Jay Meehan: Documentary junkie fired up for 2019 Sundance slate
OK, so I’m biased. I’m a doc-head, a documentary film junkie, and it goes with the territory.
This particular malady manifests itself mostly during the space-time of late January and the Sundance Film Festival and, of course, we still have several weeks worth of smirking at friends who fear the dark before digital projectors begin getting fired up in earnest.
I love, for those same friends’ sake, to begin talking and writing about the festival as soon as each year’s film selections are released. And wouldn’t you know, once I became engrossed in this year’s offerings, it would be somewhere in the switchbacks of the documentary categories that I would become high-centered.
I’ll kick things off with “Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love,” a story concerning itself with poet/musician Leonard Cohen and his lovely and enigmatic Norwegian muse, Marianne Ihlen. Not all that long ago I came upon a candid shot of them sharing a table with friends on the Greek isle of Hydra and many questions began to form.
As I would later learn, she owned a house there and was on the rebound when they first bumped into each other. That’s pretty much the sum total of what I know about her and, other than his art and that he lived the life of a monk for much of his life, I know quite little about him. This doc should fill in those voids, I would imagine.
I must say I’m rather fleshed-out when it comes to the subject of “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool.” Although, again, no doubt I’ll be much more so once credits roll and lights come up at whatever festival venue I find myself. There are many layers and much complexity to both Miles and his chosen art form and I can’t wait to view the film.
For a spell there during the late ’60s, he and his evolving small ensembles would show up at Shelly’s Mann-Hole in Hollywood on a semi-regular basis to “woodshed” whatever musical ideas had been interrupting his sleep. Getting reservations and showing up early became our modus operandi and, after a while, the staff even began seating us with an actual line-of-sight to the stage.
By the time I arrived at “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins,” I was hooked and felt deep in my bones that I would never be able to extricate myself from the “Premiere Documentary” category. Back in the day, I would savor Molly’s hilarious political columns, especially the ones alluding to George W. Bush, as if they were a bowl of lobster bisque.
Often likened to Mark Twain for her firebrand commentary and biting humor, Molly was Texan to the core and feasted on the back-door-dealings of the Hereford and drill-baby-drill crowds. Her rough–at-the-edges approach did a pretty fair job of masking whatever finish Smith and Columbia had done their best to apply. Singular was what she was.
The exploitation of “data” appears to be at the core of “The Great Hack,” with the players on all sides of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook brouhaha and the manner in which they wage info-wars with their newly weaponized translations spinning a most nefarious yarn.
The fifth film that caught my attention, “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” tickled my literary fancy to the extent that the coyote in me howled in joy. There is a lot I have left to learn concerning the Nobel laureate author of “Beloved,” and a bookshelf-worth of other serious wonders. Her paragraphs have been known to shake me to the marrow.
I’ll attempt to close this out with a nod to “Words From a Bear,” a “visual journey into the mind and soul” (according to the blurb in the festival film guide) of one of my longtime favorite humans, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Navarro Scott Momaday (or as I have long known him from his book jackets, N. Scott Momaday).
You have heard his deeply sonorous voice in more than a few documentary films dealing with the West by Ken Burns and others. A member of the Kiowa tribe, he is a writer and watercolorist whose prose is poetic and whose sense of oral history and landscape both riveting and sublime.
So, there you have it, a tiny sampling of selected documentaries for next month’s 2019 Sundance Film Festival to soothe the savage beast: Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, Molly Ivins, data brokers, Toni Morrison, and N. Scott Momaday. Don’t know about you but, after that, Jan. 24 seems like a long way off.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.