True Films

Mystery of Picasso


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Astounding time-lapse photography of Picasso painting. You chiefly see his paintings (without him) as if they were organic organisms evolving, growing, and mutating. Picasso’s relentless energy is overwhelming. You quickly realize that beneath every painting of his are 100 other paintings that have been painted over. As one image morphs into another — all equally riveting — you wonder, what is Picasso searching for? He seems to be hunting for something as he layers one variation over another. He’s said elsewhere (not much dialog here; just time lapse film) that he is not looking for beauty but truth. I decided he keeps painting over until he does something he’s never done before. In the spirit of this layering, the two independent commentary tracks by two art historians are worth listening to and much preferred to the corny music soundtrack. It’s not often we get to see greatness at work. This film, made by a French director in the 1950s, is a stroke of genius.

– KK

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The Mystery of Picasso
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
1956, 75 min.
$17, DVD

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Posted June 28, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


The Endless Summer


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The granddaddy of all road trip films and extreme sports extravaganzas (those millions of surf, ski, motorcycle chronicles) is still charming 50 years after it was made. A few moments of cultural insensitivity now makes us cringe, but the constant good humor and pure adventure overwhelm any doubts. You go with the flow. More than any other surfing film since, the boundless sunny innocence of this classic makes you want to get a board to hit the waves, and see the world.

– KK

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The Endless Summer
Directed by Bruce Brown
1966, 92 min.
DVD, $13

Watch the full movie on Youtube.

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Posted June 26, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category Sports


State of Mind


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One of the most amazing films I’ve seen in years. Welcome to the world’s largest, weirdest cult: the nation of North Korea. The entire economic engine of this country is aimed toward producing a yearly religious spectacle of unimaginable scale. This film follows two school girls and their family as they practice up to 6 hours per day for 9 months in order to preform a “mass game” for their holy president. Some students are pixels in a stadium-sized human jumbotron. The resulting images and performances are utterly perfect. Not a single speck is out of order. After the ten-day event, the North Koreans go home and watch their flawless work on their one government channel and marvel to themselves about how superior their discipline is, how delighted they are to surrender everything to the greater group. What’s frightening is how deeply they buy into the cult. The kids eagerly graduate from the sports spectacle to the military spectacle, which shares the same mentality of the perfect machine. Without saying anything (there’s almost no narration) this film reveals what group insanity would be unleashed in military action against North Korea. I’m so glad this incredible film has been made, because in 50 years from now, when the cult is gone, no one will ever believe it was possible on the scale we see here.

– KK

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State of Mind
Directed by Daniel Gordon
2004, 94 min.
$30, DVD

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Posted June 21, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Off the Charts


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You know those tiny ads for “songs wanted” in the back pages of magazines? This is the story of the people who succumb to this siren by sending in money with their late-night poems, and of the professional musicians who record them for a few hundred dollars, and of the avid collectors who prize this “outsider” art. Song-poems, as they are called, are a weird hybrid of silly lyrics and professional recording. It’s like having one of your telephone doodles turned into a giant city-block mural. There’s something inherently lopsided about them. The wannabe songwriters are of course, a wonderfully bizarre and sometimes clueless cast of characters. But just as interesting to me are the weathered musicians who make their living playing these stupefying songs. I was impressed by how serious they took each creation, giving it their utmost — well as much as they could give in a half hour. Incredibly, many of the songwriters were repeat customers happy with the results. The third leg of this unusual triangle are the collectors, the fans who find this outsider music more interesting than the smooth releases of pros. This film does what I always hope a documentary will do: it respectfully immerses me into a world I had never heard of before and changes my view. I came away with more sympathy for the folk writers and the professionals who serve them than I would have thought possible. While the business may be a scam, it’s a willing scam for all the parties. Nice piece of work.

– KK

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Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story
Directed by Jamie Meltzer
2003, 132 min.
$10, DVD

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Posted June 19, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Style Wars


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Made in the early 1980s, this film was the first to celebrate urban graffiti as true art — at a time when everyone else considered the creators vandals, and their works a crime. We meet some of the kids and hear what they were thinking and why they “tagged.”

– KK

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Style Wars
Directed by Tony Silver
1983, 70 min.
$23, DVD

Watch for free here.

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Posted June 15, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Project Runway


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This series is primarily about the drama of competition. Twelve unknown clothes designers race to win a slot as a new fashion star. Like a lot of reality shows it features camaraderie, back-stabbing, acts of genius, betrayals, and toxic doses of ambition, but mixed into eye-tickling colors and the stunning visuals of clothes being made. In parallel with the mystery of who will survive increasingly stressful hurdles, we also get a front-seat perspective of how clothes can become art and what it takes to survive in the cutthroat business of high-end fashion. I found every one of the first season’s challenges to be brilliant and the whole series very addictive; I’m guessing the other seasons are just as good. As someone who likes to make things, this 8-part film also made the craft of fashion something that inspired me.

– KK

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Project Runway: The Complete First Season
With Heidi Klum and Michael Kors
2004, 509 min.
$20, DVD, 3-disc set

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Posted June 14, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Smashing Machine


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Ultimate fighting, where almost any move (kicking, knee to the head, etc) is permitted and blood encouraged, is as brutal as it sounds. Banned in the US, the high-purse contest moved to places like Brazil and Japan, where an international cast of scary characters try to make the championship. This gory story would be unwatchable except for the remarkable hero it follows. Like the Hulk he is huge, gentle, intelligent, and introspective. He hates hurting people, but does it because he needs money, and eventually this internal conflict does him in. He rises to greatness, is pummeled and falls low, and then is redeemed. Few people would have the courage to let a film crew record them at their low points in life, but that access makes this film great. I knew nothing about this sport or its world, and found many surprises in this strong film (with a great and unexpected music score). Recommended.

– KK

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Smashing Machine
Directed by John Hyams (II)
2003, 92 min.
$25, DVD

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Posted June 12, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category Sports


Michael Palin: Sahara


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A charming, gritty, real journey into the Saraha. You piggy-back on Michael Palin’s arduous trip via freight train, land rover, camel and foot. Palin is fun, witty, intelligent and the perfect host for taking you to a remote area the size of the US, filled with tons of cultural diversity and most of it seldom seen. Palin has a wonderful knack for focusing on the real and informative. Not your usual travelog.

– KK

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Michael Palin: Sahara
Directed by John-Paul Davidson and Roger Mills
2003, 236 min.
$14, DVD

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Posted June 7, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
in category Culture


SRL: 10 Years of Robotic Mayhem


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Who wouldn’t want to see machines destroy other machines? Long before Battle Bots, Terminator and the Matrix series, Mark Pauline and his collective of avant guarde engineers have been staging demolition derbies featuring custom built mechanical monsters. They spit fire, explode, squash metal, whack off parts and grind each other up – within feet of onlookers packed into a parking lot or highway underpass. The aim is to create danger and provoke the audience out of its passivity. This compendium of four past performances is the best of their influential grunge theater and robotic art.

– KK

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Survival Research Laboratories: 10 Years of Robotic Mayhem
Directed by Jonathan Reiss
2004, 60 min
$20, DVD

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Posted June 5, 2006 at 6:00 pm | comments
| in category Play