Saturday, June 15, 2013

Doc/Fest 2013 Coverage: Day Three

A very quiet day for me since I took much of the day off as a break from the festival to instead catch up with friends, eat some nice food and generally stay out of a screening. However, I was still able to see one of the most purely enjoyable films of the festival so far, which made for a pretty successful day despite the lack of incident.

Here Was Cuba

This PBS documentary about the Cuban Missile Crisis covers a lot of familiar ground but does so in a very slick and efficient manner, which just about makes up for the lack of revelations. Examining the crisis from multiple perspectives, including those of the US and Soviet military leaders, key advisers to Kennedy and Khrushchev, and ordinary soldiers and sailors, augmented by political commentary, its greatest strength is probably the ability with which it gets across just how close the world came in ending in October of 1962. There are plenty of solid insights about the split-second decisions that averted disaster, as well as a great overview of just how many people were prepared to use nuclear weapons. Anyone familiar with the events is unlikely to learn much new, but the first-hand testimonies are great and give real weight to proceedings.

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic (dir. Marina Zenovich)

Many of the issues I had with Here Was Cuba could be leveled at Omit the Logic, specifically the notion that the material on display will probably not be new or surprising to Pryor fans. As someone familiar with his life and work in a general sense, but little grasp of the specifics, I found this examination of one of stand-up comedy's greatest and most troubled geniuses fascinating. One of the problems I often have with docs that cover artists is that they fail to get across just what it was that made the subject special. Omit the Logic doesn't suffer from any such problems because Pryor himself does a great job of doing so in the many interviews and routines included in the film. You really get a sense of what an electrifying performer he was on stage. More importantly, the interviews with his friends, family and hangers-on brilliantly convey what a troubled, violent and depressed man he was in all other areas. He was a man who rose and fell more times than Jerusalem, and the interviews illustrate just how much of that came from his own fatal flaws. Perhaps not the most exhaustive documentary that could have been made about Pryor, but it covers a huge chunk of his life swiftly and manages to impart a sense of the man beautifully. It's also really fucking funny.