The So-called Movie

Date and Venue 19 July 2010 @ 7:15pm| Vancity Theatre – The Vancouver International Film Centre 1181 Seymour Street, Vancouver, BC

A film by Garry Beitel

Reviewer Nila Gopaul

"The Socalled movie" is a National Film Board documentary, directed by Garry Beitel, which features Josh Dolgin – aka Socalled Heavy J. In 18 vignettes about this artist's life, Beitel reveals that Socalled is anything but "heavy"; with the advice from a friend, Socalled now refers to himself as "So-called Heavy J" or just "Socalled" and, as Dolgin boldy put it, the "Gandhi of Hip-Hop", which is certainly a stretch.

Socalled makes it very clear that he hates religion. Besides, he is a gay French-Canadian secular Jewish pianist/accordionist in his early thirties. Traditional hip-hop has not quite transplanted itself that far, even with the so-called disenfranchised.

Nonetheless, Beitel proves to us Socalled's incredible range. His music is an eclectic composite of klezmer (Jewish traditional folk music) and funk and rap music. Socalled is a true artist. He is a rapper, magician, film-maker, cartoonist, producer and composer. Katie Moore, the 'voice' of Socalled, describes the artist as a person whose "compass points to a different North than most peoples'." Socalled's eccentricities are obvious from the start, but appearances aren't everything. See his youtube video: So Called-You are never alone! It'll give you a hint of how Socalled's mind works.

Beitel takes us to Paris to Dneiper River and to Harlem where we witness Socalled performing with virtuosos such as Fred Wesley, David Krakauer and Irving Fields, who is now 94 years of age.

By the end of "The Socalled Movie" we understand Socalled is a creative dynamo. He brings audiences together wherever he shows up. He celebrates difference and commonality in his craft. We don't learn anymore though; we can infer that his greatest strength is not letting his lack of confidence in himself stop him. Just watch him put a song from the 1930s and a song from the 1970s in the same key, add a beat, and turn it into a miracle.

"The Socalled Movie" is to be commended for introducing us to Socalled and for inspiring us to find that missing link in ourselves. It would have been nice just to get to have known the man inside Socalled a little more.

© 2010 Nila Gopaul


Margarette's Feast (A Festa de Margarette)

Brazil, 2002, 80 min.
Director Renato Falcao

Date and Venue 20 December 2009 @ 6pm| Vancity Theatre, Vancouver, BC

Reviewer Nila Gopaul

Walk into Vancity Theatre for your first treat. Enter a bright beautiful space with tables, seats and benches reconfigured for avant-garde and avid filmgoers. For your second treat, watch Brazilian filmmaker Renato Falcao's feature film Margarette's Feast, a beautiful mesmerizing silent film shot in black and white, a welcome reprieve in the midst of a loud Christmas season.

Margarette's Feast is a simple dazzling story, and, yet, this allegory speaks to the complex issue of the deep social struggles that plague Brazil. The movie's protagonist, Pedro, is a tragic hero. Pedro is penniless. To make matters worse, he loses his job while automatons replace him and his factory co-workers. Still, Pedro dreams of throwing an extravagant birthday bash for his wife Margarette.

Miraculously, Pedro one day finds a suitcase with a bottomless pit of money, and, as we can guess, he goes on a spending spree. In the remainder of the 80-minute film, Falcao plunges us into an orgy of scenes, and while Brazilian music sounds in the drama, we are introduced to a cast of characters from every social spectrum.

Like Charlie Chaplin who brought laughter and joy to millions, Falcao takes us on a journey that makes us smile and wince. We naturally sympathize with the underdog because we know in our hearts what can happen to a fool and his money. What makes Pedro so likeable is that he is innocent, odd, and good-hearted. Pedro is a dreamer; he has not given up on hope.

See in Pedro Chaplin's character the Tramp, a vagrant who endeavors to behave like a dignified gentleman with all the social graces. See in Falcao Chaplin. Falcao is critical of the excesses of the "American Dream", but at the same time, he shows his support and belief that hope is still alive, even in Brazil.

© 2009 Nila Gopaul



USA, 2009, 87 min
Directors: Andy Bichbaum, Mike Bonanno

Dates and Venue 8-14 Jan 2010 |Vancity Cinema, Vancouver

Reviewer David Powell

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno are out to save the world from corporate and governmental greed and the elevation of profit over all other values. These two masqueraders have an entertaining and breathtakingly audacious approach to political activism.

One of their approaches is to pose as spokespersons for large companies or government and make false but very positive announcements. For example, at the beginning of the film our heroes are in Paris, on their way to an interview with the BBC. Posing as a representative of Dow Chemical, Bichlbaum announces on BBC Television that Dow is to give $12 billion dollars to finally compensate victims of the Union Carbide (which Dow now owns) pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India. It's nonsense but for a few short hours the world believes it.

The Yes Men seemed to focus mainly on peddling false good news, but they also get satirical at times and go to conferences posing as corporate reps selling the most vile products or services. In one scene they pose again as Dow Chemical employees, introducing an industry standard which will help companies profit from deaths that their industries cause. Their mascot? A golden skeleton named Gilda. It was shocking to see how many people took the lecture seriously, and even approved of it. One audience member described it as "refreshing".

In the funniest part of the film they go to another conference to promote a survival suit, the "survivaball", that VIPs of various sorts can don to protect themselves from pretty much any disaster. Despite the hilarity of the suit, and how ridiculous people look wearing it, many of the attendees took it all very seriously, which made it all the funnier.

The results of satirizing the corporate mindset were both funny and disturbing, but the 'false good news' announcements brought home just how hungry many of us are for good news and hope on the social justice front.  In addition to the Dow BBC prank, the Yes Men went to post-Katrina New Orleans and posed as spokesmen for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

There, they announced an unexpected commitment to social housing that would actually mean lost business for many contractors. The announcement was very warmly received, even by those who might lose money from it.  Then back in New York, the Yes Men published a fake edition of the New York Times, dated six months in the future and featuring headlines such as "Iraq War Ends" and "Maximum Wage Law Succeeds". People loved it.

The Yes Men were criticized for bringing false hope to the people of Bhopal, but the residents of Bhopal didn't hate them for the stunt. Quite the opposite. As a journalist in Bhopal put it, "I always expected to remain in hell. For you to bring me to heaven, if only for an hour, I thank you."

© 2009 David Powell



USA, 2009, 159 min, Blu-Ray
Director: Fred Wiseman

Dates and Venue 21 Dec 2009- 3 Jan 2010 |Vancity Cinema, Vancouver

Reviewer Ed Farolan

Despite this almost 3-hour film documentary, I found it quite informative and interesting. This is a must show for dance lovers, especially if you're into classical or modern ballet. You might even be able to pick up a few tips on the exquisite style of dance, whether modern or classical, of the noted Paris Opera Ballet.

Wiseman documents a detailed examination of the inner workings of this institution, showing the dedication and discipline of its dancers. He takes us through all phases of the artistic process--from rehearsals to production, the behind-the-scenes shots--costumes, make-up, lights, sounds, and then to the actual mise-en-scene dress rehearsal.

We see actual meetings with the artistic director who talks about dancers having pensions at the age of 40, chats with her dancers regarding their problems, meetings with the staff. Then, the camera switches to some almost comic scenes during rehearsals, as we see two choreographers quibbling about this dancer's arabesque movement or that dancer not pointing her toes enough as she jumps .

We see more rehearsal scenes at the different studios of that magnificent Opera building, with young choreographers, veterans, of all nationalities, coaching these magnificent dancers of the Opera Ballet troupe.

Wiseman, a veteran documentarian, was born in Boston, and was a law professor before he became a filmmaker in 1967. He has over thirty-five feature documentaries and has received multiple awards including the Emmy awards in 1969 and 1970.

. © 2009 Ed Farolan