Bisbee '17 is an exposť about the dark past of Bisbee, Arizona. On July 12th, 1917, 1,200 miners, most of whom were immigrants, went on strike. They were soon forced into cattle cars and left in the middle of the New Mexico desert to die. Director Robert Greene deserves credit for tackling a human rights issue that's equally heartbreaking, horrifying and enraging, especially when it comes to how the tragedy was covered-up throughout the years. Unfortunately, this documentary suffers from sluggish pacing, lack of profound insight and not enough scope. Even the awkward opening shot, although unconventional in its style, fails to hook the viewer. Are the static shots supposed to be meditative, artsy or both? They don't come across as neither nor do they help to make the film any less lethargic. Greene interviews the Bisbee townspeople and films them participating in re-enactments of the events that transpired on July 12th, 1917. Those re-enactments are the only moments that Bisbee '17 manages to be at least somewhat captivating. How do the deportations of the miners in 1917 relate to the current situation involving Trump's deportation of immigrants? Trump isn't even mentioned once throughout the film, but one can't help but wonder if anything has really changed since 1917. What about interviewing the town's mayor or history scholars? That might've added some much-needed insight and scope. At a running time of 112 minutes, which feels more like 3 hours, Bisbee '17 is a squandered opportunity to shed light on an important and timely human rights issue. It opens Wednesday, September 5th at Film Forum via 4th Row Films.
Kusama: Infinity, directed by Heather Lenz, is a documentary about Yayoi Kusama, an avant-garde artist. Despite the disapproval of her unsupportive parents, Kusama studied in art school in Japan and eventually created provocative and bold works of art. She wasn't afraid to be controversial, i.e. by staging naked "happenings," and to speak her heart, mind and soul. Nor was she afraid to show up uninvited to an art exhibit when she was turned down. However, she did have a troubled soul as she battled depression and mental illness. Lenz doesn't shy away from the darker aspect of Kusama's life, such as her traumatic childhood, nor does she pry into her love life or her friendship with artist Joseph Cornell. Like many human beings, Kusama experienced many struggles, but what's amazing about her is that she wouldn't give up her passion for creating art, even after there was public backlash to her artworks. She checked herself into a mental hospital where she resides at while still making art. Years later, at the age of 88, her artwork is finally getting the attention that it deserves with a retrospective of art including her Infinity Mirrors exhibit in Toronto. Bravo to Lenz for not passing judgement on Kusama; she simply presents you with many facts from Kusama's work and life while asking you to decide how to make sense of it all. Were the film to be more focused thematically, perhaps it would've been more powerful and profound, ultimately. Was her artwork in the 1960's not appreciated and recognized at the time because she was a female? Probably, but this documentary doesn't really focus on that sexism issue---it just hints at it while leaving it open to conversation and debate. At a running time of 85 minutes, Kusama: Infinity is an illuminating and provocative glimpse into the life and work of Yayoi Kusama. It opens at Film Forum via Magnolia Pictures.
Five Fingers for Marseilles