The Beat Hotel
Back in 1957, the Beat Hotel, located in the Latin Quarter of Paris, served as sanctuary for a number of Beat Generation artists and writers, namely William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky. They all sought refuge at the Parisian hotel to avoid the obscenity trials that were limiting their freedom as artists in America. It was there that Burroughs had finally finished his book Naked Lunch, and Corso was inspired to write his poems. The Beat artists gathered to have many open discussions that provided a lot of intellectual and creative nourishment without having to worry about the pressures of high rent thanks to the landlady who let them live there very cheaply.
Through interviews with resident Harold Chapman and very wise, articulate Beat experts such as Regina Weinrich, director Alan Govenar provides the audience with many details about the hotel to try to capture what it was like to live there. For instance, when the smells of different kinds of cuisines weren't permeating throughout the hotel, there was the smell of marijuana or, in some cases, the odor from the unconventional bathroom that was composed of a tiny room with a hole on the floor. Residents could choose to have their room cleaned by a maid, but that was optional--in some cases, the rooms became incredibly messy. It would have been a lot more provocative and compelling had Govenar focused less on the details and more on fruther exploring the significance of the hotel and its very interesting residents or at least finding something surprising or profound about the hotel/residents that would make the documentary stand out from other similarly undercooked, yet stylishly edited docs like Chelsea on the Rocks. Perhaps sharper questions asked to the interviewees would have led to more insights that cut beneath the surface.
At a running time of merely 1 hour and 22 minutes, The Beat Hotel is well-edited and mildly engaging, but it barely scratches the surface of its subject matter.
Love in the Buff
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is back on the big screen, newly remastered in high definition which makes it a must-see for all avid Monty Python fans. If you've never seen this comedy classic before, describing the plot wouldn't do it justice; it's meant to be experienced preferably with a large crowd that truly appreciates an abundance of dark, irreverent humor, wit and sheer brilliance. Preceding the film is a never-before-seen animated short entitled "Terry Gilliamís Lost Animations.Ē Ticket holders will receive free posters and clippety-clopping coconut shells (while supplies last).
Scenes of a Crime
Back in 2008, Adrian Thomas, an African American father of seven, spent nearly ten hours in a Troy, NY police station where two detectives interrogated him about how his four-month old baby ended up in the hospital with head injuries. Before they even began interrogating him, the detectives were already under the impression that Adrian murdered his baby because a doctor at the hospital had stated that the baby died of injuries sustained from physical abuse. They lie to him that his baby isn't dead yet and that his wife claimed that she saw him throwing the baby. The lies and psychological manipulations continue throughout the interrogation as they take advantage of his vulnerability, frustration and fatigue until he caves into their deceptive techniques (which more or less includes the Reid Technique) until he gives an oral and written confession to murdering his child. During Adrianís trial, the jury, composed of a bunch of philistines, watch the same interrogation footage that you do, but take it as well as the confession for granted even though Adrian's defense team brought new evidence from a well-respected doctor that the baby actually died of a bacterial infection called sepsis. He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced for 25 years to life despite that medical evidence and the fact that he recanted his coerced confession.
Co-directors Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh should be commended for gaining access to the footage of Adrian's interrogation and showing precisely how the detectives coerced Adrian into the false confession. You will--and should--feel enraged about how prejudiced, unfair, unjust and corrupt our so-called justice system actually is. In many ways, this documentary feels like a riveting crime thriller with elements of psychological horror as you watch the interrogation footage and hear its analysis. Just because the manipulative interrogation tactics are lawful doesn't make them moral.
The fact that the jury refused to question the effectiveness and validity of the interrogation and confession shows you how myopic they are--or possibly even racist, although they wouldn't admit it if that were indeed true. The two jurors who muster the courage to be interviewed come across as essentially "good Germans" who refrain from using critical thinking--an very important quality for citizens to have in a fully functional democracy. After all, it was Hitler who once said, "How fortunate it is for governments that the people they administer don't think." The more "good Germans" we have on our jury pools (and public in general), the greater chance we'll have of become a fascist nation which we're already sliding into albeit slowly and with subtle propaganda. If you disagree with any of those statements, I challenge you to name one society with a secret prison system whose government did not eventually turn against its own people.
There are always more than two sides to every coin--there's the sides, the ridges and so on. Scenes of a Crime shows the many different perspectives on Adrian Thomas' interrogation by not only interviewing Adrian, but also his defense team, one of the detectives, and two jurors. Not surprisingly, the doctor who initially misdiagnosed Adrian's baby refused to be interviewed. Perhaps his moral conscience hasn't awakened yet, and he's just too cowardly to face it head-on. The fact that Adrian is still behind bars until this very day because of our injustice system, and has lost an appeal should make you feel even more angry and horrified.
At a running time of nearly 1 hour and 30 minutes, Scenes of a Crime is a riveting docu-thriller that will wake you up and shake you up to the inexcusable failures of the American justice system. You will never look at an interrogation the same way again.