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What's Up Docs?

True, we rarely review documentaries as the readership doesn't show a lot of interest -- perhaps remembering boring days in a schoolroom when teacher showed a poorly made film or video bio of some dead politician who fought in a war. Or something. Nowadays, we have celebrities . . . or celebrities transformed into icons, good or bad, through events beyond their control. These docs are the ones we watched for you this year . . .

12-12-12"Superstorm" Sandy wreaked havok on the east coast. Unlike the aftermath of Katrina's attack on New Orleans, Congress sat on its hands and wouldn't release emergency funds to aid the area. So Paul McCartney called some friends: The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and they called their friends; Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder and two hours of rock music masterworks kept us happy while 12-12-12 uses its down time and other musical pauses and segues to remind all of us of the damage that was done. This is a glorious sit, if just for the music. Get the soundtrack, too. All dollars continue to fund Sandy relief efforts.

bettie pageUntil Feminism put an end to it, each decade of the last century had a singular feminine representation of the spirit of the decade. In layman's terms, the US was usually at war and the G.I. on the front lines needed a picture of a pretty girl to remind them what they were fighting for. Rita Hayworth in the 1940s. Racquel Welch in the 1960s. And, in between, Americans were obsessing about communism, and Bettie Page.

Bettie Page was the perfect girl next door. She posed for hundreds of swimsuit pinups and later played in the first stag films of the era, One or two girls dancing naked evolved into slap and tickle and then Page found herself as the representation of a fetish called Bondage and Domination. College students note: Why were Bondage flicks popular in the 1950s? Was it a metaphorical depiction of what we wanted to do to Communism? Or did a bunch of horny man-things have some really kinky fantasies? Now write a thesis paper.

Just before her death, the reticent Page sat for an extensive interview about her career, and that interview serves to narrate Mark Mori's Bettie Page Reveals All which, while not as deep as a sociological study, gives a good feel of the sexual repression of the 1950s and Page's inadvertent place in it. Bettie was no standard bearer. She was, as it turns out, an abused child and mentally confused adult. No excuses, there. Page liked sex and she didn't mind being photographed and when she felt she had done enough, she vanished. The film finds surviving photographers and their technical descriptions of what made Page "a perfect model" give the film some weight. 50s era stock footage gives a baseline image of what was "normal" for the time, as we see Page with a rubber ball in her mouth . . .Forty years later, fanboys like "The Bettie Pages" publisher Greg Theakston and a very brief view of artist Dave Stevens, whose representations of Page in the page of The Rocketeer comic book brought fame back to the woman who had walked away from "The Biz". We can't fault the pictures <g>. Bettie Page Reveals All is not a bad sit; one which fanboys will appreciate more than the average viewer.

 

armstrong lieAll residents of the good ol' U S of A have probably filed the events detailed in Alex Gibney's The Armstrong Lie in the farthest, unreachable places of the back halls of their memories. While Armstrong won seven straight runnings of the Tour de France (1999 - 2005) his comeback in 2009 broke open a doping scandal that destroyed his career, his place in history, his iconic status as a hero and legend and inspiration to the generations of young'uns behind him. In short everything, all made worse because he consistently lied about doping up to win the Big Race.

Gibney's doc, meant to cover Armstrong's comeback now provides a deeper view of how corrupt the sport of cycling was. It presents an Armstrong who, with years to think about his actions, seems truly repentant and more than content to suffer the slings and arrows of disgrace. This Armstrong doesn't ask us to forgive. He, and his co-conspirators detail every aspect of The Lie. Which, it turns out, was the problem with the sport of cycling. If the man hadn't tried the comeback -- and mouthed off about "riding clean" : . well, that brought up old accusations about doping. Constant testing during the comeback, that "proved" he was clean should have been enough. But Armstrong isn't a nice guy. He will never be your best friend. He hunted down and used his considerable fortune to destroy everyone who spoke the truth, and thus earned his place in Hell. The film takes a while to find its feet -- it did have to change focus, after all -- and is worth a pop in to your DVD player.

 

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