Staff Picks, Film and Audio
American folk singer Woody Guthrie, composer of "This Land Is Your Land," was born 100 years ago. This PBS video explores his life and music, as well as some of his lesser known talents and passions. In addition to being a singer-songwriter, Woody wrote, sang and painted about everything. You can listen to Woody Guthrie online at American Song and you can view another DVD about him: This Machine Kills Fascists (the slogan often displayed on his guitar).
Alma Har'el's poetic documentary follows the inhabitants of Bombay Beach, a decaying town on the edge of the Salton Sea. Located two hours outside of Los Angeles, the town was once a tourist destination in the 1950s, but has since declined into rural squalor. The film's three main protagonists are: Benny Parish, a 7-year-old with a vivid imagination and a host of behavioral problems, not helped along by his loving but complicated family; CeeJay Thompson, a black teenager and football star who seeks refuge in the isolation of Bombay Beach to avoid the gang violence surrounding his family in Los Angeles; and Red, a tough old bird, who mostly survives on whiskey, cigarettes, and audacity. Har'el portrays her subjects (and the poverty surrounding them) with dignity, beauty and respect-but this is not your typical documentary. Weaved in between the documentary footage, the director also films her subjects acting out their fantasies and inclinations, set to haunting music scored by the likes of Beirut and Bob Dylan. The result is a stunning film that is part documentary, part visual poetry, and part fever dream. A highly recommended treat for the adventurous.
Beginners is a sweet little gem of a film, and one of my favorites of 2011. It focuses primarily on father and son Hal (Christopher Plummer) and Oliver (Ewan McGregor), who both have recently begun new lives of sorts. After the death of his wife, Hal decides to come out of the closet at the ripe age of 75 and live his life to the absolute fullest. Meanwhile, Oliver realizes that he too has put his romantic life on hold for far too long, and decides to cautiously try his hand at love once more with the agreeable Anna (Mélanie Laurent). This is a lovely film about family and memory, as well as attempting to make more room in life for happiness. Oh, it also has an adorable dog that talks in subtitles, which is not nearly as obnoxious as it sounds.
The music staff is now adding music books on CD to the collection and one of the first to arrive was Philip Norman's engaging biography of John Lennon. If you've got a long road trip ahead of you or you are getting in shape for a marathon, this might be the perfect companion.
This documentary film tells the true story of a gifted black music student at the University of Texas in the late 1950s who is thrust into a civil rights storm when she is cast in an opera to co-star with a white male classmate, fueling a racist backlash from members of the Texas legislature. Audience Award winner for Best Feature during the Indianapolis International Film Festival.
Jujitsu is the only weapon that can be used to stop an army of zombies that were created from a huge pile of chemical garbage.
Charlton Heston drives a convertible, loots department stores, and hides from the other survivors of a biological war that has turned Los Angeles into a ghost town.