A Candidate for Worst Beatles Doc Ever

Grab some images like this from Google and you too can maker a documentary!

Written and Directed by Les Krantz
MVD Visual, 60 mins.
zero stars

Is The Beatles: Their Golden Age” the worst film ever made about the Fab Four? I wouldn’t go that far. It’s possible there are lousier efforts out there that I’ve simply not seen. If there are, please alert me—sitting through Les Krantz’s film is as much pain as I can take. I will give him credit for one thing: I once thought it impossible to make the lovable Liverpudlians boring, but I was wrong.

I knew I was in for trouble from the opening sequence on. The soundtrack consisted of generic music, some of which was vaguely composed to sort of resemble Beatles’ tunes. I’ve encountered this before and what it means is that the director could not secure permission to use Beatles’ tunes and didn’t have the money to hire other musicians to recreate them and pay copyright fees. This makes for awkward filmmaking; dozens of Beatles’ songs are mentioned, but none are heard. What we hear most is crowds screaming and Kranz’s voiceover, sure signs of no-budget filmmaking. What Kranz did was grab a few pieces of public domain documentary footage and force fit them into a Wikipedia-like overview of the Beatles’ career. (And it’s a truncated version at that, with all of earliest years shoved into a few minutes and no explanation of how Ringo came to replace Pete Best.) You will see the same pieces of surging, screaming crowds over and over, as well as a few fair-use interview snippets, and segments from various films made about the Beatles. In other words, it’s the sort of film that someone reasonably skilled with iMovies could make in an afternoon.

The thesis, such is it is, is that The Beatles quickly became more popular than Elvis. Is there anyone who doesn’t know this? And is there anyone who thinks that you can make a decent film about the most popular band in history without using any of its music? Simply a horrible project. Watching this was my own Hard Day’s Night.


Marwencol: Art Imitates Life

Hello Dolly! 

Directed by Jeff Malmberg
Open Face, 83 mins. Unrated

Do we watch movies to see the same old thing, or to enter new worlds? If your answer is the second, Marwencol should go to the top of your video (or streaming) queue. The protagonist of Marwencol is Mark Hogancamp and the only ways to enter his world are vicariously through this film, or to suffer a brain injury as did he. Jeff Malmberg’s film about Hogancamp is labeled a documentary, but that’s mainly because we lack a better term. The word “documentary” generally infers recording of objective reality, but Hogancamp doesn’t live in that realm. For casual film viewers, documentary is often a synonym for didacticism and tedium—the sort of films that give you an excuse to go make a sandwich when they’re honored during the Academy Awards broadcast. Not this one. It’s quirky, bizarre, and as imbued with fantasy as The Lord of the Rings

Mark Hogancamp was just another slightly-down-on-his-luck guy living in shopworn Kingston, New York, until a few years ago when he was brutally beaten by a gang of local low-lifes. Hogancamp almost died from the assault and suffered permanent brain damage. He walks, talks, has fine motor skills, and usually makes sense, the key word being usually. Hogancamp’s brain sometimes sends signals that make him unemployable, bypass social conventions, and dump the filters required by “normal” society (whatever that might be). It’s taken him years to rebuild even to this level. Or should I say “build?” What Marwencol is mainly about is the fantasy world Hogancamp constructed as self therapy. Think a soap opera set in a complete World War II Belgian village built to 1/16th scale, with dolls playing the parts of people Hogancamp knows and with himself as the refashioned GI Joe hero of the ongoing drama. Not surprisingly, the Nazis are stand-ins for his attackers. Hogancamp acts out his real-life brutalization in numerous scenarios, often with women playing the role of avenging angels, and each clearly a projection of Hogancamp’s frustrated desire for female relationships. And we’re talking levels of detail on everything in the village of Marwencol; Hogancamp is as serious about how it and the characters look as any war reenactor or hobbyist.

One of the more charming aspects of the film is the reaction of Hogancamp’s friends and neighbors. He has a built-in support network that knows that he’s not entirely in touch with reality, but they nonetheless like him, encourage him, and even take part in his role-playing fantasy games. These include many of the women that know that he has sexualized them in doll form, but deem him harmless and are happy to help him work his way through his tortured past. The wildcard in the already-bizarre fantasy is director Jeff Malmberg, who stumbled upon the story and became fascinated with Hogancamp. He too is drawn into Marwencol, but mainly as an old-style documentarian recording the fantasy realm as if he were a World War II newsreel cameraman.

There are two twists to the story that are so startling that it would be unfair of me to reveal them. Let’s just say that one involves the New York art world’s reaction to photos produced by Malmberg, and that the second is a socially-frowned-upon Hogancamp personality trait that may have predated his attack. These add dimension, depth, and additional weirdness to what is already one of the most unique stories imaginable. It’s unlike anything you’d ever see at the local Cineplex. Watch it and I think you’ll agree that Marwencol is more compelling than any Hollywood paint-by-the-numbers action film and has more heart than the coronary unit at Johns Hopkins.—Rob Weir


Romney and Ryan: Hypocrites Incorporated

We shouldn’t have been surprised. Mitt Romney not only picked a vice presidential candidate with whom he’s comfortable, he got one whose purchase on truth is no better than his own. I will remind you that everything Mitt (rhymes with…) now opposes he was once for. “Obamacare” is almost exactly the program Mr. Mitten signed into law in Massachusetts. He also welcomed gay marriage in the Bay State, but now he’s really, really against it. Don’t get me started on where Mitt once stood—on slippery ground I now realize—on a woman’s right to choose, on military spending, on public education, and on federal aid to states and municipalities.

Enter Paul Ryan—rhymes with lyin’—who says we need to dramatically downsize government. Ryan says that special projects, earmarks, and government-subsidized big-budget initiatives are especially evil--unless they benefit his Wisconsin district that is. Lyin’ slammed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a “wasteful spending spree” and voted against it. That’s what he did in public, but like his greasy running mate, his Mr. Hyde private side was a different matter. He wrote four letters to the Obama administration Energy Department requesting millions of dollars for a Wisconsin “green” geothermal energy project, the likes of which his Tea Party supporters decry as extravagant frauds. He also wrangled $5.4 million in earmark funds for Wisconsin for things such as improved state bus service, a scenic trail, and a transit network for his hometown of Janesville. (Why, one might ask, did a city of over 63,000 not already have such a system? Guess it couldn’t get enough federal funds until Santa Ryan put it into its stocking.) Oh yeah, Ryan also lobbied in favor of the auto industry bailout. Do you think the feds helped Janesville when its General Motors plant closed? If you answered “yes,” take a gobble from Congressman Ryan’s Big Bag of Pork. 

Romney and Ryan—two hypocrites from the same corporate mindset: screw you, as long as I get mine. Well… water finds its own level. So does shit.