This is a guest post from Sarah Dunne, a pop culture junkie living in Toronto.
Reviews for Shut Up And Play The Hits, About Face: The Supermodels, Then And Now and The Mechanical Bride are below. Check out all our Hot Docs 2012 coverage here.
As TIME magazine put it, “we may never dance again”. They were speaking of course about the end of LCD Soundsystem. The night of April 2nd 2011 saw them performing for an epic four hour set as they played their final show in New York’s sold out Madison Square Garden. Shut Up And Play The Hits documents this bittersweet last hurrah of a band at the peak of their fame and power.
As the main focus, front man James Murphy reflects on his final performance as he wanders around New York on the day after the show. We also see him sitting down with journalist Chuck Klosterman discussing his decision to end the band at the height of their popularity, his feelings about age, retirement and the whole idea of celebrity. The footage and the interview combine to give us a picture of a man who has made a clear decision but who is unclear where this decision will lead or what the real ramifications will be.
“What is your greatest failure as an artist?” asks Klosterman. After a moments hesitation Murphy replies “Maybe this… stopping”.
We see a vulnerability and self-consciousness to Murphy and get a sense of his own uncertainty about what lies ahead as he shares a few existential (and hilarious) moments with his adorable french bulldog. We see him breakdown as he takes one last look at the band’s gear the day after their final show. We realise the extent of the decision he has made to end one of he most celebrated and influential bands of the 21st century and how heavily that decision now weighs on his shoulders.
But of course the film is nothing without the music. Bursts of footage from the Madison Square Garden gig are woven throughout the conversation with Murphy and you have been warned – the urge to dance in one’s seat as they tear into All My Friends or the 45:33 duet with Reggie Watts is incredibly strong!
As the house lights come up after New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down shots of tear-drenched faces in the New York crowd again reinforce the influence LCD Soundsystem had and lead me to believe that perhaps TIME were right. We may never dance again.
UK / Canadian Premiere / Directed By: Will Lovelace, Dylan Southern
110mins / Documentary
About Face sees Timothy Greenfield-Sanders sit down with some of the world’s most iconic former supermodels to discuss their careers and thoughts on the ageing process. Women such as Isabella Rossilini, Jerry Hall, Christie Brinkley, Pat Cleveland, China Machado and Paulina Porizkova all candidly chat to Sanders.
Unfortunately there are only a few brief glinting moments where About Face really shows some depth. Moments like Pat Cleveland sharing a harrowing story about racial abuse towards models of colour are all too rare. It tends to skip over the hard hitting issues or “the dark side of modeling” as it’s referred to – the rampant drug use, the exploitation of teenage girls, the sickening pressure to be excruciatingly thin. The topic of plastic surgery arises numerous times and the field is divided about its place in today’s world – many promote it’s use while others think it’s just the 21st century’s new way of making women believe that they will never be naturally beautiful enough and that they should constantly strive to remain youthful looking.
Without question Jerry Hall and Isabella Rossellini are the stars of About Face. Rossolini looking as strikingly androgonous as ever in a suit and tie with her hair short and tight and Jerry worlds away with her long blonde locks, red lips and leopard print cardigan. Both chat with ease and you get a sense that they have seen and done it all. They look back on their careers with fondess and it seems that with age has come wisdom. It is a pity Greenfield-Sanders diluted their input by interviewing close to 20 other women.
About Face does succeed in bringing together some of the worlds most beautiful and iconic stars who lived and worked through a historical time when the concept of the supermodel was just emerging. These ladies set a benchmark for what was to come and have many entertaining stories to tell. For that alone About Face almost redeems itself.
USA / Canadian Premiere / Directed By: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
72mins / Documentary
The Mechanical Bride sees Alison de Fren examining the technological advancements in the world of sex doll manufacturing. From the outset I realised that this may possibly be one of the most bizarre and at times disturbing documentaries I have ever seen. I was not wrong.
De Fren sheds light on this emerging industry through interviews with the men and women (mostly men) who manufacture the dolls, men who spend all their money collecting sex dolls and men who are, for all intents and purposes, in love with their dolls.
The question of why guys would buy a sex doll rather than try meet a real woman is an obvious one and the whole idea of the sex doll serving to encourage the objectification of women is an area that The Mechanical Bride could have got sucked into. Instead it just presents the facts unbiasedly and leaves judgement up to the viewer.
One very interesting character insists that he could never possibly meet a girl who is as beautiful as his doll and if he did she would have to accept the doll as part of the relationship. Another older gentleman discusses how he bought his doll after his wife died and dresses her in bikinis from his wife’s closet. The manufacturers bring us through the rapid advancements in body shape, texture and movement that have been made, as well as the ability to customise dolls in every way possible – I’ll leave that to your imagination.
By all accounts the sex doll industry is now exploding, all in an effort to create the ultimate doll. The pygmalion ideal of the perfect woman – she has everything but a brain and of course she is silent!
USA / World Premiere / Directed By: Allison de Fren
76mins / Documentary