Tuesday June 4, 2019
In the early summer of 1969, a college buddy of mine stopped by and asked me if I was interested in joining him in August to attend a three-day outdoor music festival being held about 100 miles north of Manhattan in rural New York. Although I was a lover of music, and was even a current member of a local rock band, I respectively declined his offer. That instantaneous refusal to embark with him on that adventure to Bethel, NY has been the one major regret of my life.
As I sat there watching Barak Goodman's outstanding documentary, a wave of nostalgia and remorse wafted over me - reaffirming my missed opportunity to be a first witness to such an historic event. The promoters figured a crowd of no more than 150,000 (50,000 per day) over the three days. However, approximately 400,000 (some accounts put it at closer to 1/2 million) showed up.
The film begins with the impending storm that overcame the throng on day-three. Anyone who has seen this footage should recall the scrambling folks did to take cover. From there, Goodman shifts the focus away from Max Yasgur's diary farm on August 17, 1969 to three years earlier and begins to document the origins of the festival amongst the surrounding backdrop of the times: a nation grappling with sexual and civil rights issues as well as the divisiveness of the Vietnam War.
As the calendar turns to 1969, the detailing of the overwhelming logistics facing the organizers will have you shaking your head in amazement that the extravaganza was ever pulled off. Originally, the festival was slated to occur in Wallkill, NY. However, the conservative townsfolk feared the onslaught of "dirty hippies" and the town revoked the permit just months before the festival dates.
The organizers then spent weeks surveying the New York countryside via helicopter when they finally happened on Max Yasgur's idyllic farm in Bethel. And after getting the conservative republican's approval to utilize his bucolic setting only months before the kickoff, they soon realized that, in order to get everything in place would have taken them well into November. Unfortunately, August 15 was only weeks away. Having already sold thousands of tickets, they were pass the point of no return and had to make a critical decision: do they construct a mile of fencing surrounding the property in order to reap a profit, or a stage. Their choice was clear and the end result was declaring the "Three Days Of Peace and Love" a free-fest for all.
Barak Goodman (winner of numerous awards and nominated for an Academy Award for his 2000 documentary Scottsboro: An American Tragedy which won a Prime-time Emmy Award, and a longtime contributor to PBS' "American Experience" series) contacted Warner Brothers for footage. WB agreed to turn over over 55 hours of unused crowd outtakes taken by three young film crews who roamed the audience (Don Kleszy masterly edited it into the documentary), but had him agree on using only only snippets of the musical performances. Undeterred, Goodman realized that Michael Wadleigh's critically acclaimed Academy Award winning 1970 epic doc Woodstock: 3 Day of Peace & Music had already brilliantly covered that aspect of the festival. He was more interested in the backstory.
The director avoided a never-ending parade of talking heads and instead made the correct decision of providing archival and present day voice-overs from organizers, concert participants and musicians including David Crosby, Richie Havens, and Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane) and placed their spoken word over the amazing visuals. (As Goodman declared during the Q&A, this decision was easily made after realizing that showing the present-day narrators would have been a distraction and also felt that no one was interested in seeing the faces of 75 year-old ex-hippies.) The effect, as Barak noted, was to put the viewer in the audience and to indirectly give them as profound an experience as possible without actually being there.
One of the immense pleasures of the film, and a total hoot, is the "security" force hire by the promoters: A West Coast commune group call The Hog Farm led by a revolutionary who called himself "Wavy Gravy". Naming themselves "The Please Force", they were surprisingly successful in keeping the peace and were instrumental in preparing much needed food and tending to folks who had overdosed. (Barak stated in the Q&A that Wavy is unchanged today and is still considered a saint in the Bay area.)
It should be noted that there were several spectacular non-life threatening injuries which Goodman emphasizes by showing a medical inventory that will have viewers aghast in disbelief. And there were two documented deaths due to a drug overdose (surprising considering the amount of drugs consumed during the three days) and someone in a sleeping bag who was accidentally run over by a tractor.
Despite that, overall, Woodstock showed the world how hundreds of thousands of mostly young people could overcome multiple days of numerous challenges (including lack of food, medical supplies and personnel, and weather) to peacefully endure and enjoy a momentous happening which probably would and could never be duplicated in our lifetime. As one voice-over participant stated, "If 400,000 people could get together have absolutely no violence, absolutely no conflict, I felt like we could change the world."
Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation opened theatrically on a limited basis on May 24 (it will premiere in Baltimore and Washington on June 14) and will be shown on PBS' "American Experience" in late July in honor of the 50th anniversary.
(Click on Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 to view the Q&A with director Barak Goodman, moderated by Ken Jacobson, Senior Documentary Film and Special Content Programmer for AFI Festivals.
NOTE: Due to the poor lighting conditions at the venue, it took me several minutes to adjust the brightness and sharpness on my Canon Powershot HS60 camera. However, if you stick with it, you'll be rewarded with some fascinating production and behind-the-scene facts of this superb documentary.)
Director Barack Goodman
A screening attendee displays his one day ticket
UPCOMING: Coverage of the 17th edition of the AFI DOCS Documentary Film Festival (formerly SILVERDOCS) held in Silver Spring MD and Washington DC that runs from Wednesday June 19-Sunday June 23
Wednesday April 17, 2019
I traveled to DC to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to screen this gem by director Ryan White (2013's Good 'Ol Freda; 2014's The Case Against 8). In 1980, a diminutive sex therapist and Holocaust survivor began a 15 minute call-in show called "Sexually Speaking" on New York radio station WYNY-FM that was so controversial, the show was taped on a Thursday night so it could be screened by sensors before airing the following Sunday at midnight. It didn't take long before Dr. Ruth Westheimer became a cultural icon - appearing on the late-night talk shows of the day, PBS specials, her own daytime show, nighttime drama shows, commercials, and even serving as one of the celebrities on "Hollywood Squares".
White begins the doc with a hilarious opening where the present-day 90-year-old Dr., in her cluttered three-bedroom Washington Heights N.Y. apartment, asks Amazons' smart speaker "Alexa" to find her a boyfriend. Despite the fact that her earnings over the years would have assuredly entitled her to a more luxurious abode, we learn that Dr. Ruth has occupied the same home for 54 years while raising two children. White sprinkles his documentary early-on with various amusing short clips of her TV career while cutting back and forth to the present-day Westheimer as she meanders about her residence exhibiting surprising humor, spryness and youthfulness.
After about 15 minutes, the director shifts the focus to her amazing life journey. The director shows a photo of the 4'7" doctor at age 10, which morphs into an animated likeness. Westheimer was born in Frankfort Germany in 1928 where, at the age of 10, she was placed by her mom on the kindertransport to a Swiss orphanage to save her from almost certain death. It would be the last time she would see her parents who she later learns perished in a German concentration camp. She would be the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. Her remaining story, partially told with animation beautifully rendered by animator Isaac Rubio and narrated with excerpts from her diary, includes three marriages, a stint as an Israeli sniper, earning a doctorate while continuing to write books and teaching at two universities.
The director employs expert editing by Rejh Cabrera and Helen Kearns with a beautiful complementary score by Blake Neely. This memorable movie will have you laughing as well as shedding a tear or two throughout.
Ask Dr. Ruth, which I predict could make the Academy Awards nomination short list next year, will have a limited release by Magnolia Pictures and Hulu on May 3.
Q&A moderator Washington Post reporter Lisa Bonos,
Dr. Ruth, and director Ryan White after the Q&A
Tuesday March 12, 2019
THE SHOW (** out of 4)
Pre-show rumors were swirling that Whoopie Goldberg would appear as a surprise host since she was mysteriously missing from her normal duties on ABC's "The View". In actuality, she was recovering from double pneumonia and sepsis - which almost ended her existence. For me, this telecast had ME nearly "dying" - from boredom. Oh, there were a smattering of bright spots but, overall, the absence of a top-notch host, elaborate productions numbers, and the usual sprinkling of movie clips had me yearning for the good 'ol days. The end result: dull intros, tedious speeches, and, except for one major award surprise, fairly predictable results. I was actually praying for a visual pratfall such as when Jennifer Lawrence tripped up the podium steps during the 2017 telecast.
I hereby propose that future Oscars come up with one or more persons that can host and be the focal point of the usual narcissism and provide a certain cohesiveness and levity to the proceedings. If so, my overall rating might just actually improve to 2 1/2 stars.
My annual apologies to Sergio Leone, as this breakdown will pretty much sum up the event through this reviewer's eyes:
- The rousing opening of "We Will Rock You" &"We Are The Champions" by Queen fronted by ex-"American Idol" runner-up alumnus Adam Lambert was not, unfortunately, a harbinger of what followed - except for . . .
- The performance of "Shallow" from A Star Is Born by Lady Ga Ga and her co-star Bradley Cooper which might go down as one of the most electrifying moments in Oscar History. That alone raised by star rating for the show from 1 1/2 to 2.
- The producers might be wise to consider having the first presenters after Queen's opening serve as hosts. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph were top-notch. And long-time friends Fey & Poehler have tremendous experience after doing the hosting duties for three years (2013-2015) at the Golden Globes. Or maybe try again next year with Kevin Hart if the current PC insanity gripping the country lets up even a little bit.
- The second best presenters were two other SNL alumni Dana Carvey and Mike Myers who hilariously recreated their Wayne's World bit. It didn't hurt that a mainstay of their SNL classic skit was their characters' inspirational love of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Myers's supporting role in the movie with the same namesake.
- Although the organizers tried to keep the broadcast under three hours, they were relatively close at 3 hours and 17 minutes (3 hours and 13 minutes before the closing credits). A far cry from the all-time 2002 record of 4 hours and 23 minutes when Whoopi hosted. (Last year the running time was 3 hours and 53 minutes.) No doubt eliminating lame inane time-consuming bits by previous hosts (for example in 2014 when host Ellen DeGeneres took audience members across the street to surprise a movie audience) helped considerably shorten the running time. Now if they could make the overall Oscars production less dull!
- The beautiful tribute music played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra of a rendition of a John Williams' composition during the "In Memoriam" segment.
- There were only a few scattered instances of hearing the annoying cue from the orchestra signaling to the minor awardees to get the f*** off the stage after 90 seconds. Most of those speeches were thankfully brief.
- The official end of #OscarsSoWhite diversity debate in the major and tech awards. Three of the four acting awards went to people of color (Regina King, Mahershala Ali and Rami Malek), Alfonso Cuarón (Best Director & Cinematography), winners of Best Documentary as well as Best Animated Feature and Short. Added to the list were the first African-American women (Ruth E. Carter & Hannah Beachler) to win Best Costume and Production Design (for Black Panther) and Spike Lee for Best Adapted Screenplay to complement his honorary Oscar in 2016.
- I did fairly well with my predictions (see my Pre-AA Ramblings column below). Although I hit on 11 of my 17 picks (64%), I had correctly predicted the long shot winner for 5 of the 6 misses. The only total disaster pick is the one that I would wager very few had: Free Solo beating out RBG for Best Documentary. For some reason, the Academy has a difficult time with this category. Films that clearly should be nominated and that end up winning multiple pre-Oscar awards are ignored and miss the final cut time and time again. And predicting the winner is often a head-scratcher. Not that Free Solo was totally undeserving; however, the film about the elder Supreme Court Justice had already won eight critic and festival awards. Keep that in mind when betting your precious ducats in this category next year.
- The final numbers improved to 29.6 million viewers with a 7.7 rating of adults 18-49. That was a gain of 3.1 million from last year. However . . .
- Those numbers were the second worse of all-time from last years record lows, marking four years of stark declines.
- Despite helping to keep down the running time, the absence of a host to maintain a certain sense of continuance was ultimately missed.
- One of the reasons for the continuation of relatively low viewership numbers has to be the public's disdain for the unrelenting political negativity spewed by the Hollywood left-which only serves to turn off approximately half of their audience who are only looking to be entertained by the "snowflakes".
- As usual, the "In Memoriam" segment had several baffling omissions, despite the announcement that not all departed artists could be included. Among the most notable: Carol Channing (who was an Oscar nominee for 1967's Thoroughly Modern Millie), Sandra Locke (another nominee for her first film, 1968's The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, and who was a long-time corroborator with Clint Eastwood), character actor Dick Miller (who appeared in over 100 movies), John Mahoney, and, despite his passing three days before the broadcast, acclaimed On the Town and Singin' in the Rain director Stanley Donen. (For a complete list of who was and who weren't included, click here.)
- True ugly moments were hard to enumerate in the generally placid production. However, the one repugnant incident that truly defined the term "sour grapes" was the off-camera action of one of the nominees for Best Picture that was reported after the fact by numerous media outlets. After finally winning a non-honorary Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, it seemed Spike Lee wasn't content and instead decided to show his disgust when his film wasn't announced for Best Picture at the end of the show. It was reported that Lee stood up and started to walk out and returned after the winners' acceptance speeches concluded.
AND NOW. . . THE ANNUAL JAY B CINEMA DIARY OSCAR SHOW AWARDS.THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE. . .
THE 1st BIGGEST SURPRISE LOSER - Glenn Close (losing to Olivia Colman for Best Actress).
THE 2nd BIGGEST SURPRISE LOSER - Roma for Best Picture. Although I correctly predicted the eventual winner (Green Book), Roma was the odds-on favorite to win.
THE LEAST SURPRISING WINNER - Lady Ga Ga (Best Original Song).
THE 2ND LEAST SURPRISING WINNER - Alfonso Cuarón (Best Cinematography).
THE BEST PRESENTERS WHO SHOULD BE CONSIDERED HOSTS IN 2020 - Ex-Saturday Night alums Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph.
THE 2nd BEST PRESENTERS WHO SHOULD BE HOSTS IN 2020 - Ex-Saturday Night Live alums Mike Myers and Dana Carvey.
THE 3rd BEST PRESENTERS WHO SHOULD BE HOSTS IN 2020 - Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) and comedian John Mulaney.
BEST HEARTFELT ACCEPTANCE SPEECH - Best Actress winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite) who was as shocked as the rest of the viewing audience when she beat out Glenn Close. Spontaneously funny and genuine, teary-eyed Colman's acceptance speech was appropriately humble and memorable.
2nd BEST HEARTFELT ACCEPTANCE SPEECH - Lady Ga Ga winning for "Shallow". Tearful to the end she gave maximum credit to co-writer of the song to Bradley Cooper and passionately related what it took for her to get to this point in her career.
FUNNIEST ACCEPTANCE SPEECH - Best Documentary Short winners for Period. End Of Sentence about the effort to educate young girls on menstruation in rural India. Co-winner Rayka Zehtabchi, after being handed the award, gleefully exclaimed, "I'm not crying because I'm on my period" and then followed that by saying "I can't believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!".
BEST REASON FOR HANDING OUT THE MINOR AWARDS LIVE - Rayka Zehtabchi's hilarious acceptance speech.
WORST ACCEPTANCE SPEECH - Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney, winners of Best Makeup (for Vice) who appeared totally unprepared of what to say and who to thank. Never was the orchestra cue and microphone cut-off more welcomed.
BEST REASON FOR HANDING OUT MINOR AWARDS DURING COMMERCIALS- Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney who acceptances were a disaster.
BEST VISUAL JOKE - Best Costume Design presenters Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry whose garb "channeled" The Favourite, Mary Queen Of Scots, Mary Poppins Returns and Black Panther replete with McCarthy sporting a bunny hand-puppet and a whole bunch of stuffed bunnies sewed onto her dress (see photo below). (If you haven't seen The Favourite you wouldn't get that joke.)
WORST VISUAL JOKE - Kegan-Michael Key's gimmick as he floated down from the ceiling holding an umbrella (a nod to Mary Poppins Returns) before presenting Bette Midler's performance of "The Place Where Lost Things Go".
BEST ACTING CON JOB THAT HAD TWITTER ALL AFLUTTER - Lady Ga Ga & Bradley Cooper whose sizzling performance of "Shallow" had the country muttering that the two should get a hotel room. Ga Ga later revealed that it was all planned after rehearsing all week to reenact their torrid cinematic love affair from A Star Is Born. With Cooper's main squeeze watching from the audience, it would have been totally inappropriate of him for this to be anything for what it was: ACTING.
BEST REACTION TO WINNING AN OSCAR - Spike Lee who, after ascending the Dolby Theater stage, immediately jumped into the arms of presenter Samuel L. Jackson.
THE #1 WTF PRESENTER MOMENT - Tennis player Serena Williams (HUH?) presenting the nominated film A Star Is Born.
THE #2 WTF PRESENTER MOMENT - Civil rights advocate Rep. John Lewis (HUH??) presenting the nominated film Green Book.
THE #3 WTF PRESENTER MOMENT - Chef Jose Andres (HUH???) presenting the nominated film Roma. (I get it that Williams, Lewis and Andres have a peripheral connection to the themes of these films but couldn't they keep the proceedings strictly Hollywood?)
WINNER OF THE MOST OSCARS - Although The Favourite and Roma garnered the most noms (10 each), it was Bohemian Rhapsody that won the night with four: Best Actor (Rami Malek) and three technical awards.
THE TWITTER TAGLINE THAT WAS FINALLY PUT TO REST - #OscarsSoWhite. Awards to people of color went to winners of three of the four acting awards, to several filmmakers, to a number of tech award winners, as well as to two African-Americans women who won for the first-time in the best costume and production design categories (Black Panther).
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN AWARD - Goes to comedian Kevin Hart who was uninvited to host. When the only film montage of the evening was shown, they included a snippet of Hart in his film Night Trip.
THE BIGGEST ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM AWARD - Goes to director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) whose film, Bohemian Rhapsody, won the most awards. Nobody accepting their four awards mentioned the disgraced director who, amid recent allegations of sexual abuse, was fired with less than three weeks of filming remaining for missing from the set for days at a time.
MOST PREPARED FOR HIS/HER ACCEPTANCE SPEECH(ES) - Alfonso Cuarón, who easily won this award after accepting three separate times for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, and Best Director for Roma. The talented director Mexican director, who wrote, produced, directed, edited and shot the acclaimed Netflix film, managed to make each speech unique, relevant and interesting.
BEST FREDDIE MERCURY IMPRESSION - I cannot think of another person who would have fittingly filled the deceased Queen front man's shoes better than the 2009 ex-American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, whose electrifying performance opened the show.
OSCAR TELECAST PICS
Queen opens the show with the late Freddie Mercury
projected on the big screen
(l to r) Brian May and Adam Lambert of Queen
(l to r) Presenters Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and
(l to r) Presenters Melissa McCarthy & Jason Mamoa
Spike Lee jumps into the arms of Samuel L
Jackson after winning the Best Adapted
(l to r) Presenters Awkwafina and John Mulaney
Lady Ga Ga and Bradley Cooper performing "Shallow"
(l to r) Presenters Mike Myers & Dana Carvey
(l to r) Melissa Berton & Rayka Zehtabchi accepting
for Best Documentary Short
Best Actress winner Olivia Colman
Presenter Keegan-Michael Key descends from the
ceiling to introduce the nominated song from
"Mary Poppins Returns"
Julia Roberts presents the Best Picture Oscar
Director Peter Ferrally raises his Oscar after "Green
Book" wins for Best Picture
Director Alfonso Cuarón ( Roma) shows off his
three Oscars backstage