Posts Tagged ‘Tribeca Film Festival’

LaRoy (2023)

Dir/Wri: Shane Atkinson | Cast: John Magaro, Steve Zahn, Dylan Baker, Galadriel Stineman, Matthew Del Negro, Brad Leland, Bob Clendenin, Megan Stevenson, Darcy Shean | US Comedy thriller, 110′

LaRoy is a quietly triumphant Coen-esque comedy thriller centring on a case of mistaken identity in small-town Texas. 

John Magaro plays Ray, a biddable good-looking guy living out a humdrum existence in the Texas town of LaRoy where he would do anything to make his beauty queen wife Stacy-Lynn happy. But his thoughts turn to suicide on discovering she is cheating on him with his brother Junior (Matthew Del Negro), who helps him run the family hardware business.

A chance meeting with Skip (Steve Zahn) makes Ray reconsider his options. Skip, a dangerous fantasist, takes himself far too seriously and has a random recall of reality. Posing as a private eye he acts and dresses ‘more like Howdy Doody’. But the well-meaning Ray falls in with Skip’s plan to investigate a series of small time crooks in the hope that he can raise money for Stacy-Lyn’s dream of owning a beauty salon.

Together the two men vaguely foster unrealised dreams of validating their empty lives and even making themselves local heroes. And this leads to a doomed partnership in crime with their awkward social interactions giving the film its most drole moments, after Ray is mistaken for a hit-man.

A series of showcase support characters are well-formed and believable: Dylan Baker is the sinister standout, the real hit-man Harry (and he’s not ‘here to help’); Galadriel Stineman is Angie, Skip’s feisty ex; Adam Leland (from Friday Night Lights) is a misogynist used-car salesman called LeDoux but his wife Midge (Darcy Sheen) gets the best line: in fact women certainly have the upper hand in this Texas town. 

So an understated gem of a debut from Shane Atkinson, the deadpan humour is subtle and incidental but vital to the film’s success, with memorable lines and characters that feel real and resonate long after the tragic ending. You may want to see it again for this reason, I certainly did, and will. There are certainly echoes of the Coen brothers, but Atkinson has forged his own path and seems like a filmmaker who has set out on a worthwhile journey. Let’s hope we see more of him. MT

LaRoy, Texas will be available on Digital Download from 12th April 






Fashion Reimagined (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir: Becky Hutner | Doc, 92′

Every now and again comes a really eye-opening documentary and one that changes your mind about our impact on the world we live in.

And Fashion Reimagined is one of those films. Not a particularly interest-sparking title, so you may flip over it, particularly if fashion is not your thing. Becky Hutner, who directed and produced it, raises the profile of one of the most wasteful and polluting industries today: that of fashion.

Fresh-faced designer Amy Powney is the rising star in the London fashion scene and the woman who has pioneered a sustainable way forward with her cult label Mother of Pearl . English country girl Amy grew up with a passion for drawing and soon discovered the devastating environmental impact of her industry on the globe. On winning the coveted Vogue award for the Best Young Designer of the Year (2017), which comes with a big cash prize, she decided to put the money towards creating a sustainable collection from field to finished garment, and in doing so transform her entire business.

The film follows her often tortuous progress in pioneering a way forward. But her personal revolution soon led to a ground-breaking societal change. The collection made its premiere at London Fashion Week in 2018 under the name “No Frills.” The mission was to make No Frills an organic, traceable line of clothing that uses minimal water and chemicals, is socially responsible, and considers animal welfare, particularly the painful process of ‘mulesing’ where sheep are mutilated to prevent infection, just for the benefit of the wool trade.

You may never think twice about buying fast fashion on the Highstreet or online – perhaps a few summer outfits from Zara or teeshirts and jeans from Uniqlo or The Gap. What could be simpler? Yet the garment trade has one of the most destructive carbon imprints with its wasteful use of water and poisoning toxic chemicals. And not to mention the mountains of used clothes that end up in landfill clogging our landscape even further.

Amy’s journey to source wool and cotton from ‘ethical’ was not easy. With her business partner Chloe, she travelled to Pedro Otegui’s family farm in Uruguay, known for its impeccable animal welfare and traceable products to the origin, and to Isko: a denim mill in Turkey certified by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS). Denim is one of the pernicious products in its use of water and chemicals. And this segment is arguably the most revealing a part of the documentary and also adds an interesting travelogue spin.

Amy soon realised she had a lot to learn about how the garment industry operates: it’s not just about sourcing, carding and spinning from one location: the raw material travels thousands of miles from start to finish, once again taking its toll on the planet, not to mention the plants and animals involved. English wool is not as soft – nor as white – as that sourced in Uruguay, for example, and this gives the film its educational slant, not to mention some magnificent scenery and some dramatic tension in the process.

Eventually Amy pulls through with a fabulous collection, and plaudits from fashion luminaries such as Katharine Hamnett, the UK’s first sustainable designer, who provides an opportunity to talk about the reinvention of the fashion industry during London Fashion Week, providing a hopeful trigger for change in the industry and some real interest from buyers around the world. With her label Mother of Pearl, Amy has pathed a way forward for a kinder industry and less waste and agony for animals and the environment. So time to think twice when we next head to the High Street for that shirt that may be chucked away after a year to make space for yet another new set of clothes for this season. MT



The Integrity of Joseph Chambers (2022) Tribeca 2022

Wri/Dir: David Manchoian | Cast: Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Michael Raymond James, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carl Kennedy | US Drama 96’

Contrary to the promise of the title Joseph Chambers is largely a twit with earnest intentions of proving his manhood with a flimsy excuse of providing for his family by bringing home the bacon in the shape of a deer,

This flimsy but faintly amusing morality tale is David Manchoian’s follow up to his incendiary drama The Killing of Two Lovers which had less of a plot but far more complexity and soul, both features exploring the deepest reaches of the male psyche in down at heel contemporary rural America.

Once again Clayne Crawford plays the man in question (and also serves as producer), but this time he is a much valued lover to Tess (Jordana Brewster), an inexperienced hunter who fancies his chances of shooting a deer to keep the proverbial wolf away from the door. But we have much less sympathy for him than for his previous character David in The Killing. 

The Integrity is slow-burning to point of pulling teeth. But to his credit, Machoian’s rigour is once again to be admired along with Peter Albrechtsen’s seething soundscape which creates the film’s compelling atmosphere in the bosky foothills of the Appalchians where Joseph ventures with a rifle borrowed from his friend Doug (Karl Kennedy) who seems to share our scepticism of Joseph’s abilities beyond the bed chamber.

Unravelling during the course of one day, Joseph’s misguided hunting trip will prove his ego and prowess as ‘king of the mountains” to be far greater than his actual skill as a hunter. When faced with an emergency exposing his inadequacies, he simply breaks down in tears and then eventually runs home as if nothing has happened. Part of the problem with Joseph is our lack of empathy with him largely due to his lack of integrity from the outset to the final scenes. MT









Breaking the Ice (2022) TriBeCa 2022

Dir.: Clara Stern; Cast: Alina Schaller, Judith Altenberger, Tobias Resch, Wolfgang Böck, Pia Herzegger; Austria 2022, 102 min.

This tour-de-force of family dysfunction and first love on the ice rink is the latest in a recent crop of films about ‘women in sport’ but lacks the slick delivery and emotional punch of Charlene Favier’s skiing thriller Slalom or even The Novice which looked at the loneliness of competitive rowing.

Austrian writer director Clara Stern certainly makes a promising start but a lack of structure makes it difficult to keep up with the main character’s changing moods, the high octane world of Women’s Ice Hockey giving the whole undertaking a sensationalist quality and contributing to the overall unevenness.

Playing ice hockey as captain of the Dragon’s team is how Mira (Schaller) handles the stress of running the family vineyard with her mother (Herzegger), after the tragedy of her grandmother’s death with her brother Paul (Resch) at the wheel. Meanwhile her grandfather (Böck) is sliding into dementia and Paul has left home in disgrace.

Paul’s sudden reappearance during a critical match involving the “Dragon’s sends Mira into overdrive. He starts playing the fool forcing her to leave the rink at a critical moment and she ends up being stripped on her captaincy after a severe reprimand from the team’s coach. Mira is told to pull herself together, to forget her family troubles and give all for the team in the forthcoming national final between the ‘Dragons’ and the ‘Lakers’.

A challenge from another player Theresa (Altenberger), is the spark that ignites an unexpected attraction from her team player Theresa who is driven by the desire to succeed professionally and wants to be selected for a try-out with the National Women’s Hockey League of the USA. Tensions rise between the women before the start of a game, Mira and Theresa creating mayhem in the dressing room.

BREAKING THE ICE is not as progressive as it thinks it is, despite a lesbian twist. Aesthetically very conventional – the sporting sequences following the same pattern as male features of the sub-genre – and are overloaded with conflict. Stereotyping the main female protagonists does not help either, and the simplistic solutions offered are too close to the usual mainstream features to be convincing. We are not particularly drawn to any of the characters and Schaller fails to bring out the humanity in Mira despite the conflict she faces.  Stern is simply is not up to the task of marshalling the strings of the narrative together to a satisfying conclusion.AS


January (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Viesturs Kairiss; Cast: Kärlis Arnolds, Avots, Alise Dzene, Baliba Broka, Aleksas Kazanavicius, Juhars Ulfsack; Latvia/Lithuvania/Poland 2022, 95 min.

Latvian director/co-writer Viesturs Kairiss recreates the turbulent days of January 1991 when Latvia – and other Baltic countries – were fighting for independence from the collapsing Soviet Union. Centred around a young student at the film school in Riga, January is shot in eight and sixteen mm, giving the feature a very intimate atmosphere. Dedicated to all the documentary filmmakers who died during the period, this is a chronicle of a lost youth set against a nation in crisis.

Jazis (Avots) is facing a crisis of a different kind: that of his own identity: he fancies himself as the new Tarkovsky, and manages to impress co-student Anna (Dzene) who is fascinated by his rather pretentious lectures, but when they end up in bed incapable of satisfying his new girlfriend, and he retreats into a depression. But the main problem in Jazis’ life are his parents: His mother Biruta (Broka) has fallen out with Communism and now activates for independence. Father Andrejs (Kazanavicius) is still a believer, even though he can see the crumbling Empire.

Then Podnieks (Ulfsack), a famous filmmaker, turns up to make matters worse for Jazis, especially when he hires Anna as his assistant. But their attraction for each other soon dies and Anna turns her affections back to Jazis who has almost lost interest in her. Everything comes to a head during the mid January demonstrations when barricades are erected in the streets of Riga and soon Jazis finds himself conscripted into the Russian army because his doctor refuses to attest to his “depression”. But when violence erupts on the streets, and demonstrators storm the Interior Ministry, Jazis problems are forced onto the back burner: “I will never find out who I am really’, he laments.

DoP Wojciech Staron frenetic handheld images capture the mayhem not only in Jazis’ mind but also in the disruption brewing around him.  January is very much a testament to the liberation movement, but the lovers are still the main protagonists: caught up in radical new ideas, but very much the victims of contradictions beyond their influence. A paean to revolutionary passion with a touch of early Truffaut.


The Story Won’t Die (2022)

Dir.: David Henry Gerson; Cast: Abu Hajar, Diala Brisky,Tammam Azzam, Omar Iman, Medhat Aldabal, Mouafak Aldoabl, Bahila Hijazi, Lynn Mayya, Anas Maghrebi, M.H.D. Sabboura; USA 2021, 83 min.

“Art can talk about politics, but politics cannot talk about art”, says Tammam Azzam, a visual artist, living, like many other Syrian exile artists in Berlin. His work, a series of impressive collage landscapes, is possibly the most commercially viable to come out of Syria in recent years, with an exhibition in the States taking place during filming.

The Story Won’t Die is the first documentary feature by David Henry Gerson is a series of interviews with artists who have fled the ongoing Civil War in Syria and are now living in the capitals of Europe. But they are – and never will be, free of their past. Survivors’ guilt complexes are common, so is the fear that despite their newfound artistic freedom, the target audience they are looking for might not be there. Half the population of Syria has been uprooted since the war began, the largest displacement since WWII.

The story of his journey through various refuge camps in Europe is told with breath taking clarity – as if it happened yesterday. “Freedom is unlimited time for an artist”, but Azzam’s work is dominated by his nation’s tragedy: on the bombed ruins which once were streets, Azzam has superimposed Goya’s masterpiece “The Third of May 1808”. He is adamant to see his situation not at as a unique one: “It shows Goya experienced the same: innocent people killed on the streets”.

Abu Hajar, a fierce rapper who now also works in Berlin, talks about the casual violence and the role of the police in Syria: When he was walking with his girl friend in town, her father and uncle abducted him, torturing him for hours. Abu went to the police, who told him, that even if he had been killed, they would not have started an investigation.

Diala Brisly is a painter in Paris. Her works show children with missing limbs, and their pleas: “Leave me my last arm, and leave me what is left of my childhood and leave us alone.” Omar Imam is a visual artist in Amsterdam. He was kidnapped by the army, tortured for five hours. All his teeth were broken, and he could not eat the sandwich they gave him afterwards. He wanted to die, but than he remembered his daughter, who was one-year old and he decided to live. On the fields, he has put up something which looks like scarecrows, but they are really the victims of torture. He plays the violin, wearing a gas mask, to show how much art is compromised by war.

Bihali Hijazi and Lynn Maya are modern dancers in Berlin. Theirs are the most cinematographic images of the feature. But Lynn is particularly affected by survivor’s guilt. Tearfully, she tells the story of her mother who was nearly killed by a sniper, and her brother who lost his life trying to scape to Turkey. “As the oldest, I should have kept my siblings alive.” Mouafak Aldoabl, a choreographer in Berlin remembers, that he had no choice in Syria: stopped by a patrol at a roadblock, he was asked why he had not joined the army and was coerced into joining up but managed to flee the country before he was called up.

DoP Luise Schröder keeps the handheld camera focus close up and personal but never intrusive. Sometimes, it all feels like a confessional: their distance from the war, allows the artists space to reflect but the wounds are still open, and the limits of their art, however brilliant, will never make up for their loss of Heimat. Yes, art can talk politics, but if the politics are deadly, the artists will never be truly free to express their hard won freedom.


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The Wild One (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Tessa Louise-Salomé; Documentary with Jack Garfein, Blanche Baker, Peter Bogdanovich, Irene Jacobs, Dick Guttmann, Geoffrey Horne, Bobby Soto, Foster Hirsch; France 2022, 94 min.

The Wild One rediscovers Jack Garfein (1930-2019) one of America’s most unsung avant-garde filmmakers and acting teachers, who survived eleven concentration camps, before being liberated in Bergen-Belsen by British troups, weighing only 48 Pounds.

In her second feature documentary Tessa Louise-Salomé opts for a parallel montage: the events of his childhood and his creative life in the USA are interrelated, the events of his youth are supplemented with archive material. Garfein grew up in a small town in what is now the Czech Republic. His father organised resistance against the Nazis but was caught in 1942 trying to emigrate to Palestine and sent to Auschwitz. A year later Jack and his mother and younger sister Hadi were smuggled to Hungary where they were hidden by relatives. After Germany took over control of Hungary, the family was deported to Auschwitz where Jack’s mother told him to line up with the adult men – cursing him as he refused to obey her orders. Later he met Mengele, who could hardly believe Jack was sixteen, but let it go. Garfein hated his mother for the rest of the war when it became clear to him “she had given birth to him again by sending him away”. Later he was saved by a camp Kapo, who did not deliver the 25 lashes that would have killed him. Rescued by the British he looked into a mirror and came to the conclusion “this guy won’t survive long”. Via Sweden, he finally found refuge with an uncle in New York.

Garfein’s creative life was a battle against segregation and other social barriers. At the Lee Strasberg Actor’s Studio he was tutored by the German director Erwin Piscator, the star of Weimar theatre landscape, and would later find success in West and East Germany. Garfein adapted the play “End as a Man” – an early success of the Actor’s Studio from 1953 – notably for the feature film The Strange One in 1957. Hollywood’s reaction to the film, featuring inhuman cruelty in the Army among other incidents, was incendiary: twenty minutes were cut, and distribution was limited. Something Wild (1961), his second feature fared even worse. Caroll Baker, his then wife, starred as a rape victim: Garfein was then blacklisted and never directed a film again.

But the wrath of Hollywood ‘powers that be’ knew no boundaries: Caroll Baker was given a seven film-contract by Colombia, but this was frozen until she relinquished Garfein’s representation. Divorce followed and Baker’s suicide attempts. Garfein’s TV work was very limited. Teaching became his focus after leaving the rather authoritarian Strasberg, and he went on to found, with Paul Newman, the Los Angles Branch of the Actor’s Studio in 1966. Eight years later he was instrumental in setting up the “Samuel Beckett Theatre”, and became its first Artistic Director. Having cast, among others, Ben Gazzera and James Dean in their 1950s debuts, Garfein was later lauded in Europe, where actors Irene Jacob were impressed by his very personal method. To the very end of his life, he dreamed of directing a third feature film.

DoP Boris Levy is particularly successful with the dream sequences underlining the feature’s rueful tone depicting Garfein as a stranger in New York, disconnected from a creative society he was once part of. Overall, The Wild One is an eye opener for all those unfamiliar with the fate of a Holocaust survivor, a victim of censorship that blighted his career and personal life. Passionate and informative, The Wild One showcases the life of Jack Garfein for a wider audience. AS

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | World Premiere | Documentary Competition | 11 June 2022 | winner Best Cinematography in a documentary 


The Novice (2021)

Wri/Dir: Lauren Hadaway | Cast: Isabelle Fuhrman, Dilone, Amy Forsyth, Jonathan Cherry, Kate Drummond, Jeni Ross, Eve Kanyo, Nikki Duval, Charlotte Ubben, Sage Irvine, Chantelle Bishop | US Thriller 94′

The ‘sports or performance thriller ‘ is fast becoming a sub-genre in its own right: The Novice follows on from the recent skiing drama Slalom (2020) and The Coldest Game (2019), Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash and even the recent Israeli drama God of the Piano where the central protagonist is obsessed by chosen field, often to their own detriment.

In Lauren Hadaway’s rowing-related film, Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) skulls along in the dark waters of a river, desperate to beat all records, hellbent on her own performance despite being part of a team. Later, on the rowing machine, Dall is enters the ‘zone’ again high on adrenaline and challenging herself to the limit – ignoring an innate lack of talent but turning instead to strategy, hell bent on being better and better. Eventually her desire becomes a unhealthy obsession that somehow feeds on her soul, an all-consuming need to push the body further and further, until she feels physical pain in order to achieve her goal: the Varsity rowing team.

The Novice in actually a film about obsession rather than enjoyment – and Dall has to excel in everything she turns her hand to: be it a sport or a subject at college where she is a ‘Fresher’. Meeting teacher’s assistant Dani (Dilone) is the turning point – she is naturally gifted, relaxed and secure. Their chemistry sizzles for a time despite Dall’s lack of social skills – prickly and awkward – she is not popular, but her obsession soon takes over again and everything suffers in the wake of her drive to succeed. Dall is in flight from herself, restless, constantly on the move. Rowing gives her a ‘raison d’être’.

She does have one other ally in the shape of Jamie (Amy Forsyth), but soon even he is alienated, along with the others, in her desire to be the best. Her sporting prowess defines her, all the pain is worth suffering, or is it? Here – unlike the other films in the genre – there is no prize for Dani’s excellence – only the loneliness of extreme endeavour, and the misery of isolation. There’s a comfort in this mental anguish, it feels familiar – and that reinforcement is the reward for Dall, confirming her habitual unhappiness. This is the status quo that she’s grown used to since childhood. A welcome home from home.

Based on the director’s own experience The Novice is a convincing depiction of character implosion. And Fuhrman gives it her best efforts as Dall in an award-winning turn (Best Actress US Narrative at Tribeca 2021). Todd Martin keeps things suitably dank and murky with his watery visual aesthetic along with Hadaway’s confident direction in an unsettling study of an unbalanced mind. MT



No Man of God (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir: Amber Sealey | Wri: Kit Lesser | 112′

Ted Bundy, one of America’s most notorious serial killers, is the subject of this evocative drama with a persuasive performance from Elijah Wood as the FBI analyst who formed a close bond with the killer before his execution in a Florida State Prison, following 10 years of exhaustive Death Row appeals.

Wood is Bill Hagmaier a rookie cop and religious family man whose thoughtful and measured approach made great inroads into understanding the felon – a compulsively watchable Luke Kirby – in the early days of the Bureau’s profiling unit. His methodology would go on to make him Chief of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, with ‘interviewees’ specifically asking to speak to Hagmaier because of his well-known association with Bundy.

Appealing to Bundy’s ego and ‘befriending’ him was one of Hagmaier’ masterstrokes to unlocking the killer’s mind. And this soft-peddling ‘servant and mentor’ approach seems to work wonders, the two sharing their innermost thoughts as they gradually grew closer in the interrogation suite, Bundy claiming to feel ‘like a human being’. But it’s not all plain-sailing as Hagmaier discovers despite his thorough preparation for the confrontation, and his patent awareness of Bundy’s hatred of the FEDs. At the time of the series of in-depth interviews the convicted killer had not yet acknowledged the criminal methodology he describes as his own.

Celebrating its World Premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Amber Healey’s cool and confident two-hander is imaginatively enlivened by lushing dramatised interludes and upbeat home movie clips set to a racy electronic occasional score ,adding context and cut and thrust to the intensive tete a tetes between the two men as they inveigle each other into a outwardly complicit buddy relationship. And the strength here is that we never really know who’s leading who into the terrible quagmire of a psychopath’s mind.

Other characters skating round the main narrative are Carolyn Lieberman (Aleksa Palladino), a fictionalised version of the anti-capital punishment lawyer who represented Bundy in his final appeals, and Hagmaier’s boss Roger Depue (Robert Patrick) who grants him access to the felon, the mild-mannered Hagmaier requesting that the crime-scene photos be withheld. Script-wise C. Robert Cargill writes under the pseudonym Kit Lesser, inspired by Hagmaier’s recollections, recordings and interview transcripts in this muscular and compellingly gripping psychological drama. MT



Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story (2021) TriBeCa Film Festival 2021

Dir: Laura Fairrie | US Doc 96′

Success came to Jackie Collins beyond her wildest dreams. Despite negative vibes from her father and sister, the actress Joan Collins, she proved that women can make in bed – and in board room – coining the aspiration phase “Girls can do anything” and giving women supreme sexually agency to enjoy their own escapist fantasies not just on the page but on top of the sheets – or anywhere they chose.

This warm and witty portrait of the best-selling author -who books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide – shows how steely determination and iron resolve eventually made her the toast of Hollywood, sending her rocketing into stardom in the 1990s with a string of raunchy chic-lit page-turners mostly centred on the “dangerously beautiful” sexually liberated Italian-American femme fatale Lucky Santangelo, the character in her most successful paperback ‘Hollywood Wives’. Jackie was also the self-styled author of her own life and chic outward persona. Guarding a secret world behind her well-penned pages, she remained positive in the face of multiple setbacks not least the suicide of her first husband Wallace Austin while her mother was dying of cancer. She would follow in 2015.

Growing up in leafy Hampstead the daughter of a Jewish showbiz agent Jo Collins and his Christian stay at home wife, family played a major part in Jackie’s life, according to director Laura Fairrie. The youngest of three children – her older brother and sister provide informative ballast along with her three voluable daughters and a clutch of close friends and colleagues (amongst them Tita Cahn, wife of Sammy). According to her big sister Joan – who frequently damns her with faint praise – Jackie was always quietly scribbling away in a diary as they enjoyed a glamorous party scene where she joined Joan in late 1950s Hollywood, and these notes would form the basis of her characters, Lucky was the one she aspired to most.

Jackie Collins’ paperbacks were the first to have shiny, gold-embossed covers (now so commonplace in airport booksellers) setting them apart from the usual fare, they looked glamorous and enticing. And while Fairrie’s film is rich in the ruminations of friends and family, what jumps out ahead of the crowd are the startling double-standards at play at the time (and nothing has really changed). Women claim – by the sheer number of books sold – to enjoy the sexually-charged escapes that would later feature in films like The Stud (Joan neatly writing herself into the picture as the main star, as her own career flagged). But on-stage Q&As show the complete opposite, with women castigating her openly with their comments: one opines: “your books are absolute filth”. To her credit Jackie is seen listening thoughtfully, never coming over as strident or outspoken, always perfectly poised and graceful. One amusing sequence sees hackneyed romantic novelist Barbara Cartland having a pop at Jackie, who looks on incredulously. Another less appealing scene shows how Jackie was mercilessly set up on a British chat show with an audience populated by puritanical prudes.

Although Jackie never made it into acting the film shows how she used her experiences observing the Los Angeles celebrity circus and it was Lerman who encouraged her  to finish her first book, The World is Full of Married Men, and agreeing to move the family to Los Angeles when Collins set out to crack the American market.In her own coterie of Hollywood jet-setters: Roger Moore is curiously seen making obscene gestures behind Jackie’s back during a drinks soiree but her second marriage to Tramp owner Oscar Lerman proved to be happy, fulfilling and supportive, paving the way to sealing her success in Hollywood.

The success story is only marred by Jackie’s own tragedy that she seems to have kept to herself and suddenly looms up from nowhere, according to her daughter Tara, possibly indicating a lack of self esteem at her innermost core, feeding into those early memories of feeling ‘less than’ and “a big fat lump” next to Joan. But

It was both a tireless work ethic and her survival instinct that kept Collins writing through her grief when Lerman died of prostate cancer in 1992. An extended engagement followed, to L.A. businessman Frank Calcagnini, described by her daughters and other intimates as like a gigolo character from one of her novels. “A gambler, a drugger, an alcoholic and an abuser,” is what Tita Cahn calls him. His death from a brain tumor nonetheless was another blow. When Collins herself was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, she took a leaf out of the book of her father, who decades earlier had responded to her beloved mother’s cancer diagnosis by declaring: “We don’t use that word.”

The film’s account of Jackie’s final weeks, when she kept her illness almost entirely to herself, is quite affecting. There’s poignancy in Joan’s recollections, as well as those of business manager Laura Lizer, of a lunch at the Ritz Carlton where Jackie informed her sister of her condition. During that farewell trip home to London, she also appeared on an ITV chat show, looking gaunt but still full of spirit, just days before her death. She went out promoting her work and keeping her sorrows private.

Fairrie doesn’t attempt to rewrite history and make a case for Collins as an underappreciated literary genius. But she paints a stirring picture of a gifted storyteller and a brilliant female entrepreneur, who shrugged off the cultural snobbery and the misogynistic backlash sparked by her “scandalous” work and laughed all the way to the bank.

hanging out with Michael Caine and Sean Connery and making her friends with the powerful wives of studio bosses such as Barbara Davis and Tita Cahn who refer to her as “their best friend”. MT

Tribeca Film Festival | New York | JUNE 2021


Martha: A Picture Story (2019) *** Tribeca Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Selina Miles; Documentary with Martha Cooper; USA 2019, 80 min.

The first feature documentary by Australian director/co-DoP Selina Miles is a portrait of American photographer Martha Cooper whose shots of street art in New York of the 1970s and 80s gained her the title Godmother of Graffiti. Even at the ripe old age of 75 she is still active in her hometown of Baltimore and European capitals Berlin, Vienna and Paris.

Born in 1943, she fell in love with the camera at the age of three. When she was working for the Peace Corps in Thailand in 1963, she shot a series of photos of tattooists at work. Returning to the USA, she faced the first wave of many rejections of her work, before she was taken on by the New York Post in 1977, having made a name for herself with a series on urban life in Rhode Island. At the Susan Welsham was the photo editor of the Post and she remembers their collaboration when women like Cooper had to literally beg to be taken on.

In New York she worked for City Lore at the time when the city was burning and President Ford pandered to national prejudice “letting New York go bankrupt rather than bail them out”. Her interest in urban and street art led her to an auspicious meeting with Edwin Serrano, who later introduced her to Dondi (1961-1998), the King of train Graffiti, whose work recently fetched upwards of $200 000 up. Dondi made an exception for Cooper, who was allowed to photograph him while on the job. The outcome was ‘Subway Art’ (published by Cooper and Henry Chalfant), which later became the bible of Street Art. ‘Hip Hop Files’ (1998) is another one of her now classic publications.

Back in 2004 Cooper travelled to Germany, Vienna and St. Denis (a suburb of Paris), where she was celebrated for her work. In Miami she took photos of the artist colony of Wyndwood Walls, where graffiti is displayed on whole blocks. Even very recently, she took up with a group of Berlin train graffiti artists, hanging from precarious positions to capture their work. Nowadays she is still active in SoWeBo, a rundown district of Baltimore atmospheric of a black ghetto where the kids make impressive pavements artists.

Martha is living proof that art can keep you young. Her bold and intrepid work goes on. AS



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