchewan Roughriders, as it is about Ti-Cats fans and their infamous “Oskee Wee Wee”, the magical chant with which they exhort their team to victory.
We return once again to the work of seminal Anglo-Canadian filmmaker Don Owen, “a bellwether of the times” who began his career with the NFB in the 1960s producing short documentaries. First up (for my wife), is Runner (1962), Owen’s gorgeously crafted observation of Canadian distance runner Bruce Kidd. More than 50 years later, Runner feels fresh and galvanizing, achieving a vitality in its crisp narration, its enervating score, and its smooth tracking that only gets vaguely approximated at now between shills for shoes and sports drinks. Owen’s High Steel (1966) considers the role of indigenous peoples in American high rise construction. The film’s lively narration by Don Francks is based on interviews with Harold McComber, a Mohawk iron worker whose daring occupation is made relatable by the sincerity of his professional pride and his practical faith in family tradition.
As per the NFB:
This captivating short documentary profiles the young Canadian long-distance runner Bruce Kidd at 19 years old. Kidd eventually went on to win a gold and bronze medal the 1962 Commonwealth Games, and was a competing member of the 1964 Canadian Olympic tem. Directed by Don Owen (Nobody Waved Goodbye, Toronto Jazz), the film is luminously photographed by John Spotton and features poetic commentary composed and spoken by the great Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden. The camera follows Kidd’s sprightly movements as he runs on piers, practice tracks, and finally, in an international race. Oblivious to the clapping crowds and the flash of cameras, he knows full well that in the long run it is the cold stopwatch that tells the truth.
As per the NFB:
This short documentary offers a dizzying view of the Mohawk Indians of Kahnawake who work in Manhattan erecting the steel frames of skyscrapers. Famed for their skill in working with steel, the Mohawks demonstrate their nimble abilities in the sky. As a counterbalance, the viewer is allowed a peek at their quieter community life on the Kahnawake Reserve, in Quebec.