Film : Punk rock, James Taylor & Berlin Olympics
Martha's Vineyard Times File Photo
Two music documentaries, an intriguing sports-history film, and a repeat showing of the documentary "Charlotte" headline the coming week's summer series.
Playing in a special Saturday screening at the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival's (MVFF) Chilmark series is summer resident Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte's deeply felt portrait of the schooner, Charlotte, and its builders at the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway. Then on Sunday, Aug. 7, the M.V. Hebrew Center's Summer Institute will present "Berlin '36," a movie based on the true story of 1930s German high-jumper Gretel Bergmann.
Popular music lovers should be sure not to miss either "Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter," playing at Union Chapel in the Martha's Vineyard Film Society's summer series on Monday, Aug. 8 (notice day change), or "The Other F Word," playing at the MVFF's series in its regular Wednesday slot, Aug. 10. Both are knockout films.
Mr. Kusama-Hinte relies primarily on visuals of the craftsmanship involved in construction of this classic wooden boat, without narration. Founded in 1980, the Vineyard Haven boatyard of Nat Benjamin and Ross Gannon has produced more than 70 wooden boats, primarily from designs by Mr. Benjamin.
After nearly 30 years of building and repairing boats for others, Mr. Benjamin decided it was time to make his own 50-foot, gaff-rigged schooner. The audience will enjoy watching the boat take shape and the personalities of the two boatyard proprietors come alive through the careful and appreciative filmmaking of Mr. Kusama-Hinte.
Even though Gretel Bergmann, one of the best high jumpers of her era, won the British championship, the German Third Reich did not want the Jewish athlete to return to her native land and compete in the 1936 Olympics. In "Berlin '36," German director Kaspar Heidelbach offers a fictionalized version of how the Nazis treated Gretel, once the U.S. threatened to withdraw if Jewish athletes were banned.
When she learns her family may be persecuted, a reluctant Gretel returns and trains for the German team, while the Nazis scramble to find a competitor who can out-jump the Jewish athlete. A suitably Aryan high jumper turns up, but it quickly becomes clear the 17-year-old is not really a "she."
Marie Ketteler, played by Sebastian Urzendowsky, is a fictionalized version of the real male athlete, Dora Ratjen, who was not revealed to be a man until 1938. Gretel was dropped from the German team for "mediocre" performance, but the gold medal in the high jump went to Ibolya Czak, a Hungarian Jew.
"Berlin '36" recaptures an interesting bit of Olympic history. It has particular relevance for modern Olympic competition, because of the controversy over female competitors who have male chromosomal characteristics or take male hormones to improve their performance.
"Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter"
Morgan Neville's handsome, well-told documentary, "Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter," tells the story of the Island's own James Taylor and his friendship and collaboration with Carol King, 1971 Grammy Award winner for her album "Tapestry." Along with many other top performers, the two legendary musicians met and sang together at the Troubadour, the popular West Hollywood nightclub run by eccentric promoter Doug Weston.
Mr. Taylor's sister Kate, a celebrated singer and Vineyarder in her own right, will attend the screening, which is co-sponsored by WMVY-FM radio. The occasion for making "Troubadours" was a 2010 reunion tour, which reunited the two singers.
Using archival footage and interviews with such musical greats as David Crosby of Crosby Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, Vineyarder and guitarist Danny Korchmar, comedians Cheech and Chong, Elton John, and comedian/playwright/novelist/ banjo player Steve Martin, the director builds up a rich portrait of the '70s music scene in L.A.
By 1968, the rock 'n roll explosion and Beatlemania had lost momentum, making room for performers who wrote their own lyrics and responded to the hunger for a personal kind of music. The happening place was Troubadours, and Mr. Taylor and Ms. King were at the pinnacle of a singer-songwriter movement that carried the day.
One of the interesting omissions of "Troubadours" is any mention of Taylor's former wife Carly Simon. Perhaps it was too painful a part of the singer's history. "Things don't last forever," Taylor says. "They aren't meant to be."
Taylor and King's last performance together until the 2010 revival tour was in 1973. King moved to Idaho, and Taylor returned to North Carolina and the Berkshires. Weston died in 1999, but after hard times, the Troubadour recovered.
"The Other F Word"
The music in "The Other F Word" is plenty loud. Andrea Blaugrund Nevins's documentary about the transition of punk rockers into fatherhood is just as — if not more — entertaining as "Troubadours" yet entirely different stylistically.
A better characterization of rebels turning into solid-citizen daddies has not to my knowledge been made. Beginning with shots of skateboarders, Ms. Nevins shows the audience the California scene that bred an angry, loud, energizing group of musicians who after 15 or 20 years on the road, find themselves flagging.
Pennywise lead singer Jim Lindberg has become the father of three little girls, and his enthusiasm for months away from home has waned. He lists the patent products he relies on to keep his act going: antacids, Ambien, hand sanitizer, hair gel, and dye for his beard.
Ms. Nevins keeps pace with the energy of punk music by using a variety of cinematic techniques. "How did we go from rebelling against our own parents to being parents ourselves?" the articulate Mr. Lindberg asks.
Although Ms. Nevins does not take quite as much time to build up a cultural profile as Mr. Neville does, she uses cinematic techniques to drive home a persuasive and enjoyable picture of the punk rock scene.
Part of the fun of "The Other F Word" is the humor of watching punk rockers with spiked hair, weird clothes, and tattoos everywhere on their bodies taking their daughters and sons to day care or elementary school.
Mr. Lindberg makes an entertaining Virgil to guide the viewer through the Hell of punk rock culture. L.A. was a very strange place to grow up, he says. Its underbelly was rotting. The divorce rate was spiraling, the military industrial complex employed parents, and playing music was like throwing rocks through windows.
California was the scene, but L.A. was super-violent, and that's what attracted the punk rockers, many of whom grew up without fathers as role models. "Maybe punk rock was never meant to grow up," one of the punkers says. "I thought we were going to change the world." Obviously, it did.
One of the most hilarious moments for this reviewer was Mr. Lindberg's description of his dog eating his own feces. The answer? Pour Tabasco sauce on the mess to make the dog behave himself. Dogs, after all, reflect their owners.
Mr. Nevins has been very successful at capturing confessions and commentary from these punk rock stars, who now function as fathers and need to make a living on the road or in live performances. One of them says to his daughter: "Don't give me that look. I invented that look."
"Charlotte," Saturday, Aug. 6, 8 pm, Chilmark Community Center. Co-presented by the M.V. Book Festival. $14; $7 members. tmvff.org.
"Berlin, '68," Sunday, Aug. 7, 7:30 pm, M.V. Hebrew Center, Vineyard Haven. $10 suggested donation. mvsummerinstitute.com.
"Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriters," Monday, Aug. 8, 8 pm, Union Chapel, Oak Bluffs. $10; $7 members. mvfilmsociety.com.
"Green and Lean," Cinema Circus, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 5 pm. $10; $5 members. tmvff.org.
"The Other F Word," Wednesday, Aug. 10, 8 pm, Chilmark Community Center; $12; $6 members. tmvff.org.