Doc Roundup: October 25th, 2007

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This week’s new docs all seem to focus on already well-known figures. Incidentally, all of them happen to be white men…

Jonathan Demme’s Jimmy Carter Man From Plains followed the former president during his book tour for Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” an accordingly to most critics, portrays Carter in the most flattering of lights. The Wall Street Journal says that “…the documentary proves to be an uncomfortably admiring advertisement for its subject, and a narrowly focused one at that... Salon agrees, but argues that even though the film “…sometimes feels like the portrait of a saint, it also reminds us that saints are strange and private people pursuing a personal compact with an invisible deity, in solitude and often in sadness.” Entertainment Weekly points out that the film focuses more than just on the man himself, and calls the film a “gripping meditation on the very hot-button-ness of the Israeli-Palestinian question.”

Chanel fashion designer Karl Largerfeld is the focus of Lagerfeld Confidential, but does the film, helmed by Rodolphe Marconi, get to the heart of the man? Critics seem to come away from the film with no better an understanding of the man behind the fan, with The Reeler calling Lagerfeld someone who ” … has clearly mastered the art of answering prying questions with perfect frankness while revealing absolutely nothing”, and Time Out London saying, “[filmmaker] Marconi doesn’t scratch the surface of [Lagerfeld's] enigmatic self-mythologising.” Other reviews for the film range from lukewarm to negative, with most critics citing Lagerfeld’s wit and epigrams (“Success nullifies.”) as the most interesting parts of the film.

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe covers the life of Wagstaff, an art collector and curator who was also the lover of seminal photographer Mapplethorpe during the 1970s and 1980s. Film Journal international calls it “…an absorbing, if at times plodding, portrait of heady times in New York from the wild, anything-goes ’70s to the more financially minded, ultimately tragic AIDS-ridden ’80s…. Many revieweds, including Jack Matthews for the Daily News, point out that the film is a biopic of Wagstoff, and that Mapplethorpe’s name is being exploited in the title for his fame and notoriety.

Two other artists get the documentary treatment in films in select theaters this weekend. Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, portrays the singer and activist with affection using standard documentary methods, says the New York Times, in a positive, fond review of the film. Lynch, which follows filmmaker David Lynch during the filming of Inland Empire, is an abstract, non-linear film that Newsday calls “a tightly edited, formalist movie” that’s also an “…intimate, predictably eccentric and off-kilter…” portrait of the filmmaker.

Ruiyan Xu
Ruiyan Xu
Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.