Friday, June 22, 2012


Hey there faithful readers, 
I'm in the midst of shooting a couple of projects right now, so, rather than writing two separate posts, here's a couple of capsule reviews of two new documentaries opening today in Portland:

Bruce McDonald directed one of my favorite b-grade road movies of the 90s (Highway 61).  For Music from the Big House, he turns his eye to the real life setting of Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary, one of the sites where the blues was born.  It's the prison where Leadbelly and countless other inmates suffered and turned that suffering into musical expressions based in their experiences.  

Canadian blues singer Rita Chiarelli has visited Angola off and on for some time now, eventually inspiring her to hold a collaborative concert within the prison walls with several bands made up entirely of inmates.  And while the film is based around that mission, McDonald wisely places the majority of the focus on the inmates, rather than Chiarelli.  It's not that she's particularly uninteresting--quite the contrary, actually--but it would take a lot to trump the moving, personal tales of woe relayed by the inmates to McDonald and his crew.


A still from Music from the Big House

Music from the Big House begins its run at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, June 22nd.  Rita Chiarelli will be in attendance and will perform at the Friday, June 22nd screening.  More info available here.

A still from Surviving Progress

Surviving Progress is a documentary adaptation of Ronald Wright's A Short History of ProgressIt's one of those apocalyptic, doom and gloom eco docs of which there seems to be no shortage of nowadays.  The film sports a sizable cast of A-list intellectuals, such as Margaret Atwood, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall and Wright himself, all of which make a strong case against the drive for endless progress; Wright calls out the experiment known as civilization as being what he terms a "progress trap."  

Somewhere around the 2/3rds point, though, the film bogs down as it attempts to cover too much ground for an under 90-minute feature.  The message gets a bit lost as the filmmakers spend an extensive amount of time investigating the theft of Third World resources by multinationals, something already documented quite well in many other films.  Surviving Progress would have benefited from both a bit more focus and, perhaps, some specificity when it came to offering solutions to the problems it presents.


Surviving Progress begins its run at Living Room Theaters on Friday, June 22nd.  More info available here.

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