This documentary provides a look at the civil unrest that happened in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 after white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man. The film features footage captured by people on the ground during the events, and I was hoping for something like a Citizenfour, in which we were able to watch history unfold (although this would obviously have a much different feel based on the subject matter). Unfortunately, what we got is overly long and poorly laid out. It uses a mostly verite style, with no commentary from the filmmakers, so we’re mainly following a number of activists, and sometimes for activities that have nothing to do with the film’s subject.
It’s easy to understand why people were upset by the shooting, by the overwhelming and largely unjustified police response to the protests, and by the decision that it wasn’t even worth holding a trial to see if Wilson was guilty of any wrongdoing. It’s easy to understand that the resulting fear and outrage may have caused people to act in irrational ways. But the film, lacking in any kind of commentary except the events that it chooses to present to us, focuses too much on people who acted in ways that were completely unproductive and nonsensical (like a group of people stopping traffic on major roadways). Its subjects often provide information that seems suspicious without any kind of fact checking. Perhaps a more experienced group of filmmakers might have been able to craft the content into a more effective and sensible report and call to action.
Chris Burden made a name for himself as a performance artist in the 1970s through some rather extreme works. He’s perhaps best known for having someone shoot him in the arm, which didn’t go exactly as planned. For a postgraduate thesis, he spent five days living in a tiny locker. And, of course, there’s the time that he had himself nailed to the back of a Volkswagen.
This documentary focuses on the life of the recently deceased artist. It explains how he went on to make other performance art pieces that were even more pretentious, made less sense to the intended audience, and often frustrated everyone except for (or even including) himself. It also details some of his later work, after he’d largely given up performance art and creating things that could be perhaps more easily enjoyed by ordinary people. Through interviews and archival footage, it tries (and not always successfully) to describe his mindset and motivation and what those around him saw in his work. The video quality isn’t always great, but the content certainly isn’t boring, even if you’re one of those people who doesn’t always “get” his type of art.
In the latest film by Sion Sono (Exte: Hair Extensions, Love Exposure, Cold Fish, Tokyo Tribe, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Love and Peace), we meet Kyôko, who seems to be some kind of famous artist. She’s got a busy day planned, with interviews and photo shoots, and she’s high on getting to abuse her assistant, who’s willing to do seemingly anything to please her.
But then, what seems like a minimal narrative becomes something completely different. It would be spoilerish to try to explain any more, and I’m not entirely sure that I fully understand everything that happens in it, but it’s short, funny, and surprisingly entertaining for a movie that so often teeters on the edge of boredom. There are things about the movie that don’t work, and the ever-evolving nature of the film makes it hard to nail down, but it’s worth checking out, especially if you’ve liked any of Sono’s previous films.