Antologia: Su Historia y Sus Exitos

2004. Starring: Los Prisioneros. Chile. Spanish. Latin Rock.

Los Prisioneros formed in 1982 in San Miguel, Chile. This DVD covers the span of their career (before their reformation) from their early, ska-inflected, electro-punk pop songs to their lush, synthdance mega-hits that they made at the dawn of the '90s. Also included is an interview with singer Jorge Gonzalez and a few extra features that connect the contents with his narrative commentary.

The DVD begins with the band miming their song "Sexo" (with Jorge playing a broom instead of guitar) at his mom's house. The nattily dressed trio ham it up for the camcorder in what must've seemed like a goof to the inexperienced but talented band. For some reason they leave of the video for "La Voz de los '80" (one of their best) which they later performed on Sabados Gigantes which, at the time was still based in Chile (as well as pluralized) and helped catapault them to stardom.

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Eric Brightwell
Jun 28, 2008 2:48pm

The Newsroom

Canadian Television Series. 1996-1997. Starring: Ken Finkleman, Peter Keleghan, Karen Hines. Television.

The Newsroom is a Canadian series that starred Ken Finkleman stars as George Findlay - an intelligent, constipated, egotistical, cynical, immoral newsroom director who will go to any length to avoid his mother but lavishes attention on his BMW. He is primarily concerned with his stature within the beauraucracy of the television station and he effortlessly pushes sensationalist fantasies to boost the station's ratings. But, Finkleman plays George as somehow likeable unlike his unbearably unpleasant comedic descendants like Larry David or Dwight Schute.

I've seen The Newsroom compared to the UK's Drop Dead Donkey because it's set in a news studio too. That seems lazy to me. Whereas Drop Dead Donkey is wacky, laugh-tracked and therefore unwatchable, The Newsroom is generally low-key and dry although the situations are occasionally highly improbable and far-fetched. Because of its Canadian origins and its era, it can kind of be described as existing between The Larry Sanders Show and The Office with flannel and tuques (Canadian for "stocking caps").

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Eric Brightwell
Jun 28, 2008 2:32pm

Raspberry Reich

Dir: Bruce LaBruce. 2004. Starring Ulrike S., Paul Gerrits, Susanne Sachsse. English. Smut/Gay Cinema/Comedy.

In Germany in the 1970s, a group of young leftists calling themselves the Rote Armee Fraktion (more commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang) coalesced around their shared opposition to the perceived conservative bias of Germany's post-war government (which included former Nazis) and the right wing media exemplified by Axel Springer's media which opposed the student opposition movement and their goals of fighting racism, sexism, police brutality and imperialism. The RAF trained in Jordan alongside the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and then used their newly acquired techniques to wage violent actions against the German police, U.S. military bases, and the Springer Press before most key members were killed or committed suicide (depending on who you believe).

Raspberry Reich portrays a group of modern leftists, inspired largely by the RAF (as well as the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army) to adopt their radical views. Their leader is a strong-willed woman named Gudrun. To prove their dedication to subverting the patriarchy, she teaches that "heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses" and forces her followers to engage in sex with one another. Gudrun speaks/barks in gayified leftist slogans including commands like "Put your Marxism where your mouth is" and "The revolution is my boyfriend" (the latter of which she tells her former boyfriend when he resists her demands to have sex with another gang member).

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Eric Brightwell
Mar 24, 2008 4:09pm

Beau Brummel

Dir: Harry Beaumont. 1924. Starring: John Barrymore, Mary Astor. Silent Films.

Beau (né George) Brummell, whilst little known today, was a major force in 19th century politics and fashion. Born when courtly circles were filled the ostentatiously foppish Macaronis, Brummell revolutionized English grooming by not wearing a wig, brushing his teeth daily, and developing an understated but well-tailored look known which became known as Dandyism.

In the film, John Barrymore (Drew’s grandpa aka “The Great Profile”) plays Brummel (here, with one “l” for some reason.) He pines for Lady Margery, played by 17-year-old Mary Astor (who was having an affair with the notorious 42-year-old ladies’ man and whoremonger behind the scenes). Lady Margery’s ambitious mother has other ideas, however, and rejects the low-born Beau Brummel in favor of the blue-blooded Lord Alvanley, Colonel of the Tenth Hussars.

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Eric Brightwell
Mar 19, 2008 7:59pm

Touki Bouki (The Hyena's Journey)

Dir: Djibril Diop Mambéty. 1973. Starring: Magaye Niang, Mareme Niang. French. Black Cinema/African Cinema/Foreign.

Two poor, restless University students in Dakar (Mory and Anta) attempt to raise the funds to move to Paris in search of a better life. To accomplish this end, they engage in petty thievery and steal some expensive threads from a rich, gay fellow who's picked up Mory and taken him back to his palatial estate. In the process of raising funds they ride around on a motorcycle adorned with a cow's skull.

The tone is langourous and playful, similar to Godard's Pierrot Le Fou or Malick's Badlands. Unlike the didactic types in many of Mambéty's peers' films, Touki Bouki's protaganists are merely two characters in a diverse milieu which views neo-colonialism vs. African traditionalism with a fair amount of ambiguity. The visuals are pretty stunning too. There are a lot of shots of the heroes riding around the city and countryside on the aforementioned motorcyle and in a beautiful, customized Citroën 2CV. There are a lot of great threads and vibrant colors fill most of the stylishly composed frames.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 23, 2008 3:51pm

Yeelen (Brightness)

Dir. Souleymane Cissé. 1987. Starring: Issiaka Kane, Aoua Sangare.Bambara. Black Cinema/African Cinema/Foreign/Fantasy.

Niankoro, a young man in the powerful Malian Kingdom, is relentlessly pursued by his evil sorcerer father Soma in this mythological tale set in the 1200s. It seems Niankoro has stolen secret knowledge reserved exclusively for a secret society of old men with the intention to share it openly. He seeks out his father's twin and fellow sorcerer, Djigui Diarra, for protection. Niankoro's travels take him through the lands of the cosmologically-oriented, cliff-dwelling Dogon and the Peul, whose king enlists Niankoro's aid in protecting them from raiders and giving him a child - which he does (although not through magic) and Niankoro picks up a wife in the process. Niankoro avoids his father but Soma won't back down, however, and the confrontation between father and son becomes inevitable.

Cissé attended the Moscow School of Cinema and Television on a scholarship and Yeelen, based on Bambara legend, is very reminsicent of the Soviet films of Tarkovsky or Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami with a slow, methodical pace and lots of quiet space. Salif Keita and Michel Portal's score is minimal and used sparingly. The use of magic is handled similarly without flashy special effects along the lines of Tarkovsky's Stalker or Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock. There's ritualistic drinking, sniffing and smoking of various unnamed substances and Cissé depicts everything with an appropriate sort of hazy, dreamlike detachment. For a genre not generally known for restraint, this is one of the calmest films you'll ever see.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 23, 2008 3:45pm

The Spook Who Sat By the Door

Dir. Ivan Dixon. 1973. Starring: Ramon Livingston, Lawrence Cook. English. Black Cinema.

For years I was inundated by requests for this seemingly much-in-demand film that I'd never heard of. It played in theaters for only three weeks upon its initial release before being yanked. Despite being successful and popular, the FBI and COINTELPRO put pressure on the film's distributors, fearful of what it might inspire in viewers. When it finally came to DVD, I watched it.

The plot concerns a white U.S. senator whose political career is faltering. In a cynical bid to appeal to black voters and save his career, he voices his support for a C.I.A. drive to recruit more blacks into the organization. This works but - in a move that's both comical and obviously designed to rile up viewers and sets the tone for the rest of the film - the new recruits are graded on a curve. Only one of these new, token black agents can pass - quiet, polite Dan Feldman. And Dan learns that his new position will be as Reproduction Chief which requires him to man the copy machine in the basement at all times.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 9, 2008 3:36pm

African American Lives

Dir: Graham Judd. 2006. Starring: Dr. Ben Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, Bishop T.D. Jakes. English. Documentary/Black Cinema

This is a great documentary that uses history, genealogy, and new technologies to retrace the violently and deliberately erased ancestral histories of a group of participants, all of African ancestry whose relatives were, for the most part, brought over involuntarily from Africa. The answers it provides are often thought-provoking in ways that most discussions about race aren't.

The host is Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr, a W.E.B. DuBois professor of the Humanities and the Chair of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University. I’d seen Gates in Wonders of the African World where he seemed to feign ignorance about everything he learned on his travels in Africa. I mean, he’s got some pretty big credentials and yet he’d continually act like he had no idea about the realities of his chosen subject of expertise until his interviewees revealed it to him. It seemed like he felt that pretending that everything was new to him would make him more identifiable to us, the presumably ignorant viewers. In this documentary, unfortunately, he does the same schtik which is just about the only shortcoming of the documentary, although it can be sort of funny. For example, he “guesses” that, given his appearance, his ancestors came from the East African kingdom of Nubia (huh?!), despite the fact that nearly all slaves in the U.S. came from the West Coast slave centers built centuries earlier, not by Europeans, but by other Africans. Of course it turns out that 0% of slaves were Nubian. His surprise at his DNA results seems genuine though when they reveal that his matrilineal line goes back to Ireland.

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Eric Brightwell
Feb 2, 2008 4:04pm

Watermelon Man

Dir: Melvin van Peebles. 1970. Starring: Godfrey Cambridge, Estelle Parsons. English. Black Cinema/Comedy.

Godfrey Cambridge plays Jeff Gerber, a happy-go-lucky, casually racist and sexist insurance salesman who’s oblivious to the fact that nearly everyone that knows him finds him unpleasant and unlikeable. One morning he awakens to find, to his shock and repulsion, that he’s turned black in his sleep. He blames it on his daily devotion to his tanning bed but not even his doctor can explain it. As far fetched as it sounds, they try to explore the drastic change in Jeff's appearance in a fairly logical way. Of course, it ultimately can't be explained and the film moves into making humorous social commentary.

Some of the jokes are a bit formulaic. For example, his supposedly liberal wife is horrified at being married to someone who's turned black. Jeff stays indoors after his race switch until he works up the nerve to head to “the colored part of town” to buy some skin-lightening creams which (of course) fail to work.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 2, 2008 3:30pm

La Noire de... (a.k.a. Black Girl)

Dir: Ousmane Sembene. 1964. Starring: T. Diop, A-M. Jelinek, R. Fontaine. French. African Cinema/Black Cinema/Foreign.

Black Girl was the first feature length film made in Sub-Saharan Africa by an African which is why its director, Ousmane Sembene, was known universally as the "Father of African Cinema." He didn't end up being a prolific director, but he was one who regularly made amazing films up until his final film which came out which he made at 81, three years before his death in 2007.

Sembene began his creative career as an author but realized that he could reach a far larger audience with film. As a speaker of Wolof, his films would only be understood by Wolof speakers and the small audience which subtitles can reach (being problematic due to widespread illiteracy in Africa and further language barriers). To overcome these obstacles, Sembene used a cinematic solution, the employment of a highly visual style which owed more to Soviet aesthetics than to mainstream Hollywood or European films. It also suited his background as a Communist primarily concerned with social change. The thoughtfully-constructed visuals would convey his lifelong concerns with post-colonial identity, racism and later in his career, African corruption and negative cultural practices.

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Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 2, 2008 3:03pm
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