In 1964, renowned and prolific choreographer Merce Cunningham and his troupe embarked on their first world tour. In Paris, angry audience members threw eggs and tomatoes at him. “I wished it was apples; I was hungry,” he recalls. But when they performed in England, the response was dramatically different: “Merce Cunningham Conquers Conservatism,” read the headlines. And although Cunningham famously refused to define his work as modern or avant garde (preferring to let his audience define him based on their experience), he, and his partnerships with celebrated artists of the day, was in the center of an influential group changing the way we characterize music, visual art—and dance.
It’s hard to be objective when you’re watching a film about people you’ve known and cared about for nearly 40 years, but I’ll try. I guess you could say that prolific British director Michael Apted’s Up documentaries represent the original reality series, following the lives of a group of seven year-old schoolkids he first met in 1964, and then checking in on their lives via celluloid every seven years. I myself first caught up with the series watching 28. 63 Up is now in theaters, and Apted’s “kids” are even more interesting as they approach retirement. And although Apted’s numerous Academy Award nominations for 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter assured his place in the annals of cinema, it will be the stories of Tony, Andrew, Sue, Nick, Bruce, Jackie, Peter, Lynne, Paul, Symon, John, Suzy, and Neil for which he might best be remembered.
Former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos would love it if you just think of her as the eccentric beauty with three thousand pairs of shoes. She knows, as does any great magician, that if you focus on the shiny thing in front of you, you probably won’t pay attention to the sleight of hand that’s really going on—in the 86 year-old Marcos’ case, the brilliantly Machiavellian manipulation of her country’s political process that is quietly placing the Marcos family back in power.
Some of the best documentaries have had to shift direction after filming began, based on changed circumstances that must be included. Life happens, and able filmmakers pivot, and re-think the narrative to match a new—and often more compelling–reality.
There is no doubt that the story of octogenarian Italian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia is an interesting one. A talented artist/activist/elected official/ iconoclast who has experienced spousal abuse, sexual discrimination, and many long affairs with much younger men, she has for decades documented the atrocities of the Mafia in her home town of Palermo, Sicily.
The first public performance of San Francisco’s renowned Gay Men’s Chorus took place in 1978 at an impromptu memorial at City Hall for pioneer gay rights advocate and city supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone, who had been assassinated earlier that same day. It’s worth noting that they performed a religious song: “Thou, Lord, Hast Been our Refuge.” The tens of thousands of mourners had marched to City Hall from Castro Street.
Since that time, the world’s first gay chorus has performed all over the world.