Hot Docs 2012: Reviews 2
More reviews from our ongoing coverage of Hot Docs 2012.
GLOW: THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING
Glow at first appears to be a puff piece on the campy obsession the 80s had with wrestling. In the US, there was a very popular wrestling/variety show that aired from 1986-1990 called GLOW: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It was the first show to allow female wrestlers into the ring, and had an obvious angle towards children, with its characters all being very one dimensional, and not just wrestling but rapping, dancing, and doing comedy sketches.
My expectations going into this film were low, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a touching film about the camaraderie that happens when you put 30 girls in their 20s together on a television show for four years. The show made all the girls feel as though they were part of a large family, and it launched their careers in a big way. Most of the girls who ended up on the Glow had no experience with wrestling before – they were just actors and models sent on another audition. The show of course, changed their lives when they ended up on talk shows like Donahue and suddenly had fans all over the country obsessed with their characters.
The film tracks a handful of the wrestlers to their current day lives, where they discuss how they got the role, the training needed to become a wrestler, what their character was known for, and what the show did for their career. The making of the film also sparked in them the urge to reunite, and a tearjerker reunion happens where they honour one of the most important ladies in the cast, whose nostalgia for her glorious days as a GLOW girl will leave you teary eyed.
This documentary looks at the aftermath notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes had on three people’s lives: the next door neighbor who befriended the quiet but seemingly friendly man, the police investigator to whom he confessed, and the forensic examiner who had to sift through his apartment and deal with the remnants of his victims.
The film succeeds in shedding light onto the way he managed to get away with such heinous crimes for so long – because he really did appear to be a normal, quiet guy – but if you are at all unfamiliar with the details of the case coming into the film, you might be a little bit lost. There is no explanation for how or why he finally got caught, and references to facts like how the police let a teenage boy back into his custody (who he then killed shortly after), would make more of an impact if their reasoning for such a decision had been explained.
On one hand, moments like when the forensic examiner explains how he figured out Dahmer was sometimes trying to lobotomize (and not kill) his victims in order to have a submissive sex partner are fascinating, but the slow paced reenactments of Dahmer’s everyday life take up far too much of the film and end up feeling cheesy and unnecessary.
As a whole, the film is still worth a watch, but reading about the details of the case beforehand will help put the events into context
AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART
Rick Springfield was once a huge heartthrob of the 1980s – but to most people today, he is known as the one-hit-wonder who sang “Jessie’s Girl.” If you ask the average person, he or she probably won’t be aware that Springfield still plays 80-100 shows a year and continues to release records.
This film is not about those people. This film is about the insanely dedicated 90 per cent female fanbase that grew up with him, and still love him and follow him on tour to this day.
Springfield makes no qualms about discussing his bad behavior in the 1980s – he is candid about dealing with depression, suicide and infidelity. The connection he now shares with his fans is unlike anything you see between successful musicians and their audiences – they love him and he loves them back just as hard.
The film documents a few obsessed fans as they follow him to shows around the country, sharing insight into what started their deep connection with the man – and how it affects the relationships they have with their spouses. Most of these fans are women in their 40s who were teenagers when he was at the peak of stardom, and the men in their lives are either supportive or slightly jealous about the connection this rock star seems to have with their wives.
The beautiful thing about the film is that it touches on the power of music to heal – even if you are not a Springfield fan, you probably have a musician whose music gives you the same healing effect his songs do for these women. They feel so highly connected to him because his music came to them at a time when they desperately needed something to relate to, and that connection has lasted ever since. Any music fan can understand that feeling, as it is why music is such a vital part of life.
Certainly there is a sense of embarrassment when watching grown women react to this man in his 60s as though they are still teenagers – and that is never more present than in a scene on Springfield’s yearly boat cruise tour event, when a woman tries to explain her obsession with Springfield to other passengers on the cruise who are just there to enjoy a vacation. They clearly think the fandom they are witnessing is unhealthy – and when the woman starts to break down and cry just from talking about Springfield, it is easy to agree. But then again, sometimes you just want to be reminded of your youth.
CHARLES BRADLEY: SOUL OF AMERICA
Charles Bradley’s story should be told to everyone, everywhere, as its potential to inspire people of all ages to go after their goals is a powerful one.
At 62-years-old, he finally sets out to do something he had dreamed of all along – make his own record. Since he was 14, he had been performing as a James Brown impersonator, but he wanted the chance to make his own music come to life. After hearing Daptone Records was looking for singers – and being aware of what they did for Sharon Jones’ career – he approached them and they instinctively saw his raw talent. They set him up with a fantastic band and started recording some material, working with him to strip out the James Brown and bring the authentic performer that is Charles Bradley to the stage.
Told through a timeline of the lead-up to his first album release, the film interviews Charles along with the people in his life – his mother, siblings, friends and band mates, to show the story of a man who despite going through more hard times than any one person should endure in one lifetime, still manages to be optimistic and bring his childlike enthusiasm and excitement to everything he does.
It is impossible not to fall in love with Charles when you see him jumping for joy at the sight of his album release show making it onto page six of the New York Post, or watch him genuinely thank the sold out audience for attending – when he says “I love you” to them, you can tell he truly, deeply feels that love.
Charles Bradley is living proof that you can never be too old to achieve your dreams.
Wadim was a 24 year old Latvian whose family abandoned their homeland in the early 1990s, seeking asylum in Germany when he was just six years old. He spent the majority of his life in Hamburg, growing up there, making friends there, and experiencing all that one lives through from ages six to eighteen. His family, like many seeking asylum from a country in a political storm, only received temporary status throughout all those years – unable to get a job and constantly having the threat of deportation at any time hanging over their head.
On Wadim’s 18th birthday, their worst fear came true. The police came to their door and separated the family into four different rooms. His mother slit her wrist knowing what was happening, and was sent to the mental hospital where his father joined her. His brother was allowed to stay in Germany because he was still a minor, but Wadim was deported. His parents were declared unfit to be deported because of their mental health issues, so he was left alone without a penny to his name or a place to sleep, in a country he barely remembered.
Determined to get back home, he does everything in his power to be reunited with his family, but each time the authorities force him back to Latvia, and each time, his spirit dwindles more and depression sets in. He can’t even go to university because they deported him three months before he graduated from high school, so he is forced to take on a manual labor job far below his intellectual abilities. After five years of this struggle, the realization that he will never get to go home overwhelms him, and he commits suicide.
Told through the aftermath of his family’s heartbreak upon learning of his death, the film interviews his parents, friends, former teacher, ex-girlfriend, and the lawyer and social worker that dealt with their case to paint a picture of a caring son who would still be here today if they system didn’t treat immigrants so poorly.
Some 87,000 people live with the threat of deportation every day in Germany alone, so Wadim’s tragic story is unfortunately not rare. You will never again underestimate the importance of having a place to call home after seeing this film.
Stay tuned for more of our coverage of Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival 2012!